St. Augustine on Overcoming Temptation

Saint_Augustine_PortraitHere St. Augustine of Hippo comments on Psalm 61:1-2, reflecting on the reality that Christ was tempted in the wilderness to show us how to overcome temptation and trials.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer. Who is speaking? An individual, it seems. See if it is an individual: I cried out to you from the ends of the earth while my heart was in anguish. Now it is no longer one person; rather, it is one in the sense that Christ is one, and we are all his members. What single individual can cry from the ends of the earth? The one who cries from the ends of the earth is none other than the Son’s inheritance. It was said to him: Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession. This possession of Christ, this inheritance of Christ, this body of Christ, this one Church of Christ, this unity that we are, cries from the ends of the earth. What does it cry? What I said before: Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer; I cried out to you from the ends of the earth.  That is, I made this cry to you from the ends of the earth; that is, on all sides.

Why did I make this cry? While my heart was in anguish. The speaker shows that he is present among all the nations of the earth in a condition, not of exalted glory but of severe trial.

Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.

The one who cries from the ends of the earth is in anguish, but is not left on his own. Christ chose to foreshadow us, who are his body, by means of his body, in which he has died, risen and ascended into heaven, so that the members of his body may hope to follow where their head has gone before.

He made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan. We have heard in the gospel how the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Certainly Christ was tempted by the devil. In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained salvation for you; he suffered death in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you.

If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.

[Source: Commentary on the Psalms Ps. 60, 2-3: CCL 39, 766]

Jesus, Light to the Nations

As we continued our series “Power in Preparation” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church my good friend and colleague here at Eastbrook, Pastor Femi Ibitoye, explored Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:12-17. I appreciated the insights that Femi shared in this message, as well as the personal testimony he shared from his life about Jesus being the light.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

Jesus, light of the world to the nations

  • Jesus is light to the gentiles
  • Jesus is the Light that overcomes the darkness (Matthew 4:16)
  • Jesus is King in this Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7)
  • All people (including the Gentiles) are invited into this Kingdom
  • All have sinned and must repent to enter it (Matthew 4:17)

What does the Light of Christ do?

  • It gives life
  • It sets people free from fear, darkness and death
  • It exposes sin and brings healing
  • It illuminates (provides wisdom and knowledge)
  • It provides direction and guidance

What should our response

  • Pray-Repent
  • Worship God- Like the Magi, 1 Peter 2:9, like Jesus mentioned in his temptation in Matthew 4:10, Deuteronomy 6:13
  • Reflect the light of Jesus. Matthew 5:16
  • Let the Word of God be a priority (Matthew 4:4, Psalm 119:105

Power and Weakness: Part 3 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

This is the third and final post in a series on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (read part 1 and part 2). I’m writing on this significant book in order to continue reflecting on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which serves as the basis for Nouwen’s writing, and is also the place we are at in our preaching series, “Power in Preparation,” from the Gospel of Matthew. I conclude this series of posts by looking at the third and final part of that book: “From Leading to Being Led.”

The Temptation to be Powerful
Just as Jesus was tempted by Satan to use his power to influence people for his ministry goals, so, Nouwen says, we face the temptation to do ministry relying on power to control others instead of acknowledging our weakness to be led by others.

The true way of Christian service and leadership, according to Nouwen, exhibits these characteristics:

  • downward mobility like Jesus toward the Cross – not upwardly mobile toward what is wrongly called ‘success’
  • willing to be ‘radically poor’ to follow Jesus into unattractive places – not caught up in the wealth and riches of this world
  • allowing Christ to form their entire lives – body, mind, heart – not just intellectually following the ideas of Jesus
  • helping people hear God’s voice in their real lives – not just chattering on about their own ideas

In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer at the end of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage that reads:

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life.

I wonder if our Christian service is shaped by the Cross as much as it is by pursuit of “success,” however we may define it? I wonder, what sort of leaders are we? Do we lead ‘in the name of Jesus’ or in our own name?

