Beloved and Tempted: When God Takes You to the Wilderness

White Dove Beloved Son

Beloved and tempted—is that you?

If so, there’s no shame in it. Because you can be both at once. Jesus was.

Sorely Tempted And Dearly Loved

This post has one point and this is it: Don’t ever doubt when you are in the wilderness and sorely tempted that you are still dearly loved.

The flow of these three little verses in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel assure me this is true:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 

Matthew 3:16-4:1 (ESV)

The direct connection escaped me, because the chapter break between Matthew chapters three and four interrupts the flow. But chapter breaks are not inspired.

In Matthew’s mind the dove and the devil—the pronouncement of Beloved Son and temptation in the wilderness— were intimately connected.

His Well Pleased He Leads Into the Wilderness

From heaven the voice of God boomed, This is my beloved Son. Then without skipping a beat, the Spirit of God led the beloved with whom he was well pleased straight into the wilderness.

The seventeenth-century Bible commentator Matthew Henry observed, Great privileges, and special tokens of divine favour, will not secure us from being tempted. 

I hope it’s becoming obvious. That if there is any connection between spiritual condition and “temptation factor” it is not that God’s children are spared. The opposite seems true—those walking closest to God have been the longest and hardest tempted in the wilderness.

Jesus, one with the Father, was fiercely tempted for 40 days.

Not Immune From Temptation

Something MUST be wrong, my friend said. I still struggle with the same sins that I did ten years ago. I struggle to forgive the same old things and sometimes I still get so mad at the kids. And just when I think I’ve got my discontentment nipped, a new envy blossom buds. No matter how hard I try and how much I pray, I just can’t master these things. Something must be wrong. This stuff should be overcome by now. 

Really? I read Matthew 3 and 4 and I’m just not so sure. If the very Son of God, was not immune from temptation, we will not be either. It’s a sort of suffering that I think we’ll have to face until we leave these old tents.

In fact, I like to think, as I’m tempted yet again to envy or discontent, that the very fact I’m feeling the struggle against it, feeling it as a temptation to sin, means not only that the God-life is in me, but that I am God’s beloved.

That even with tempted and sometimes failing me—it feels audacious and tears me up to say—God is well pleased.

Beloved And Tempted

Because it was God, God the Spirit, who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Therefore, Thabiti Anyabwile explains, we know that the temptation of Christ was not random or without purpose. The Sinless Lamb of God endured temptation both so that He could identify with us (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15) and to showcase the beauty of His holy character. That is why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.

Here’s the point: Jesus proved that you can be God’s pleasing and beloved child and still be in the wilderness and tempted. So please don’t assume the next time you’re tempted, or even the next time you fall, that you are unloved. Please, please don’t.

Instead draw near to Jesus. Run to the One who knows temptation far better than you do and died and rose again to forgive all who flee to him. Go receive mercy where you failed and find refreshment in his grace.

And don’t ever assume when you are tempted that you are unloved.

Beloved and tempted—both.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

If you’re still curious about why your struggle might be exactly right, you might like this.

Make Like A Bee: Extract Some Good

Bee clinging to flower

Can what is effortful be graceful, too?

I would have thought them opposites. But after gazing at this bumblebee, I wonder.

Because exertion and elegance were together on display. And I think they often stay together in the way of faith.

Exertion And Elegance

A Taming Grace is the working title of “that meekness book” that’s still writing me. And I know that these two—exertion and elegance—go together in meekness, even as they did in the delicate, determined precise dance of the bumblebee.

Meekness is a fruit of grace and a work of faith. It is the freeing power that helps us to choose what we did not choose, and go through trials we meet, not just somehow but victoriously. It takes great grace and immense effort to yield to the hard and to seek the good.

The meek are always looking for the good. Their exertion is elegant. It’s graceful.

Meek Like A Bee

But what again does meekness have to do with bumblebees?

Well, we need meekness when unfair stings, for one. And meekness helps us call to mind that God is good and that it is good to be near God. Meekness helps us stay in our own lane. It reminds us God will provide all our needs and that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

To extract takes work. It takes work when we feel mistreated, misunderstood and hurt to pull out some good. To be sorrowful and always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10) means we can extract some good.

For the record, I can only ever do that and work meekness out because God is working his sweet will in me (Philippians 2:12-13).

Bumble bee extracting nectar
Extracting

Effortful

How busy this bumblebee! How methodical and purposeful his movement, how tenacious and clinging his grip. He works so hard. Six legs tense, clasping tight before he thrusts that tongue down deep into each purple petal. Extracting.

We too have to work to extract the good. Granted, unless we’re talking about about teeth we seldom use the word extract. It means to remove or take out, especially by effort or force.

How hard the bumblebee works to extract that sweet nectar. Now I wonder, Do I? Do I work as hard to pull out the good in the hard in my house?

Spiritual Bees Extract Good

If I’m a spiritual bee I do. Proverbs 11:27 says, The one who diligently seeks good finds favor. The good is there to be found.

