Relevant, spectacular, powerful

In his little book of reflections on Christian leadership, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen uses these three ideas to categorise the temptations of Jesus.

  • The temptation to relevance: turn these stones to bread
  • The temptation to be spectacular: throw yourself from the temple
  • The temptation to be powerful: all this will be yours

They are three temptations that leaders face. It seems to me that there is also an underlying theme (in the first and third temptation) which involves taking shortcuts. A shortcut to relevance and a shortcut to power (which avoids the way of the cross).

Interestingly, Nouwen sets each of these temptations against one of the things Jesus says to Peter in the restoration scene at the end of John’s gospel.

  • Relevance – do you love me? ‘The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus?’
  • Spectacular – feed my sheep. ‘The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership… in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need him or her.’
  • Powerful – somebody else will take you. ‘What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard work of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.’

Fascinating juxtapositions.

For what it’s worth, I think we could read the first temptation as a temptation to be successful, and to use one’s ability to get there, without explicitly depending on God (you get some of that when you read the context in Deuteronomy 8, from which Jesus quotes).

Leaders can get hungry for success, hungry for results. Perhaps, like Abraham, there can be a temptation to speed things up rather than depend on God. There can be a temptation to fix things and to fix them quickly.

I’ve written before about the temptation to stand around doing nothing under the guise of ‘waiting on God’; but there is an opposite danger – taking short cuts to alleviate our hunger.

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