Another way in which God works in our world is through testing and temptations. (He isn’t the author of temptation, as James makes clear, but He does use them for our good.) It’s noteworthy that before Jesus began His earthly ministry, immediately after His baptism (which in many ways confirmed His identity as the Son of God to others), He was led by the Spirit of God in the wilderness to be tested. (Matt 4:1) Would He not only do what the Father wanted, but do it in ways that were compatible with how the Father worked?
The first temptation was to turn the stones into bread. (Matt 4:3) Here, we have the temptation to put Himself first, to meet His own needs, to assuage His hunger through miraculous means. Jesus rejected the temptation, reminding the devil, from the word of God rather than from His own strength, that ‘man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matt 4:4) We must never do God’s work in our own strength, putting ourselves first.
The devil then wanted to use Jesus to dazzle the crowds of the people on the streets below with a miracle, to put a little excitement into their dull lives, jumping from the roof of the temple and seeing God’s angels rescue Him in the kind of miraculous entertainment and distraction which many of us want from religion. (Matt 4:6-7) Jesus saw this for what it was: putting God to the test, rather than living in trust. Miracles do form part of a life of faith, but they come as God sees fit, not as a distraction to the difficulties of life or a substitute for trust. Every time we seek alternatives to trust, whether that is through our own hard work and effort or other means, we are deviating from the way God works. Trusting is the one ingredient which we can never omit from a life of discipleship.
The final temptation was the temptation to worship the devil and thus gain worldly success: he ‘showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”’ (Matt 4:8-9) In essence, this is the temptation most of us face regularly: doing things the world’s way, calling success what the world calls success, succumbing to worship of the visible and tangible instead of the invisible and spiritual. Jesus’s identity as the Son of God meant He had a greater kingdom than anything the devil could offer; He was there to announce the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). He didn’t need to do things the devil’s way, and nor do we.
We would prefer not to face trials, temptations and troubles, but God uses these to refine us, strengthen us and teach us repeatedly to trust in Him alone. Like Jesus, we are tested so that we learn to do things God’s ways, rather than our own.