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The Benefits of Temptation

I really love going back through familiar passages and learning something new, don’t you? It’s so fun to see something I’ve never noticed before. I’m doing Beth Moore’s James study again, as I’ve mentioned. James is a book I’m pretty familiar with. It’s always good for a kick in the pants when I need it 🙂

Anywho, recently I was struck by James 1:13-18: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Temptation. It’s something we talk about in the Church. What’s your first thought when you hear that word? I don’t know about you, but my first thought is of something to avoid. Temptation means something enticing that I shouldn’t indulge in.

Totally true, of course. But I think there’s a deeper truth that we’re missing out on. See, temptation isn’t just something to avoid–it’s a window into our souls. Yes, we should definitely not entertain temptation–that’s the allowing ourselves to be enticed–but I think there’s a place for examining our temptations. In her study, Beth Moore quotes Dr. K.A. Richardson, who says that “evil desire” can be translated “deformed desire” (James: Mercy Triumphs, 59). Stop and think about that for a minute–it’s not necessarily an evil desire, it’s a deformed one.

It struck me that a deformed desire implies that there’s something good there that’s been twisted or warped. So when I’m tempted, it’s because there’s something good that I’m trying to achieve or something that could be good if I went about it the right way. For example, lately I’ve been taking a break from reading fan fiction because I realized I’ve been stressed about some things and so I’ve been reading a LOT to try to manage my stress. My desire–to not be stressed–is actually a healthy thing. Stress is there to tell us that something needs to change. Either I’m stressed because I’m handling my life circumstances poorly or there’s something about my life circumstances that I need to work on changing (or, as is often the case for me, both).

So when I’m tempted to excessively escape my life because I’m stressed, I can stop and ask myself what good desire I’m trying to get met. It’s funny because the more I’ve done this, the more I’m seeing that my temptations actually keep me from addressing whatever the real issue is. If I’m escaping into literature because I’m not sleeping, it can keep me from taking time (or having energy) to do the things I need to do during the day to sleep well at night. If I’m yelling at my daughter because I want her to stop fussing, I’m not actually addressing why she’s upset–I’m just trying to stop her from bothering me. And the crazy thing is that if I addressed the good desire behind the temptation, I wouldn’t be tempted in the first place. If I worked on handling stress better and worked on fixing my latest sleep disruption, I wouldn’t need to escape my stress. Make sense?

And the awesome flip-side of this passage is that our God is a God who wants to meet our needs, who delights in giving us gifts that are perfect–as in perfect for me and perfect for you. His grace is individualized to who we are and what’s going on in our life. Pretty sweet!

So there you go. This week try to pay attention to your own temptations. What’s the good desire behind your temptation? How can you be intentional about getting that need met in a healthy way?

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