I was in prayer this morning and God really read me the riot act, in a loving sort of way. I was asking why everything has to be so hard, "Is life really meant to be such a struggle? Can't I ever get a rest from temptation? Is this what life is all about, merely surviving rather than thriving? Why does there have to be so much suffering - physical, spiritual, emotional?"
In hearing the answers I felt a little bit like Job of old. "Jim", God says, "you write about an enemy. Do you expect that to go unanswered? You write about the battle, do you really expect a cease-fire? You write about the tricks of the devil and his lies, do you think he won't use your own words against you? Do you think that since you work hard to pray often that you will be exempt? No, you become a target! He would love to see you fall! It's not a Nerf cross I am asking you to carry. This isn't a game. There are no time-outs, cease-fires, or commercial breaks. This is the real deal. Wake up!"
After all of this He adds this little nugget from the beginning of today's first reading from Sirach - "My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation." Temptation. I think the word temptation is the devil's own trick with words to lessen the reality behind the word. When most people hear the word temptation they think of cookies sitting on the counter. Not me. When I hear the word temptation I instantly think "attack". Not that I would rewrite the Bible but Sirach's warning hits a little bit harder with the word "attack" - "My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for attack." Has a different ring to it, doesn't it?
The whole second chapter of Sirach is a warning and an encouragement for us to stay close to God - "Set your heart right...Cleave to him...Trust in him...hope in him...prepare your hearts..." and on and on. It is really a great reading to ponder the day before Lent begins and perhaps all during Lent. Is God speaking these words to you? Is He calling you out? Will you answer? Will you come forward? We need you to! Your family needs you to come forward. Your friends need you to come forward. Read the rest of Sirach chapter 2 and then come forward. We need you in this battle.
1 My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.
2 Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity.
3 Cleave to him and do not depart, that you may be honored at the end of your life.
4 Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient.
5 For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.
6 Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him.
7 You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; and turn not aside, lest you fall.
8 You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not fail;
9 you who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for everlasting joy and mercy.
10 Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever persevered in the fear of the Lord and was forsaken? Or who ever called upon him and was overlooked?
11 For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of affliction.
12 Woe to timid hearts and to slack hands, and to the sinner who walks along two ways!
13 Woe to the faint heart, for it has no trust! Therefore it will not be sheltered.
14 Woe to you who have lost your endurance! What will you do when the Lord punishes you?
15 Those who fear the Lord will not disobey his words, and those who love him will keep his ways.
16 Those who fear the Lord will seek his approval, and those who love him will be filled with the law.
17 Those who fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and will humble themselves before him.
18 Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of men; for as his majesty is, so also is his mercy.