The Pain and Pleasure Test
God never asks you to do anything that He doesn’t give you the ability and the power to do. The same is true of leadership. God doesn’t ask you to be a leader unless He gives you the abilities to lead, the opportunities to lead, the resources to lead and the people to lead. He won’t ask you to be a leader without giving you the gifts of leadership. That’s what those things are – opportunities, abilities, resources, and people.
That’s the upside of leadership. God gives you those gifts to do it.
The downside is Satan always tries to pervert anything that God gives you. Satan has never created anything original in his life. All he can do is pervert the gifts that God gives us. God gave us sex – Satan tries to pervert it. God gave us marriage – Satan tries to pervert it. God gave us the ability to make money – Satan tries to pervert it. God gave us all the things we have in life; every good gift came from God. Satan tries to abuse and misuse whatever God gives us.
God will give you these gifts, these abilities, to lead other people and influence others. But Satan will try to tempt you to use them for selfish purposes.
Of course the papers are full of stories right now of very talented people using their abilities for the wrong reasons and in selfish ways.
For the next three issues, we are going to look at the Temptations of Leadership. We are going to start by looking at Matthew 4:1:“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.(all verses quoted NIV unless otherwise noted”. What happened before the “then”? We need to look at the previous verses to understand the context of these temptations. The Bible says this in Matthew 3:16-4:1 “As soon as Jesus was baptized He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”
This is very important. Notice the timing of temptation. After every mountaintop there’s a valley. After every spiritual high there’s a spiritual low. This is going to happen in your life. You can count on it. After a time of success with God you’re going to have a time of tempting with the devil.
And actually this is right after a spiritual experience. He’s had this momentous baptism. It’s Jesus’ coming out party. It says, “After He came up out of the water…” He was baptized and the heavens open up. The Holy Spirit comes down like a dove. A voice from heaven. This is pretty spectacular stuff. What an affirmation! Jesus has to feel good. “This is My Son,” God says.
What happens? Right after that He goes into a desert experience, lonely, by Himself, to be tempted by the devil. That’s going to happen in your life. The temptation often comes after an affirmation.
But it also comes right before you begin leadership. As it did in this example before Jesus began His leadership. The first thing He does after the temptation is He starts His ministry. He starts serving. He starts leading. God is going to call you to lead, and then you will be tested.
There are three basic temptations. You’re going to fight all three of them the rest of your life. The first one tests your maturity, the second one tests your integrity, and the third one tests your priorities.
The first temptation of leadership, and the one that we are going to deal with this month, is what I call the Pain and Pleasure Test.
If you’re going to be a leader you’re going to have your pain and pleasure tested. This reveals your maturity. Why? Let me give you a definition of maturity. Maturity is the ability to endure pain and to delay pleasure. That’s the mark of maturity. Emotional maturity is the ability to endure pain and to delay pleasure. In other words you do the hard stuff before you get to do the easy stuff. Immature people just want to do the easy stuff. They have no patience. They’re impatient. They’re impulsive. They don’t know how to wait, how to delay gratification. They’ve got to have it now. They’re impatient and impulsive.
The best example of this is a baby. A baby doesn’t know how to wait. A baby cries instantly. It’s frustrated. It’s unhappy. It is thwarted. It’s not having its needs met. It doesn’t know how to endure pain and it doesn’t know how to delay pleasure. It’s immature. That’s why one of the goals of parenting is to teach your kinds the difference between “no” and “not yet.”
We live in a very immature culture today. We want everything and we want it all now. We don’t know how to delay gratification. Why should I have to wait until marriage to have sex? Why should I have to wait to buy something when I can just use my credit card? Why should I deny myself any pleasure if I can have it now? That is immaturity.
Let’s look at this temptation in Matthew 4:2-4. Jesus has just been fasting for forty days. He’s tired. He’s hungry. He’s lonely. At that moment, Satan comes to him and tempts Jesus by telling his to turn stones into loaves of bread to eat. Jesus resists this temptation and tells Satan that man needs more than bread for life, that he needs to feed on the Word of God.
