March 17, 2014

Overcoming Temptation

Over the next couple weeks, our church is studying through the first chapter of James, and the focus is on Stepping Up to the Challenge to live a righteous and faithful life. This past Sunday, the message was on temptation and how to overcome it (so timely, so necessary).

Most Christians understand temptation. We understand sin, and we have all experienced times in our lives when we are tempted to sin. How we deal with it, how we overcome, however, is discussed less often in Church simply because of the very nature of temptation and the variances experienced by individual members of the Body of Christ.

Our pastor gave a great message yesterday on the text of James 1: 12-18 (NLT).

12 God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, no one who wants to do wrong should ever say, "God is tempting me." God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either. 14 Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. 15 These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death. 16 So don't be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven's lights. Unlike them, he never changes or casts shifting shadows. 18 In his goodness he chose to make us his own children by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his choice possession. 

Several important points stood out for me during this message. I was familiar with the text, but for some reason (praise God), this portion of Scripture clicked with me yesterday.

  1. God gives us desires that are for our good. These desires are normal, healthy, and when used properly, can lead to the formation of appropriate relationships.
  2. Temptation comes from the heart. When the heart is not seeking the good, healthy and appropriate relationship, but instead is seeking the bad, unhealthy and inappropriate relationship, temptation can lead us into sinful actions and behaviors.
  3. We give in to temptation when we choose our own response rather than allow God to lead us into the right response
In short, we are tempted by something good, but the desire is being misappropriated toward harmful, unhealthy and destructive behavior.

A good example is sexual sin. Everyone deals with it, so it is universal and it is easy to illustrate this point.

God has given men and women the desire to have sexual intimacy. We each have a desire to bond with another living being in close relationship and intimacy. This is God's normal for us. He created Eve to be a companion for Adam. He creates males and females of all kinds of animals for the continuation of the species. He creates men for women and women for men.

The desires therefore are normal and natural, and if used properly, will lead to the formation of a bond between two people. This bond will be established and maintained over the course of their natural lives. It is God's ideal unit for the family.

When men or women have desires, natural and so on, there are right and proper ways to satisfy those desires. In married unions, the couple share intimately with one another. For men and women who are single, the Bible is very clear that God needs to be the one in control of those desires until such a time that He is able to bring a suitable companion to them. In some cases, the Bible tells us that God does call men and women to live single lives. However, most often, God's desire is for men and women to be married.

In the case of temptation, lust for another woman or man, can form and if not checked, can lead to sin. The man and the woman should seek each other, and not another outside the union. The same is said for the single person who is not willing to wait for God to bring them a partner. They are not to seek intimacy outside the bond of marriage.

In considering the text in James, and in our pastor's message yesterday, I started to think about the times when I feel most tempted. Our pastor shared the acronym, HALT, which is used by the Celebrate Recovery ministry.

HALT stands for:
  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired
These four emotional states serve up potential moments when temptation can be strongest. When we are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, we are most open to hearing temptation's voice. How we respond to that voice will determine whether we give in or whether we overcome.

I liked this acronym because it really speaks to my heart. I suffer from the latter most often. I live in a perpetual state of tiredness. I am weary and I am worn out. Partly this is due to a life of stress, which wears down on your endocrine system, and can lead to illness whereby your adrenal glands are constantly overworked. In addition, I am currently pursuing my doctorate and while I knew it would be challenging, the truth is that I had no idea just how challenging it really would be for me. I spend an incredible amount of time studying, reading, and thinking about very complex issues. This is draining to me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Coupled with my physical state, I run the risk of being overwhelmed on a daily basis.

When I get to "that point" (which is a point we all have -- we know our breaking point), I then have to be careful not to give into temptation. I am lonely, I will admit it. I miss the companionship of being married. I miss the intimacy that comes with marriage. I miss having my own life, shared with a husband, working and moving toward a united goal. I miss the entire family aspect of marriage.

Additionally, while I try very hard to let go of bitterness and resentment, I cannot say that I am truly free from the anger I feel being abandoned and let go of by my husband. As much as I see the release as God's gift, and I most certainly do see it that way, I cannot help but still feel the prick of resentment when I see my husband moving on with other women. It hurts me deeply, and I can give into those feelings or I can let them go. When I am tired, I am more prone to think about them, to cuddle them, and to give them life.

It is difficult at times to overcome temptation. Yet, the Word encourages us, calls us blessed, when we do overcome. James 1:12 says "Blessed is the one who preserves under trial" and while we all have trials that we must endure, learning how to say no to the temptation can empower us to hang in there, to overcome on a daily basis.

How do we overcome then?

Well, really it comes down to a couple practical things:
  1. Know the root of your temptation and where it resides
  2. Know your limits and take heed to keep from reaching them
  3. Surrender your abilities to God and let His Holy Spirit empower you to overcome
In my case, I know where I am tempted (in what type of sin), and I understand now the root of that temptation (I am lonely and I am tired). Second, I know my breaking point, that point when I lose my ability to say no or to walk away. Third, because I live in a state of depletion, I need to rely on God to help me to overcome my temptation. I need His help because I cannot do it on my own.

Dear Lord,

I understand my temptation points and why I always fall into the same trap. I ask you to help me today to overcome this temptation, and to give me your Grace so that I can find healthy and appropriate solutions to resolve the conflict I feel inside. I ask you to guide me into your perfect wisdom and to show me a way for me to live a full and wonderfully satisfying life within the boundaries of my current singleness. I ask you to teach me how to rest, to not allow myself to become so overwhelmed by life, so that I can be strong. In all, Lord, I ask you to guide me into your perfect will, and to keep me safe and free from the temptation that I feel so strongly at times. I ask all this in Jesus' Name. Amen! So be it. Thy will be done. Selah!

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