Temptation: A Strong Wind for a Flickering Flame

By Keith Miller | June 8, 2009

Keith, no one I know talks about the imperious and demanding Mr. Hyde (or Ms. Hyde) transformation that temptation can change even a deeply committed (to our Lord) Christian into a totally self-centered drooling squinty-eyed lascivious or gluttonous pagan. It would be helpful if you are willing to deal with this question in a reality oriented way.

Temptation is a strange experience for me. I want to be God’s person. But I also have some deep human needs for approval, affection, and the satisfaction of strong physical and emotional drives. When wrestling with a specific temptation, I seem to change into a different person inside. I have a kind of tunnel vision and only see the object of my resentment, greed, or lust. All else is blotted out. I am no longer the smiling, friendly Christian, but instead am an intense and sweating stranger—yet not a stranger, for I know this one so well. Reason waits outside the door of temptation for me. I argue against my conscience and dazzle myself with agile rationalizations. By that time the battle is usually lost.*

Of course, sometimes there are long periods of peace and productivity when all the dragons appear to be dead. But then, one day when I am seemingly in good control of my emotions, I am suddenly in the midst of temptation. My senses are alive to the object of my resentment or my desire. I am practically engulfed in the urge to surrender to my inclination—to glorify my desires above everything—the instant they are born. And sweeping away reason, goodness, God’s will, caution, and the potential guilt—I succumb.

People who have not had this experience as Christians would make poor counselors for people like me. I know you may say that I am weak. And of course that is the truth. I am weak. But my question is, “What does a weak yet utterly sincere committed Christian do when temptation gets through all blockers and tackles him or her with a crippling jolt?”

My reactions have been varied. Almost always I feel inadequate and do not like myself. I shy away from prayer, feeling that somehow I could have resisted longer and not succumbed. It is strange, but because of my pride, I always think I could have conquered. But this notion rests on the dubious idea that if I am truly committed to Christ, I can control all my actions with reason and determination—if I will just try hard enough.

The truth about the Christian life seems to be, however, that no one bats a thousand in facing temptation. As a matter of fact, most of the saints felt that their averages were pretty low. We can improve our performance, and I thank God that this is so. But evidently in this life we will always have the occasional experience of succumbing to some kind of mental, physical or spiritual temptation. The sad truth is that much of the time I am too weak to resist, and my failure is simply a hard cold fact with which I must live. I have to come to God with the horrible uncomfortable feeling of failure. And finally, with no excuses, I force myself to my knees before him in confession, asking for restoration to a state of usefulness and self-acceptance by His grace.

I thank him that this process is what the gospel is all about—the forgiveness of the glorification of our desires and pride to a position above everything, including him. And asking him for a new set of controlling desires, I thank him for the miracle of forgiveness and the new starts he can give me. I pull myself to my feet, brush the caked spiritual mud from my clothes and walk into another day as his child.

First don’t dwell on yourself, do not say: “How could I be such as to allow and suffer it?” This is a cry of proud self-opinion. Humble yourself and, raising your eyes to the Lord, say and feel: “What else could be expected of me, O Lord, weak and faulty as I am.”

Lorenzo Scupoli,Unseen Warfare

I resolve to meet evil courageously, but when even a small temptation cometh, I am in sore straits. That which seemeth trifling sometimes giveth rise to a grievous temptation; and when I think myself to be secure, and least expect it, I am overcome by a light breath.

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Dear Lord, I know it must have broken your heart to realize that even those of us who follow you would get carried away and crush the people around us, trying to satisfy our hungers for attention and power and love.

Help me not to kid myself about my real needs and desires and cloak them with phony righteous motives or plead “weakness” as an excuse for succumbing to temptation. Although the nature of the sins has changes, the process is the same. And I realize that I am still capable of almost any sin. Give me the courage to face you more realistically. Thank you that you have made those things which are loving, creative, beautiful, and constructive so attractive to me that I spend more time running toward them . . . in another direction from the crippling world of inordinate self-indulgence.

And Lord, thank you for indicating that you believe a person should be forgiven more than once. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21, 22

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on Temptation: A Strong Wind for a Flickering Flame
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