What’s going on here in this temptation? Was it wrong for Jesus to be hungry? No. Was it wrong for Him to want something to eat? No. Did He have the ability to turn stones into bread? Yes. So what’s the big deal?
There are two major problems.
First, He’s being tempted to use His abilities for selfish reasons. God didn’t give Jesus the power to perform miracles so that He could serve Himself and be comfortable.
The same is true with you. God has given you abilities and talents. But God didn’t give them to you for your benefit. God wired the universe in such a way that we need each other. My talents and my abilities are for your benefit, not for me to have big ego about or to serve myself. And your talents and abilities are not for you. They are to serve other people.
1 Peter 4:10 tells us,“God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another (NLT).” Why does the Bible tell us to use our gift well? Because God knew that we would be tempted by Satan to use it selfishly. Satan doesn’t just tempt you in your weaknesses, he tempts you in your strengths as well. The devil doesn’t mind you being good at things as long as you just don’t do it for God. You don’t even have to do it for the devil. He just says do it for yourself; to make yourself famous, to make yourself rich, to make yourself important, to make yourself comfortable.
Have you ever been tempted to turn stones into bread? No. Why? Because you don’t have that ability. But you’ve got some other abilities that the devil’s tried to use. For instance, if you’re really good at speaking, then he’s going to tempt you to dominate other people with your words. If you’re really persuasive, he’s going to tempt you to manipulate and use other people with your persuasiveness. If you are intelligent, he’s going to tempt you to look down on people who are not. If you are good at athletics, he’s going to tempt you to use your athletic ability to boost your ego. He says I don’t mind you using your talents, but don’t waste them on God, use them for yourself.
Not only was this a temptation for Jesus to use his abilities for selfish purposes, it was also a temptation toward self-reliance. Here’s the first test: when you are empty, hurting, or confused, will you trust God to meet your needs or will you rush to satisfy them your way?
Satan comes to Jesus and says, Jesus, You’re hungry. You need some food. You haven’t eaten for forty days. But God’s not going to take care of you. God’s not going to bring food to you. You’ve got to do this yourself. You’ve got to take matters into your own hands. It’s up to you. Satan says to Jesus, “As the Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’” Friends! The Bible doesn’t say that. Ben Franklin said that. And he was wrong. God doesn’t help those who help themselves. God helps those who trust Him.
I wonder what stones you’ve been trying to turn into bread in your life. You’ve got some unmet needs. You’ve got some unmet sexual needs. You’ve got some unmet financial needs. You’ve got some unmet relational needs and emotional needs. You’ve got some unmet needs in your career or your education, your job. Where are you trying to turn stones to bread and meet your own needs your way rather than God’s?
Jeremiah 2:13 says this, “My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” In a poor country, a cistern is a hole dug in the ground that they fill up with rainwater. It’s not a well. It’s just a hole in the ground to hold water and it gets all dank and putrid and it’s not fresh water at all. God says, I’m the source of living water, all the water you could want. But instead of accepting that, you turn your back on Me and go over here and dig a hole in the ground and drink stagnate water.
Some of you are in the dark right now. You’re confused. You have needs in your life that are unmet. Maybe you have lost your job and you don’t see how you will ever find one. Maybe you are wondering how you are going to get out of debt. How will you ever fix your marriage? You are confused and weary. You may be thinking that God has forgotten about you. In your darkness, you can be sure that Satan will come to tempt you to turn some stones into bread.
The Bible says, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on God Isaiah 50:10b).” When you are tempted to turn stones into bread and take matters in your hands, the answer is as simple as two words: trust God.
Matthew 6:32b tells us, “…your heavenly Father already knows all your needs”. God knows your emotional needs, your financial needs, your sexual needs, your physical needs, and your health needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need” Matthew 6:33 (NLT). Here’s the challenge. God says, If you will make Me number one in your life and you will make My kingdom, My purposes for your life the number one concern of your life, I guarantee I will meet all your needs.
Trust God. Use your gifts and abilities to serve Him and others. As a leader, you are a huge target, but you also have God’s protection on your side. Don’t forget that. And when things get tough, and the world seems dark and cold, let His promises wrap around you to warm and light your way.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life.