Sunday, October 2, 2011

Facing Uncommon Temptations

Have you ever found yourself in a moment of intense temptation? Your heart pounds, your conscience is screaming, but you end up watching yourself, almost like a movie, collapsing into sin?

There are common temptations, little flickers of excitement, smaller acts of compromise, that often don’t require much more than a quick dismissal or a refocusing of our hearts to resist. But there are other temptations, the kind we’re talking about here, that require a more serious defense.

One of Satan’ favorite tricks in such moments is to try to cleverly turn our truest help and ally into an enemy. His deception works like this—he wants us to view God in such moments as either our judge or a passive spectator who is looking on to see how we respond. If we fall into either trap, viewing God and treating God as either, we become helpless and are all but certain to fall. God desires to be our savior and helper.

Scripture (Psalm 70:1; Jesus in Matthew 26:41; 1 Cor. 10:13) and the ancients call us to a much different response: earnestly, consciously, even desperately admitting our helplessness in the face of temptation, and imploring God’s aid.

Alphonsus Liguori (18th century) counsels, “We must play the part of beggars…[praying] ‘My Jesus, mercy; do not let me be separated from you. O Lord, come to my aid. My God, help me!’”

Satan wants us to view God as an observer, not a participant, in our battle against these uncommon temptations. One of our strongest weapons is prayer, through which we tap into God’s active power. “We absolutely require God’s help to overcome temptations. And sometimes, in the face of more violent assaults, the sufficient grace that God gives everyone would be enough for us to resist them; but on account of our inclination to evil, it is not, and we need a special grace. Those who pray receive it; but those who don’t pray, don’t receive it, and are lost.”

There are certain temptations that a strong character can withstand; our previous devotions have rooted us in Christ, and the ammunition Satan uses against us in these common times are more like BBs than bullets. They may sting, but they don’t penetrate our hearts. However, in the face of more violent spiritual assaults, Satan brings out the armor-piercing ammo. In these moments, we are helpless unless we immediately remember God’s role as our friend; He is not a spectator, but an active defender. Such temptations are won, ironically enough, on the back of humility. We recognize we will fall on our own, and so cast ourselves on a foreign power, one God is only too willing to provide.

Instead of viewing God as watching to see if we fall, Jesus and the ancients counsel that we admit our weakness and implore God’s active assistance. When facing temptations that are bigger than us, past spiritual experience, carefully cultivated character, and even previous moments of study and worship are not strong enough to carry us through them. We need an immediate, active force, a deliverer and conquering hero. It is not our strength that is being tested, but our humility. We fight with weakness, admitting our need and learning to depend on God. The clearest sign of such humility is honest and earnest prayer.

If you view God as either your spectator or judge in these intense moments, the battle is lost. He is your helper, your friend, and savior. Go to him. Admit your need for him. Recognize that prayer is the primary way to tap into his provision. Such “uncommon temptations” are allowed to show us our ongoing spiritual poverty and ever-growing need for God’s mercy.

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