You must have heard the misunderstood Lord’s Prayer which includes asking ‘Lead us not into Thames Station’… It’s a childish joke that masks a deeper truth (other than that there isn’t a ‘Thames’ station): we don’t like admitting that we all struggle with temptation.
Temptation has many different disguises that we prefer. Temptation towards gluttony and greed is blamed on advertising. Temptation towards criminal behaviour is blamed on social environment or upbringing. Temptation towards gossip is blamed on ‘sharing news’ (for prayer if it’s in church). Temptation towards sexual infidelity is blamed on the ubiquitous sexual images in the media and on the internet. Temptation towards unrighteous anger (which can be quite an adrenaline rush) is blamed on the person who provoked us or lack of sleep. And so on. There’s always someone or something else we can blame for the temptation, and by extension we can then blame those people or things when we give in to the temptation. Because being tempted is not the problem, it’s giving in to the temptation.
When Jesus taught people to pray that they would not be led into temptation in his pattern for prayer he knew that it was one of the biggest problems we face as human beings. Something within us yearns for what we should not have and ought not to do. Wouldn’t the story of Adam and Eve have been different if God had not pointed out the tree with the forbidden fruit? Until they were told they couldn’t have it they weren’t bothered about the fruit but suddenly it was attractive because it was illicit. That story is our story. Not with talking snakes (usually) and fruit (unless it’s more than your five a day) but the excitement, the ‘what if’, the adrenaline rush, the secrecy, the danger and all that leads us to the moment of consummation.
And then, afterwards, the guilt and shame, the cover up and blame. We would rather not think of or face the hideous consequences of our actions that outweigh the thrill of the moment, and they are out of our minds when we are about to give in, but they are still there: inequality and injustice for others to support our lifestyle; victims of crime with physical and emotional scars as well as the actual crime itself; reputations destroyed; relationships wrecked and innocence sacrificed; cruel words spoken that cannot be unspoken…
Years ago preachers used to try to frighten people into being good by terrifying them with images of hellfire and damnation, much wailing and gnashing of teeth (and if you have no teeth, teeth will be provided). It’s not very fashionable today. But is it possible that because we have not been offered a sensible alternative we find it easier to give in to temptation?
So what’s the alternative? A fuller, better, deeper, wider, more personal and intimate, more awesome and bewildering appreciation of who God is, what he has done for us and how much he wants the best for us all – he wants to call us all his children. I find that it’s not really about how close I am to God (that’s a metaphor that falls down when we accept that he’s everywhere) but about orientation and direction. If I am focused on him, moving towards him, concentrating on him, then temptations lose their appeal because he is more inviting and engaging. Surely that is how we are delivered from evil – by the overwhelming goodness of good. If I am looking around elsewhere and am facing away from him then the allure of the illicit is stronger.
Do we find it difficult if we find ourselves in Thames Station because we are not looking at our Destination? Rather we are looking at the kiosks and stalls around that may waylay us and distract us from our ultimate purpose.
It starts with our intention (which goes back to another part of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘your will be done…’) and continues with our strength and willingness to listen to the alternatives to giving in to the temptation: instead of gluttony and greed we can be generous; instead of criminal behaviour we can try to be a blessing; instead of gossip we can affirm and encourage; rather than sexual infidelity we can focus our attention on those who have a right to receive it (and use the ‘off’ switch or close the window); instead of giving in to unrighteous anger we can try to see things from the perspective of others and seek justice for the oppressed…
If that all seems too good to be true, it is. Except that God gives us his Spirit to make it possible if we ask him. So there’s your starting point: ask for directions.
Be blessed, be a blessing