Jesus was very clear about the demands of the role that He undertook to become our Saviour. He expects that same clarity of purpose from His followers.
Prior to His public ministry, there were forty days of spiritual preparation in which Christ denied His body, His temporal being to focus on the eternal goal of our salvation.
In His first wilderness temptation, He was challenged to use His divine power over the natural world to satisfy His hunger. This is the lust of the flesh: ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ (Matt. 4:3) Satan’s subtle interrogation insinuated the idea that people would only believe in Jesus if He demonstrated the absence of human vulnerability by miraculous means. The subtext is ‘perhaps the cross is more a hindrance than a help to your divine cause’. The fear of inadequacy is Satan’s only foothold. Jesus’ rebuttal returns the Devil to another wilderness of temptation: one in which the Israelites grumbled against God over its hardships and were denied entry to the Promised Land. If we go back to the original text that He quoted, we see how relevant it was to Him, and by extension, to us.
The full text from Deuteronomy 8:3 - 5 goes like this: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.’
From Adam’s time until then, men knew that by the sweat of their brow (hard labour) they would eat bread. The LORD said, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’ For thousands of years, Men have worked hard to discover better ways to extract sustenance from the harsh and hostile natural environment we call Earth. We’ve even become good at it, but this is no preparation for the adversity of war (spiritual or otherwise), any more than reading books on army survival tactics.
The only way to prepare Israel for that higher dependence on God needed to conquer the Promised Land was to reduce their sense of self-sufficiency through inadequacy and vulnerability.
God was not looking on and smugly exposing their weaknesses by natural deprivation for His own pride and amusement. Like an SAS Sergeant, He was imparting the survival skill of dependence on God’s promise (word) as enough by itself to sustain them in sudden, impossible situations and to overcome physically superior forces.
They needed the drill: ‘When times get tough, we don’t complain, we give our best and pray God’s reign!’ This was the battle cry needed to unleash divine power.
‘Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.’ (Lev. 26:8)
The SAS training regime does involves physical endurance, combat, survival and evading capture. Recruits are also told that part of the selection process involves torture. In spite of this, many crack under pressure, hoping that the interrogator will relent and restore comfort in exchange for betraying the positions of comrades and publicly damning their own country and its policies. Only 2 – 7% of recruits are selected.
May God help us to overcome as Jesus did, seeing ourselves as God’s recruits in deprivation training. For it is better to die loyal, than survive as a broken traitor.