Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 2 Aug 2011
“But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3)
What do we do when we are alone? What happens when we venture out into the wilderness alone? In this week’s SabbathWalk, I shall reflect upon ‘solitude’ by highlighting one of the greatest dangers when we are alone. There are inherent risks and dangers in our walk alone. Let me give you a clue. It begins with the letter ‘T.’
1) Lone Business Trips
When I travel on business trips, there is a feeling of importance. When I make a trip on behalf of my organization, there is a sense of purposefulness. The objectives may be different, like attending a conference, training, meeting up business partners, or coordinating a critical phase of a project. Different objectives, same effect. Behind each worthy goal lies a sinister temptation. It is that temptation of sinning when no one is looking.
In the aircraft, there is a temptation to drink too much, eat too much, or watch too much onscreen entertainment. Many international flights offer free drinks, and for business travelers, the wide variety of liquor, wine, and Champaign are there for us to drink to our heart’s content. The temptation can easily lead to drunkenness. Intoxicated people are vulnerable to revealing secrets, both personal and corporate.
There is also the temptation to watch too many videos depriving one not only of sleep, but also wasting precious time that can be more constructively used. Why read a ‘boring’ business strategy book when there are action movies on board? Why spoil the mood with office matters when there is good food? Why catch up on sleep when there is so much to do and be served like a king inside the cabin?
Upon arrival at the destination, temptation changes form, rearing her head at the private, softly lighted hotel room. It can appear on the television. With a few clicks, temptations become visible. In the quietness of a cosy hotel room, no one knows what goes on inside. It is simply me, the TV, and a receptionist usually unknown. Aiding the temptress, is anonymity. The standard practice in hotels is they do not show the details of ANY in-house movie watched. Isn’t that highly tempting? Maybe, it does not hurt to watch, because no one is looking?
Key: Integrity is who you are when no one is looking.
2) Deceptions Lurk Within
Unfortunately, when we give temptations an inch, we surrender more than a mile of ourselves. Together with seductive images, a weak mind, the deceptive temptress surrounds the vulnerable heart with illicit images, with frequent assurances with:
- "It's OK. No one's looking."
- "There is nothing to be afraid of. It's only one look."
- "What are you waiting for? Go for it. It's a once in a lifetime chance."
When that happens, the victim behaves in such a way that he/she is no different from a loaf of bread!
"for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life." (Proverbs 6:26)
Like the serpent that said to Eve:
"Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen 3:1b)
The downward spiral of temptation can appear in a 5-stage process. Firstly, it begins with a corporate rationalization.
- “Did the company prohibit you from watching a movie? Any movie?”
Secondly, it eases the mind of the victim with a 'spouse-does-not-know' rationalization.
- “Will your wife know if you do not say?”
Thirdly, the mind takes on a theological justification.
- “Surely God will forgive you right? Isn’t God’s grace so full and overflowing?”
Fourthly, it provides an emotional reassurance.
- “God understands you have needs, isn’t it?”
Finally, if one gives in to temptation, one can easily influence another.
- "See. I've done it, and nothing has happened."
The danger of temptation is that it has its own 'discipleship' program as well. When taken root, it bears all kinds of evil fruits, infecting people around. When the desert fathers first forsake the world to venture into the wilderness, they cannot shirk off temptations. In fact, their awareness of spiritual warfare is heightened. It is in the desert, that the 4th Century ascetic, Evagrius Ponticus, introduces to the world the 8 temptations of evil (gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory, and pride). It is only a few centuries later before the Church modifies Ponticus’s temptations to the very popularly known ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’
All the deadly sins contain one thing in common: they come forth from within. The trouble with temptations is that it does not remain static. They act on whatever they touch. They infect. They turn a person’s way to waywardness.
Key: When you give up an inch to temptation, you are actually surrendering more than a mile of yourself.
3) Temptations Work Its Way Outward
Parasitic wasps have one of the most bizarre ways of reproducing its own kind. Unlike most animal species, they reproduce not by mating, but by implanting its eggs into another pest. Over time, when the eggs hatch inside the host, the larvae consumes the host body, finally emerging as an adult, killing the host from the inside out. I still develop goose bumps when I think of the whole process.
So do temptations. While they do not necessarily kill one physically, they can be deadly to the soul.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us:
“What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'” (Matthew 15:11)In the 17th Century classic, 'Triumph Over Temptation,' the Puritan John Owen identifies 5 inherent steps of temptation. First, it deceives. It then entices. It conceives, develops, and finishes. Central to Owen's concern is temptation's most powerful tactic: Diversion.
"Sin draws us away from God, diverting us from the path of holiness and obedience." (John Owen, Triumph Over Temptation, CO: Victor Classics, 2005, p77)Key: Our first defence is our best protection.
4) John Owen's Advice
When tempted, what are we to do? When we are alone, facing the wide repertoire of temptations, are we able to fight against it? Owen offers us two pieces of advice with regards to battling temptation's attempt to deceive the Christian. I call it the WP strategy.
Firstly, Be Watchful. Owen writes:
"The duty of the mind consists of two things. God requires these of us in our obedience to Him. The first is to keep the mind in such a posture and framework that it is obedient and watchful against all sinful enticements." (77)
In other words, know ourselves. Know our strengths and how we can fall prey to pride. Know our weaknesses, so that we can guard ourselves appropriately. As a pastor, when meeting with someone of the opposite sex, my default is to meet in a place as public as possible. It can be a coffee house, or a restaurant. It can also be an office where the doors are opened. Sometimes, if meeting in a public place is not possible, I will tell someone else about the specific time and meeting. That way, I can be accountable.
Secondly, BE PRAYERFUL as we act. In prayer, we combine God's Word in our heart with concerted action. In prayer we live out our faith. In prayer, we attend to God (instead of the seductive images). We perform good works (instead of wallowing in seductive fantasies). In prayer, we pull ourselves together to say to temptations:
"Thou shall have no foothold in my mind or my heart!"
"The second is to attend to and perform all particular actions as God requires according to His will." (77)By nipping temptation at its bud, we can save ourselves from a lot of pain. More importantly, each time we do not sin, we affirm our faith in God. Otherwise,
"Indeed, we forsake the Lord our God every time we sin." (Owen, p78)Key: A sin is a sin, whether someone is looking, or even when no one is looking.
5) Closing Thoughts
My fellow readers. We will all get a chance to be alone, one way or another. It can be a personal retreat. It can be a business trip. It can even be an unplanned interruption in our regular schedule. Be watchful that Temptation hit hardest at the lone person. Be prayerful as Temptations will refuse to let go, as long as it sees a chance to fling itself at us. The more we know our own hearts, our own strengths, and our weaknesses, and to allow the Spirit of God to guide us, we will be walking on the right side of our relationship with God.
One more thing. There is a reason why temptations attack the solitary person the hardest. It is because in solitude, the person is seeking God in order to discover not only God, but to discover himself/herself. This, the devil hates the most. Henry Ward Beecher reminds us:
I bid you conquer in your warfare against your four great enemies, the world, the devil, the flesh, and above all, that obstinate and perverse self-will, unaided by which the other three would be comparatively powerless. (Henry Ward Beecher)Indeed, when we are able to conquer ourselves from ourselves, we are better able to prevent external forces from overwhelming us. May the Lord lead us not into temptations, but deliver us from evil.
Thought: “When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.” (Corrie Ten Boom)
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