Why do wives worry about their husbands available and attractive co-workers?
Why do teachers worry that students aren’t doing their own work?
Why does the IRS wonder if we’re being honest on our tax returns?
The issue is temptation. We all know the line between doing what’s right and good and wrong and bad is oftentimes very slender.
I’ve been thinking about the Lord’s prayer a lot and in it we come to the phrase ‘lead us not into temptation.
At first blush it sounds as if we’re asking the Lord not to tempt us. As if he’s standing there trying to compel us to do something that is evil. We know from Scripture that God isn’t in the tempting business but that He does allow our lives to be tested and trials to be present.
As a result there is no moment of your life that is not a moment when unbelief and disobedience is not a strong possibility. And so we pray as the Message phrases it ...”Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”
Thomas Merton once told young monks at Gethsemane Abbey. “Behind the attractions and the surface of things in the world, there is a force at work to deceive people - a force of deception. Something’s cooking ...look out! If you stay out of the way of this force -whatever it is - you are better off. And if you go horsing around with it, you are in trouble.”
The trouble is that we might really like the story this force wants to write for us. You know the chapter headings in that story don’t you? Procrastination. Indifference. Greed. Lust. Food. Vanity. Pride. Satan always uses both our circumstances and our desires as plot lines.
Whatever it is the temptation will always be to find happiness and fulfillment in something other than God. The temptation is always to replace God with self in some way, shape or form. Self-preservation, self-concern, self-promotion, self-gratification.
There is an almost infinite variety of temptations. Each is an opportunity to grow and make a God honoring response or to stumble and fall. Temptation is an insidious thing. It waits to prey on us in the most tender of moments.
I read about a couple once who were given the news that their son had an incurable disease. Everyone, as you can imagine, was torn with pity for them, but they remained remarkably calm and uncomplaining. One night as a friend left their house, he paused to express his admiration for their fortitude and spirit. The boy's father looked up at the stars and said, "Well, it seems to be that we have three choices. We can curse life and what it does to us at time and look for some way to express our rage. We can grit our teeth and merely endure. Or we can accept our life as still a gift, somehow, from God. The first alternative is useless. The second is exhausting. The third enables us to go on truly living. Gil Bowen sermon 11.21.99
The temptation was to curse life and the circumstances they found themselves in. To grit their teeth and endure. And I’m sure they considered that. We all would. But they stopped long enough to challenge what that would do to them. And in the midst of what must have been a formidable temptation they chose to live by accepting this very hard set of circumstances. They decided to step into that story instead of the one the tempter had for them.
Or consider something we all deal with ‘greed’. Not long after the movie Wall Street came out everyone was talking about the famous speech Gordon Gekko gave. We refer to it now as his “greed is good” speech. And a whole lot of folks bought into that particular philosophy. And they caved into the temptation to get as much as they could anyway they could do it. And that temptation has ended many a life and gotten us in some pretty deep economic waters and to some deeply murky and ugly cultural plot lines.
About the same time I heard about some enormously wealthy men here in the
burbs. They formed a small group. They called themselves the ‘Bruised Camels’ based on the scripture that says ‘it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven.” They knew that their blessing of wealth would also be the place where the greatest attack would come from in their life. And so they banded together to support each other in how they went about making and using their wealth for the glory of God. They stopped long enough to understand the challenge before them and instead of bowing to all that greed represented they instead chose to move in the direction of generous stewardship. They chose the better story. Chicago
Bottom line is that the devil wants you to live into the teeniest of stories. Always on the lookout for little pieces of happiness. Settling for eating, drinking, and being trendy. Accumulating stuff. Having just enough God to be ‘religious’ but not enough to change our lives. And God is saying “I’ve got a better story. Let's write it together.”