Monday, July 25, 2011

Resistance Is (Not) Futile: 4 Biblical Strategies For Dealing With Temptation

"Temptation: If you can't avoid it, resist it."

The obvious way to not get hurt is to stay out of danger, and I think we all know that. Then life happens. Things don't go as planned. Sometimes we just can't help it, and we end up in a situation facing the thing which we know brings us harm, sin.
I am, by no means, an expert at avoiding temptation or resisting it, but I have found that God has given us ways to not get pulled in. I think Paul says it best in his letter to Corinth, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." We are not alone, our sins are not unique to us.
I don't want to make a struggle with sin seem simple or easy. I am confident that it is neither, and from my own experience and from what I see in the Bible it is not meant to be. If it were simple, we would figure it out on our own. If it were easy, we would not rely on God to help us.
Last thing before I get started. God speaking through his prophet Jeremiah says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure." If we do not want to repent, turning away from our sins toward God, we will not be able to. God can help; people can help, but it all starts with a decision each of us must make on our own. So here goes, the four best ways I know to overcome temptation, "ways of escape" if you will:

1. Prayer. The closer I am to God, the more likely I am to obey him. That is just the simple truth. I find that when my prayer life is good, temptation is not as strong. That is not to say I am not tempted, but I can let God handle it. One of my favorite chunks of Scripture is in Matthew 26. Jesus was tempted to not die on the cross. He begged his Father not to make him do it. He sweats blood. Jesus was clearly not super excited to die. But he prayed and then he obeyed. So when we are tempted to disobey God, to turn from his good, pleasing, and perfect will, I believe prayer is a great way to reconnect with his will for our lives.

2. Accountability. By that I do not mean finding somebody else who is struggling with the same sin and "confessing" to each other. That is a great way to conceal sin, and to justify it to ourselves so we can keep doing what we want because "we are just humans and we are going to mess up but we are telling somebody". I have tried that. It will not ever work. By accountability, I mean finding somebody or multiple somebodies who you are willing to give permission to say the hard things, to tell you when you are in the wrong,, and to really listen when you speak honestly and vulnerably. It should be somebody who can offer constructive criticism and encouragement, and who genuinely cares for your spiritual well-being. If they don't care, they can't help. You need a person that will answer phone calls at 2 am if you need them. The bigger the struggle is in our lives, the more accountability we need.

3. Knowing Scripture. I am a huge proponent of memorizing verses. Not for the sake of knowing them, but for the sake of living them out. Psalm 119 is the best example I know of this:
 "How can a young man keep his way pure? 
   By living according to your word. 
I seek you with all my heart; 
   do not let me stray from your commands. 
I have hidden your word in my heart 
   that I might not sin against you." 

God wants us to love him; we love him by obeying his commands. It is pretty hard to obey a command you don't know. On the flip side, James makes it very clear that knowing God's commands and not acting on them is sinful, too.

4. Prior planning. If you know that a famine is coming, you stockpile food. If you know a drought is coming, you save water. If you know a war is coming, you build your army and plan your strategies. We know temptation is coming. So one thing we should do is decide in advance what we are going to do in response to that temptation. I struggle with being prideful. I feed my ego all the time. I know it is not what God wants for my life. He wants me to be humble. So when I go to a meeting or I am hanging out with friends, I have to commit to myself to not push my opinions and to not be condescending. This really interacts with the other "ways of escape" I wrote about. If I commit to praying when I see something that could cause me to lust, or if I know scripture that says not to be anxious and to not worry, if I commit to telling my accountability partner when I feel like I am going to say something prideful and stupid, I am way less likely to succumb to the lust, depression, or pride that I know will only hurt me.

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