“He who prays as he ought, will endeavor to live as he prays.” —John Owen, English theologian and Administrator at Oxford University (1616-1683).
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
“Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen.”
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)
PRAYER FOCUS: Beating Temptation.
All of us are tempted by something. Temptation is not bad in itself. But more than anything else, our response to it reveals our true character.
This week’s Lectionary Scripture from Matthew is powerful. We see Jesus in a weakened state after forty days of fasting in the desert. The devil uses hunger, pride, and power to tempt him. Satan, the great liar and manipulator, the accuser, the deceiver, knows when and where we are weak. In each case Jesus responded by referring to Scripture and resting on God’s word. At the end of the encounter we find Jesus triumphant, being ministered to by angels.
It’s worth repeating: All of us are tempted by something. Let us first debunk the myth of sin’s inevitability.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes:
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
How do we beat temptation?
We Pray. Prayer is powerful and effective; we strongly encourage its frequent practice. When we pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” we are praying to be delivered from the Evil One.
Know the Truth. The Bible is full of examples of both succumbing to temptation and triumphing over it. In your reading of Scripture, learn how to avoid the bad examples and how to model the good examples. It’s why they are both there. Furthermore, the better you know your Bible, the less likely you’ll be to fall into either deception or temptation. If you want to beat temptation, Christian, you need to have a daily Bible discipline. You know it’s out there. Be prepared for it when it calls your name.
Know where you are weak. The devil does. For example, if you have a gambling problem, stay out of casinos. If you have a drinking problem, don’t set foot in a bar.
Know when you are weak. The devil knows this, too. If you are depressed, lonely, tired, sick, or even hungry, know that your resistance to temptation is lessened. Preserve your strength. Seek strength and shelter immediately when you realize you’re weak.
Avoidance. Don’t go where you know you’ll be tempted. If tempting thoughts come to you, don’t let your mind dwell on them. As Martin Luther said, “Just because birds fly over your head, doesn’t mean you have to give them a place to build a nest.” Paul wrote, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).
Think about consequences. Most expert golfers play their shots well in advance. They will pass a seemingly easy shot if the resultant lie would leave a poor next shot. There are also consequences to sin. Consider how giving in to temptation will affect your relationships, your finances, your health, and your Christian witness.
Trust God. Everyone remembers that 1 Corinthians 13 is the Love Chapter, recited at many weddings. A nearby passage, with a similar number, is 1 Cor. 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 endure it.” Claim this promise when temptation strikes. God knows what you need; ask Him for it.
In Matthew chapter 4, make note of the devil’s approach. In verses 1-4, he waits until Jesus is really hungry, then while insinuating Jesus may not be who he says he is (“if you are the Son of God”), he issues a taunt—“turn these stones into bread.” In verses 5-7 the insinuation and taunt are similar: “If you are the Son of God, then…” This is a pure appeal to the sin of pride. The devil uses it because it works so much of the time.
But the real threat is the third one, in verses 8-9: Power. There is much good one can do with power. Therein is the hook, because there is also much evil one can do. The Bible and the history books are full of great examples. The temptation to abuse power is perhaps the most seductive of all.
Temptation comes from three sources: our flesh, the world, and the devil. We must master the first, because we are called to testify and minister to the second, and we are ordered to resist the third.
It’s Monday Morning. This week you will be tempted, Christian. Decide now how you will win against it. Decide now that you will win against it. May God bless you and strengthen you as you prepare to triumph.