I recently heard well-known Pastor Chuck Swindoll share a story from the Los Angeles Times that recounted what happened to J. Rathman as he was hunting near Red Bluff. As Mr. Rathman climbed a ledge on the slope of a rocky gorge and raised his head to look over the ledge, he caught movement near the right side of his face. Rathman said, "I instinctively pushed myself back just as a rattler struck." The snake just missed his right ear, but the 4-foot snake's fangs got snagged in the neck of Rathman's wool turtleneck sweater. The force of the strike caused the snake to land on Rathman's left shoulder, and it coiled around his neck. Rathman grabbed the snake behind the head with his left hand and could feel the wet venom running down the skin of his neck.
Rathman fell backward and slid headfirst down the steep slope through brush and rock, his rifle and binoculars bouncing beside him. Rathman said, "I ended up wedged between some rocks with my feet caught uphill from my head. I could barely move." He got his right hand on his rifle and used it to disengage the fangs from his sweater, but the snake had enough leverage to strike again, about eight times. Rathman tried to keep his face turned so that the snake could not get a good angle with each strike. He was quoted as saying, "This chap and I were eyeball to eyeball. I found out that snakes really don't blink.
As Rathman was afraid of passing out, being upside down, the only thing he could do was squeeze the snake as hard as he could for as long as he could. Later, when he tried to toss the dead snake aside, he could not let go. He said, "I had to pry my fingers loose."
WE NEED TO KEEP ALERT, AWARE, AND ACTIVE
That amazing true story illustrates another struggle that each of us face. It has been said that there are two things we cannot escape — death and taxes. I can think of two more — trials and temptations. Just like that snake, temptation keeps coming back repeatedly. James 1:13-14 says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." Temptation is a ploy towards evil that leads to sin and then results in our destruction. God, however, is faithful, and He will always provide a way of escape so that we do not have to give in to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
We face many kinds of temptations, such as the tendency to be proud or judgmental; entertaining sinful thoughts or selfish ambitions; indulging fantasies, unhealthy desires, or emotionally driven actions. We can even be tempted to take shortcuts rather than trust the Lord to provide for us and guide us, thinking that God will not come through and the results are really up to us.
What are your greatest temptations? Are you struggling with an evil desire that, just like that snake, keeps coming at you repeatedly? Do you feel that you are in a life and death struggle? The good news is that you can triumph over temptation.
The key is to take temptation seriously. It is folly to think that we are strong enough to resist temptation in our own power. The reality of temptation is that an adversary with deceptive intent designs it. James 1:13-18 compares it to the craftiness of a fly fisherman.
The experienced and wise fisherman knows that to catch the really big ones, it takes more than a worm and a hook. It takes cunning, forethought, and imagination. The great anglers know that "temptation" is the name of the game.
The process begins by a serious study of their prey. What does the fish like? What are his habits and his environment? The angler then tries to fabricate bait that will grab attention, arouse desire, and lure the fish into biting the illusion. The bait is made of hair or feathers. The hook is disguised in such a way that when the fish sees it, he will think, "That's the most unusual fly I've ever seen. It looks big, fat, and juicy. I bet it tastes great! If I don't grab it now, I'll never know just how good and satisfying it is. Oh, I can't resist." And then POW! Through the enticement of a lie, the fish finds not satisfaction, but rather death. The Devil is a great and skillful angler. His bait has never changed. And — he's fishing for you!
In James 1:13, we note that the verse does not begin with "if" but "when" tempted. Temptation is not a possibility, but a certainty. We will be tempted. Nevertheless, when we are tempted, we must understand who the author is and the purpose of the temptation. James tells us that God is never the author of temptation. Rather, it is Satan who knows and tempts us. His desire is not just to disrupt and frustrate our lives but rather to destroy us.1 Peter 5:8 tells us that Satan is like a roaming lion looking for someone to devour. How does he do it? Like the angler, he studies his prey and makes us think that the thoughts that run through our head are our own and not the cunning bait of our enemy.
Temptation strikes the mind first. James 1:14 actually allows us to see just how Satan baits us if we are not careful. First, a tempting thought is shot into our mind with hopes that it will stick. If we entertain the thought, then our imagination takes the thought and magnifies it in our mind, then our body responds. This is a very dangerous time because our imagination can easily be deceived in not being able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Let me prove it to you.
This might seem silly, but as you are reading this article, put out your hand. Imagine with me that you are holding a lemon. Feel how cold it is since you just took it out of the refrigerator. Feel the two knobs on the ends. Now take a knife and cut the lemon in half. Careful! Don't cut yourself. Oh, look at the juice run down over the sides. Now, put one half down and just hold the other half of the lemon. Now, look at the inside of the cut lemon. Lean down and smell it. Get a good full sense of the lemon fresh scent of the just-cut lemon. Okay, now squeeze the lemon. See the juice ooze up and cover the surface of the cut lemon? Now — lick the lemon. That's right! Lick the lemon. Do you feel like you have more saliva than you did a minute a go? How can that be? It was only pretend! The reason is that your body reacts to that which your mind thinks about.
This illustration is great to use with a group of teens (or adults) because it demonstrates the power of the mind. What we look at, what we think about, and what we listen to affect how we feel as well as how we respond.
Temptation is serious. Thankfully, we are promised in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will make a way of escape available in the midst of temptation. Therefore, we need to look for it and take it immediately! We also need to keep alert, aware, and active — alert to our weaknesses, aware of Satan's purposes behind temptation, and active in avoiding areas where we are vulnerable. Also, if we confess our weaknesses to the Lord, then His Word of promise in 2 Corinthians 12:9 will be true for us just as it was for Paul. He says that His grace will be sufficient and His power will be made perfect in our weakness. God's power is available to us so that we can be victorious! We must keep our eyes on Him and desire to please Him in all we do, think, and say. In the midst of temptation, He will give us victory in Jesus' name.
Pastor Mark Hiehle served as a center director for over 15 years. He now pastors the First Church of the Nazarene in Chickasha, Oklahoma. He continues to help centers grow through tools found at www.highcalling.com.