Pathways to Prayer, Part 2: Angels are Standing By
March 13, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Matthew 4: 10
10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” Then the devil left Him and suddenly the angels came and helped Him. (Good News Translation)
Thank you for reading this! Today we are continuing our study of prayer.
Last week, we looked at the idea of Silent Prayer - getting in touch with the Holy Spirit of God without words; letting "Spirit speak to Spirit". Today, Id' like us to focus on the "voices" and "energies" that drift into our minds when we pray; and not just when we are trying to pray - it's about every "struggling thought" we have!
I absolutely love the gospel story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness! First of all, this story must have come directly from the lips of Jesus. Otherwise, how would we know of it? Secondly, it is so wonderfully human. It tells me that Jesus was like us in every way - even down to the struggles we go through day by day. Let's explore this exciting and relevant story together. Today’s title and topic is: "Angels are Standing By."
Today we are going to discuss three important ideas that come from today’s Gospel. They are:
Jesus Understands Us,
You are Stronger than Your Struggles, and,
Angels are Standing By.
Jesus Understands Us
Today’s Gospel, which tells us about the temptation of the Lord, is the story of a struggle that Jesus had. This is a story that Jesus told to his Disciples, and he told about it firsthand. Even though he was the Son of God, Jesus did not have an easy life, he did not have a privileged existence. He struggled, as we all struggle. This tells me that Jesus understands and that God understands. God understands pain, temptation and struggle. If Jesus was immune to these things, how could we relate to him? But Jesus wasn’t immune to these things. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Jesus understands our struggles.
In this story it says that Jesus encountered the devil. Jesus was in this terrible wasteland of a desert. He was there in response to the powerful mountaintop experience he had during His Baptism. He, and others, heard the very voice of God say, "This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!"
He was so amazed, so overwhelmed, by this whole experience that he decided to go into the desert to pray. Did you ever wish you could do that sort of thing? I sure do. I often wish I could take some time to just think things over, to contemplate the meaning of the things that happen to me and around me; both the profound and the simple. The rush and urgency of live often prevent us. But Jesus did the right thing; He retreated to pray.
He went out into a desert that was the epitome of scary loneliness. He refrained from food. He refrained from conversation, except with His heavenly Father.
Then, in the midst of His hunger and fatigue, temptation came. Isn’t that when challenges come? When we are most vulnerable and weak?
You Are Stronger Than Your Struggles
Jesus tells us that the devil came to Him. Now, I wonder what this experience was like.
In the movies, there might be a woosh of acrid, purple smoke from which a scary personification of a devil would appear, in all his sly wickedness. What do you think? Do you think this is how it happened?
Actually, there would be some advantages to this kind of apparition. A personified devil would be somewhat easy to deal with, because we could see him; we could keep him out in front of us.
A personified devil would be a lot easier to deal with than, say, a devil in our head. We could keep our eye on a personified devil. We could defend ourselves. We could make clear distinction between him and us.
A devil that attacks our ideas is a whole different story. A devil that goes after out inner doubts and uncertainties and insecurities is a tough one indeed. I believe that this story is Jesus’s way of telling us that he had conflicts and struggles taking place in His mind. He was tempted in His mind to do that which distracted Him from His real purpose.
I tell you, friend, that makes me love Him all the more. That makes me feel close to Him. He knows what we go through.
So, what did Jesus struggle with?
The first two temptations begin with the phrase If you are the Son of God. If. Not even, "Since". If. What does that tell us about Jesus? Perhaps this tells us that Jesus is experiencing doubts, which are being generated by what Jesus calls the demonic voice.
Deep in His mind, I wonder if Jesus is worried about His identity as the Son of God.
Perhaps, at that moment, He was not quite sure of His vision. He was hungry. He was tired. He felt insecure. Could He be identifying with you and me?
I believe the third temptation is symbolic of Jesus’s struggle with people's expectations versus His inner knowing. He was struggling with the expectation people had of Him to become a military leader. People expected that He would overcome the Romans and put Israel in power.
He was struggling with the conflict of His vision of being the Son of God in contrast with the people’s expectations of the Messiah. After all, the cry, "Hosanna!" means, "Save us NOW!" How would He reconcile this expectation with the vision of His real purpose, which was to show people then and now, that God is Love, and is King of our hearts. So Jesus struggled, as we struggle and this shows us that Jesus Understands Us.
Jesus proved that we can be stronger than our struggles. To every one of the temptations, Jesus said, “No! Not that way, this way.” You can too. You can talk back to your struggles and be stronger than they are. You can say “No” to the negative voices and not let them talk you down.
Remember the story of the Wizard of Oz? Dorothy meets the Straw Man and they decide to visit the Wizard. As they are walking along the yellow brick road, they are terrified when a huge lion jumps out at them. The lion roars and makes them tremble. The lion then insults the Straw Man and leaves him cowering and fearful. Then tiny Dorothy bops the huge lion on the nose and says, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?" The lion just falls apart and says in a tremulous voice, "Why did you have to go and do that? Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?" Dorothy is astonished that she has such power. This little story has a powerful message.
You can say “No” to the terrifying voices. Jesus did in the midst of His struggles.
Angels Are Standing By
There is a crowning moment at the end of this wonderful story - Jesus tells us that the devil left Him, and angels came to Him. The word that describes what the angels did is a little hard to grasp. Different English translations say the angels, "ministered unto Him," (KJV) "waited on Him" (RSV) "tended to His needs" (Message). I like the Good News translation: "The angels came and helped Him." In the midst of all the doubting voices that Jesus heard, Jesus tells us that Angels came and helped Him. How?
Perhaps after the exhausting struggle of ideas, peaceful, encouraging, helpful, kind ideas came to His mind. Perhaps a group of merciful women were walking by, and shared water and some food and perhaps even an encouraging word with Jesus, and the Lord saw them as God's angels. Whether in human form or spiritual form, Jesus gave credit to these messengers of God.
Angels are standing by to help you, too. When you go into silent prayer and listen for the Angel voices, you will hear them.
What do you need to hear from the Angel voices today? Perhaps something like this:
• Healing is on the way,
• There is life beyond this challenge.
• God loves you.
• Jesus is near.
• You are forgiven.
• God has a bright future in store for you.
Take a moment in silence and think about what you need to hear from the Angel voices.
Go forth into your time of prayer this week knowing that:
Jesus understands you.
You are stronger than your struggles.
Angels, God's messengers, are standing by to help you just as they helped our Lord Jesus.
More next time.
God loves you, Friend. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2011 Anthony J. Godlefski