SCRIPTURE: Mark 14:32-38
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 29th, 2013
32They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(Mark 14:32-38)
Yesterday, I caught an hour of the reality show, "What Would You Do?" It is about various scenario situations on whether people tend to do the right thing in the midst of temptations and self-gain. A typical episode will comprise a cast of actors and actresses where, one group will play a protagonist and another a victim of his taunting, complete with hidden cameras. Yesterday's scene was about how strangers react when someone finds a wallet, complete with cold hard cash. "Should I return it?" comes the protagonist's question to anyone sitting around him. While in general, there is a sense of people wanting to do the right thing, ie to return it to the Lost and Found, others are tempted by the money as well as the ease of not being found out. After all, what is wrong with just taking the money and quietly returning the rest of the wallet? While some strangers play along the moment they are offered a treat, like having the finder paying for his full meals, or giving the stranger a cut of the find, just to keep quiet, others are adamant that it is not a finder's keepers situation. For them, the owner may very well be worried. The wallet is not theirs in the first place. What about karma?
Temptations are much closer than we think. In fact, this week, I like to remind readers that temptations are always on a lookout for us. They are coming straight at us, coming to a vulnerability near us.
1) Doing the Right Thing
We are all born in the image of God. Sin has tarnished this image and turn us away from God. As a result, we are getting from bad to worse. We are sinners needing grace and forgiveness. The trouble with many is not that they are sinners. The trouble is that in spite of their knowledge of their sinful selves, they continue to dabble in wrong doing without a care in the world. They proceed according to what they judge is best, even when it is clearly wrong. They try to rationalize away any action that leads to the ultimate self-gain, even when it means it is wrong. Take for example the one who seems to be sitting on the fence when asked whether one ought to return the lost wallet. The pure and righteous will stand firm that the wallet needs to be returned to the rightful owner. The selfish person will insist that it is a "finder's keepers" world. You find it, you keep it. I find it, I keep it. All is well as long as we all keep quiet about it.
The problem I find is the middle group that waffles and waits for something juicier to happen. This middle group has all the characteristics of a schemer at work. Maybe, this group is waiting until all security is clear before making a move. He is waiting until the timing is right so that he can pounce upon anything for self-gain. Maybe, the finder will offer him a cut of the find for the price of silence. He waits. He observes. He stays interested but keeps his cards hidden from the rest. He is physically uninvolved but mentally and spiritually, fully engaged in a world of temptation and personal gain.
All the great temptations appear first in the region of the mind and can be fought and conquered there. We have been given the power to close the door of the mind. We can lose this power through disuse or increase it by use, by the daily discipline of the inner man in things which seem small and by reliance upon the word of the Spirit of truth. It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is as though He said, 'Learn to live in your will, not in your feelings.' (Amy Carmichael)Lust is a temptation. Lust is that second look.
2) The Tempter and the World of Temptations
Whether it is Internet pornography or blatant theft in the streets, people who do wrong are always hiding or trying to hide. They put up a righteous front. They want to appear holy and pure. Yet, at the back of their minds, they sin terribly. Authors Arnie Cole and Michael Ross, in their book, "Tempted, Tested, True," share the following data about temptations in our society.
- Four or five people will face at least one temptation in a given day.
- Men encounter twice as many occurrences of temptation as women.
- A typical experience of being tempted lasts seven to ten minutes.
- Most people give in to at least one temptation each day.
- The average Christian feels spiritually stalled four months out of the year.
Sometimes we feel that we can do a better job than Adam and Eve. Some people, with a self-confident "holier-than-thou" attitude tend to believe that when faced with the forbidden fruit before them, they will never eat it. The truth is, we have often given in more than what we think.
Temptations. It's closer than we think.
