I am often tempted to eat more than I should. I like food, and it is a temptation for me. I have been around far too many special church morning teas where there are so many good things on offer that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. The same occurs when there are big family gatherings, or Christmas celebrations. And there’s always the story of over-indulging in dumplings from a few years ago. But there are consequences when I over indulge, either in weight increases or general after-effects on the body. It is a delight to my eyes, to my tastebuds, and to my stomach, but I need to watch myself.
Temptations arise within us and surround us all the time. Whether it is the use of our time, the things we have, the purchases we make, or the people we spend time with. We are tempted by the expert marketers who sell us products and services we apparently need. We are tempted by the lusts of our age. And I think it is fair to say that the greatest temptation for men and women today is pornography. The search for gratification through sex and sexuality is highly publicised, talked about freely, and openly available to anyone who wishes to pursue this. There are real temptations which lead to real issues in our lives, which affect our relationships with others and our own wellbeing.
In v13 of the Lord’s Prayer, which we have been exploring for a number of weeks now (see below for a list of posts), Jesus guides us to pray against being led into temptation.
It is important to realise this is the first half of a sentence which ends, ‘but deliver us from the evil one’. The entire idea in this verse is that we need God’s help in overcoming our own sinfulness and fallenness, we need his help in staying righteous and on the path of godliness. The evil one is seeking to lead us down the wrong path, a path of destruction and temptation. Therefore, to pray that we may not be led into temptation is highlighting how we need help in order to avoid falling into the evil one’s snares.
To avoid temptation is an act of wisdom and godliness. To place boundaries or rails in our life to make sure we are adhering to the ways of God is something that falls under the category of wisdom. Sure, there are plenty of situations that will be different for different people, and there are plenty of temptations that are different for different people. And many a time this has been used to a negative or legalistic effect (one can think of the so-called ‘Billy Graham Rule’ here). But recognising and being self-aware enough of these things in our lives is helpful for us. With this in mind, here are three ways we might go about helping ourselves with respect to temptation.
1. Understand what you are tempted by and when.
Take time to reflect on what temptations to sin you are more prone to fall to. I believe all of us have different propensities for this. If we know that when we’re tired and up late with no one around that we’ll end up being tempted to flick onto porn then that’s a start. If we know that after a couple of drinks we will be more flirtatious with others then that’s good to know. If we know that when we’re bored we just pick up the phone and are tempted to start secretly putting money on the horses then recognise it. If we are going to a big party and know we might over-indulge in the food then recognise that. If we’re with certain people and we know we’re going to end up gossiping, then remember this when entering conversations with them.
Be reflective, be self-aware, and then be intentional.
2. Formulate a strategy on what you will do when temptation hits.
To be plan-less against temptation will more than likely lead to you falling into temptation. It’s been my experience, I’m sure it’s yours too. It is frequently recommended that having a close friend you can talk with, call, or text about your temptation/s will help. They can pray for you not only in the moment, but also on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, they can be someone who asks you some hard questions about your lifestyle, decisions, and general discipleship. And that speaks to the larger issue, it’s an issue of discipleship.
A difficulty here is often the call or text to a friend to pray is often left too late or not at all. There does need to be a commitment to this. But by telling someone about our temptation, and what we’re walking into in the coming days or weeks, we can lessen the power of the temptation. Of course, pray about the situation you face. Avoid the situation if it is possible. Staying up late, tired, and bored never really leaves one in a good frame of mind. Even the excuse, ‘I need to wind down a bit’, is helpful only if the actions are helpful. Sometimes just going to bed is the best thing, even if our mind is racing.
The point is, what strategy are you putting into place? What actions are you committing yourself to? What habits are you trying to build?
3. Remember that it is what you do in the lead up to situations that will form the way you operate when temptation hits.
You can’t rely on your own self-will when temptation hits. Saying, “She’ll be right mate” may be very Aussie of you but it’s a terrible plan for when temptation presents itself. However, in the days and weeks and months prior we are building up our own godliness, self-control, and patience by the actions we put in place.
Proverbs 7 warns against falling into temptations. In this case the point is centred on lust and sexual desire. In v25 the writer of Proverbs says, ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.’ And this is the case with temptation, we are not to let our hearts turn toward whatever the temptations are. Instead, we build up our capacity in being able to deal with this, not simply by putting in wise and understanding strategies and habits, but ultimately recognising that we need God’s help in doing so.
I’m currently reading through Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly, and chapter 4 talks about Christ’s ability to sympathise with us in our temptation. When we do fall into temptation we have a Saviour who knows what it is like to be tempted and who is still accessible even when we feel the shame of wrongdoing. Ortlund writes:
“The real scandal of Hebrews 4:15, though, is what we are told about why Jesus is so close and with his people in their pain. He has been “tempted” (or “tested,” as the word can also denote) “as we are”—not only that, but “in every respect” as we are. The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it himself. It is not only that Jesus can relieve us from our troubles, like a doctor prescribing medicine; it is also that, before any relief comes, he is with us in our troubles, like a doctor who has endured the same disease.”
This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts in this series can be found at the following: