Prayer: The Escape from Temptation

Last week was one of the most confronting weeks I have experienced with God in a long time. It was a time of consecration, isolation, and true adoration (pardon my rhyming) of the One who formed life from dust. Prayer was my focus, which was great for me since my prayer life needed refreshing. I have been thinking about our greatest deterrents to prayer and the difficulties we face when approaching prayer. One particular idea stood out to me. I believe one of the most difficult times to pray is when we are battling temptation. (Click to tweet!)

When I was younger I had a dream that I have never been able to forget. In the dream it is dark, so void of light that I can feel the darkness threatening to suffocate me. Suddenly I see a tiny glimmer of light in the far distance. Naturally, I am drawn to the Light and I began to walk toward it. As I mesmerized by this Light, it begins to grow bigger and shine brighter until it is blazing in the horizon. As the light grows, I notice people on either side of this path who represented temptation. They were people who I wanted to associate myself with who were doing things that I wanted to do. They represented all the things that appealed to my flesh. As I walked past them, many of them tried to coerce me to indulge with them, but I was determined to get to the Light. It wasn’t until I reached a certain temptation that I didn’t want to resist that I turned away from the Light. I gave the temptation my undivided attention and indulged in sin. After I sinned, I turned frantically about in search of the Light…but it had vanished.

Jesus handled temptation much differently from the way we usually do. (Click to tweet!) Let’s study how He wrestled with temptation.

And Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Luke 22:39-45, ESV

Jesus knew His purpose

In the text, we know that Jesus is preparing to die. He knows that His time has come and He knows what lies waiting for Him at Calvary. He also knows that He exists for one purpose, which is to reconcile God and man once and for all. Before Jesus goes into this battle, He has it in the forefront of His mind that He is not there for Himself. He is not there to gratify Himself. He is not there to do His own will because He has a higher will to accomplish.

Jesus negotiated with God

 Jesus knew that before the world began that He would lay down His life for the souls of man. After the plan was set, the environment perfect, Jesus has finally reached the moment in history where He faces the precipice of His sacrifice. Now He has a choice to make: Am I really going to go through with this? Is there any other way?  Jesus’ prayer is saying, “I know this is the day we’ve been planning for, but is there a Plan B? Is there another trick You want to pull out of Your hat, Father?” His flesh was kicking and screaming out, “If there is any other way for me, then I want to do it! If there is any other way for me not to do what God is calling me to do, then I will.” (Click to tweet!)

Jesus’ humility provided strength

But Jesus remembers that His life’s purpose is to be for God and not for Himself. Jesus then prays, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” He sets aside His personal agenda and submits Himself to God. Then something incredible happens. An angel comes to strengthen Jesus. It wasn’t until after Jesus submitted His own will to God’s will that He received angelic strength. He was vulnerable with God and admitted the weakness of His flesh. When Jesus submitted His will He was in the perfect posture to receive grace and strength to withstand temptation. (Click to tweet!)

Jesus prayed more earnestly

After the angel poured strength into Him, one might assume that the struggle was over. Not so, for the Bible says that Jesus was in agony. Then, He began to pray more earnestly. This is not our usual response to temptation. When the temptation intensifies we tend to collapse from the pressure and tell God, “Nope, I can’t do it. Lord, forgive me in advance.” (Click to tweet!)

Many of us shy away from praying about the things that tempt us because we are ashamed of them. Our greatest temptations are alluring to our flesh and, if gratified, reveals a portion of our brokenness. Our temptations show us what we want, crave, feel entitled to–it is something we might go to extreme lengths to get. It is the guilt of that rush we feel in the middle of temptation that causes us to hang our head in shame and avoid prayer. The adrenaline we experience from the mere tempting thought makes us feel that we have already failed God, so we may as well trudge on into sin. Temptation is not a sin. When we are offered a sinful thought, desire, or opportunity, we can reject it. It is only after the acceptance of that temptation that it becomes sin. This simple truth can free us to boldly approach the throne of grace in the heat of temptation.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:14-15, ESV

James tells us that temptations lure us away (remember the dream I had), and desire conceives sin. Yet, we know that the temptation itself is not sin, but when it conceives it becomes sin to us. How, then, do we stop the conception of sin?

Stay tuned for the answer in Part II of Prayer: The Escape from Temptation.

Join the discussion! What are your thoughts on this topic? What are other reasons why we don’t pray when we’re tempted?

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The Scent of Singleness

You may not have a title or high position in your church, but you are a minister. Ministry is any act of service that edifies people and brings glory to God. Jesus said to His disciples that if they followed Him, He would make them fishers of men. He would make them ministers — carriers of the gospel and testimony of Jesus Christ. Many people may be familiar with the notion that marriage is a ministry. Husbands and wives are called to serve God together as they selflessly edify, encourage and uplift one another. A healthy marriage should draw people to God; it should encourage people to follow your God and your example. What you might not know is your ministry begins much sooner than your wedding day.

Singleness is a Ministry

Before we graduate to the ministry of marriage, we have to qualify ourselves through faithfulness in the ministry of singleness. In marriage your ministry is focused on your spouse and his or her needs, whereas in singleness your ministry is focused on God and what He has need of you to perform in the Kingdom. Your singleness is a time of uninterrupted, completely devoted service to God. Your allegiance to this ministry is to serve God to the fullest capacity you can muster.

