Temptations come in many guises. There are the obvious ones—alcohol to an alcoholic, internet porn, illicit drugs. There are the ones we can rationalize—overeating (I obviously struggle with that one!), irresponsibility, such as watching TV or playing games when you should be doing something else, selfishness, preferring our comfort over the needs of others.
Life is full of temptations to ignore God, disobey His word, put ourselves first. We all are faced with an ongoing stream of ways to get life wrong, but recently I came across an incident in Luke 22 that’s helping me do better.
To set the stage, Jesus and the twelve apostles have just celebrated the Passover when a dispute arises about who will be the greatest. Simon Peter, always the passionate disciple and perhaps hoping for special favor, assures Jesus that no matter what happens, he’s going to be a true friend and stick by his Lord. Well, his heart is in the right place, but we never know exactly how we’ll react until the time comes.
In Luke 22:31-31 Jesus replies, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Of course, we all know what happened next. Jesus was arrested and Peter did indeed deny him three times. The resurrected Jesus restores Peter, who goes on to be a steadfast pillar of the early church. Jesus’ comment came true.
As I contemplated the times I’ve missed the mark, I realized that there are three principles in this short exchange that give me some perspective and a better attitude (I can always use that!).
First, Satan had to ask God for permission to tempt Peter. (This is true in Job, too, and appears to be a universal principle, at least for people who are committed to God.)
As James says,
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (James 1:13-14)
I find it extremely comforting that nothing can come against me without God’s knowledge and permission. Sure, I might not like whatever I’m going through, but just knowing that God is aware of my predicament makes me feel safer.
Second, Jesus is praying for us! If “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,” (James 5:6) think about how powerful and effective Jesus’ prayers are! And I doubt that Jesus’ prayers are of the “please bless Leslie” variety—I think He knows exactly how to pray and what to pray for.
Finally, not only is Jesus praying, but His prayers are answered. He told Peter, “And when you have turned back….” Not “if” but “when”! There was no doubt. In fact, the risen Jesus deliberately confronted Peter and asked him three times if he loved Him—one for each denial. And each time, Jesus gave him a task to do—“feed my sheep.” (See John 21:15-17.) Not only was Peter welcomed back, but he was still considered a worthy participant in building the kingdom of God.
Yes, God allowed Satan to attack Peter, but as Paul says,
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Maybe I need to spend less time justifying my actions (or lethargy) and more time asking God about the way out that He’s provided.