What do religious ceremonies, romantic evenings and power outages have in common? Candles! Unpromising twisted pieces of fabric encased in tubes of sticky, waxy fat which when lit are transformed into pillars of light, beacons of peace.
Rarely now are they used simply as a means of illumination. But during the bombing in wartime England, I can remember huddling in our air-raid shelters lit only by the light of a solitary candle. Even then, I was entranced by the candle’s quiet beauty and gentle light. It soothed, it calmed, and it focused attention on a bright glow in the oppressive gloom.
Moths, also, were attracted to the candle. Drawn by its light, they appeared entranced by its appeal. In ever tighter circles, they wheeled around its flame closer and closer until, overcome with desire, they got too close. Then they crashed and burned. Temptation is to a human what the candle is to the moth.
Temptation offers a way in the darkness, a glow in the gloom. Temptation allures with its quiet beauty and entices with its unmistakable appeal. Temptation resonates with inner compulsions, reverberates with inner desire.
And all too easily it leads to crashing and burning.
James explained it this way: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).
As candles come in various sizes and shapes producing varying fragrances, so temptations appear in various guises appealing to various weaknesses. A lady once told me that she had never been tempted to hold up a bank, and she found pornography quite disgusting. So neither appeared as a temptation on her radar, but she did confide in me the things with which she struggled.
We should, therefore, beware that we don’t pride ourselves in what we have never done, as it may never have been a temptation. Rather, we should examine ourselves to recognize our weak points, identify our vulnerabilities, and take care! And we should remember there’s a special blessing for those who overcome temptation.
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial [literally temptation], because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
But what do we do when we “don’t stand the test”? That depends on the nature of the failure. If it is an out-of-character aberration, a once-in-a-lifetime situation, then recognition, repentance, confession to whomever it is necessary, and a plea for forgiveness and cleansing will put us on our feet again.
But if the failure is part of a dreary, never-ending saga of repeated failure and frequent repentance, then we should consider that temptation may have hardened into addiction. Addiction is the accumulation of bad behaviors.
The good news is that when we become believers, sin loses its power over us. What we need to do is trust that promise, believe it, and live in it. What joy there is in knowing that you can have victory over even your most difficult temptation, and if you fail, God has offered you a way back!For more teaching on overcoming temptation and turning to God after you’ve sinned, check out Breaking the Grip by Pete Briscoe.