The devil’s first temptation was to challenge a starving Christ to turn stones into loaves of bread. Nouwen calls this the “temptation to be relevant.” Nouwen’s labeling this temptation doesn’t strike home, until I understand his context. Nouwen writes that the three temptations faced by Christ are similar to what we all face again and again. They are temptations to return to the ways of the world and to divert us from God’s mission.
The first temptation is to do something people appreciate, want, or need — to make productivity the basis of our ministry. The world is full of people who are starving, sick, or in need of justice. So should we measure ourselves by what we have to offer, or does that leads to a preoccupation with products, visible results, and progress? How do we distinguish preoccupation versus what might be usually considered a call? Do we believe that the more productive and successful we are, the more we can serve God? Or, in so doing, do we give in to the temptation to be relevant and respectable in the eyes of the world?
When Jesus rejected turning stones into bread he did not deny the importance of bread – “one does not live by bread alone.” He merely prioritized it – “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” God gives us bread so we will entrust ourselves completely to him. Accomplishments and productivity are not to be despised, but it should not be the basis of our identity. We are not the services we offer our fellow humans, nor the goods we accumulate and give to those in need. Without visible results we still are witnesses to God’s presence.
Thus we are not called to be relevant. We are called to simply trust the word of God who is the source of all relevancy. Whether our call is to be productive and provide others, or it is something else, the importance is not found in the eyes of the world, but in God’s eyes.