"In some ways—at least as it relates to expectations—what Jesus experiences in the wilderness is an age-old temptation that each and every human must face: Will we be shaped by the expectations of others or by the expectations of God?"
—From Ch. 13 ("If You Are") of Jesus Journey
Watching my husband write this book sometimes felt like being a fly on the wall of his own personal wilderness testing. It’s a rare thing to spend most of your working days for a few months reading about Jesus, thinking about Jesus, writing about Jesus.
I watched it refine Trent, and I watched it bring him to his knees. I watched it frustrate him, and I watched it take his breath away with new thoughts and emotions. But most striking of all was when I watched all of Trent's reading, thinking, praying, and writing force a mirror in front of his face, making him respond to the question: “If you are...”
It’s such a gut-wrenching question, isn't it? And we could all fill in the blank with our own taunting doubts: “If you are...” beautiful, godly, a leader, loved, filled with the Spirit, influential, a good mother, a good father—the list goes on and on and on.
Writing a whole book about Jesus’ humanity was a vulnerable endeavor for Trent; he desperately wanted all of you to encounter Jesus anew, and he poured his heart and soul into the pages.
I personally can’t imagine being able to write forty different chapters (punchy, powerful, funny, moving chapters!) about Jesus’ humanity. And the task took Trent down at times. There could always be a funnier way to grab attention in a story, a clearer word choice, a better analogy to turn on the light bulb for his reader...
But it wasn’t the writing itself that cut to his core, it was when the accuser came taunting: “Are you really qualified to write all this about Jesus? Who is going to listen to you anyway? Hasn’t it already been done? Who do you think you are? People are going to tear this apart!” More than writing on any other topic, Trent’s Jesus journey made him face the tempter’s questions about his own identity, self-worth, and the expectations of others.
In chapter thirteen of Jesus Journey we’re challenged to pray for “courage, clarity and confidence when you are faced with the choice of pleasing others or pleasing God," and to ponder that Jesus also had to choose to “live according to…the expectations and hopes of Abba Father." (pg. 95)
So, following Jesus' lead as best he knew how, when Abba said (through the gentle and wise voice of the Spirit of Jesus): “Trent—I love you, I’m proud of you, you are my son, I have been on this journey with you and have given you everything you need to share with others," I watched Trent force himself away from the accusations and temptations, and say “Okay, I trust you.”
Taking the liberty of putting words in his mouth, he basically responded, “Even if I’m not the most amazing writer in the world, even if people don't like the book and nobody buys it, I am more a friend of Jesus than ever—I've gone through the temptation that has shown me where I really stand, and my place is with Jesus... I’d never trade that for all the fame and glory and impact in the world."
I imagine Jesus coming out of the wilderness, hungry, exhausted, and chiseled away, but so grateful that in the face of all the accusing, tempting, and taunting, he had seen who he really was, tried and true.
And so, like Jesus, into the mirror of all the accusing and tempting and taunting that comes—all of the “If you are..." statements that are thrown in our faces—may we, like Jesus, live in the deep identity of who we really are.
"You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery, did you, to go back again into a state of fear? But you received the spirit of sonship, in whom we call out ‘Abba, father!’ When that happens, it is the spirit itself giving supporting witness to what our own spirit is saying, that we are God’s children." (Romans 8:15-16)
Today' guest post is by my wife, my best friend, and my favorite person on the planet, Bronwyn Sheppard: Bronwyn is a childbirth educator and birth doula, and she and Trent regularly host evening childbirth education classes in their East Boston home, while their "small humans"—Miréa Alev, Blaze Aslan, and Petra Ceylan—sleep "peacefully" in their bedrooms. The kids have Turkish middle names (Alev means Flame, Aslan means Lion, and Ceylan means Gazelle) because Bronwyn was raised in beautiful Izmir, Turkey. She's bilingual in English and Turkish, and she dearly loves the land of Turkey and its people.