What do you really, really want? Be honest with yourself. Is it a peaceful, romantic, passionate marriage? A lucrative career? Respect from your children? A house of your own? The end of chronic physical pain? Friends that love spending time with you?
All of us have legitimate and non-sinful desires that go deep, sometimes to the deepest levels of our heart. And sometimes we have to wait years, decades, or even a lifetime without seeing them fulfilled. Often these unfulfilled, deep desires crash over us and send us tumbling and disoriented in doubt, self-pity, and anger. Questions abound; answers do not. These unanswered questions can then be the doorways into which temptation walks, ready with an alternative to trust and obedience. “Follow me!” says the idol. “I’ll give you what you’ve always wanted…I just need a few things in exchange.” Perhaps that idol offers an ungodly relationship in place of that great marriage, or perhaps workaholicism as a sustitute for that lucrative career, or substance abuse as a replacement for the end of chronic pain.
Every Christian faces the call of these idols; their promises and offers come to us every day. How do we fight them? How do we resist? Of course self-control in the moment is key, fighting for faith in the moment of spiritual temptation is crucial. However, I’ve found that many Christians limit their battle strategy to in-the-moment resistance, with dubious results. Like a military battle, victory requires both strategy (what are we trying to accomplish and why) and tactics (how we fight the battle in the moment). Many Christians load up on tactics (in the moment resistance) but spend little time on strategy. Here’s what I would recommend, especially when it comes to the deeply personal desires that all of us have.
Take time with the Lord, outside of a specific moment of temptation, and offer this desire to him. Communicate your plea that he fulfill this desire, but then surrender it to his wisdom and will. This may seem obvious, but it’s a step that we often neglect in our day-to-day battle over our deepest desires. And if we can’t say to the Lord, in a quite moment alone with him, that we trust him and will obey him even if we don’t have this desire fulfilled, then the battle in the moment will be almost impossible to win consistently.
Can we say to the Lord, “Let your will be done.” in private with him? Imagine it, “Lord, I deeply desire __________, would you please provide that, but, even if you don’t give that to me, I will trust you and follow you. You are good and wise and loving, help me to follow you with joy.” This is such a hard prayer to pray! But if we will pray it, then the Lord will be faithful to fill that blank with himself, and whatever his wisdom for our future, he will be enough for us to fight the daily battles with temptation.
Don’t assume this conversation with the Lord just because you’re a Christian. Take time with him. Lay out your desire before him, and express your trust in his providence and submission to his will. Let him fill you with joy in his presence and peace in his goodness. Then, head out to your day, armed for battle against the idols that will beckon and call. Give what you really, really want to the Lord.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. Psalm 16:5