In The Screwtape Letters, author C.S. Lewis wrote from the perspective of a senior demon Screwtape writing letters to his nephew Wormwood, mentoring the younger demon in how to tempt a believer away from reliance on Christ. Screwtape taught him about God: “He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.”
Recently, a short passage of scripture caused me to reflect and repent: John 6:25-29. Right before it, Jesus fed the five thousand “with five small barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:9a):
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
As I study this passage, I’m surprised how Jesus’ words to the crowd exposed the motives of their hearts— and my own heart as well. In repentance, I found Jesus’ words amazingly compassionate. He is offering us a life of faith, love, work, service, and obedience that will endure to eternal life. I can either give my life to comfort, pleasure, food, and an easy life now, or I can give my life to seeking him alone: his work, his calling, and an obedience that many times doesn’t make sense to me, but will ultimately matter for eternity. How do I get from living for temporary pleasures to living a life of work that will endure to eternity?
Simply stated for brevity, I need healing from my painful and confusing past so that I can respond to the leading of Jesus rather than being led by my strong instinct for self-preservation. In my field, “Healing” is a word that is thrown around without much compelling clarity. This passage from John and many others reveal Jesus’ patience and great love for us, and lead me to a new definition for the word “healing”: an instinct to move toward Jesus with our pain and deep desires rather than to move toward our instinct based upon our past experiences of self-protection. We turn toward many things for comfort, including food, distractions, hobbies, relationships, work, and, even, church activities—rather than the true satisfaction and liberty offered to us by the Holy Spirit.
It is no small thing to fulfill the call to help people find healing from a life of instinct and man’s wisdom and ingrained family systems to a life of obedience to the Holy Spirit, having the liberty to instantly obey without knowing how things will work out or how to accomplish the call in the power of God. To cite The Screwtape Letters again, Screwtape cautions Wormwood, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Our prayer is simple: Jesus, help us experience your amazing love for us that will draw us to resist living for “food that will spoil,” and to give our lives to your work and your call, to give our lives to you for food that will last for eternity. And as C.S. Lewis wisely points out: “The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
Tony and Stacey Wheeler Directors of Pastoral and Church Health.