Fast answer: Nothing.
Slower answer: One comes from the devil and one comes from the Lord. But did you know that the same Greek word is used for both? Check out these familiar words:
My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.… Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires (James 1:2-3, 12-14, emphasis mine).
Each use of “trial” or “tempted,” translates the same Greek word. What that means in practical terms is that the same experience that tests you at the point of your faith lures you at the point of your desire.
Think of every experience as windows into different sides of the same house. Only the house is your own heart. From the front angle, you can peek in on what you believe. From the back side you can see what you fear. From one side you can see your deepest longings; from the other side, you can see your most selfish cravings. Your experiences, no matter who sent them, light up the house and reveal what’s inside.
Here are some every-day illustrations:
Becky has a teenaged son. Long ago, when Jason was still a baby, she “turned him over” to the Lord to protect and care for. She believes he is in God’s hands. She also knows he’s an hour late getting home on a Saturday night. His probably-dead cell phone goes straight to voice mail. Let’s take a peek into the windows of Becky’s heart.
- Front side (faith): She believes, at least in her head, that the Lord is his protector.
- Back side (fear): She is powerless to do anything at this point, so she imagines, with great detail, that something terrible has happened.
- Left side (deepest longings): She desires a safe, happy son who lives a long, productive, happy life with many children (her grandchildren, of course).
- Right side (selfish desires): She wants to knock his block off for “making” her worry. Or better still, find a way to punish him emotionally to get back at him for traumatizing his mother like that.
Five minutes later, Jason creeps in the door. How does Becky respond? That’s the test. That’s the temptation.
Paula is 18 and feels trapped. The product of a dysfunctional home, she’s been disappointed time and again by people she trusted, so she keeps a protective shell over her heart. At this point in her life, she just wants out of the house. And that’s where Jonathan, age 21, comes in. He doesn’t have much going for him spiritually. Professionally either, for that matter. But he seems safe. Reliable. And he doesn’t seem to demand too much in terms of emotional intimacy. She can’t say she loves him with abandon, but she gave up on marrying Prince Charming a long time ago.
- Front side (faith): Paula believes that God has a plan for her life. But she also believes that God helps those who help themselves, and “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
- Back side (fear): She is terrified of spending the rest of her life feeling alone and rejected or living in constant drama.
- Left side (deepest longings): She wants more than anything to be loved for who she is, unconditionally.
- Right side (selfish desires): She wants to always be in control of the situation – and the people in it – in order to feel safe.
Jonathan is planning to take her out to celebrate their dating anniversary tonight. She knows he is going to propose. That’s the test. That’s the temptation.
Blake seems to be carved out of pure potential. He’s bright, likeable, and a natural leader. Many things have come easily and effortlessly to him, and frankly, Blake prefers it that way. He tends to bail on friendships that get complicated. He quits jobs and ends relationships at the first sign of conflict or real stress. And now, with grad school approaching and his wedding less than two months away, Blake discovers his fiancé Jasmine, whom he loves very much, has some pretty serious medical issues.
- Front door (faith): Blake believes that God can make a way where there is no way. He also believes, more than he knows, that difficult situations must mean he should look for an easier path.
- Back door (fear): He is afraid of disappointing the people who have told him all his life how awesome he is. He is also terrified of failure. But his greatest fear of all is simply not knowing what lies in front of him.
- Left side (deepest desires): He longs for his life to count – to make a significant contribution somehow in the world.
- Right side (selfish desires): He won’t let anything or anyone stand in the way of his great purpose in life – whatever that is.
Blake’s phone rings, and it’s Jasmine, in tears. The doctors have confirmed she needs surgery and extended treatment and therapy beyond that. The wedding will have to be postponed. That’s the test. That’s the temptation.
Okay, your turn. Look at your biggest life situation right now. Is it money? A relationship? A decision to make? Take a peek inside the four sides of your heart.
- What do you believe? About God? About life? About people? However you respond to this situation, you will be broadcasting your truest beliefs, loud ‘n’ proud.
- What to you fear? Answer “nothing,” and I’ll call you a liar. Get clear on this one, and it will amaze you how much pain and trouble you can avoid.
- What are your deepest, noblest longings? Whatever the situation, somewhere deep in your heart you long for something good, acceptable, and perfect. What is that?
- What are your rawest, most selfish desires? You may not be proud to admit it, but look at it for what it is.
So… given that we’re all such a mixed bag, how do you choose well? How do you invest in your future and eternity and keep from making choices you’ll spend a lifetime regretting?
Tell you next time.
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