Dealing with Temptation 3: Afterwards – Prayer and Perseverance

In this life we are going to be tempted to do things that are physically, emotionally and spiritually harmful for us. And in our contemporary American culture we are going to be tempted a lot. How do we handle it? This post is the last of three planned to address this question. See Part 1 “Avoidance” here and Part 2 “Resistance” here.

“I was tempted…” Yes, you ask, and what happened? Well, like you, I win some and I lose some. I may successfully resist one temptation only to succumb to the very next one that comes along. So, how do I handle that? Winning or losing, what comes next?

Suppose I win. In our continuing example from Part 2 let’s assume that I’ve been to the party, had a nice time, met some interesting people, ate healthy items and portions, and had one glass of wine. Now I’m leaving and I feel good. But hopefully I won’t forget where my power came from. It’s fine to feel good and I should celebrate my “win,” but shouldn’t I also be saying a prayer of gratitude and giving praise to God for carrying me through? I believe I should.

It’s not really that different than many challenges in life. Consider a football team winning a playoff game; what does the coach do? He thanks God for the good outcome and celebrates the victory. Later he reflects on what went right and exactly how the team’s actions lead to the victory. His goal is to build on this success to win the next game. So it should be with us.

But you can’t win them all. Frequently I fail. Probably you do too. The most important thing here is not to “fall off the wagon” and just keep failing. It’s so easy to be overcome by guilt and shame and to listen to that little voice so many of us hear that says, You’ll never be able to do it. You’re weak. You’re a loser. Why try? Give up now. If you listen and believe, you may keep falling into temptation. And you can fall a long way.

Or I might think, It doesn’t matter now; I’ve blown it so there is no recovering. Had two beers, might as well have six. Psychologists call this the “what-the-hell-effect” (really) and I’m sure you have experienced it before. Where do these thoughts come from? They’re common, and I guess in some sense “natural,” but it doesn’t sound like Jesus talking to me.

What should I do? The answer is to call upon God in my weakness. The guilt and shame of failure may make me want to hide, but God knows. God knows me better than I know myself. He knows what I’ve done and he knows what I will do. That would be scary except that he loves me, forgives me, and is doing good work in me.

When I fall, I remember the finished work of Jesus. I remember the character of God, and I try to pray something like this: God I did it again. I’m weak. You know I’m weak. Forgive me, and thank you for forgiving me. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Help me release the guilt and shame. Keep me trying. Help me to persevere to victory. Then I persevere. God has given us the ability to choose, to exercise our free will, and I choose to hang in there. I keep trying to win the next time.

Now, I probably will need to do something differently. I don’t want to persist in using ineffective methods. Maybe I should use more avoidance and less resistance. Is there a book I can read on this issue? Perhaps my friends can give me some new ideas or some practical assistance in my struggle. There are many ways to “try differently” instead of just “trying harder.” In the best case, God may choose to reveal something to me as well. Regardless, I persevere.

How do you handle winning and losing in your daily struggle with temptation?