Many have shared with me their struggle with temptation. So many Christians have a constant battle with a ‘besetting sin’ that tempted them while a young person and has never left its grip. Others are faced with new temptations that seem to come out of nowhere. In my annual pilgrimage through ‘Purpose Driven Life’ I am amazed at the simplicity of the Bible in its wisdom to help us overcome temptation. It is simple, but never easy. I hope sharing some of these ideas from Rick Warren will help you.
Understanding how temptation works is in itself helpful, but there are specific steps you need to take to overcome it.
Refuse to be intimidated.
Many Christians are frightened and demoralized by tempting thoughts, feeling guilty that they aren’t “beyond” temptation. They feel ashamed just for being tempted. This is a misunderstanding of maturity. You will never outgrow temptation.
In one sense you can consider temptation a compliment. Satan does not have to tempt those who are already doing his evil will; they are already his. Temptation is a sign that Satan hates you, not a sign of weakness or worldliness.
Temptation is also a normal part of being human and living in a fallen world. Don’t be surprised or shocked or discouraged by it. Be realistic about the inevitability of temptation; you will never be able to avoid it completely.
Realize it is not a sin to be tempted.
Jesus was tempted, yet never sinned. Temptation only becomes a sin when you give in to it. Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
Actually, the closer you grow to God, the more Satan will try to tempt you. The moment you became God’s child, Satan, like a mobster hit man, put out a “contract” on you. You are his enemy, and he’s plotting your downfall.
Recognize your pattern of temptation and be prepared for it.
There are certain situations that make you more vulnerable to temptation than others. Some circumstances will cause you to stumble almost immediately, while others don’t bother you much. These situations are unique to your weaknesses, and you need to identify them because Satan surely knows them! He knows exactly what trips you up, and he is constantly working to get you into those circumstances.
Ask yourself, “When am I most tempted? What day of the week? What time of day?” Ask, “Where am I most tempted? At work? At home? At a neighbor’s house? At a sports bar? In an airport or motel out of town?” Ask, “Who is with me when I’m most tempted? Friends? Coworkers? A crowd of strangers? When I’m alone?” Also ask, “How do I usually feel when I am most tempted?” It may be when you are tired or lonely or bored or depressed or under stress. It may be when you’ve been hurt or angry or worried, or after a big success or spiritual high. You should identify your typical pattern of temptation and then prepare to avoid those situations as much as possible.
Request God’s help.
Heaven has a twenty-four-hour emergency hot line. God wants you to ask him for assistance in overcoming temptation. He says, “Call on me in times of trouble. I will rescue you, and you will honor me.” (Ephesians 6:15) I call this a “microwave” prayer because it is quick and to the point: Help! SOS! Mayday! When temptation strikes, you don’t have time for a long conversation with God; you simply cry out.
The Bible guarantees that our cry for help will be heard because Jesus is sympathetic to our struggle. He faced the same temptations we do.
If God is waiting to help us defeat temptation, why don’t we turn to him more often? Honestly, sometimes we don’t want to be helped! We want to give in to temptation even though we know it’s wrong. At that moment we think we know what’s best for us more than God does.
At other times we’re embarrassed to ask God for help because we keep giving in to the same temptation over and over. But God never gets irritated, bored, or impatient when we keep coming back to him. The Bible says, “Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.”(Proverbs 14:16)
God’s love is everlasting, and his patience endures forever. If you have to cry out for God’s help two hundred times a day to defeat a particular temptation, he will still be eager to give mercy and grace, so come boldly. Ask him for the power to do the right thing and then expect him to provide it.
Temptations keep us dependent upon God. Just as the roots grow stronger when wind blows against a tree, so every time you stand up to a temptation you become more like Jesus. When you stumble—which you will—it is not fatal. Instead of giving in or giving up, look up to God, expect him to help you, and remember the reward that is waiting for you: “When people are tempted and still continue strong, they should be happy. After they have proved their faith, God will reward them with life forever.”(1 Corinthians 10:12)