“But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the lessons we have been trying to drive into the hearts and minds of our boys is that our choices matter. They matter and they are powerful. The things we want, over time, define us. Some things are beyond our control and some choices are made for us, but there is much that we do choose. Our desires play a big role in the shape and direction of our lives. And according to James here, our desires are a chief feature of our experience with temptation.
What are some of the temptations you face on a regular basis? There are the big ones—lust, substance abuse, pride—but there are also many smaller ones that are easier to overlook: selfishness, unrighteous anger, jealousy, holding a grudge, gossip, and the like. Why do you face these particular temptations?
That’s kind of an important question, isn’t it? Why do we face the temptations we face? Sometimes temptation seems to come out of nowhere. Sometimes we can point to a thing or two that may have led us there. Sometimes we blame this or that, but that may or may not be accurate. It seems like if we could understand the reason for the various temptations we face, then we could make some real inroads into overcoming them when they come, or even stopping them before they start.
James, Jesus’ brother, offers this little bit of wisdom about temptation in his letter to the believers in and around the region of Judea. We are tempted by the things we want. Let that one sit on you for just a minute. It sounds really obvious, but at the same time, on hearing it, something in us wants to rise up and protest. All my temptation can’t come from me! What about the time when something was set before me that I hadn’t even considered until it was sitting there? That temptation didn’t come from my desires.
Did it not? Perhaps you hadn’t considered that exact thing before, but if you didn’t have a desire in you for something along the same lines as whatever it was, you probably wouldn’t have been tempted by it. Have you ever noticed that some things are tempting to certain people and not to others. Why? Because of our desires. Because of what we want.
The truth is that our desires play a central role in the various temptations we face. The question we need to answer then, is this one: What do I really want? What is it that you most want? Pleasure? Wisdom? Recognition? Wealth? Control? The temptations you face will come along those lines. You will be given opportunities to achieve and experience things that by themselves may not be problematic at all, but the pursuit for them will be questionable at best. You’ll be offered things that are themselves good, but at times and in ways that aren’t. Shortcuts will suddenly appear as easy off roads to your most desired ends.
When the devil tempted Jesus, he didn’t set before Him things at random. He played on Jesus’ desires. He offered apparent shortcuts to the ends He was already pursuing. He’ll do the same thing with us.
So, once again, we need to answer this question: What do I really want? Once we understand that, we can begin to assess if that’s something we should really have. If it is, we can be on guard for opportunities to pursue it that don’t align with God’s timing. Shortcuts are almost never worth taking. If it isn’t, we can begin seeking God’s help to change our desires to better align with His.
It isn’t much fun to acknowledge, but temptation most often comes from within, not from without. Let’s make sure we have an honest handle on what’s going on inside ourselves and we’ll have a leg up on steering clear of it in the first place.