In late February Keith was out in the field laying out the tarps and plastic to dry in the sun, and trying to weigh down the corners with buckets and tools and anything else that came to hand. He had managed three or four all by himself before dinner, and then I walked out with him afterward to see the freshly tilled garden and the early plot he had set out. He bent to secure one corner of plastic just as the breeze increased and blew it right out of his hand. I leaned down to help on my end only to have it, too, blown from my grasp. He got hold of his corner as I chased mine around in a circle. Finally we each had a corner and bent to secure them with handfuls of moisture-heavy garden dirt, only to have a particularly strong gust blow it free yet again.
Three or four tries later we had the early plot covered and secured, the plastic stretched over a line three feet off the ground that ran down the middle to make a small greenhouse of sorts. We were clothes-pinning the center where the “door” of our teepee met on either end. Even that took a few tries followed by pinched faces and hunched shoulders waiting for the breeze to once again undo it all. It held!
“Whew!” he exclaimed. “This kind takes prayer and fasting.” I looked at him with a rueful smile, and wondered how many prayers he must have prayed before I got there to help.
You know, of course, that he was referring to Matt 17:21. The disciples could not cast a demon out of a boy, but Jesus could. For their lack of faith they received a stern rebuke, yet Jesus added that it was a particularly difficult demon to cast out. Sometimes you will have to work harder than others, he seemed to mean by his comment about prayer and fasting.
And occasionally overcoming a temptation is more difficult than at other times. Sometimes it’s the circumstances. If you are tired, or in pain, or grieving, or in any number of other situations, you may have a more difficult time passing the test. Sometimes it’s the test itself. Some things bother us more than others, pushing the buttons that most easily cause a reaction. Sometimes it’s the “help.” How many times has someone offered the advice to “calm down,” only to have that very advice cause the opposite reaction in spades?
But notice this about that narrative in the gospels: Jesus still expected those disciples to have mastered the demon and tossed it out. Yes, it’s a hard one, he said, but you could have done it if you had enough faith.
And so can we, if we are in the correct frame of mind. There is always a way of escape. It is never more than we can handle. It doesn’t matter what the test is, what the circumstances are, or how many other well- or even ill-meaning people get in the way. So here are a few suggestions that might help all of us.
Know your hot buttons and avoid them. How many times do the Proverbs call people fools who go blundering about their lives without even a thought where they might be headed? How many other times are the “fools” the ones who go to difficult places with the arrogant notion they won’t be trapped like everyone else?
If you cannot avoid these difficult situations, then prepare yourself before you get there. If that means looking at yourself in the mirror and giving yourself a good talking to before you leave the house, then do it. If it means praying before you leave—always a good idea—do it.
Then, don’t forget what you did the minute the door shuts behind you. Nothing changes because your surroundings did. If it means quoting scripture all the way through the situation itself, or singing hymns, do it. Do whatever it takes.
Don’t blame your failure on anyone else. “I was doing fine until you came along and…” won’t change the bottom line. You blew it.
Do not give yourself an out of any kind. “He deserved it [my tirade],” would cause you a lot of pain if it were said of you and God followed through on it—we all “deserve it” whatever “it” we might be talking about. Don’t feel sorry for yourself because it was “hard.” Do not ever excuse yourself if you failed. You will never improve if you do.
Know yourself. Know what might take “prayer and fasting” to overcome. God expects it of you, just as He did those apostles. He expects you to succeed. And you can.
Save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler. Prov 6:5