I think the first time I heard it was back in the early 80’s. I was just getting to know one of my brother in laws and as I was to learn, he was a social worker who worked with young parole kids. He explained some of the camps they took these kids on and the exercises they put them through. Essentially it was to break the spirit of some of these very highly spirited young lads who thought they were above the law or social norms. He said it was the tough love approach.
Have you heard of Tough Spirit?
Probably not, I have just made it up this week to fit today’s sermon. But let me explain...
When we talk of the Spirit, it is common for people these days to think more of the Pentecostal church with its high energy music, speaking in tongues, slaying in the spirit, miraculous healings and the like. Perhaps not quite so much these days, but in more extreme cases, the lack of these brought the condemnation that you were not blessed with the spirit.
Let me suggest this is more like the Spirit in the daylight and sunshine. But a broader perspective will say that the life of the spirit is much broader than such an outward display. What we might say is that the spirit works 24/7 and therefore in the night hours or seeming darkness. That is tough Spirit.
That is the theme of the story of Jesus temptations in the wilderness.We read in the story of Jesus baptism that the Spirit in the form of a dove alighted upon him, ‘This is my believed Son in whom I am well pleased. It follows that filled with the spirit, it led him into the wilderness.
To visit Jerusalem it does not take long to travel to the edge of the city and suddenly be confronted by the harsh reality of the rugged and expansive dessert nearby. It tells us that for forty Days, probably a symbolic number, Jesus ventured not only deeply into the dessert, but deeply into the depth of his mind and soul the heart of a most harrowing interior struggle.
Out of the vast pool of extraordinary capacities, an intuitive knowing of the divine presence calling him to a divine mission was tough to deal with. Surely he could use his gifts for other less ostentatious purposes. Three different possibilities emerged in this harrowing time of self-examination.
ROCKS INTO BREAD
With hunger pangs gnawing their insatiable appetite he knew he could turn the bread shaped rocks into bread and not only satisfy his own need but feed the countless thousands who struggled daily for whatever food their meager work would render.What was it that inspired him to reject such an appealing idea?
Was it not the spirit walking with him and sharing in this interior wrestle? ‘Quoting scripture the words, ‘Man can not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the word of God’. This is tough spirit born of the daily challenge of life.
Pushed by the extraordinary message that he had a divine calling, his ego so easily beckoned for attention. Climbing the highest peak of mountain he could cast his mind out over the jagged peaks of all else that surrounded him and wondered if he could harness his power for political advantage, unite all people and rule in a kingdom of his making.
The devilish argument that all he had to do was bend his knee to the ways of the world and he could control all such was his charisma. This time the spiritual wisdom echoed within, ‘thou shall worship God and God only’. This was tough Spirit sharing in his honest dilemma that all humans must face when presented with different courses of life.
Perhaps frustration, perhaps struggling with his aloneness he finds himself back in the anonymous crowd of the city. Hungering for divine guidance he wanders through the building and ultimately finding himself on the rooftop parapet, he gazes down over the mingling crowd below and confronted with the challenge of getting his message through each of the lost souls below he imagines the spectacular.
If he is to embrace the divine mission then maybe the divine would protect him should he spectacularly leap from the parapet. That surely would attract the crowds attention and convince him to listen. Once again the voice of wisdom declares the obvious, that of testing God.What a subtle difference from general faithfulness. And the spirit reminds him of the scripture, ‘Thou shall not test the Lord your God.’
This is real life. It is daily bread and butter living. It is not spectacular. It is faithful and honest questioning of right from wrong.
- Self interest or goodwill.
- It is times of pain and confusion
- But sincerity and patience open doors to the presence of the spirit.
It is the spirit that walks beside us in the darkness of life’s deepest dilemmas.
Through his so-called fourty day ordeal, the spirit never left him. As tough as his time seemed, the spirit was tougher. That’s what makes sense of tough love.