When I was a kid, we had a giant sandbox. It was more of a sand pile, actually – leftover builder’s grade sand with lots of big pebbles in it. Some sparkled in the sun, which made for some pretty good treasure hunting. My little brother and I spent hours prospecting for gold with plastic sifters, sometimes instead finding mysterious squishy presents left behind by our cats – felines are such givers.
We soon learned that these moldable clumps made excellent mud pies. I’m not sure if I realized we were actually making cat-poop pies, or whether I would have cared. I was a barefoot, outdoor-loving, creek-tromping six-year-old who’d just moved from the city to the country. As long as I wasn’t eating the pies, all ingredients were fair game.
With this backstory in mind, you might understand why this C.S. Lewis quote has always struck a chord with me:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I steer clear of making mud pies out of anything that could be found in our cat’s litter box. But I do have to ask myself – what kind of mud pies am I making these days? What worldly distractions or fleshly desires tempt me? And what should I do about it?
Can Any Good Come from Temptation?
I recently was challenged by the idea that there’s good to be found in temptation. How can that be? Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” and the Bible tells us to run from it. Yet we all face temptation. So if God allows it, what can we learn from it?
Oswald Chambers said, “Temptation is a suggested short cut to the realization of the highest at which I aim — not towards what I understand as evil, but towards what I understand as good.”
Go ahead and reread that a few times (I needed to anyway).
Thinking about temptation as a “short cut to realization,” I considered some of my common temptations – like food. Sometimes I eat because I’m bored, or stressed, or upset, etc. Sometimes I’ve eaten so much, I felt sick afterwards.
I know. I know what you’re thinking. It’s a shocking confession. I am officially the worst Christian ever. I eat… for pleasure. After all, God doesn’t want us to enjoy food. Or life for that matter. I’m kidding of course, but sometimes we take things to ridiculous extremes, don’t we?
So before we go on, here’s what I’m NOT saying: God hates overeaters.
And here’s what else I’m NOT saying: Overeating is great because we’re under grace (1 Cor. 10:23 says while something may be permissible, it’s not necessarily beneficial).
Also, I’m not picking on you if food happens to be a weak spot. You could easily insert a slew of other things that the world and the enemy dangle before us, things our flesh thinks it simply must have. Whatever temptation you wrestle with is between you and God. And while some things may be more harmful than others from a physical perspective, any temptation can be spiritually harmful – if we give into it.
Remember, temptation itself is not sin. Jesus was tempted, and He was without sin. So you don’t have to beat yourself up for being tempted, but you DO want to follow Jesus’ example of combating temptation with God’s truth (see Luke 4: 1-13).
Okay, with all of that under our belts, we can circle back to our question: Can any good come from temptation?
Using Temptation as a Compass
What I’ve been learning is that our temptations, if we’ll examine them, can actually point us toward the God-given desires of our heart.
For example, I had a stressful day earlier this week. I’d been hoping to sit down with a book for two days running and couldn’t carve out a minute to myself. I could feel the resentment building. I picked the kids up from school, knowing there was no way I was going to meet all of the deadlines before me. I pressed on and tried to get as much work done as I could, calling it quits at 6 p.m. to make dinner. The kids wanted attention. I had people coming over at 7:30. No time to clean. I felt like I was letting everyone down.
I walked into the kitchen and wanted… something, anything to distract me from the negative emotions I was feeling… food, a glass of wine… something indulgent. Maybe I was even feeling a little defiant. But before I went down that path, the kids came in from outside. I told them I was stressed and needed some quiet. (It’s amazing how understanding people can be when you’re willing to be vulnerable and simply ask for what you need.) I grabbed my book, kicked my feet up on the couch, and read for a glorious half-hour before cooking dinner.
While I was reading, I reconnected with God and remembered the truths of what really mattered, rather than all of the things that had been weighing on me. I got up, completely refreshed and feeling much better than if I’d have inhaled a chocolate-covered Twinkie while zoning-out in front of the TV.
I realized that my temptation to veg-out and fill the void with food and drink was pointing to the fact that I hadn’t fulfilled the desire of my heart to sit quietly with God and read – a 30-minute rest that I could have taken if I’d chosen to earlier in the day (or the day before, for that matter). But instead, I let the louder demands drive my choices for me and I grew more and more irritable. Funny thing too… those demands didn’t end up being quite as pressing as I’d thought they were. Hmmm.
Don’t get me wrong… this could have (and has) gone the other way on any given day. I’m learning and growing, right along with everyone else. But I love the idea of taking something the enemy means for harm and giving it to God to flip on its head. Look behind the lie (you’re tired… putting junk in your body will make you feel better) and ask God what’s true (you’re tired… taking some time alone with me will restore you).
In a Nutshell
I’m pretty sure it’s okay to enjoy a Twinkie and TV sometimes, and God is going to love us no matter what. But we need to pay attention to our hearts rather than going with the knee-jerk reaction and settling for less. What do you really want? Imagine you’re a prospector sifting for gold. Only Jesus offers the true riches of abundant life, so keep a sharp eye out for fool’s gold. It’s dressed up to look like treasure, but a lot of times, it’s just crap.