For the last three weeks our church leadership has encouraged us to spend an extended time in prayer and fasting. Fasting gives our spirits practice in overcoming the desires of the flesh; it frees up time for prayer and money for almsgiving; it helps us to draw near to God; and it gives our digestive systems a valuable rest and an opportunity to dispose of built-up toxins. Jesus assumed that his followers would fast, as well as pray and give alms. (See 1 Corinthians 9:27; Acts 13:2,3 and 14:23; Matthew 6:17 and 9:15.)
I opted to fast every Tuesday and Friday, and yesterday was my final day of this. Relief! Usually I don't find it too hard, but much of yesterday and especially in the evening I was greatly tempted to eat something. I was of course free to eat something if I wanted to, but I had chosen to fast for the Lord and I didn't want to go back on that commitment. So I had to keep asking the Lord to help me. And here's how he did it...
I found myself thinking about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, being tempted not to go through with his forthcoming crucifixion. The point of the temptation was that his heavenly Father wasn't forcing him to do this, any more than he was forcing me to go without food. At any moment Jesus could have called on twelve legions of angels to rescue him. Even at his trial and arrest he could have disappeared from among his captors, as he once did in Galilee when a mob tried to throw him off a cliff. It would have been easy for him to avoid enduring the horrible agony of a Roman crucifixion. Yet he stuck to his decision to do the will of his Father. And here was I in contrast, almost unable to resist the temptation simply to eat a slice of bread and cheese! It made me realize how wonderful Jesus was.
I also realized more clearly how essential it was for Jesus to experience and conquer what must surely have been the greatest temptation that any human being could experience. I'm not saying he was the only person to experience such a temptation - when people are tortured to make them confess something the temptation to confess is probably similar, especially if their loved ones are threatened if they don't confess - but I don't believe that anyone has endured any greater temptation than Jesus did. (See Hebrews 4:15.)
By resisting the enormous temptation to avoid his own crucifixion Jesus defeated Satan's worst possible attack on him. As a fully human being he overcame Satan and thereby demonstrated that it is possible for you and me to do the same with the help of God's Holy Spirit within us. He finally lived a human life free from sin, which Adam had failed to do, and thereby made it possible for us to inherit a new nature like his own, able to resist and overcome the Evil One. (Romans 5:18 - 6:6 and 1 John 4:4)
Of course one thing that helped Jesus was the knowledge that his death would not be the end of him. We too have the assurance that if we are faithful unto death we shall receive a crown of life. (Revelation 2:10) In Revelation chapters 2 and 3 the Lord seven times offers an eternal reward to those who conquer, i.e. to those who conquer the temptations of Satan to compromise with the world, to disobey deliberately God's clear commands, to capitulate to false teaching and lies, to fear men rather than God, and to opt for a life of ease and comfort rather than dedicating themselves, their energy, their time and their possessions 100% to serving Jesus and his kingdom. (See Luke 14:25-35.)
So how are we doing in our ongoing fight against the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil? Are we conquerors as Jesus was? (1 John 2:13b and 5:4; Romans 8:37) If not, perhaps a period of prayer and fasting is what's needed.