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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I Just Want You

She stared at him from across the busy hotel lobby. His tall and muscular physique drew attention and she noticed several women casting alluring glances his way. His smooth, milk chocolate complexion reminded her of an edible dessert. Two women approached him like vultures swooping in on their next prey. A seductive smile tugged at his lips, luring the women in, casting them deeper under his spell. The woman across the hotel lobby felt both a tinge of annoyance and jealousy. She secretly envied the attention the two woman had managed to get from the attractive man. As she walked in their direction, the man glanced her direction. He whispered something to the two ladies and they both giggled. The tall, slender, bronze-colored woman of the flirtatious duo slipped him a piece of paper and then both women were gone. 

The man’s sensual smile faded into a stoic expression as the woman from across the lobby stood in front of him. He sat down on the bench and averted his eyes. She handed him a key card. “Here.”

He took the card without looking at her. She was beginning to think that inviting him on this business trip was a mistake. She sighed. “Okay, so you should go ahead and take our bags up to the room. I have to get to my first meeting in fifteen minutes.”

“Yeah,” he said, standing to his feet. He took the handle of her brown luggage, threw his red duffel bag over his shoulder and proceeded to walk toward the elevator.

“Wait,” she stepped in front of him. “Aren’t you going to kiss me goodbye?”

He glared down at her for a few moments before he spat out, “Why?”

He stalked away and she turned to watch him leave.

“Thank you, ma’am. Enjoy your stay.” She reached for the key card to her hotel room and turned around to look for him. She spotted him sitting silently on the bench across the lobby. His broad shoulders were drooped, his countenance downcast. Instant concern shadowed her face as she approached him. She rested one hand on his shoulder and he looked up at her, his large, green eyes vacant.

“What’s wrong?” she wanted to know. She sat beside him.

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This. Us. I don’t think we’re going to work out.”

She sunk down to the bench beside him. Her pulse began to race. “W-w-what are you saying?”

He ran his fingers through his auburn hair and hung his head low. He felt her hand touch his knee gently. He rested his hand on top of hers and squeezed it tenderly. He finally mustered the courage to look back into her confused, brown eyes. 

“Look at you. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. You’re working in corporate America. You make six figures. Your job sends you all over the world and can afford to put you up in amazing hotels like this. You have two undergraduate degrees and one Master’s Degree. You’re the kindest, gentlest woman I’ve ever known. Every time I look at you, you take my breath away. You leave me speechless…all the time…”

She felt her heart gallop in her chest. Her head began to swim as if she might faint.

He continued. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone in my life. I’ve never felt so…so complete.

“You are the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” His voice caught in his throat and he wiped a single tear from his face.

She shook her head. “Stop it. Stop it! Why are you doing this?”

“Look at me! I flunked out of college. I’m a struggling musician who writes songs all day while you’re whisking from city to city. You’re clean and well-manicured and well-dressed in your business suit. I’m wearing a dingy white T-shirt, jeans with holes in them, and flip flops.” He leaned forward and softly kissed her jaw line. “You smell like vanilla and springtime. I barely remember to wash my hands when I leave the bathroom. Even my friends say I don’t deserve you. You deserve someone better than me. You deserve someone more handsome, more intelligent, more wealthy. I’m not good enough for you.”

“No,” she exclaimed. “No! No!” She held his face in her hands. Their surroundings had long been forgotten. Her eyes spilled tears as they frantically searched his. “I love you. I. Love. You. I don’t care what you do for a living. I don’t care what you wear. I don’t care about your education. I don’t care about your money. I don’t care about anything you could ever do for me. Do you know why? Because I’ve loved so many people and they all walked out on me. You’re the only one who loved me back. You make me feel wanted. You enjoy me. I am desired by you. You’re not like everyone else because you want me.You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever known and I love you exactly the way you are.”

“But,” he said, “there are so many other men you could have. They’re better than me.”

She thumbed his tears away. “No, I don’t want other men. I want you.”

More tears ran freely from his eyes and he leaned his forehead against hers. “Why?” he whispered.

She smiled. “Shhh, stop crying. Let me show you.”

What you just read is a dream that I had a few nights ago. When I woke up from the dream, I immediately thought about the Lord and His people. How many of us have felt the same way that the Caucasian gentleman felt about his girlfriend? Have you ever been in such wonder at the Lord’s awesome splendor that you look at yourself and wonder, “What does He see in me? Why does He love me this way?” I have. I have been this young gentleman. I’ve been simultaneously in awe of God’s holiness and in complete disgust at the horrible state of my own flesh. How could a perfect God love such an imperfect being?

I have come to the realization that God is a lot like that young, successful woman. She had loved before and her former suitors had left her high and dry. Yet, she continued to love. Finally, in her pursuit of love, she found a man who loved her back. She had finally found a man who didn’t want her for her money or her social status or her beauty. This man wanted her because he had gotten past the outer layers and desired her for the essence of who she was. God wants the same thing! He wants children who are eager to get to know Him simply for who He is, not for what His blessings will do for us. He wants to be desired and wanted. He wants our undivided attention. What He doesn’t want is for us to shy away from Him because of intimidation or because we think joining with God makes us an unlikely couple. On the contrary, He wants His awesome splendor to encourage us to draw nearer to Him and want Him even more! When we choose to pursue Him like no other, He will reward us with the greatest gift He could ever grant us: true intimacy with Him. God has already proved His love for us by sending Jesus to the cross to reconcile us to Him, but He takes the gift of salvation to another level by revealing deep, intoxicating intimacy with us.

One kiss from Jesus will sweep you off of your feet forever.

 

♫ Now Playing: “One Thing Remains” by Kristian Stanfill ♫