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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Christ Died for Dead People

Our view of God is much, much too harsh and much, much too small. Some of us have grown up with the mentality that God is mean and waiting (dare I say hoping?) on our failure so that He can strike us down. May I encourage you? When God sent Jesus to die, we weren’t just a hopeless people; we were dead. Sin doesn’t make us bad; it makes us dead!

God’s view of a sinful humanity on the earth: dry bones.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

God looked down on earthly carcasses and His heart swelled with compassion and His love said, “Jesus, it’s time. Go bring them to life. Go make a way for My children to come to Me.” This means that God the Son died for already dead people. We were not just in bad shape. We were not just getting by. We were definitely far from living a whole life. We had no life. Can you imagine the conversation between the angels the day Jesus was crucified? I like to think they were gazing into each other’s eyes, hoping one of them had the answer for the madness happening on earth. “Maybe Michael has the answer! Find Gabriel! Gabriel will know. Why is Jesus, the Son of God who stood with His Father when the world was fashioned…hanging from a tree and becoming a curse for a bunch of dead people? What is God’s interest in these people?”

Oh, and does He ever have interest in us! This is the God we serve; a God who stretched out His hand toward a dead humanity and loved us fiercely! There’s nothing mean about this God.

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

How astounding is it to read this scripture again with the fresh realization (or reminder) that our sin made us dead. We can never doubt God’s love for us ever again, no matter what we do, because He already sent Jesus to die for us in our state of death.

Flash forward to today. Jesus’ mission has been accomplished! Holy Spirit is here on earth, empowering Christians all over the world. Yet when we miss the mark, we allow a humanistic view of God tell us that there’s no way He will forgive us this time, or He doesn’t want to hear my prayer again, or because I sinned again now He definitely won’t bless me in the area of (fill-in-the-blank). God is not a mean God! Know that even when we fall short, He’s the parent who runs to His child’s side the moment we call on His help. What parent do you know would watch their child fall off of their bicycle and into the street, and wouldn’t immediately run to their rescue? How much MORE caring is the Lord God Almighty? When we fall — and we will all fall — God’s grace is sufficient! Even though there may be consequences to our sin, His love is outstanding and He is faithful to walk with us through the consequences.

I want two things to resonate with you today.

1. Christ died for dead people. Since this is true, you know that He loves you enough to see you through the difficult days and trying moments of life. Even when you make a mistake, God is eager to grant you grace and mercy. A God who died for dead people will surely rescue those He has brought to life.

2. God is not mean. I don’t care what anyone tells you about God; go study God’s character for yourself! God is compassionate and beautiful and just and bursting with glory, love, and splendor waiting to be explored. Surely He could never be a mean God.

If anyone told you otherwise, then someone lied to you.

Tub ‘O Pride

Last night my mother made a suggestion that someone should clean the bathtub. My first response was, “I’d do it, but I’d gag.” She went on to scold me about my unwillingness to do certain things around the house. I didn’t dwell on it much. I listened, but I think I put her admonishment on the shelf of my mind. Unbeknownst to me, God would later retrace my steps and take it off the shelf and force me to deal with it, amongst other things.

These last few days I have been trying to go before God with a consecrated heart with hopes in deepening my relationship with Him. Every day this week has seriously been a struggle. The first couple of days I missed my early morning devotion and prayer with the Lord. The subsequent days were mediocre moments of prayer rather than the passionate, intimate moments I’ve grown accustomed to. Needless to say, I was beyond discouraged and I could barely withhold the thoughts of defeat. I kept wondering what was wrong with me. I couldn’t stay focused on my prayers. I’d fall asleep in the middle of talking to Him. I’d get absolutely nothing from devotion with Him. I’d spend all day reading the Word, but I felt like it was all for naught. I kept straining to hear the voice of God, but instead I heard deafening silence. Every night before I drifted off to sleep, I would secretly condemn myself for being such a lousy Christian. Every night my knees were buckling underneath the weight of intimidation and misconception that I had to say the perfect, fiery, long prayers in order to move God’s heart. Each day when I arose to spend time with Him, I was disappointed over and over again.

This morning, God showed me where I have erred. He showed me that rather than worshiping Him, I have been trying to impress Him. He showed me where my pride has crushed me and caused me to defeat myself. I’ve put pressure on myself when He has not. He doesn’t want anything extra from me but sincerity in heart. I have been hoping to woo Him and make Him happy, but I’ve been operating in flesh rather than from the heart. God honors worship from the heart. He wants me to go back to loving on Him genuinely, rather than trying to perform for Him.  I did not even realize that this was pride! I was trying to win God over with awesome prayer, spending hours in the Word, listening to ministry podcasts. None of those things worked to move me closer to God because I was operating with mechanics rather than with fervor for my God. I was crossing things off of the list rather than doing them because I so loved Him and wanted to communicate with Him. No wonder I couldn’t hear from Him!

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. — James 4:6, NKJV

God couldn’t come near me because the pride in my heart crowded Him out. It repelled Him. Even though my mouth said I needed more of Him, my prideful heart was searching for spiritual satisfaction. How foolish! There IS no spiritual satisfaction outside of the Lord Himself. He is my satisfaction. After He revealed the true condition of my heart, I began to pray in sincerity and for the first time all week, I felt the presence of God descend. My heart swelled with love for Him again. In the midst of all that, He whispered to me, “Clean the bathtub.”

What can you say when the Great I AM instructs you to do something you might not want to do? You completely obey and say, “Yes, Sir!” So, when my mother and sisters left the house, I turned on my favorite worship playlist and got to work. Before I knew it I was sweating and my arms were sore. I was beginning to get disgruntled. No matter how hard I scrubbed some areas, the dirt and scum would not relent. The bleach was beginning to make my stomach turn and it was frustrating. Finally I got the tub as clean as I could, but I still wasn’t satisfied with my job. As I stared at the finished product, I realized why God wanted me to clean the tub.

The tub was in bad shape, but I went in there and scrubbed the hardest I could only to be disappointed. The tub was clean, but it didn’t yield the sparkle I wanted to achieve. Then I realize this is what I had been trying to do with God. I was trying to get myself together, make myself look good for God, but I was doing a horrible job at it and I was still left feeling unsatisfied. Only God’s redeeming love and the blood of Jesus could clean me up and make me into the person I want so desperately to become. I can’t do it in my own strength, my own will, my own works. Only God can make that which is red as scarlet white as snow. I was beating myself up because my “tub” wasn’t clean and I was unwilling to let God do the cleaning. Jesus is in the business of cleaning up our mess, so I wonder why it took me almost a week to let Him do the scrubbing. What does it profit to sweat and grow in fatigue if I can’t even do the job? Enough of trying to impress God with my cleaning skills. I don’t have the slightest idea how to clean this life of mine, but He does. Jesus already tendered the blood. My only job is the receive the grace He has freely given, obey His voice and pursue Him with no abandon.

My heart beats with the fervor to see His face. I’ve realigned myself with Him and I cannot wait to spend time with Him again. I’m counting down the hours until our next encounter. I’ve come (back) to grips with the fact that I am completely undone and I am nothing without the redeeming love of Jesus Christ.

Absolutely nothing.

♫ Now Playing: “Show Us Your Glory” by Rick Pino ♫