Attending to Jesus

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Mark 1:12-13

It is astounding to me that Jesus––God incarnate––needed angels to attend to Him after His time of fasting and testing in the wilderness. The fact that Jesus would humble Himself to the point of needing attending to is amazing to me. He allowed Himself to be in need. He allowed Himself to suffer. He allowed Himself to go through the fire of trial and temptation.

This truth also points to the reality that Jesus continually chose not to tap into His power as God and instead continued to act only as a man. God does not need help. God does not need attending to by angels. But we do as humans. Jesus chose not to pull from His divinity. Instead, He chose only to pull from His connection to His Father and from the Holy Spirit within and upon Him. He did this to model for us the resources we have in our own connection to the Father and the Holy Spirit within and upon us.

The apostle Paul said it this way:

…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus, although He was in very nature God, never used His divinity to His own advantage. He chose to stay dependent on the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. All of Jesus’s strength came from the Father and through the Spirit. All of Jesus’s miracles, healings, and power came from the Father and through the Spirit. Though He could have tapped into His divinity at any point, He continually chose not to. And in doing so, He left us without excuse.

We don’t get to read through the Gospel accounts and let ourself off the hook by saying, “Yeah, but that was Jesus. He was God.” Jesus didn’t leave us that out. He modeled full dependency on the Father, complete obedience, and total cooperation with the Spirit as a man. When we are called to be Christ-like, this is what that means.

Jesus implied our ability to imitate His life when He said:

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

John 14:11-12

Jesus expected that we could look at His miraculous works and allow that to foster faith in Him. He also expected that whoever believes in Him would be able to do the same miraculous works, and even greater. What an incredible claim! And if that claim was spoken by a televangelist, I wouldn’t believe it. But it wasn’t. It was spoken by Jesus Himself and recorded in the word of God.

Jesus is our goal. He is our benchmark. His life is what we are trying to replicate by the transforming power of the Spirit within us. Our goal is to imitate the life of Jesus…full obedience and dependence on the Father…full cooperation with the Holy Spirit…total surrender to God’s will. And along with this the expectation that we too will face trials, temptations, and hardships in this life just as Jesus did. We too will face moments of such depths that we’ll also need angels to attend to us.

Spectrum of Influence

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:10-12

Scripture is clear that we are attacked by the enemy in various ways and at various levels. But not all demonic activity is the same. What I’ve noticed over the years is that there is a spectrum of demonic activity and influence in a people’s lives. Scripture speaks to this as well. Moving from light to heavy influence, there is the spectrum:

Temptation: this is when we are invited to believe a lie or to do something we know is wrong. The demonic spirit is outside of you whispering invitations and lies to your thoughts and emotions. If we were to use a preposition (which is difficult because we’re talking about things in the spirit realm) it would be “around.” The demonic spirit is circling around you. The image here is flies that are buzzing around your head that you have to swat away. Scripture says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. 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 10:12-14).

Harassment: this when the enemy seems to target one area of our life and launch continual temptations or attacks on that one area. The feeling is that we’re being hounded by temptation. If we were to use a preposition it would be “upon.” The enemy’s attacks are “landing” as it were. The image here is gnats that swarm around your face and get into your eyes. Harassment happens because we have started to believe the lies and may have given in some to the temptation. Scripture says, “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

Attachment: this is when we have given in to temptation and harassment and certain demonic spirits have found a foothold in our life. The feeling is that the demonic spirit is always there cranking what should be a level 3 temptation up to a level 8. If we were to use a preposition it would be “on” or “onto.” The demonic spirit is holding onto you and not letting go. The image here is a vulture who has landed on your back and has its talons dug in.

This is usually the point at which deliverance ministry starts to become necessary. At this point we often need the help of others to get free because we’ve given the enemy access to our life. Scripture says, “do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27), and for good reason. When a demonic spirit gets attached, it starts to wreak havoc in a person’s life. When demons that have been attached leave a person, they often just lift off of them. There usually aren’t a lot of fireworks. The person is usually just left feeling a sense of peace and rest.

Oppression/Stronghold: this is when we have consistently given the enemy access to our life through chronic sin or chronic affirmation of lies, and so the demonic spirits move in. Jesus describes our life like a house (Matthew 12:44). Oppression is when a demonic spirit (or spirits) enter our house and set up camp in at least one room of the house. They don’t own the house, but they occupy one room, one part of our life. If we were to use a preposition it would be “in” or “into.” The spirit is inside, trespassing on a Temple of the Holy Spirit, and needs to be kicked out in Jesus’s name.

At this point we often see demons who have been given so much territory and authority in a person’s life that they are able to take over a person’s body, facial expressions, eyes, and voice when they feel threatened. Demons will stay hidden as long as possible (that is their best defense) until they are confronted with the delegated authority of Jesus and the power of the Spirit operating through a person. When they realize they are threatened and exposed, they will sometimes try to puff up and take control of the person they occupy. Deliverance ministry is essential for this. Deliverance ministers function as police officers kicking out the trespasser and revoking its right to be there, all in the name of the King. We see Jesus cast out a number of demonic spirits that fit this category.

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Luke 4:33-35

When demons who have entered a person get kicked out, they often try to create a scene (as we see in Luke 4:35). They can sometimes leave violently as they fight to stay in the person. This can look like dry heaving, vomiting, coughing, shaking, flailing, screeching, or yelling. Their goal in leaving this way to create fear and embarrassment in the person, so we try to limit this reaction as much as possible in Jesus’s name. Interestingly, if the person is on antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, we have seen them leave with a yawn (instead of a violent cough or dry heaving).

