By: Staci Stallings
Ever since my 4th Grade Sunday School class discussed the Our Father a couple weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about temptation. If you’ve been a Christian for very long at all, you know about temptation. You know you shouldn’t put yourself into temptation. You know we ask God to lead us not into temptation. You know we need to be delivered from temptation. But what IS temptation? How do you define it? How do you spot it? How do you combat it?
Not long after we discussed this, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who told me that when things go wrong–even mildly wrong, her first thought is to doubt and then to be mad at God. She said, “I don’t know why I do that. I mean I feel bad after it, but why can’t I stop doing it to begin with? My first thought is always, ‘How could You do this to us, God?'”
That’s when I really started to consider the difference between temptation and sin. See, temptation is the conscious recognition of the option to do something we know is wrong. Sin is doing something we know is wrong.
So let’s say you are faced with a situation where lying would get you out of a lot of trouble. The TEMPTATION is to lie. Your mind might say something like, “They’ll never know the difference.” “Everyone else does it.” “They’ve lied to you in the past.” “It’s just this one time.” “Who really cares?”
Now, if you’re like my friend, you might think that all of those “excuses” or “reasons” are coming from you, that the temptation to lie is coming from something inside you that is inherently bad or evil or maybe even just lazy and undisciplined. But that’s not accurate. Those thoughts are temptations, put into your mind by Satan and his minions. They “tempt” you to do something you know is wrong by telling you that it’s not “really” wrong, that it’s okay because…, that you won’t do it the next time.
That is a “thought temptation.”
Here’s the problem. Most of us have been conditioned to believe in temptations that are “situation temptations.” For example, you go to a hotel alone on a business trip and that channel you know you’re not supposed to watch is available. That’s a situation temptation that leads to a thought temptation. “It’s all right. No one will ever know.”
Most of us believe that God will not lead us into temptation–that He will steer us out of situations that tempt us. And this is true, so long as we don’t tempt ourselves by consciously walking into tempting situations.
However, that doesn’t account for “thought temptations,” and thus, we are left defenseless against these. It’s not that we wouldn’t arm ourselves if we knew about them. We just don’t know about them and so we’re not prepared to deal with them effectively. In fact, most of the time when we have these “thought temptations,” we berate ourselves and beat ourselves up for even having them. “What kind of person am I to even think such a thing?”
But here’s the thing. Satan and his minions plant those thought temptations in our minds, and then laugh when we feel guilty for having them. It’s a vicious, vicious game to them, and we always lose.
Since having this revelation, I have been consciously watching my thoughts and noticing how my brain thinks. An innocuous example is my playing “Walk It Out” on the Wii. Now in that game, you simply walk around a little island (and around and around and around!). On each street and path, there are little medallions that you click on to build things. So you click on this medallion and an apartment is built. Click on that medallion over there and a tree appears or you get a new song.
Sounds simple enough, and it is–until you factor in the choices you are forced to make. See, you can’t get all of the medallions, all of the landscape items at once. You “buy” them with your steps.
So, let’s say we’re walking out in the country by the flower fields. If I want to buy a flower field, it will cost me 500 steps. Now I can click on the medallion for this flower field and walk until I’ve gone 500 steps and bought it. Or I can walk the 500 steps and then buy it.
BUT (and here’s where the temptation part comes in so pay attention), when any medallion can be bought with the steps you have accumulated, it will “light up.” So let’s say, I’m walking and I want to buy a flower field for 500. As I’m accumulating those 500 steps, when I hit 40 accumulated steps ALL of the tree medallions come on. And they hover in front of you as you walk.
Now I know this sounds simplistic, but it was fascinating for me to watch myself play this game after I understood thought temptations. I would click on a “big” prize–like a flower field (500 steps) or a hotel (400 steps) or an apartment (300 steps), and then I would walk. But as I walked, I would meet up with all of these other possibilities–temptations–hovering in front of me, lit up going “pick me! Pick me!”.
And my mind would go CRAZY! “I’ve got 240 steps, man, I could get 6 trees with that!” “I could get this one lamppost. It won’t hurt this time. I can always make it up.” “Oh, there’s a record. It’s only 55 steps.” “Oh, man, there’s a little clock. You can always make up those 50.” And on and on and on. Every hovering, lit medallion was a fight to walk past as I collected my 500 steps to get the “big prize” I was working toward.
I finally got to where I would “clear” whole areas so I could walk in peace while I collected enough steps for other areas. But here’s the deal. My brain is wired to show me all the possible options–even when I’ve decided to do one thing, it will tell me the other options. That’s what a “thought temptation” is in essence–a presentation of options.
So, let’s say that you’re taking a test, and you know the person just across from you knows the answer to #7 and you don’t. Your mind will present “all of the options” of how to solve this problem. ONE of those options is to cheat and just glance over. But just because that’s an option, a medallion in the road, that doesn’t mean you have to click it.
NOR do you have to beat yourself up because you had that thought. What you must learn to do is to counter those thought temptations. Be ready for them when they show up. “No, cheating is wrong.” “I can do this.” “I would rather get a bad grade than to get a good grade dishonestly.” “Jesus, help me to do what I know is right, not what is easiest.”
The BEST way to handle these “thought temptations” is to banish Satan (the one putting those thought temptations in your mind) from you. “Satan and all your minions, you are hereby banished by the Blood of Jesus Christ to the throne of the Most High God to be dealt with there as He sees fit.” Then ask Jesus to help you. “Dear Jesus, I need Your help to do what is right here. Please, help me through this hard moment.”
Doing this will accomplish several things: 1) It disarms Satan and all his little uglies. They are powerless when you invoke the Name, the Blood, or the Word. 2) It puts the power in God’s hands and yours while glorifying God in the face of temptation. 3) It reestablishes God’s pre-eminent role over your thoughts. 4) It gives you weapons to combat the “thought temptations” that left to their own devices will eventually take over your thinking, shouting so loudly that you will be at their mercy.
Don’t let that happen. Understand temptation for what it is, and be prepared to deal with it when it shows up–even if it’s just a pesky little thought that is letting you see “all the options.” The more you combat those thoughts, giving them no quarter in your mind, the less Satan will show up because he knows you know how to fight back… and that you WILL.