My previous blog, "How Temptation Works", explained the subtle workings of temptation. It helps to understand how temptation works, but we also need to understand how to overcome it. Yes, we're all liable to fail, but we needn't every time, and we need to be overcomers to maintain the "breastplate of righteousness" NOTE 1 that is part of the "armour of God", which fits us to engage in the spiritual warfare that is prayer.
How, then, can we overcome temptation?
Start by learning to defer desires - even the harmless ones - so you build up strength to defeat the bad ones. Is there something you fancy? Put it off and do something else. Make this exercise a habit, until you feel in control. Deferring gratification is a valuable psychological exercise. Increase contentment and strengthen yourself to face the harder challenges. Overcome temptations by denying them the power they derive from desire. Ultimately, the way to defeat the pull of desire is to desire something better - like being God's good and faithful servant.
Beware of what you see. We can't help catching an accidental glimpse, but we can turn away. And we can avoid being in places, picking up reading matter, or watching media that we know will contain problematic images. We don't need to be prudish about this, and we definitely shouldn't judge other people. We just need to recognise what harms us - and take steps to protect our own integrity. These are not rules. They are advice, on the lines of, "Don't go too near the cliff edge!" What harms you may be different from what harms me. Just as one person's easy jog would be another person's heart-attack risk, so temptation comes custom-made for each individual.
None of us can claim to be free of sin, as St John said, "If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us" NOTE 2. But that doesn't mean that we're obliged to sin. Again, St John said, "... if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ the righteous one" NOTE 3. There's an "if" in that sentence. We have a choice. Start by building life routines that make the 'right road' easier to walk on. "Make level paths for your feet" NOTE 4. Strengthen your spam filter, avoid TV programmes with content that disturbs your inner peace, put a brake on the urge to buy, to spend, to pursue your desires. Hold desires lightly and shrug your shoulders when you can't have what you want. Learn to be contented. Most things that are worthwhile can wait.
What I've just been saying concerns our prior self-arming against temptation; but what can we do when temptation comes to us unexpectedly? To quieten temptations, don't engage with them because that puts more focus on the temptation. To engage with them is to acknowledge them. Don't fight them. Just treat them like the ring of an incoming 'junk' phone call. Refuse to acknowledge them. Don't answer the call:
we're not obliged to fall -
though the phone may keep on ringing
we don't have to take the call NOTE 5
This is not about self-righteousness, or passing judgement on others. It's about putting on "the breastplate of righteousness" so we can engage in spiritual warfare. Treat tempting thoughts as if they are unimportant and don't deserve your attention. Look, as it were, over their shoulder, not acknowledging their presence. Act as if you are looking for something else. You are, of course, looking for God himself. By doing this you bring your focus back onto your yearning for God - your desire to love him more than anything else. And by re-focussing on your love, you overcome all else. If it's still a problem, admit defeat and throw yourself on God. Ask him to take over and fight on your behalf. Allow him to fill your mind with throughts of his love and mercy.
I fall down like a coward
and leave it to God. NOTE 6
Change the subject and focus your mind on good things -
"Finally, brothers and sisters
Whatever is true
Whatever is noble
Whatever is right
Whatever is pure
Whatever is lovely
Whatever is admirable
If anything is excellent or praiseworthy
Think about such things." NOTE 7
N.B. This article is the third in a series of five, starting with Naboth's Vineyard, continuing with How Temptation Works, and Deliver us from evil, and ending with Fit to Fight?. You may also like to look back at my earlier article, The Comradeship Agenda