Category: Decision-making

3 Practical Ways to Overcome Temptation

 

The season of darkness has fallen, and the beige walls of the living room are creeping ever so slowly closer together with each passing day. God will faithfully draw the curtains and usher in robins and Daylight Savings Time before suffocation overcomes us in March, but until then, I’m wondering if this might be the year that does us in.

I sit on the recliner in the 4 p.m. twilight, and I read these words:

As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?  Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:10-13

At first sight, the plight of the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh’s armies seems to have little to do with my life in twenty-first century America. But then I get to thinking.  Moses has just led God’s people away from the bondage of slavery, out of a life of toil and struggle, and into a wide open space of promise.  The people have no way of knowing it just yet, but God is about to split a sea in two so that they can cross on dry ground to safety.

What if the enemies that seek to destroy us are just a few steps from drowning in the depths of the sea, but we’re too full of grumbling to step away?

What if the old enticements that threaten to enslave us – things like hurry, perfectionism, lust, escapist behaviors, and laziness – are just inches from meeting their final demise, but we’re too tired of the fight?

Sometimes going back to what we once knew feels right, even when what we once knew was never God’s best for our lives.

I face this temptation when the days grow short and nights grow long. I’m not tempted to fall to some socially unacceptable vice, but I’m tempted to give in to complaint and discouragement.  I’m tempted to stop looking for the good that surrounds me and dwell on the walls closing in.

What if this isn’t God’s best? What if the next breakthrough for our lives is just two steps away?  What if the sea is about to open wide, if we’ll just quit complaining, adjust our attitudes, and fix our eyes on him?

We each face areas where it’s tempting to go back to the slavery of Egypt. It might be subtle – something no one will notice, or it might be an overt behavior that could lead to ruin and enslavement.  Here are a few ways to overcome the temptation to turn back:

Refuse to Complain

The Israelites wandered in the desert for four decades because they refused to give thanks for their freedom and insisted on complaining. The avenue of complaint leads in a frustrating circle.  If we want to stop circling the same old mountain, we ought to cast aside complaint.

Give Thanks for What Is Good

No longer forced to labor long hours and make bricks from straw and mud, wandering through the desert seems like a ticket to freedom. Instead of thanking God for setting them free, God’s people complained again and again.  They complained about the food he provided.  They complained about the lack of water.  The complained about Moses’ leadership.  I wonder how the journey might have changed if they’d given thanks for the blessings instead of cursing what seemed lacking.

Keep the Past in Perspective

It’s easy to look back on the old days and remember past seasons through rose-colored glasses. God’s people forgot that slavery was grueling and harsh.  In the same way, we need to remember the parts of our past ways that led to destruction.  The party might last for the night, but the regrets leave a lasting sting the next day.  We’re wise to remember the regrets instead of only the fun of the night.

~~~

I’m not sure whether the sun has set or the drab sky is simply darkening with thicker clouds when I finish reading. One thing I know is this: I choose my mindset every day.  Today I can choose defeat and discouragement, or I can choose hope and life.  I choose the latter.

 

Because Sometimes You Have to Roll up Your Pants and Step into the Freezing Water

 

The darkness is wearing us all a little thin when the idea falls like the descending snow outside.

“Want to take Caleb to our camping spot along the river?” I ask Bekah, drawing her from screen time that’s lasted longer than proper parents would permit.

There’s no hesitation. “Yes!” she shouts.

In ten minutes, we’re bundled into snow pants, parkas, and blaze orange stocking caps, barreling down the road to a place that’s become a hidden sanctuary among conifers on hot summer nights.

“I seriously can’t stop smiling,” Bekah says from the backseat. “I try not to, but my lips just keep forcing out a smile.”

She’s watching herself in the rearview mirror, little face puckered in unequivocal delight.

We reach the parking area, where muddy water rages below the bridge, and the River Trail invites us, gate open wide for hunters to risk the narrow gravel lane along the steep banks that lead straight to the water below.

Our journey begins with a one-mile walk beneath hemlock boughs hanging low with tufts of snow and sweet birch saplings rising hopefully from what was once a verdant canopy overhead. Bekah skips and hops the whole way, and I push Caleb in a stroller suited for this kind of excursion.

A mile into our hike, we reach it. We reach the open grate bridge that normally leads us safely across an amicable stream with clear water washing over sandstone.  Today we find nothing friendly about the stream.  The water from the great river to our right has exceeded its banks, and the normally leisurely current of the small stream is a muddy torrent of rapids.  The bridge is visible, but only beneath ten inches of muddy water.

“I guess we’ll have to go back,” Bekah says, deflated.

“Let’s walk upstream and see if we can find a crossing,” I suggest, hoping to save the day.

Twenty minutes later, we’ve found no crossing over the raging waters of the bursting stream, and Bekah’s smile fades as she concedes, “I guess we’ll have to go home.”

Staring at the flooded bridge, I suddenly have an idea.

“What if I take off my shoes and socks, roll up my pants, and push you both across in the stroller?” I suggest.

The kids stare at their mom, eyes flickering in wonder.

“Let’s do it!” Bekah cheers, and within seconds, they’re both sitting in the stroller, clinging for dear life.

I shove my shoes and socks into the back of the stroller, roll my pants above my knees, and set out pushing my most precious gifts in the whole world across the muddy water as the thirty-degree snowflakes fall from heaven. We make it across the water undeterred, and within five minutes, my feet are warm again as I push my passengers toward the big bend in the river where we’ll build the fire and roast the marshmallows.

Later that night, Bekah convinces me to print the photos from our trip so she can make a memory book. I’m surprised to discover a photo Bekah snapped while I was recovering from the return-trek across the stream: a photo of me putting my shoes on.

I stare at it for a minute, and I’m taken back to one of my favorite passages of Scripture:

So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people,  and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest),  the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap (Joshua 3:14-16)

As God’s chosen people were about to enter the land he had promised for their inheritance, the priests carried the most precious possession: the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant was the very place where the presence of God dwelled.  Their commission was simple: Lead the people across the formidable Jordan River by stepping into the water.  God promised to draw back the waters after the priests took the first step, and he fulfilled his promise.

Sometimes we have to take off our shoes and step into the water of risk if we’re going to receive the abundance of God’s promises for our lives.

The priests trusted this principle.

I wasn’t thinking about the Jordan River or the priests when I pushed my kids across the numbing water in my bare feet, but a similar principle applied. We enjoyed the rewards of reaching our destination because we were willing to take a risk.

How often I’ve missed the reward of obedience because I was afraid of risk. How often my dreams remained shelved, because I was afraid of stepping out, failing, or letting others see that I didn’t accomplish my goals. How often we miss God’s best because we’re not willing to take off our shoes and step into the cold water.

If you’ve reached the flooded creek bed today, there are two choices: Roll up your pants and cross, or turn back and call it quits. This might be the day to roll up your pants and see what’s on the other side.