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. — Paul via Acts 20:24

Your singleness is a race, a course that the Lord has set out for you to run. It is a ministry that God has purposed for us to embrace, but it is up to us whether we will accept it or not. Our single status is a given, but we can choose if we will honor God in our singleness. Paul said that he received his ministry from the Lord. God offers us the opportunity and privilege to honor Him and serve others during our singleness, but we have the option to either accept or deny this ministry. If you do not accept God’s design for singles, you may begin to focus on the circumstantial frustrations and disappointments in your singleness rather than the ministry of singleness. You may allow your emotions to dictate and control your willingness to serve God during your singleness. You could let the pressures of friends and family telling you to jump into a relationship influence your spirit until you’re no longer content with God. You could let your loneliness cause your prayer life to spiral downward. Any of these things would inevitably circumvent all that God wants to develop in and through you during this season. God wants you to live purposefully single. What did Paul say to hardships and pressures weighing against him?

But none of these things move me!

If you want to experience the fullness of God in your singleness, you must accept the ministry of singleness and determine that none of the pressures, temptations, or emotions will move your position of holy singleness. As a single person, your ministry includes 1) giving yourself fully to devotion to God, 2) giving yourself to the service of others, 3) and cultivating faithfulness during the waiting season. I will develop these ideas in a forthcoming message, but now I want to delve into another idea.

Spread the Aroma

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life… — 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

As Christians, we have a special call — a radical purpose. Singles have a special advantage in the Kingdom of God to be about our Father’s business. If our singleness is a ministry, then our singleness is also worship. A wise man said, “Anything you do for God is worship. Whatever you worship, you imitate. Whatever you imitate, you become.” You can worship God with your singleness. Paul reveals an interesting thought: God leads us as captives in Christ’s procession.

Let’s consider a wedding. As the processional music begins, a hush falls over the place. The anticipation builds and everyone halts with hopefulness. Why? The bride is coming. But, she cannot walk down the aisle until the procession occurs. The bridesmaids and groomsmen are dazzling in their ensembles with blinding smiles to match the joy in their hearts. The groom takes his place in front of the altar, anxiously awaiting to behold his bride. The tension builds as two young men unroll the aisle runner and finally the flower girl takes her place. She slowly glides down the aisle, delicately dropping dainty flowers. Everyone in the audience silently applauds her beauty and bravery as she makes her way down to the altar. I wonder if flower girls realize that they are responsible for ushering in the bride. Everyone knows that after the flower girl makes it to the altar at the end of her procession, the bride immediately follows.

We are like that flower girl.

The maid of honor, best man, bridesmaids, groomsmen and ring-bearer are all apart of the procession and they have different roles. They are all needed for the wedding to be complete, but the flower girl has a special role. She is the only member of the processional who walks on the runner before the bride arrives; she has privileges that others in the procession don’t have. Similarly, the single Christian has advantages that the married Christian does not have. The marriage and singleness ministries are different, but they are both important to God. However, the flower girl is responsible for setting the atmosphere for the bride to appear.

Paul said that we are the procession for Christ’s entrance. Each Christian has a different role and has a different race set before him, but each one has the same purpose: to make way for the King to come. The flower girl is usually a young child, but her job is far from insignificant. Her job may not seem as glamorous as carrying the ring, but if the flower girl is not in place, then the atmosphere won’t be acceptable for the bride to come. Sometimes as singles, we believe the lie that we have no place in our churches or in the Kingdom of God because we are single. That is not true! Sometimes we feel ostracized or belittled because of our single status. Every member of the Body is needed to prepare the way for God to come on the scene in the earth. Even the flower girl.

As the flower girl makes way for the bride, she is dropping flowers. Paul said that God uses us to spread the aroma of Christ in the land just as that young girl spreads the aroma of floral delight down the aisle. Worship has a scent that pleases God. As we live our single lives for Him, we will carry the aroma of Jesus with us that will not only turn the heads of people, but it will attract the “bride.” The aroma will draw Jesus closer to us.

Just as your worship has a fragrance, your ministry of singleness has a scent. Although we may be living seemingly mundane lives, God is using this season of singleness to change our fragrance that will attract His glory and draw men toward Him. Holiness, purity, radical prayer, passionate worship, consecration, and complete surrender to God should be the scent of every unmarried person’s life. It is not easy to commit to this ministry of singleness. There will be times when you’d much rather blend in with those singles who settle because they are tired of waiting. Singles should never be sitting on the sidelines while we wait. The bride can’t come if the flower girl refuses to walk down the aisle. Prepare the way for the King and carry an aroma that will draw Him toward you. Remember, what you worship, you will become. If you worship God in your singleness, you will be like Him in your marriage. So, when those moments of discouragement come…when loneliness and temptation to compromise come knocking, what will you do? Consider the flower girl. What is her motivation for making it down the aisle — to finish the race — to finish her task? Is it the intimidation of all of the people watching her? Is it her friend in the pew waiting to poke fun at her if she trips and spills her flowers? Is it her eagerness to get the task over with? Is it her fascination with the pretty bridesmaids who she secretly wishes she could be? She wonders, Who would want to be a lowly flower girl? No, that is not what motivates her to make it down the aisle. She keeps her pace and leaves the aroma because she is captivated with her purpose and the unwavering, unshakeable truth that immediately behind her is the center of attention, the point of it all, the reason for the wedding. She knows that the Son of God is blazing behind her in His awesome glory, and that although she is a flower girl now, that same God will transform her into a bride for her own groom.

So, I pose the question that God asked me: “If singleness has a scent, what does yours smell like?”