By: Nathan Deg

Temptation is something that we have all experienced. It’s the desire to do something that you know is wrong. Everyone is tempted by something (or, more realistically, many somethings).
And, everyone has also given in to their temptations at some point or another. Maybe there’s a temptation that you can resist easily, maybe there’s one that you give into right away. Unfortunately, it often feels like the longer you resist a particular temptation the harder it becomes to resist.

One thing that also is very common is the feeling that we’re terrible people because we experience temptation. But, while that feeling is understandable, it is completely wrong. The fact is, being tempted is not a bad thing. Jesus Himself was tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11), and He is without sin! That means that your temptation, whatever it is, is not sinful. Just because you have a temporary desire for something doesn’t mean that you’ve actually sinned!

The Temptation to Ride Dragons: Entertaining thoughts

Now, I can hear you thinking, but what about when Jesus said “ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5: 18) . If looking at someone lustfully is a sin, doesn’t that mean that just thinking about something and desiring something is a sin? The answer to that is both yes and no. There is a difference between a passing thought that pops into your head and entertaining that thought. Entertaining a thought is actively exercise our will and dwell upon it. A silly example might be randomly thinking “wouldn’t it be great to ride a dragon”. That’s just a random thought. But, after the thought pops into your head, you might start imagining exactly what it would be like to ride a dragon. What sort of saddle you might put on it. How it may feel as you flew majestically through the air. In other words, you could start entertaining that thought, and put some energy into thinking about it. In the same way, it’s not a sin to look at someone and think “Wow, what a beautiful person.” It’s when you start to dwell on it and objectify them in your mind that it becomes a sin.

Being tempted to sin is something that everyone faces. But being tempted to sin is not sinning. It’s not wrong and it’s not something you should feel terrible about.

Temptation and Prayer

That being said, there is something very important that we all need to realise…it is impossible to resist temptation on our own. It doesn’t matter how strong you think you are, sin is stronger. The only way we can truly resist temptation is through prayer.

There are many ways to pray about temptation, but one that might be useful is to take whatever it is that is tempting you and redirect it towards God through prayer. It sounds weird, but it’s very much like what Jesus did in the desert. Satan starts by saying to Jesus that if He’s hungry He could turn the rocks into bread. He could satisfy His bodily desires. Jesus’ response is that we don’t live on bread alone, but on the word of God. It’s not like He wasn’t still hungry and He didn’t want to eat. But He redirected that temptation to rely on God instead. Satan offered Jesus power over everybody, and again, Jesus directed the temptation to power to a recognition of God’s power.

The point is, when we are tempted by something, try to take a moment and look at what it is you desire, and then ask God to help fulfil the deepest desire to which you are called. It’s a three step process. What are you tempted by, why are you tempted by that thing at the deepest level, and how can God satisfy that desire. Going back to that silly example of riding a dragon, the answer to that first question is the temptation to ride dragons. The next question is why do you want to ride a dragon? Is it the freedom of flying, the fame of being the only person riding a mythical animal, the coolness of doing something no one else had done? Whatever it is, we can ask why do we want that freedom, the fame, the joy. And then we can redirect that desire towards God. We can recognise that it is only God who gives us true freedom. That God is the source of joy. That God already loves us and nothing we do is going to make Him love us more. And while riding a dragon is a ridiculously silly example, this process is something we can try when we are faced with real temptations. We can ask why we might want to gossip about someone behind their back. We can ask why do we want to get drunk. Why are we tempted by those things. And then direct it back to God. Maybe take a moment right now and think about the things in your life that tempt you the most and see if you can start the process now.

Every time we pray the Our Father we ask God to lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from sin. And that is the ideal thing. Avoiding situations where we are tempted is the easiest and best way to resist temptation. But, we won’t avoid all temptations forever. So, when you are tempted, don’t feel terrible about the temptation. Redirect that temptation towards God through prayer. Use that temptation to draw even closer to the one who fulfills all our desires perfectly. Remember that ‘nothing is impossible with God’ and that you are ‘more than conquerors through Him who loves us”. That’s my prayer for you. That you are able to recognise the temptations in your life and that you can transform the desire for your own self into a desire and appreciation of God. That you see that God loves you and wants only the absolute best for you. And that the best thing for you, for anyone, is God Himself. Amen.

About Author: Nathan DegVersion 2

Nathan DegI am an astrophysicist working as a post-doctoral fellow at UCT. I obtained my Ph.D. in 2014, and am currently studying barred spiral galaxies, stellar streams, and the Milky Way. I enjoy way to many video games, books, movies, and tv shows and have a deep and abiding love for real (ice) hockey.