THE TIME OF TESTING
"'Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.'" Luke 22:31-32 (The Message).
Jesus' words are packed with insight into God's ways. It would pay us to understand and heed what He said to Peter.
Firstly, there is great significance in a name. Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter and yet on this occasion He addressed him as "Simon." To the Hebrew people a name was a prophetic utterance of character. "Simon" means "listener" or "hearing", but Jesus prophesied that he would become a "rock". Why did Jesus revert to his old name? It seems that He did this when Peter reverted to behaving like his old self. He was "hearing" but was he heeding the words of Jesus. Jesus was warning him that he was in grave danger of behaving like the old Simon.
Secondly, how strange that Jesus did not pray for Simon to be prevented from being tested! It seems that every time we are tested, both God and Satan have an agenda. Satan's design was to drive a wedge between Him and His disciples so that their fellowship would be disrupted. God's agenda was to expose their vulnerability so that they would get to know themselves and put their trust in Him in their weakness.
If we were protected from temptation, we would be as spineless as jelly fish. Even if we give in to temptation, as Peter did, it does not mean that we are disqualified from being Jesus' disciples. It is a necessary part of our journey to true sonship. How can we grow in our dependence on God if we have no idea of how really weak we are?
Thirdly, temptation is not about strengthening our will power. There would be no benefit in that because God's purpose is to train us to trust Him, not ourselves. The Apostle Paul tried to wriggle out of his trial which he called his "thorn in the flesh". He pleaded with God to take it away. Instead, God explained its purpose.
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me...For when I am weak then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV).
Paul's experience and his explanation help to put our trials in perspective. Where Satan's agenda is to arouse suspicion and alienate us from God, God's agenda is to strengthen our reliance on him. Temptation is never from God. James makes that clear. "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone." James 1:13 (NIV). But God is never caught off guard. He gives us the option to give in or trust Him for strength to resist the devil by submitting to Him.
Fourthly, Jesus did not pray Simon out of the test. He prayed that he would come through it without giving up so that he would be able to lift his fellow disciples up when they fell because of his own experience. Gentleness and humility cannot be learned any other way and these are the hallmarks of a disciple, as imitators of Jesus. Jesus prayed particularly for Simon because he was the natural leader. He was a 'hearer' but he needed to be honed into a 'rock' so that others could learn from and depend on him in their time of testing.
We can draw great encouragement from Jesus' words to Peter. From His perspective, Peter's fall did not spell disaster but growth - getting to know himself and God's grace. Satan's agenda is to destroy but if we handle our failures with understanding, they will serve as valuable learning experiences, exposing our vulnerability and strengthening our faith in God.
The same Peter who failed his Master so badly, said this, "In this (his readers' hope of resurrection) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith -- of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire -- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed." 1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV).
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