Temptation can feel like a powerful wave that knocks you over. One minute you’re fine, and the next your entire body and mind craves sin. What should you do when Temptation knocks?
Consider this: When you hear the doorbell ring and see temptation standing outside, it’s important to remember that, while it may have arrived unexpectedly, it wasn’t uninvited. Something within you texted or called it, telling it to come over.
“No,” you might say, “I was scrolling through social media when a provocative post popped up out of nowhere.” “I was at the store when someone who reminded me of an old partner crossed my path, and that’s when it started,” for example. Or, “I was minding my own business when a former sexual partner texted asking if I wanted to have sex.”
You are not responsible for the actions of others, but consider this: why do such situations sometimes create intense temptation in you and sometimes do not?
Shutting Down Temptation
Temptation may fixate on something outside of you, but its power to pull you toward sin comes from inside. This is not an accusation, it’s an opportunity to ask what inside of you is inviting temptation to the doorstep and how can you tend to that part of you in a more life-giving way than returning to sin? In his book, Unwanted, Jay Stringer states:
“Sexual failures, Internet searches, and browser histories expose our sin, but far more, they are road maps…You may not like the ‘map’ you’ve been given, but to navigate your way out of unwanted sexual behavior, you will need to pay closer attention to what it desires to show you. One night of deliberate curiosity for your sexual fantasies will take you further into transformation than a thousand nights of prayerful despair.”
As you slow down to prayerfully ask questions of your temptations, you will find two layers needing attention.
First, you’ll discover present day difficulties needing care. For example, you may simply find that you’re feeling lonely. Or you might find you’re feeling stressed and helpless, frustrated, small or unwanted. These are reasons temptation has come knocking, and once you know this, you can better tend to whatever it is that you’re feeling. If you’re feeling lonely, you can call a friend or invite someone to coffee. If you’re stressed, you can strategize solutions, set out a schedule, and/or you can spend some time praying and entrusting the situation to God’s care.
Second, you’ll discover pains from your past that are not yet resolved or healed. One of the reason that Stringer’s research is so exciting is because of the connections he discovered between past wounds and present-day sexual behavior. In other words, his research suggests that the kinds of fantasies you typically run to are not random, but they correlate with specific experiences you’ve had–things like disengaged parents, abandonment, triangulation, and trauma, among others. The aim here is not to blame others for your behavior, but to disentangle your story from your current behaviors. Stringer writes:
I am asking you to consider the possibility that your sexual struggle is not random. Could there by dynamics in your family, community, and culture that contributed to your contamination?
You can see from all of this that resisting temptation is more than just telling it to leave or forcing yourself not to think “those thoughts.” If you only take that approach, the neglected part of you will just pick up the phone again and invite temptation to return.
This is another reason I’m thankful for Jesus. He is well aware of all of this and is eager and patient to accompany us through it all. He enjoys tending to our wounds and being with us when the wounds persist. Temptation and lust are freeloaders who want to enter our “house” and take over, eat our food, make a mess, and use us.
Not Jesus. He stands at the door and knocks not so he can overpower us, but so he can fellowship with us right where we are. He desires to care for every aspect of who we are and to bring us life, goodness, beauty, and love.
For more things you can do when temptation comes knocking, listen to this podcast, 5 Steps to Shutting Down Temptation.
Have you ever tried something like what I’m describing here when you’re tempted? How has it worked for you? What else helps you in those moments? I’d love to hear from you.
I know that what helped me overcome an active addiction to porn was taking the time to look at the pain that was coming out of my past and the fears in the present that came out of those pains, and taking the pain, and its sources (as far as I could tell what they were), to Jesus for him to heal, asking for his comfort as well as his power. Our hearts are terrifying places, but taking Jesus into them is essential to be consoled and freed.