“For we do not have a priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
As we reflect on our lives and our relationship with God and others, where do we fall prey to temptations? I find that at times when I am feeling quite smug about my Christian walk God provides me something that is like a mirror and makes me see the real me. The Barna Group recently surveyed people on the subject of temptations for Todd Hunter and his book, “Our Favorite Sins”. Here are some of responses and the percent of those surveyed who stated they most commonly struggled with “temptation” in these areas:
• Worrying or being anxious 60%
• Procrastinating/putting things off 60%
• Eating too much 55%
• Spending too much time on social media 44%
• Being lazy, not working as hard as they should 35%
• Gossiping or saying mean things about others 26%
• Being jealous or envious of others 24%
• Viewing pornography/sexually inappropriate content 18%
• Lying or cheating 12%
• Abusing alcohol or drugs 11%
• Expressing anger or “gone off” on someone by texting or e-mail 11%
• Doing something sexually inappropriate with someone 9%
Yes, this list contains some areas in which I struggle. What about you? I have to admit that sometimes I am tempted to rationalize my behavior by saying, “I am no different from the rest of the world.” That’s another temptation to avoid.
Why do we struggle in these areas? The survey respondents’ top three reasons were: “not sure” – 50%, “to escape or get away from ‘real life’” – 20% “(isn’t that scary?)and “because I enjoy it”- 20%. Only 1% said because of “human nature or sin.”
And what do people do to try to avoid their areas of temptation? 23% of those surveyed said, “prayed,” “depended on God,” or “recalled or read scripture.” That is encouraging, but…… Another 8% said “focused on something else.” There is that word “focus” – the theme for these Lenten reflections. Paul wrote to the Romans in 8:51b “”those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the (Holy) Spirit desires.” “Have their minds set on” – another way of saying “focused;” focused on what the Spirit desires.
So, how do we set our minds on what the Spirit desires? Certainly continual study of our Holy Scripture is very helpful. I also find that taking time at the end of the day to reflect on my day to be very helpful (and would be more so if I did it more consistently). I reflect on my interactions with people and ask myself if they reflected my Christian faith (were they consistent with what the Spirit desires?). I reflect on both those things I did, and those things I didn’t do (did I offer words of encouragement or did I tear someone down? did I speak up when it was needed or did I avoid potential conflict? etc.) I also think about my encounters with God during the day (did I recognize them? did I respond to them faithfully? or did I waste them by doing nothing or letting my pride lead to wrong responses?). And then it is time for prayers- of confession, of petition, and of praise – remembering “The Lord takes delight in his people, he crowns the humble (consider others first) with Salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)
Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, and for our sins. And he was raised that our sins might be forgiven through his abundant grace; that we would be recipients of God’s manifold blessings, including the gift of the Holy Spirit - to guide us, to protect us from the evil one, and to enable us to be the hands and feet of our living Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice! And in response for God’s great love may we strive to stay focused on “what the Holy Spirit desires” and to live our lives accordingly.