January 30, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Luke 4:1-2 (NRSV)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
As we do the inner work required of leaders, the story of the temptation of Jesus reminds us of how Scripture makes such a difference. Not only does the Bible reveal to us who God is, who we are, and what we’re called to do, but it also helps us see into our own hearts and minds. When we face temptations that would take us away from our best work, God will help us do the inner work that enables us to clarify our true identity and calling.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began exploring the inner work Jesus did during his forty days in the wilderness. As you may recall, immediately after his baptism by John, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. In this time of deprivation and enticement, Jesus did the inner work of clarifying his identity and calling.
In Luke 4:1-13, Jesus is tempted three times by the devil (also Matthew 4:1-11). Each temptation had something to do with Jesus’s unique identity and mission as the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. It was as if the devil was saying in various ways, “Jesus, since you are the Son of God, enjoy the benefits and glories that are yours.”
Jesus rejected each of the devil’s temptations. Every time, he did so by using Scripture as his shield and sword. For example, when the devil said, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread,” Jesus responded by quoting a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3, “One does not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4). He fended off the following two temptations with quotations from Deuteronomy 6:13 (“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”) and 6:16 (“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”).
To be sure, the example of Jesus teaches us about the power of Scripture to help us ward off the temptations in our lives. But it also reminds us of how Scripture can help us do the inner work we need to do. In the Bible, we learn who God is, what God is doing, who we are, and how we can participate in God’s work. This is crucial inner work. As Michaela O’Donnell and Lisa Pratt Slayton write in their forthcoming book, Life in Flux, inner work is “the work we undertake over time to become more wholly the people we’re uniquely intended to be.” (See also Michaela’s recent article, “How to Be a Better Boss.”)
Moreover, God often uses Scripture to help us peer into our own hearts, an essential element of inner work. As it says in Hebrews 4:12, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I might add that God’s Word also helps us see ourselves clearly so that we might do the inner work of examining the thoughts and intentions of our own hearts.
As I reflect on the temptation of Jesus and the inner work it provoked, I’m reminded of a season of temptation in my own life. Years ago, as I was serving as a pastor, an organization approached me about coming to work for them. The organization was highly regarded and the position they offered came with lots of influence and honor as well as a better salary than my current position. This was heady stuff for me, I must confess. As I considered this possibility, I knew that the work was good and that it was something I could do reasonably well. But I found myself being drawn, not so much by the organization’s mission, as by the perks of the job.
The temptation of this job opportunity led me to do some serious inner work. I wrestled with my desire for recognition, power, and wealth. I reflected quite a bit on the life and ministry of Jesus, including his temptation. I meditated on what Jesus said about coming, not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). In the end, I knew that I needed to decline the invitation that had been offered to me, not because the job itself was in any way wrong, but because I was wrong for the job.
The inner work I did when considering this possible move clarified my distinctive gifting and calling. Shortly after saying “No” to the new job, I became much more committed to writing as an extension of my pastoral work. At first, I was blogging daily. Then, a few years later, I began writing devotions. Now, having written more than 3,000 devotions, I can trace what I’m doing at this very moment back to the inner work I did over 20 years ago. I’m grateful for the way God used that whole experience of temptation to help me see more clearly who I am and what God was calling me to do.
As we do the inner work required of leaders, the story of the temptation of Jesus reminds us of how Scripture makes such a difference. Not only does the Bible reveal to us who God is, who we are, and what we’re called to do, but it also helps us see into our own hearts and minds. When we face temptations that would take us away from our best work, God will help us do the inner work that enables us to clarify our identity and calling.
Can you remember a time when you were facing work-related temptation? If so, what was this like for you? What happened?
Are you confronting temptation right now? If so, what are you doing about it? Are you open to doing the inner work you need to do? Will you ask God to help you?
In what ways has Scripture helped you to know who you are and what you’re supposed to do with your life?
If you are struggling with some kind of temptation right now, find a trustworthy brother or sister in Christ with whom to share and pray.
Gracious God, thank you for your Word, for your Word made flesh and your Word in Scripture. Thank you for all that you teach us through the Bible. Thank you for the way Scripture helps us to see into our own hearts so that we might do the inner work we need to do.
When I am tempted, Lord, help me to fend it off. May your Word guide, inspire, and empower me. May I have the courage to look inside of myself and to let you show me what I need to see. May I know more clearly who I am and what you’re calling me to be and do. Join me, I pray, in the inner work I need to do . . . guiding, revealing, affirming, healing, and calling. Amen.
Banner image by Kai Pilger on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Baptism and Temptation of Jesus.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.