In a recent conversation with a sister in Christ I was reminded how serious the battle is for our thoughts. We are in a spiritual war, and for the believer, our thought life is usually the place where we are attacked the most, and where we need to put our best defense and offense in play.
Temptation doesn’t always appear as you might think. Thoughts of anxiety, depression, apathy, discontentment, fear, and unhappiness are those “flaming arrows” which come at us, sent with unsettling accuracy into our mind and heart (Ephesians 6:16). We don’t have to intentionally walk away from God into open sin to realize we have been tempted. Anytime we find ourselves unfocused and distracted by the circumstances of our lives…that is temptation.
Personally I find this time of year, when we should be most focused on our blessings and the magnificent grace that God has poured into our lives, can be the most distracting.
First of all, it’s the end of the year, which naturally lends itself to contemplation. What am I doing with my life? Where am I heading? Am I making a difference or just passing time? What about my dreams and goals…am I making progress? What did I want to change this year…did it happen?
Second, it’s a very materialistic time of year. We are bombarded with slick, shiny ads filled with all the things we suddenly realize would add so much meaning to our lives…if only we had it! Why is that beautiful professional size stand mixer so appealing? I don’t even have room on my counter for it! And it’s not only us girls who are lusting after new towels and sheets, new comforters for our beds and another pair of cute boots. The men are not immune…because those 55” big screen televisions…can you believe how the prices have come down?!
Third, our world is in a mess, and sometimes that includes our personal world. We are reminded of it daily. Whether it’s the news of another shooting, another fire, or another protest, or another thick catalog in the mail asking us to buy a cow or pig for a family in a third world country…we’re constantly aware of the injustice, poverty, hate, and sadness that exists…and with it, the awareness that there’s very little personally we can do to change it. Maybe it’s our own life that is “messy” – we’ve lost someone close to us; an important relationship is unstable; a job is in peril; our finances are shaky. We feel helpless to change what is threatening our stability.
So how do we combat the attacks on our minds? What do we do with the temptation to feel overwhelmed? The thoughts of discontent? Or whatever distracting thoughts and emotions you might face during this time of year?
Jesus’ experience with temptation gives us some very practical application that can help us.
In Matthew 4, Satan came to Jesus with three specific temptations, and Jesus answered him with three quotes from the Old Testament. So, in a big picture way, we are reminded that God’s Word has every answer we’ll ever need. I’m not going to look at the type of temptations Satan threw at Jesus, but simply look at each response.
Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.
You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.
What can we see in these three statements?
#1 – LIVE ON EVERY WORD OF GOD.
What is it that sustains us? What fuels our life? What gives us energy to get up in the morning? It can’t be our circumstances, or the state of the world, or our possessions. It can’t be our jobs, even though they give us a sense of worth and purpose. What gives us life must be the Word of God. Without the Word of God, we will be weak, open to every thought and temptation our enemy sends our way.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
God’s Word is supernatural. Did you know that? It’s not just the content, or the principles found in God’s Word. Spending time in God’s Word changes us from the inside out. It’s not just a set of rules to follow, even though it gives us specific direction for what is right and what is wrong. And it’s not even just a revelation of who God is and what He is like, even though we do learn about Him in its pages. But there’s something that happens to us when we immerse ourselves in the Word that can’t be explained. It gets inside of us, and changes how we think and how we feel. When we eat physically, a piece of bread becomes part of us, and gives us physical life. In the same way, God’s Word creates spiritual life in us, and we become more like Christ.
#2 – TRUST GOD, DON’T TEST HIM.
How do we put God to the test? We disobey. We step over the line. Essentially we are saying, “Will you still love me if I do this?” “Will you still catch me if I fall?”
Or, we put God to the test by saying, “If you loved me, you would (do this) or (give me this).”
Why are we depressed? We don’t believe God.
Why are we anxious? We don’t trust God.
Why are we discontent? We are not satisfied with God.
Why are we apathetic? We don’t know God.
Why are we unhappy? We don’t love God.
When we look at our circumstances and believe that we need them to change in order to be fulfilled and satisfied, we are putting God to the test. We are saying to Him, “Prove that you love me.” We have forgotten that He already did.
#3 – WORSHIP AND SERVE GOD ALONE
To worship and serve God alone, we must first do away with all other gods in our life. And I don’t know about you, but the biggest “god” in my life generally turns out to be ME. When I am tempted to distraction, it’s because I’m focusing on myself. I want my own needs met. I want what I want. I want to feel that I have purpose. I want to feel secure. I want to feel needed. My life becomes all about “me” than focusing on God.
To worship God requires an intentional (and often painful) breaking away from our own self.
How do we do that?
We open His Word and find supernatural sustenance from the One who created us.
We obey Him by trusting His word to be true, and acting on it.
We serve Him. We find time in our busy life to be the hands and feet of Jesus. One simple act at a time.
The battle for your thoughts (and subsequently, your feelings, which are driven by your thoughts) is real. We have an enemy, but he is not invincible. In fact, he has already been defeated, so any ground you give him in spiritual warfare is from an inadequate defense or a deficient offense.
We act defensively to protect our minds by saturating them in God’s Word.
We act offensively to control our feelings by trusting God, not testing Him.
We celebrate victory by worshiping and serving God alone.
Jesus taught us how to handle temptation.
How will you follow His example today?