I wonder aloud, how can we practically let Jesus lead us in His downwardly mobile, humble, poor, and God-oriented way?

Community and Identity: Part 2 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

Yesterday I began a series of three posts on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. I continue that series here by delving into the second part of that book: “From Popularity to Ministry.”

Doing Ministry Together
I have read this book several times, but I continue to be deeply impacted by Nouwen’s emphasis on the fact that ministry is shared and not something in which we strive “to do something spectacular, something that could win [us] great applause” (53). How often I have seen in myself and others a twisted motivation in ministry aimed at the wrong end: praise, attention, recognition, or accolades. We sometimes become bent on others’ opinions that we miss the true nature of ministry.

True ministry involves proclaiming the gospel together, not lifting up ourselves. True ministry comes from a place of reliance and interdependence, where trust that “the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road” (59).

Think of that. I wonder, when we engage in ministry with others, are we so together in it that we trust God to reveal himself to and through us to others? Or are doing something else entirely? Are we competing with others for the praise and glory of ourselves in the eyes of other humans?

Who We Are – Who We Are Not
Our twisted motivations often come from twisted souls. Nouwen presses the conversation of this second part of the book toward the heart of the matter: our identity in Christ. We need to know our identity and, specifically, that ministry it is not about us, but about God.

Nouwen writes:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. (62)

If you skimmed that section quickly, let me encourage you to stop and read it again. This is so important and challenging.

I wonder, do we know who we are and who we are not when it comes to ministry? I know it is such a struggle. It is vital that we let go of our need to appear competent, to be needed, and to be seen as the source of good in ministry. We are made in the image of God and valuable in that regard, but we are also, in a sense, unnecessary to God. He does not need us to do ministry, but He does desire to work in and through us. There is a holy humility to this aspect of knowing our identity. There is a freedom in letting go of our need for acclaim and simply relying upon God to work.

This can be a fierce struggle, but it also can become one of the freeing joys of truly doing our ministry in the name of Jesus.

What If God Is Leading Us Into the Wilderness?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

What if God is leading us into the wilderness? As I’ve written before, the wilderness is that place of judgment, purification, and renewal with God. What purpose does God have for such a work in our lives? In Deuteronomy, Moses offers insight about it:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Moses reminds the people that the wilderness was God’s way of humbling and testing them on their way to the Promised Land, and it serves a similar purpose in God’s work with us.

The wilderness humbles us as we are brought face to face with our weakness and inadequacies. God wants us to realize our own powerlessness, so that we might turn to Him. The Apostle Paul experienced a wilderness of his own weakness revealed with a persistent thorn in his flesh. While we do not know exactly what that thorn was, the wilderness experience led Paul into an encounter with the all-sufficient grace of God. In light of God’s grace, he declared: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The humbling of the wilderness brings us into that true encounter with our need and God’s provision.

The wilderness also tests and reveals what is truly in our hearts. When we are brought to the end of ourselves—humbled more than ever before—what we love and who we are is brought out into the light. We cannot hide it any longer, even from ourselves. Of course, God does not need to test us to see what is in our hearts. He already knows it. But He tests us so that we, too, might honestly see who we are and what we love, and be moved toward change through that testing.

There is humbling upon humbling in the wilderness. It is not easy and we often resist it. But through the wilderness, God intends to bring us to a crossroads. At that crossroads, we grapple with many penetrating questions. Will we serve God or serve ourselves? Will we build our lives around love for God or around love for ourselves? Will we walk in obedience to God or obey other masters? Will we bow down to God or bow before other false gods? The wilderness forces us to wrestle with these questions beyond superficiality and into the deep places of our souls.

In the wilderness, we are humbled and tested. The wilderness is a great revealer in the spiritual life. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, we can be assured that God has a purpose. He takes us into the wilderness both for our good and His glory in us. May we respond to Him—and not flee from Him—when He leads us into the wilderness.