How is your spiritual life? Is it vibrant and amazing? Or not so much? Do you feel like you are right where God wants you, that you are living out the gospel, or do you feel stuck? And if you feel stuck, do you know how to get unstuck?
Luke 4 is a fascinating chapter of the Bible. It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and it is full of highs and lows. Recall that Jesus did not start his ministry until He was 30 years old. That’s a long time. That’s enough time for routines and expectations to build up. It’s even enough time to think that things may never change. We get in that mindset sometimes. We’re looking around and saying, “Well, I guess that’s it. This is all I have to look forward to.” The same responsibilities, the same opportunities, the same relationships. I doubt any of those thoughts were on Jesus’ mind when He went into the wilderness, but then again, He was the perfect Son of God. Yet, what is true is that He needed to break out of His habits and lifestyle to follow the call of God on His life. Here’s the first part of the story (vss. 1-13):
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
So, how did Jesus get to the wilderness? The Spirit led Him there. This is where we have to begin in our quest to get unstuck and get moving. The first principle of getting unstuck is that we need to let God’s Spirit lead us out of wherever we are at. It’s not enough to talk to someone about our situation, as wise as their counsel might be, and it’s not enough to plan a way out. The world’s way of thinking about this is, try something, then if that doesn’t work, try something else. The emphasis is on getting out of the situation we’re in, rather than actually feeling a calling to something else. The Israelites were led out of Egypt, but they were also led to the Promised Land. Without the Spirit’s wisdom and timing, we are just operating in our own limited understanding and ability, and one of two things will happen:
1) we will simply remain stuck where we are, or
2) we will do something unwise and wind up in an even worse situation.
And this takes us to the second principle, which is that we have to agree with the Spirit. Jesus had a part to play in starting His ministry – the Spirit led Him, but He had to follow. He had to agree with His heavenly Father that this was the best possible plan for Him, despite the fact that I’m sure He was aware of what awaited Him. This is a subtle reality of getting unstuck: if we are just along for the ride and are not completely committed to God’s plan, when we wind up in an uncomfortable situation it could cause us to doubt our agreement with God and go right back to being stuck again. God has His sovereign will, which will be accomplished no matter what, but the remarkable thing is that He has given us a moral will to say yes or no to Him. There is no more powerful position as a follower of Christ than to agree with and submit to God’s sovereign plan.
Which brings us to the third principle, that we have to keep on agreeing with the Spirit, even when things get tough, and even when we see loss, not gain; conflict, not peace. Following the Spirit into the wilderness was just the beginning of the challenges for Jesus, not only with the devil’s temptations, but with the town folk back in Nazareth. Let’s keep reading the story:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Have you have been to Israel? I’ve been to Israel twice. The first time, when we arrived at Nazareth, the tour guide took us to where there was an amazing view, just on the edge of town. Nazareth is elevated, and it overlooks the Jezreel Valley, the valley that Revelation identifies as where the final battle of Armageddon will take place. Can you imagine, as the One who would come one day riding on a white horse, to look at that view every day growing up? And now, Jesus’ neighbors and relatives want to throw Him off of that same cliff. The contrast couldn’t be more stark. Have you ever asked yourself, why was everyone angry enough with Jesus that they wanted to kill him? There are actually many reasons, but here are two:
First, as Jesus said, a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown; or as Keith Green put it in one of his songs, prophets don’t grow up from little boys, do they? The townspeople just couldn’t stand to be told off by one of their own.
Second, interestingly, the people of Nazareth did not turn on Jesus for saying that Isaiah 61 was fulfilled in their hearing. We are told that once He finished reading they spoke well of Him. One assumes this was because He perhaps read eloquently, or maybe He reminded them that their servitude under the Roman Empire would one day end.
But then everything changed, not because of the Scripture reading, but because of Jesus’ reminisces about some Old Testament stories. But what was the big deal? Because in all of those stories, God showed favor for Gentiles over Jews. Nazareth was part of “Galilee of the Gentiles,” as Scripture puts it, and the Jews of the town lived with that label. And here Jesus was, Jesus who had grown up with them, chastising the Jews because of their unbelief, and telling them, as John the Baptist had, that God could raise up children of Abraham from stones. In one way, we can say that Jesus’ fate was sealed in the very first days of His ministry; that His three-year journey to the cross began this day.
So, Jesus had broken out of the routine of his growing up, had faithfully followed the Spirit out to the wilderness, had endured the temptations of satan, relying on His Father every step of the way, only to return to the relative safety of Nazareth and have the people try to kill Him. As a tv commercial once said, “Hard work is the reward for hard work!” So, here’s the fourth and final principle of getting unstuck: we need to eliminate the words “unfair” or “unjust” from our vocabulary. I mean, really, what do you think Jesus’ response was to the threat of being tossed off the cliff? “Father, this is so unfair! I chose to agree with your plan and follow you, and this is the way you repay me?” No. In speaking about Jesus’ determination to fulfill His calling, the King James version uses the powerful phrase, “I set my face like a flint.” It was just sheer determination in the confidence of the Spirit that allowed Him to complete those three years of His ministry.
We Americans want our way, don’t we? And we will whine all day if we don’t get it. It’s funny, isn’t it, how very objective we can be when it comes to assessing the lives of those in Scripture, whereas we are completely subjective when it comes to evaluating our own lives. We know the stories of the Bible characters, we know how they turn out, so we believe somehow that it was easier for them to be obedient than it is for us. But just imagine deciding for God’s plan, and as a result being threatened by an angry mob made up, not of strangers, but of the people you grew up with! Even if you did know the ending of the story, it wouldn’t make it any easier to endure.
We all wish we knew what was coming after we got unstuck, as Jesus surely did, but the truth is we should be grateful we don’t. As I’ve thought back on it, I’m so glad my wife and I didn’t know anything of what we were getting ready to experience when we said yes to going to Ukraine as missionaries. We never would have gone. I just wanted to get unstuck, and when the invitation came to go, we agreed with the Holy Spirit and went. We went for one year, which turned into two, then three, then seven. In hindsight I can say that we would never trade the experience. But in the midst of our time in Ukraine, of people saying and doing ugly things, of conflict with co-workers, of possessions being pickpocketed, of spiritual warfare, of sleepless trips on uncountable overnight trains, there were most definitely times we thought about quitting. Yet, we set our face like a flint, we kept agreeing with God about His plan, and tried (as best we could) not to utter the words unjust, unfair, or cry foul over some perceived wrong we had to endure.
And please know that these principles of getting unstuck apply everywhere and at any time, not just on the mission field. No matter where we are stuck or why, these principles need to be applied, every day. It’s not easy. But as Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, “If it was easy, everybody would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” So I encourage you, if you feel stuck today, to allow the Spirit to lead you, to agree with the Spirit, to keep on agreeing with the Spirit, and to try not to tell our loving and just God what justice and fairness are supposed to look like. I know you will be blessed as a result.
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