Heavily Oppressed: this is the same as being oppressed but, in this case, multiple demonic spirits have taken over multiple rooms in a person’s life. If they are a believer in Jesus, we called this heavy oppression. If they do not have the Holy Spirit in them, this would be “possession.” Jesus warned about this possibility in Matthew 12.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. 

Matthew 12:43-45

And we see the reality of this condition with the Gerasene man who was heavily demonized. He “lived in the tombs” and, “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones“(Mark 5:3-5). He told Jesus, “My name is Legion,…for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

I have seen this reality firsthand. But in our culture, people who are heavily demonized look normal. They don’t live in caves with chains. They simply need the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated authority of the name of Jesus to help set them free. They need someone willing to fight for them and love them enough to go to battle against the tormentors in their life. They are beloved children of God who just want to be free.

At the lighter end of this spectrum, mostly what we need to be free is an encounter with truth. But as the influence of the enemy increases in a person’s life, we not only need a truth encounter but a power encounter. Conduits of the power and authority of Jesus must come and kick out the trespassers. Both kinds of encounter (truth and power) are necessary for us to experience freedom. And most of all, we need love. We need to know that no matter how far the enemy has dug into our life, we are still loved and cherished by our Heavenly Father. And our Father wants us to be set free even more than we do!

Trials and Temptations

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

God often allows us to face trials and temptations. He allows these to test our faith. Not unlike how we must complete tests in school before moving on to the next semester or the next grade level, so too must we face testing before stepping into the next thing God has for us. Testing, when handled well, matures our faith and fills in areas where there may be holes. But it will take some perseverance.

When trials and temptations come our way, they don’t have to discourage us or make us feel weak and sinful. Remember that Jesus was tempted but didn’t sin (Hebrews 4:15). Just because you face trials and temptations doesn’t mean you have sinned. The enemy likes to try to guilt trip us just for being tempted, as if we’ve already sinned. But don’t believe those lies. That’s the oldest trick in the book.

Instead, we can view our trials and temptations as useful tools that may reveal vulnerable areas or immature areas of our spiritual life. If we let them, they can function as a spiritual “check engine” light that comes on in the dashboard of our life. We can find joy in them because God is using them to show us where He wants to grow us and mature us. We can laugh at our weakness and vulnerability as it reminds us just how dependent we still are on the grace of God.

We can also rejoice in knowing that tests don’t last forever. When the day of testing comes to an end, and we’ve withstood the test, graduation is imminent. God always allows testing in our life before graduating us to the next level of responsibility and/or anointing in the Kingdom. He wants to find out ahead of time if we will be able to handle the weightiness that comes with the next assignment. He doesn’t want the weightiness of it to break us, so we get tested before it comes.

Testing also acts as a refining process. Like gold in the fire, we get refined as the impurities are burned away. God removes things that don’t need to be there, and He brings life in areas that have been dry. “Not lacking anything” is His goal for us.

So what trial are you facing? What temptation is knocking at your door? Don’t be discouraged. It doesn’t mean you are a miserable sinner forever prone to sin. No! You are a new creation in Christ, the old is gone, the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17). This trial and temptation, brought by the enemy to entangle you, can be used by God as a test to strengthen you. This test is revealing areas God want to solidify in you. And this test might be showing up in your life right now because it is right before a graduation/promotion that God wants to give you.

Finish Strong

Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

Judges 15:20

When people think of the biblical character Samson they usually focus on his strength and the fact that he was seduced by Delilah. Growing up in church, I heard over and over again the story of the end of Samson’s life–how Delilah deceived him into revealing the source of his strength and how that led to his demise.

But did you know that he led Israel for 20 years? Did you know that Samson’s story in the book of Judges stretches from chapter 13 through chapter 16. Samson’s life got four chapters of the Bible but usually only the last one is taught.

Did you know that the angel of the Lord showed up to Samson’s mom in the same way that He did to Gideon? Did you know that Samson’s mom had to commit to a Nazarite vow while she was pregnant with Samson even before Samson committed to it in his own life?

Did you know that Samson was married to a Philistine girl long before Delilah entered the picture? Yet, the girl’s father ended up giving her away to another man while Samson was gone on one of his exploits. To do this in that day (even in our own) was a total betrayal of trust.

Think about how many times Samson must have fought for and rescued the Israelites from the oppression of the Philistines in twenty years. Two decades of being an instrument of the Lord to save and deliver the people of God is no small thing. Yet, so many of us only remember the last few months of his life.

I believe this is a good warning for those of us following Jesus with our life and especially for those in full-time ministry. Finishing well is such an important thing in God’s Kingdom. People won’t remember the twenty years of faithful ministry. They’ll only remember the big mistake that brought you down. We’ve seen this truth play out with more than one famous minister that we respected.

The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians about how the Israelites rebelled against God in the desert and then gives them a warning:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 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 10:11-13

Paul reminds us:

1) If you feel strong against temptation, don’t get arrogant but stay humble. God’s grace is what empowers you to walk in holiness.

2) The enemy doesn’t have new tricks; his temptations with you will be the same that he’s used against others.

3) God is faithful. If you are following Jesus, He’ll help you navigate temptation.

4) The Holy Spirit will show you a way out and a way through. You’re never alone when facing temptation.

Paul knew how important it was to finish the race strong. We aren’t given permission to peter out at the end of our ministry or at the end of our life. God’s expectation is that we will run the race of life hard all the way through the finish line. We are never to let up and never get complacent.

To the leaders in the church of Ephesus Paul articulates the vision he has for his own life and a vision we should capture for our own:

 I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me…

Acts 20:24

How can you make sure you finish strong?