Underneath whatever persistent temptations you’re experiencing you have a God-given need for something—something good, clean, and life-giving.
A friend of mine recently visited Haiti. One morning, he saw a young boy walking to school along a muddy dirt road pocked with tire tracks. As he watched, the child pulled out an empty bottle, knelt down and filled it up with brown rainwater sitting in one of the tire tracks. This was the boy’s drinking water for the day.
Temptation works like this—it takes a God-given need and points out one or more faulty ways to satisfy it.
The boy’s primary problem wasn’t lack of willpower, unwillingness to resist, lack of discipline, or a need for accountability. Trying to deal with temptation alone would have left him thirsty and growing thirstier.
His primary problem was a lack of clean water to drink.
Our struggles with temptation (whether toward sex, money, media, food, control, etc.) reveal a similar problem in us. Unlike physical thirst however, many of our needs aren’t so easy to put a finger on. Our need for silence, for example, or meaning, friendship, touch, empathy, self-worth, a clean conscience, rest, creativity, fruitfulness, joy—all of these and many other needs can be difficult to recognize, particularly in the fast-paced, over-stimulated culture we live in.
To complicate matters, recognizing our needs doesn’t guarantee we’ll automatically know how to satisfy them, or that we’ll be able to right away, or that we’ll want to give up the familiar muddy water right in front of us.
Still, temptation shouldn’t be the only one paying attention to our deeper needs.
Christ gently invites us to pay attention to the depth of our own need (e.g. Ps. 63:1, Jn. 4:7-26), and that of one another. This means we learn to respond to chronic sin struggles not merely with better strategies to combat outside sources of temptation, but with humble, courageous and Spirit-led soul-searching.
This kind of soul-care is unfamiliar territory for many of us. Like everyone else, it is difficult to allow ourselves or others to feel unmet needs. It hurts to do so. It uncovers things about us we didn’t know or don’t like to admit. It takes time. It’s disruptive. It makes us vulnerable, dependent, and well…needy. It may even unearth a deep mistrust of God. This is true for the helped and the helper alike.
Jesus’ invitation comes with a heart not to condemn but to rescue. There is nothing in you that God doesn’t know and know well. Temptation does not know (and certainly doesn’t care for) your needs the way He does.
Needs don’t go away. That’s why they’re called needs. And unmet needs are easier prey for temptation than needs that are met. (My friend felt no pull to drink from the tire track because he is sustained with clean drinking water.)
The question isn’t so much how are you going to defeat your temptation? The question is what deeper needs are being left unmet, and how will they be satisfied truly?
Answer only the first question and you’ll be tempted again, more intensely. Answer the second question adequately, and you’ve also found your answer to the first.
Our team at Regeneration is here to help.