Temptations’ Noisy Voices

By Keith Miller | May 17, 2010

Keith, my question is how in the world did the saints get their inner house clean of all the different inner voices of temptation that argue against doing God’s will, so they could be at peace?  My problem is that my inner world has a bunch of different voices wanting me to sin and telling me things like, ‘it’s all right, everyone does this.  Don’t be a pious nit-picker.’  When those voices win, I go ahead and make the sarcastic mark to shame my wife (and control her), or I gossip about some one just above me on the company ladder so I can get their job—or act out sexually (either actually or through pornography).  My question has two parts: 1) Does every Christian have this problem of almost continual temptation or am I just especially evil and self-centered?  And 2) how does a serious committed Christian find a way to clean house so he can have some peace as a Christian?

Wow!  That’s a mouth full of question!

When I first became a Christian I was amazed at how hard it was for me to be the clean living, clean thinking person that I was told that really committed Christians were.

Fortunately, a wise older Christian mentor told me that he had wrestled with temptations all his life in despair—until his mentor had told him that there are at least two kinds of Christian.

The first kind seems to be blessed with seeing two choices at a time, praying for guidance and then making the right choice in an increasing number of times.  But the second kind of Christian is like me and you, who seem to have all kinds of inner voices (rationalizing a selfish or immoral choice) trying to seduce him or her off the trail and away from God and His will.

The old guy who was telling me this thought a moment and then smiled as he said, “Every day I tried to marshal all the good voices in my head and get them to listen to reason—my reason.  I prayed that they (the good voices) would all vote ‘no’ to the temptations I faced and I would avoid the sin that was tempting me.  But in some areas involving sex and control in my relationships, I never seemed to get a wide majority of voices, yet I somehow managed to squeak by and avoid the major temptations.”  My older friend said he got very discouraged because he could never get a 100% vote for God’s way even though he marshaled enough inner voices to get a majority vote.  But one day his spiritual mentor advised him that “all you need to have in following Christ is a majority of one vote—just enough power to make the decision to do God’s will.”

My friend’s mentor told him that if his desire to be God’s person in a tempting situation won the battle by only one vote each day for twenty years, the person would be considered a saint!  It’s not getting the negative voices totally subdued and quiet and getting a unanimous decision for God every day—as some Christians imply they do—just a simple majority of one can make any sinner into a saint.  And he reminded me that even Jesus argued so hard with God near the end of his life not to go to the cross that he only gave in after sweating blood to make the decision—certainly not the sign of an easy win.

And as time went on, the old man told me, he began to trust that in each area of his life, each time he made a decision for God’s will, he felt more confident in his ability to live for God, and trust God to help him make decisions better in the future.

Paul describes this inner battle in the 7th chapter of Romans.  He  surrenders by asking as you did, “Who could deliver me from this body of death?”  And he answers, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

The other thing I count on to help with the inner battle to do God’s will is the memory of friends in my present and past who have encouraged me—who have heard my worst and yet who love me, affirm me, and reward me for being honest instead of only for being perfect.  These new positive voices have become reinforcements to support my own positive inner voices as they oppose my negative inner voices when I’m alone.

Historically, Christians have seen these positive inner voices as a heroic “cloud of witnesses” who love God and accompany us through history, affirming and loving us (see Heb. 12:1).  The church has sometimes called such supportive people (living and dead) the communion of saints.  And the late Carlyle Marney (1917-1978) spoke of these positive introjected voices as our “balcony people,” who, though physically absent from us, continue to speak to us and nudge us and motivate us. They are the people—like my men’s group and my wife and some saints who don’t even know I’ve put them in my balcony—who are always up there in the balcony of my mind, cheering me on, even when they may not be physically present.   They counteract the negative inner voices, tempting me away from doing God’s will.  And most days, with their help, God gets the nod.

Lord, thank you that you will always provide a possible way for me to come to the decision to do your will, even as my negative inner voices try to rationalize or justify the temptations that cross my path.  Help me to remember to listen to the inner voices, who are your people, living and dead—my own positive ones and those of my balcony people—when I am seized by the urge to drift from your will.   And I’m so grateful that when I fail and confess, that you are more than ready to forgive than I am willing to confess.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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.  1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!  Hebrews 12:1-2 (The Message)

2 comments | Add One

  1. Mike / London UK - 05/23/2010 at 3:01 am

    Extremely encouraging and timrly for me today. Thank you Keith.

  2. Lori Mickle - 05/24/2010 at 2:49 pm

    Very timely for me as well! The battlefield of my mind has been raging for many, many months now but I’m taking it one day at a time. And when the battle escalates to a flat out WAR, I go to my knees and get into the scriptures as I did today!
    Thank you Keith.

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