In his 400 year-old classic, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, Matthew Henry compared the meek to “spiritual bees.”

There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, good may be gotten by it. …[We may] gain some real benefit to our souls, by the injuries and offenses that are done to us: for even these are made to work together for good to them that love God. This is a holy and a happy way of…resisting evil. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable…

So make like a bee. Exert to extract something good, something sweet. The effort itself might be a balm.

Susanne and me, just after the spicy-sweet sample

The Sweetness

Kudos before I close to my dear friend Susanne for introducing me to bee balm. If it wasn’t for her Swiss, herbalist-botanist flair I wouldn’t have even glanced at that plant in our meadow with the bumblebee buzzing round.

But as we ambled through the garden last Saturday, she pointed, “These are good to eat.” Then Susanne plucked a pink blossom and we savored the spicy-sweet treat. But Susanne had another secret up her sleeve.

Then she unveiled a Mason jar full of elegant amber—a bee balm infused simple syrup. A splash at the bottom of the glass mixed with seltzer fizz for joy on a hot July afternoon.

Exertion, elegance, meekness, sweetness. Fresh joy. Good.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 29:19

We know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Romans 5:3b-5, The Message

“The Dread of Tyrants”: 5 Quotes on Free Speech

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the one right which they first of all strike down. —Frederick Douglass

Freedom isn’t free, and staying free is costly. Holding freedom up takes work. The default setting on the freedom toggle is off. “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man, a wise one said, is eternal vigilance.”

I’ll make this short so you can get out and celebrate America’s 245th Birthday. Because we felt it acutely this year: keeping freedom—especially to speak truth in love—required practice and vigilance.

Now for those quotes.

5 Free Speech Quote

1. “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
2. “It is often a strategic mistake to silence a man, because it leaves the world under the impression that he had something to say.” ~G.K. Chesterton
3. “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ~ George Washington
4. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ~ George Orwell
5. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” ~ Frederick Douglass

Free Speech: A Liberating Strife?

I’m no political expert. But I know that what makes my muscles strong is weight-bearing exercise. I know that what makes my marriage and friendships, and my church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time, but in still being free to both listen, as Frederick Douglass pointed out, and to speak.

What makes for strength is not suppression but endurance, not plugging our ears but hearing what’s hard to hear, not silencing opposition, but staying engaged when we don’t agree.

To promote free speech even when we disapprove is difficult. It may even be painful. Because free speech cuts both ways.

But maybe hearing what we don’t want to hear is a severe mercy and perhaps free speech itself is a sort of liberating strife?

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

America The Beautiful

—Katharine Lee Bates

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

—James 2:12-13

**Three of the five quotes are from Erwin Lutzer’s 2020 book, We Will Not Be Silenced. Lutzer gave a lively interview—”I think it’s okay to use the word bloody…No, you’re getting just enthusiastic enough.”—to Eric Metaxas this week. You can access that conversation here.

The Some Value Of Exercise

For physical training is of some value but godliness is of value in every way, holding promise for the present life and the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:8

It didn’t surprise me one bit.
 
Elizabeth Elliot exercised daily. This bold-meek saint and spiritual mother to so many trained her soul and her body. Theeulogy said that Elliot made a practice of “walking, biking or swimming in the ocean” near her oceanfront Massachusetts home.

Ann Dirks is another spiritual mother. At 83, she is as spry as most are at 33. This week she leads 25 kids through a sweet, savory maze that is the church’s Cooking Camp. Kneading, rolling, and mixing are no match for Ann.  And having sat beside her in Bible study, I vouch for Ann’s gracious, godly wisdom. Ann also happens to be an avid gardener. 
 
Elizabeth Elliot biked. John Piper jogs. Ann Dirks gardens. And Jonathan Edwards* broke up his Great Awakening sermon prep with walks and horse rides and chopping wood. A thread emerges.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that so many Christ-exalting, fruitful servants exercise their bodies. It might have been a throw-away line in Elizabeth Elliot’s tribute- the bit about her daily exercise-but I won’t toss it. I think it was a rare glimpse at an usually unseen thread.

Three Disclaimers

Disclaimer 1:

 
The paralyzed man dropped in from above and Joni Eareckson Tada prove it. Physical training is not a necessary means to God’s grace. It is not even close to the plane where prayer and the Word and assembling together rest. Some saints simply cannot exercise. No matter. It is only of some value. 


Disclaimer 2: 

Physical training can easily turn into an idol. Because the return is visible, we put some value over the great value of godliness. When we’re slave to our workouts-or the bodies they forge-we’d best take a time-out. One wise friend “gave up” exercise for Lent, seeing how work-outs were taking priority over all else, even time alone with the Lord.


