Can we try again tomorrow?
One of the real highs I have in my Monday to Friday, 8-5 job as a teacher of ‘excluded’ students, is teaching Year 9 Religious Studies. It’s particularly exciting at the moment as the curriculum is currently solely exploring Christianity. I’ve somewhat jumped at this opportunity and endeavored to make Christ as captivating as He really is to those who ‘have not heard’. (Romans 15:21)
Yesterday, we were looking at the story of Jesus being tempted after his forty day journey in the wilderness. (See Matthew 4:1-11). We drew parallels between Jesus’ 40 days and the 40 years of the Israelites (we studied the Old Testament last term.) They had so many questions. Questions like- “Why didn’t Jesus just make the stones bread?” My rather basic answer was simply that it’s not what His Father (God) wanted Him to do. He wanted Jesus (His son) to trust Him. This opened up another gateway to be able to speak about the fact that sometimes things happen in our lives which are really hard to understand, but God asks us to trust Him anyway. They seemed to get that bit. “Coz He’s God”. Was one comment I heard. Exactly. All pretty cool that I got to do this in my lesson, but anyway, here’s where the funny bit comes in.
I explained that Jesus was obedient and that the Israelites often weren’t which is why their journey out of Egypt took forty years. Cue five 14 year old boys- “They’re long man, why didn’t they just listen to God.” “I would have been like Jesus and just trusted innit.” “Trust me bruv, it’s only 40 days, I could do it.” In listening to their conversations about how apparently ‘easy’ it is to resist temptation, I was reminded of myself- my frustration with Bible characters from days of old who seemingly turned their backs on God for things that appeared so trivial. Yet, looking at my life, people could almost certainly say the same of me.
So I set the boys a challenge (yep, still in R.S). I said, “Okay boys, you say this now, but it’s not easy to resist temptation all of the time you know.” Cue more jeering and general bravado. “Right, try not to cuss (insult) each other, last man standing wins a prize.” I said. “I mean no ‘shut ups’ or side comments to one another, nothing.” Now I am often surrounded by 14 year olds and I figured that I’d set them quite a weighty challenge. Obviously the boys didn’t agree. “Is that it miss? That’s easy. How long? Two weeks?” I laughed (internally) at their idea of being only positive for two whole weeks. But agreed. Lesson finished.
One hour later. One hour. A 14 year old boy enters my classroom having just finished his Maths lesson. The bravado had disappeared. “Dave* won”, was all he said. One hour! During break time, I got the elaborate story about how it had all happened and how they ‘had’ to say what they’d said to each other. I reminded them that they’d initially wanted to do this for two weeks and had not even lasted two hours. They paused. “Can we try again tomorrow, miss?”
What a picture this could be of our own lives with Jesus at times. The elaborate promises and unrealistic goal setting, followed by the determination to ‘succeed’ and then inevitably, the tail between legs ‘failure’ moment.
After going through the story, I asked my students to reflect on what the story is trying to convince them of. They filled in a grid. One of my boys, who is quite low ability (hence the spelling) and struggles a lot with school summed it up perfectly I think. Be good (in His strength) and listen to Him (for guidance and wisdom).
Sometimes even the most simple of instructions can prove challenging, but the good news is, we’re not supposed to ‘be good’ in our own strength, and the prize we have in listening to Him and following His guidance and wisdom for our lives far surpasses the chocolate I’m going to give to my ‘winning’ student!
The best news in all of this though is GRACE…abundant, hope filled, second third fourth and fifth chance grace.
When we ask Jesus if we can try again tomorrow, His answer
is always, always yes.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
*Name changed to protect student confidentiality.