Mark 1:12-13 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Jesus went through forty days of spiritual boot camp. He was led by the Spirit into the desert to toughen up. Mark’s gospel doesn’t even mention that he was fasting for these forty days. Instead, Mark focuses on the fact that Jesus was strengthened for his mission by resisting various temptations for forty days all alone in the desert. Many of us lack the toughness to be forceful in our relationships, the inner drive to make things happen. Perhaps we have lived cushy lives where we’ve never had to push against apparently immovable objects. We haven’t strengthened the inner self and consequently our character remains timid and we are easily overwhelmed. Jesus overcame himself first so that he could then overcome the world. His body and his own desires for comfort and temporary pleasures were not going to get in the way of his destiny. He dealt with them first, head on. Many of us would lead dramatically different lives if we toughened up through focussed self-denial. Fasting is one tremendous biblical method of focussing the mind and soul on the more important issues of life. It is also an effective way of toughening up by mastering the desires of the body. Another way to grow stronger is to deal with difficult challenges. For example, when we face six weeks of very difficult work on our jobs or at our studies we should rejoice because our inner self will be strengthened. James wrote: ‘‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’’

How reasonable would it be to expect someone to make a significant contribution to an athletic team without first participating in the preseason practices? Or how likely would it be for a soldier who somehow skipped boot camp to be any good to his commanding officer in a time of war? And wouldn’t we question the sanity of a lawyer who decided to embark on a career without first sweating it out through a reputable law program? We understand that these times of preparation are essential if an individual is going to have any impact in his or her chosen field. Why then do we sometimes begin major campaigns for our bosses, or for God, with little or no special preparation? Certainly, too many of us in the present-day movement of God have taken lightly the concept of preparation. Perhaps some of us have completely overlooked this crucial stage in Jesus’ ministry. If Jesus needed to be prepared through focussed self-denial in order to perform his ministry, can we expect to reach our goals, spiritual or otherwise, without preparation? We may think that we are ‘‘lean mean fighting machines,’’ when in truth we are fat, flabby and out of shape spiritually. No wonder some people fall flat on their faces when they begin to lead a group of Christians for the first time, or when they go to a new city to help start a new church. Let us not be deceived. The road is not covered with rose petals, and our enemy is not unaware of our efforts. If we merely ‘‘play church’’ like so many around us, we will have as little true impact for God as they are having. We must toughen up; we must spend time in preparation. In the words of Juma Ikanga, a long-distance runner whose weekly regimen includes 140 miles of high-altitude training: ‘‘The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.’’