by Tony Stoltzfus
I think the way we’ve traditionally interpreted Jesus 40 days of temptation in the wilderness misses what it was really about. The key to unlocking it is to realize this: no one is there with Jesus to record the scene. He is alone. So the only way we know the story is because Jesus retold it later to his disciples.
So how is a retelling different than a first-person observation? Well, let’s say you went through a difficult month where you weren’t making any money in your practice and felt like you wanted to give up. You struggled with self-rejection, looked at your alternatives, checked your bank balance, prayed together with your spouse, and finally decided you were called to coach and you would stay the course.
The next week at church someone asks you what your last month was like. To sum it up in a sentence, you say, “The enemy was telling me to get discouraged and give up, but God spoke to me again about my calling and I’m staying the course.’ Of course, the devil did not materialize and sit on your shoulder whispering in your ear all month—but in hindsight, you recognize the pattern of his activity
I think this is what happened in the wilderness temptation. Jesus has just been recognized by a national-level religious leader (John) who gives him a ringing public endorsement. He experiences God speaking to him dramatically, reaffirming his call. So naturally, he goes off into the desert alone to think through it all. How am I going to do this ministry? What is my message? What values are going to define it?
So instead of viewing this passage as an in-person cage match with the devil, where they spoke face to face, I believe it represents Jesus thinking through his options, sorting out his values, and realizing that some of the accepted ways to pursue building a kingdom are incompatible with the heart of God. Then he summarizes it as a conversation with the devil.
The three temptations represent three attractive shortcuts to his call that Jesus rejects. In the first, he’s hungry after 40 days without eating, and sees a rock that looks just like a loaf of bread fresh out of his mother’s oven. He can almost taste it! The question is, will he use the power of God to get his own needs met? This is the moment where Jesus decides to be poor, to travel as an indigent homeless person with no place to lay his head, because the gift he carries is for others, not himself.
The second temptation is to make a big splash to get attention. If he jumped off a ten story building in the middle of the Passover crowds and floated to the ground… they’d have to acknowledge him as who he was! But Jesus chose not to base his ministry on a marketing strategy. Rather than doing what would draw a big audience on Tik-Tok and attract crowds of Instagram followers, he chose to speak to and touch one person at a time.
The third temptation was to use the levers of power in this world to achieve his goals. Jesus briefly imagined himself as an earthly king—even the Roman emperor!—and using the political power of Rome to bring in God’s kingdom. He imagined being a just judge, passing laws that compelled people to treat each other right, using punishment of evil as a stick to enforce following him… Jesus utterly rejected that approach, viewing it as so against God’s purposes that it was tantamount to partnering with the devil.
So what do we do with this as coaches? The point is not that we all have to give up the same things as Jesus did and be poor beggars, but that whatever God calls you to will involve sacrificing your own interests for others. We as coaches have been real weak on this part of calling. We tend to direct people to what gives them significance and what makes their hearts sing and where they really shine, and completely ignore sacrifice as part of calling. If Jesus had a coach with him there on the mountain, would that coach be more likely to encourage him to dream big and pursue becoming Roman Emperor, or ask Father to “show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake?”
To bring balance to how we coach destiny discovery, we need to also ask questions like these:
- “What is the great sacrifice you will make to bring this into being?”
• “What is an easy way to reach this goal that you are willing to give up to do it the right way?”
• “How will you decrease so that these people can increase?”
• “A biblical principle is that you get to live the life of the people you are called to reach. How have you/are you/will you live their life and experience their condition?”
• “In heaven, Jesus ‘shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.’ What is the travail of your soul that your call requires? What will that produce in heaven?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tony Stoltzfus has been a coach and coach trainer for over 20 years. He’s founded or co-founded three major coach training organizations, trained over 1000 coaches in multiple countries and developed dozens of training courses. A prolific author, he’s published a dozen books on coaching and leadership that have sold over 250,000 copies, including the best-selling Coaching Questions. His books and training materials have been translated into multiple languages. Tony specializes in coaching hundreds of ‘senior leadership in painful transitions’, developing biblically-based coaching methods and integrating conversations with Jesus into the coaching dialog with his innovative Questions for Jesus approach. In 2021 Tony passed on his training business (Leadership MetaFormation, www.meta-formation.com) as well as his coaching bookstore at www.Coach22.com to two of his trainers. He is currently working on a coaching-based Bible study curriculum called How to Read the Bible Like a Human Being that teaches how to study scripture to engage the emotional brain. Tony enjoys reading, photography, watching silly Youtube videos, and woodworking as hobbies, and lives with his wife Kathy in Redding, CA.