All of us face temptation, in one way or another, practically every day. There’s really no point in being ashamed of it. After all, it’s not the temptation itself that is the sin, for even Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15). We have a real Enemy who seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), and while he’s not especially creative, recycling the same lies over and over again, he is relentless. We should expect temptation and we shouldn’t feel bad about ourselves when that thought crosses our minds, for it is part of living on this broken earth. At every moment we have a Lord who is willing and able to help us learn how to take those thoughts captive and destroy them with truth (2 Corinthians 10:5). We do not have to live in defeat and habitual sin.
Nevertheless, we’re left with some questions: What does it look like to overcome temptation? How do we destroy false, unrighteous ideas? Most of us imagine that it would require 10 hours of daily, concentrated prayer and Bible study. Honestly, maybe it does during certain seasons. But in the day-to-day living that most of us experience, when the attacks are random, how do we respond?
Facing temptation on a daily basis
I have not departed from Your judgments,
For You Yourself have taught me.
How sweet are Your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through Your precepts I get understanding,
Therefore I hate every false way.
– Psalm 119:102-104 (NKJV)
Over and over again the author of this longest of psalms shares his love for God’s word. Really, he shares his love for God Himself, for it is impossible to love Scripture without loving the voice found in every phrase. He delights in the commands of the Lord. He revels in them as if he’s preparing a dinner party for God.
Delighting in the Lord
Can you picture it? He’s cleaned his house from top to bottom and has decorated it in the way he knows the Guest of Honor will enjoy. Sweating glasses filled with refreshing ice water drip on the crocheted white tablecloth. Polished silverware glints in the soft light. Steam rises from heaping plates. He adjusts the magnificent centerpiece filled with fresh flowers as the doorbell rings. He can’t help himself; he rushes across the house, yanks open the door and weeps with delight.
The King has come and he cannot wait to hear what He has to say.
They sit together at that table, the author pulled as close to the King as he can get. He doesn’t want to miss a single word. He takes notes because he knows how forgetful he can be. He asks questions. The King is happy to give him all the answers he needs. Not always what he wants, but what he needs.
The dinner passes all too quickly. The candles have burned down to their wooden holders and wax drips over the sides. The food is gone, the glasses refilled and drained again and again. The host knows the King must go, but he also knows that, somehow, the King never truly leaves. He bows, trembling, as the King places a hand on his head and speaks a word of blessing. Tears blur his eyes as he dares to take one last look at the dear face and sees that the King is smiling.
If only he could remain in that holy moment! But there are dishes to do. And he’d best get to bed, for the alarm will be buzzing soon, carrying him off into another workday. Before he knows it, the next day has arrived and he’s sitting at his desk, biting his cheek to keep from screaming at the coworker who, yet again, is late.
He chooses, in that moment, to turn his mind back to what the King had said. He takes a deep breath and extends grace to that coworker, the kind of grace he knows he himself lives in daily.
As the days pass, he cannot forget that dinner. He spends time with his family. He does yardwork. He watches a television show. He finds that the glow of what he used to focus on has dimmed. Nothing is as good to him as the words. Nothing finer.
He gets up earlier than usual and opens the King’s book. He puts an app on his phone so he can turn to the words when he’s on his lunch break. When he wakes up in the middle of the night, thirsty, he knows he longs for more than water.
Really, there’s no great secret to overcoming temptation. Victory is wrapped up completely in the Lord. The more we nurture our relationship with Him, the more we will be able to say “no.” The more we dig into His word, the more we will be able to distinguish the false from the true and choose accordingly. Oh, it will hurt. There will be sweat and tears. It will seem like agony to turn away. We are shortsighted people bent on immediate gratification. Sanctification is a long, hard-won process, never fully completed this side of eternity.
But we can choose. We can say “no” to temptation. Satan likes to try and make us believe that we’re helpless, and sometimes we like to pretend that we’re helpless as an excuse for our bad decisions. The truth is that, in Christ, we can have victory.
The more we learn from God, the more we understand how very small and silly we really are. We are confronted with our weakness and, if we’re smart, we embrace it. We fling ourselves upon the grace and mercy of the Lord. We beg Him to give us what we need for the battle. He teaches us how to turn to Him when tempted, even if we’re turning to Him every few seconds over the same issue. He doesn’t get tired of helping, encouraging, strengthening.
Little by little, we begin to understand. We begin to see that any way that’s not His way is false – and we start to hate it. Because we know that those false ways will take us from Him, and that’s a fate worse than anything we can imagine. He has become our prize, our very great reward. All else pales in comparison, no matter its shiny packaging.
In this journey to overcome temptation, we will fall. We will have days when we’re arrogant and think we don’t need Him. Or days when we’re tired and Satan takes advantage. Whatever the case may be, we’ll take a little dip in our upward progression and we’ll be tempted to stay there and dig a little deeper. In those moments, we must remember grace. God forgives, always.
So we can get up and begin anew, wiser than before, and more determined to stay within His shadow, following as He leads.