As we born-again believers make our way – God’s Way – along the strait and narrow of this life, we need to keep in mind that our greatest temptations probably won’t look like temptations; they’ll look like everyday concerns or ways of the world. They might even look like shortcuts that promise to get us to Heaven faster and with less effort.
Satan, for all his brilliance, still relies on the same old tricks that he used with Eve all those years ago: He finds our weaknesses and exploits them. He relabels forbidden fruit as “New!” and “Improved!”, burying the truth of the matter deep in the endless fine print that no-one bothers to read.
One of the worst things about temptations (if avoiding them is your goal) is that God supernaturally hides from you that they are temptations. You go into a temptation spiritually blind. God does that on purpose so that we’ll react organically to the scenario, not in a pre-processed way. I have been tempted on numerous occasions since I was reborn, and I’m sorry to report that I fell for many of them. The only positive thing I can take from my spiritual failures is that I learned from them by suffering the consequences of my bad choices, and the failures humbled me.
As we get closer and closer to our time to go Home (or in the other direction), we can be sure that our temptations won’t be the over-the-top type that Jesus was subjected to in the wilderness just before the start of his ministry. No, they’ll be much more subtle, which makes them that much more dangerous to us. For example, we might be tempted to break one or more of the Commandments, but it won’t appear as if we’re breaking them, either because “everyone is doing it” or the law of the land permits it. This is why we need to very clearly distinguish between God’s Law and worldly laws, between what is right in God’s eyes and what is right in the eyes of the world. Taking up arms with the intent to kill is a major temptation that born-again followers of Jesus hopefully never fall for, regardless of whether it has the blessing of the state.
Another temptation that comes to us disguised as something good is earning money. How much money do we need? Based on Jesus’ example, I’d say we need as much as it takes to put a roof over our head, food in our mouth, and clothes on our back, with a few extra pennies to pay for incidentals. Anything we earn beyond that is a temptation from the devil. God told me once that it’s useful to think of money as cancer cells, in which case we wouldn’t want to have any money at all, or at least no more than what we need to keep our immune system primed and pumped and humming along.
For many people, earning more money than you need is a lifelong temptation, though I’ve yet to hear of a deathbed confession that mentions any regret over not earning more. It’s like impending death completely cuts through the delusion that money has any real value beyond a roof, food, and clothing. If you take money concerns out of your life and let God dictate the amount you need, you free up a good portion of your day and your mind. For born-again believers, money should only be a tool; it should never be an end in itself beyond the bare minimum requirements.
Probably one of the biggest temptations in most people’s lives these days is complaining, especially publicly and before giving the offending person a chance to correct the wrong. Social media is usually the vehicle of choice for the complaining. Scripture tells us that if someone does something wrong, we need to go to that person and talk to him or her PRIVATELY. We’re not to make a show of it by standing up in public and thundering “J’ACCUSE!” That’s Satan’s job, to accuse. Our job is to take someone aside and quietly suggest that a change of behavior might be in order. If that doesn’t work, we’re to take a few more people to that person and quietly suggest the same. If even that fails, we need to pray for that person, but keep our distance. You don’t complain about them, not publicly and not privately. You pray for them.
Keep this in mind the next time you feel the urge to leave a bad review on social media. It’s a temptation. Best not to leave any review and let God deal with your grievance in his time and his way.
This category of temptations is called provocations, because they’re intended to provoke you into acting badly.
For the past month, I’ve been traveling for the first time in nearly two years, and I can tell you that the attitude of the people working in the hospitality industry in particular has changed drastically. I’ve suffered rudeness and arrogance that I’ve never experienced in all of my previous travels combined. Each time someone snaps at me or studiously ignores me, I have to bite my lip not to say anything that I’ll regret, just as I have to physically restrain my fingers not to type anything on a review that I’ll feel bad about later. So I instead step back and look at the goodness and kindness of the situation, if there is any (and there is always something), and I choose to overlook what wasn’t so good and kind. I choose to be grateful for small mercies rather than to be resentful. Note that I say “I choose” to do these things. Sometimes I have to make the choice with my nails digging into the palms of my hands. I have to learn (and relearn [and re-relearn]) to do this, because my default tends to be to get provoked, at which point my back goes up, my mouth opens, and out pours the invective. Mind you, what comes out isn’t necessarily inaccurate; it’s just not the best way to handle the situation.
These are temptations in the form of provocations, and they are everywhere these days. We need to be on our guard, even knowing that God will prevent us from seeing these temptations as provocations, watching to see how we respond. I think that when we get to the point where our default is to have compassion for the offender rather than condemnation, we’ve passed that particular test, overcome that particular temptation.
And then on we move to the next one.