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.
Staying attentive to my needs is hard work and quite frankly, feels exhausting some days. But I’ve learned that if I don’t remain diligent in accessing my needs and inviting Jesus in to meet/satisfy them, I will face temptation and will be prone to fall. I used to think that it was a one-&-done kind of thing – that if I identified and met one need a in godly way, that all of my other needs would be taken care of. That is not the case. I am prone to is self-reliance. God has shown me that He orchestrates my needs as a way of keeping me needy for Him. When I’m needy, I have the choice of turning to God and experiencing His power to heal me and getting my needs fulfilled or turning to myself to meet my needs which always ends in me numbing the need (with alcohol, over-eating, sleeping it off, watching porn to escape), rather than meeting it. These old habits always lead me down a path to sin. So rather than feeling bad about my neediness, I am learning to rejoice that I am needy. Philippians 4:9 – My God will meet ALL my needs through Jesus!
This is really, helpful. Thank you for adding your experience and insights.
Needed this today. Thanks brother.
Me, too. You’re welcome.
These posts are often difficult to read, but invaluable to me. Needs don’t go away. It is hard to accept them and sit with them, and at least for my part not to be angry that I have them. I am angry at my desires and the lack of their fulfillment. I know in my head and yes even deeper in my heart that the source for fulfillment and the giver of these things is one and the same, but like the kid filling his water bottle in the dirty puddle sometimes I feel like that’s all I have in front of me. It’s not quite true, but at the same time I feel like I’m supposed to have some super spiritual connection to God that I admittedly do not have. I can’t help wishing that beyond the Holy Spirit I had a Jesus in flesh sitting in the next room when I wanted him. He would probably answer me in parables :).
Meg, I can relate with this: “I feel like I’m supposed to have some super spiritual connection to God that I admittedly do not have.” Your desire for “Jesus in flesh” I believe is a very good one. David wrote that his heart and his flesh cry out for the living God. I don’t always know what to do with my own longing for Christ in the flesh, but it is helpful to know my longing isn’t necessarily a sign of spiritual immaturity but of good spiritual hunger. It is also helpful for me to know God created me to need not only Him but also other human beings. Not sure if either of those thoughts are helpful to you, but do know that many of us relate with your experience.