A few years ago a study was conducted amongst women who wanted to diet. The group was asked to name particular items of food that they found very tempting. Half of the group was also asked to form what psychologists call an implementation intention. An implementation intention, is more or less determining your goal and foreseeing particular obstacles to that goal. The particular obstacle or temptation acts as a reminder to stick to your plan of action, in this case, a diet.
After a week, the group was brought back together and the researchers assessed how everyone had got on. What they found backed up what previous research had suggested: those who had formed an implementation intention were most successful in sticking to their diet.
“If only dieting were so simple!” I can hear you say.
Of course, we know that dieting and many other goals we set ourselves aren’t as easy to attain as the above might suggest.
And when we come to our walk with God and the issues of spiritual warfare, life is never just as simple or straightforward as we would like it to be.
However, an awareness of the ways in which our enemy works to try and derail us can help us to stick to our commitment to Jesus, even when the pressure is on. Temptation can become more of a reminder of our calling and commitment rather than simply a threat. In short, we can make temptation work for us.
What sorts of obstacles and temptations are we going to meet?
Let me give you four based on the experience of the disciples on the night of the last supper.
Firstly, there is the pressure of undesired circumstances (Matthew 26.20-22)
Throughout his time with His disciples, Jesus had warned that He would be handed over to the Romans and killed. The disciples did not want to hear this. It just didn’t fit in with their understanding of Messiah.
Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that are undesirable. Satan can use those as an opportunity to attack us and cause us to question our trust in God.
Secondly, we are vulnerable to unacknowledged or unknown weakness (Matthew 26.33-35)
Peter, declared that he would go to prison or even die for the Lord. In the end he denied Him three times. It’s worth mentioning that the other disciples made the same kind of noises as Peter.
We all have unknown weakness. Sometimes it’s more a case of unacknowledged weakness. Being prepared to admit our weakness – even if we are not exactly sure what it is – puts us at a massive advantage in spiritual conflict.
Thirdly, unmet needs can become a landing ground for the enemy (Matthew 26.40-43)
The disciples were tired. That was understandable. It had been a demanding week, culminating with the last supper and all that Jesus had told them about His imminent death. They must have been emotionally as well as physically tired.
Tired bodies combined with emotional strain can cause us to lose focus. Sometimes the answer is “Rest”. Sometimes the answer is “Keep going”.
Fourthly, unpredictable events can throw us off course (Matthew 26.69-75)
Peter’s denial of the Lord happened at a time when no-one knew what was going to happen next. The whole scenario was pretty fluid. Peter found himself a lone disciple amongst a group of people who were unsympathetic to Jesus.
He was isolated. Unpredictable events can isolate us from the rest of the body of Christ as we try to work out in our own minds how to manage the developing situation and work out our next move. Satan scores big time when he isolates us. He isolated Thomas – and Thomas got severely discouraged. He isolated Peter – and he denied the Lord. He isolated Judas – and he committed suicide. Don’t allow yourself to get isolated!
No-one is immune to any or all of the above. But when we see these kinds of things unfold around us, we will at least be aware of what is happening. They remind us, as Jesus told His disciples, to watch and pray (Matthew 26.41). They remind us that we are in a real battle. They remind us to keep pressing on. Because they can become this sort of powerful reminder of our commitment to Jesus, we can say with some confidence that our temptations really can work for us.