3) Fighting Temptations Start Now
When Jesus instructs his disciples to watch and pray, it is simply because he understands the full extent of temptation and sin. Every second we are not preparing to fight, we are readying ourselves to lose. Every time we fail to pray, we are relying on our own strength. Every minute we believe we are at peacetime, we forget that spiritual warfare is happening right at our doorsteps. Perhaps, the battle has already started, and we are already very late in the game. Cole and Ross tell of their experience with a lady called Marco from Houston who shares honestly about her constant yearning for the forbidden stuff.
"I usually regret it, because I then feel like I'm not understood or am then more vulnerable. I've been betrayed too many times in the past. That's why prayer is so predominant in my life." (Arnie Cole, Tempted, Tested, True, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2013, p91)
Prayer is a predominant weapon of the spiritual life. The words of Jesus continue to point to this as a core weapon of choice. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Fighting temptations start on our knees. The phrase "watch and pray" bring along two simultaneous actions: Watching and praying. It shows us that prayer is not a passive act of spirituality. It is very much dynamic and active. It is a way of keeping our eyes fixed on heaven, and at the same time maintaining a watchful eye on happenings on earth. For temptations do not switch off when we go into our prayer closets. Temptations remain lit up regardless of our praying times or positions. Like a predator constantly on a lookout for food, temptations are swimming all the time seeking out victims oblivious to its presence. The element of surprise is often the tempter's greatest weapon.
Temptations. It is a form of child's play with serious adult consequences.
4) Praying and Watching: Eyes on heaven and on earth
Watching and praying is Jesus' teaching for us to remain heavenly minded and earthly aware. When teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus teaches us to pray that God's will be done in heaven as well as on earth. In watching and praying, we are watching for God's will to be done everywhere we go. Unfortunately, the disciples near Gethsemane fail to do just that. They fall asleep at the most critical of times. When told to sit and wait for Jesus, they slept and became totally disconnected from the impending doom Jesus has to face. Such a behaviour is very prominent for the modern man too. Even in Churches, look at prayer meetings. Under the most ordinary circumstances, when there is not much major events happening, people shy away from prayer meetings. The moment a tragedy happens, people pack churches, like the aftermath of 9/11, or after some horrible events. The point of Jesus is this. We must always be watching and praying, not because of an immediate need or concern, but lest we fall into temptations. For temptations do not rear their ugly heads only at certain times. They flaunt their wares all the time. The 17th Century English Puritan John Owen gives this advice:
"I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption if too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of nought. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succour and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ, that hath all fullness of grace in his heart, all fullness of power in his hand, he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, drying soul and make me more than a conqueror." (John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006, 132)Temptations: Fight it like a man.
5) Practical Steps to Fight Temptations
|Four Ways to Fight Temptations|
First, we need to engage the Bible daily. For if we are not reading or meditating on the pure Word of God, we are immediately vulnerable to the impure thoughts and exposure of this world. Second, we need to be aware of our own weaknesses, and to let God touch us in these areas. When battling evil thoughts, think of Philippians 4:8 which says:
"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." (Philippians 4:8)
Third, pray a lot, for prayer is essentially a relationship with God. Don't delegate God away to just a few minutes in our box we call, "Quiet Time." God is more than just our measly minutes we allocate within 24 hours. God is present with us at all time. In prayer, we remind ourselves of God's presence.
Four, be a part of a community to be accountable to. Jesus wants community, but the disciples are more interested in sleeping. As a result, Jesus has to go through it alone. We have the Church to be a part of. We can play a part by going as regularly as possible to pray for others. We can watch and pray together, that God's will be done everywhere we go.
My friends. Watch and pray a lot. In doing so, we are fitter spiritual soldiers. Not only that, in the power of Christ, temptations will flee.
THOUGHT: One of the most serious threats to the human spirit is boredom. Boredom is the breeding ground for wickedness. Bored people are easy targets of the flesh and the Devil. It is like putting a bull's-eye on your chest with a sign: "Tempt me. I'm easy!" Why? Because boredom is contrary to the natural, God-given impulse for fascination, excitement, pleasure, and exhilaration. (Sam Storms)
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