Disclaimer 3: 

This side of heaven, our motives are mixed. God ordained that there would be outward gain to exercise. The mirror motivates. Buff biceps and lean legs please our eyes. It feels good to look good. (But maybe God ordained that, too?) Maybe we work our bodies to buffer our gluttony- an extra mile for a second slice of pie.
Ann Dirks at Cooking Camp


Yes, let’s do ask God to search our hearts and reveal wrong motives. But mixed or multiple motives is no excuse to toss in the towel. When God’s glory is our chief goal, and gladly loving our neighbors is key to that end, there is some value in physical training. 

Go Where Grace Flows


The body…is for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:13b, 19-20

The best reason to work the body is the best reason to work the soul. Not to avoid being caught, but because we were bought. It’s a means, not an end. The goal of training is to glorify God; to love him heart and soul, mind and strength. Glorify God in your body. 

Be Disciplined

Like the spiritual disciplines-the Word, prayer and fellowship-physical disciplines can be a means of God’s grace to us. I can’t make the water flow, but I can turn on the faucet. I can’t make the electric current flow, but I can flip the switch. We can’t supply it, but we can go where grace flows. 

Wee Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) placed themselves on the path of grace. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he begged mercy.  Grace, through faith, healed him. When Zacchaeus heard Jesus was passing by he climbed a tree to see. That very day, salvation entered his house.

While we can never earn God’s grace or make it flow, be we can position ourselves to get should He keep giving. We can put the barrel under the spout and be in place ready to receive grace. We can line the paths where he might pass.

 

Four Reasons to Exercise, Even if it’s Second-Rate Training

 
For me that place is biking the backroads when weather and children allow. It’s on the treadmill with some good sermons and a duct-taped notepad when they don’t. Wherever your place is, go there, and glorify God with your body. 
Woman and son biking on tandem bicycle

1. Serve strong.

If anyone serves, let him serve with the strength that God supplies, so that God in all things might be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:11

 
The obvious first: when you’re strong and fit, you’re better equipped for physical service. Fit people don’t get injured so easily or get sick so often. That means they have more energy to care for others. I can set up tables and chairs and help a friend move her boxes. I can bend low to pick Mom’s strawberries or help Dad hoist hay into the mow.
 
Being physically fit opens doors for service.

 

2. Remember more. 

Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he uttered. Psalm 105:5

Christians are called to remember. Over and over we are warned not to forget how God worked in the past. Since we have such short memories, He even sent a Helper to bring to our remembrance all he said (John 14:26). The Helper doesn’t only remind- or always remind-while I bike or jog, but He does a lot. The memory boost, like the calorie burn from weight training, is twofold: during and after.

My mind is more clear, more thoughtful and creative, while I bike than when I rest. I reflect, I remember, and memorized verses come to mind. But exercise helps us think straight after our heart rates go down, too. Over the long term, aerobic exercise reduces memory loss by reversing age-related shrinkage of the part of the brain largely responsible for memory.  

3. Transfer strength.

[S]training forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14

When the hill is steep, do you get off your bike and walk it up? Or turn around and coast down? Do you gear down and press on up? Exercise can be transposed to weightier matters. Physical work-outs can be the practice field for living strong in God’s grace in soul matters. 

I’m not sure if Jonathan Parnell runs or bikes, but he writes,

The more and more we prove to ourselves the presence of God’s grace in our work, the more and more we will be equipped, for the sake of our sanctification, to press in on that grace whenever the going gets tough. And this becomes our goal. This transposition becomes the fuel for that final push.

 

Making my body push up those hills somehow strengthens my soul to press on through life’s valleys.

God uses the grueling, gut-it parts of our work-outs to fuel the fight of faith.

4. Serve gladly.

Serve the LORD with gladness. Come before Him with joyful song. Psalm 100:2

You know what happens if Mama ain’t happy. Same is true about Papa. Or Auntie. My “sanctification level” fluctuates with the sleep I got last night and the jog I took this morning. I know the Lord loves a cheerful giver and I know patience and gentleness come a lot easier when I’ve had a good dose sleep and some exercise. 

That connection is central to why John Piper jogs:

I know that I am prone to depression and discouragement, and I have discovered that if I go to the gym three times a week and hammer my body, I don’t get depressed as often. I’m sure there are physical reasons for that…I know that it works. I know depression hurts my ministry, my marriage, and my parenting. So, for the sake of kingdom purposes I am off to the gym.

 

I think Elizabeth and Ann and Jonathan were on to it, too. How about you?

Do you know the some value of exercise? 

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.

So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

 

*Author Philip Gura describes how early in his pastorate, Jonathan Edwards established routines he’d keep for life.

He typically spent thirteen hours a day in his study but always punctuated this labor with some sort of recreation, usually walking or riding or, if the snow was too deep, chopping wood for half an hour or so. In the warmer seasons he commonly rode two or three miles “to some lonely grove,” where he would dismount and walk for a while, sometimes jotting his thoughts on small pieces of paper that he would pin to his clothes for the ride home.(Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical, pp. 58-59)