We often ask about the qualities of a good leader. It is one of the most popular topics for publishers today. If I search for “leadership” on Amazon, I get 191,000 hits. The subject matter is clearly very attractive to many people. But most often in life and in faith, we are not leaders, but followers. Most of us probably spend the majority of our lives following someone else, being led somewhere.
What does it mean to be led somewhere? Being led somewhere means that you’re putting your trust in someone to take you somewhere that is worth going, and that will have some kind of reward for you in the end. Being led somewhere means that you believe in the honesty and the goodwill of that person you’re following, that he or she has your best interests in mind. Being led somewhere indicates that there is a better place than the one that we’re currently experiencing. The psalmist says in Psalm 23 that God leads us beside still waters, and restores our souls. That seems like a pretty good destination. When we say, “Lead us not into temptation,” then, what we are really saying is, “Lead us somewhere that will be for our good.”
If there is one thing that I have discovered over the past 40plus years, it is that deciding the right path is very often about following your desires, whether or not you realize it. When I hear about people making a choice of direction after a long and agonizing process, I very often find that at the end of the day, they have chosen to follow what appears to have been their deep desire all along. Maybe the trick of being led somewhere isn’t trying to deny our true desires, but instead, encouraging more meaningful ones. Instead of praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” maybe we ought to be praying, “Lead us into meaningful joy. Lead us into blessedness. Lead us into desires that will actually deliver on their promises.”
What do we need to understand about our desires in order to be led somewhere that is worth going, and that will have a meaningful payoff in the end? The book of James has some practical things to say about desires, particularly in regards to temptation. He writes, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” What do we need to know about our desires in order to avoid following the wrong ones?
1) Our desires are often deceptive.
If you are being led somewhere by your desires, you are following road signs that promise a destination that is good and desirable. You are trusting that those signs can be relied upon. The problem is that they are often wrong, and even deceptive. They are not leading you to a good destination, but away from it. Very often, we’ll stumble on something that promises to be the ultimate thing, the one thing that we need to fulfill all our needs and desires. Maybe it is a relationship, a fabulous job, or the perfect house. These are all good things that entice us.
The language in James speaks of catching an animal in a snare, or a fish with a lure. What is a lure? In fishing, a lure is a fake bug. Fisherman will spend a lot of time crafting lures and finding just the right one, because they want that fish to believe the lie that the thing they see floating on the surface of the water is actually a bug, particularly the kind they like to eat. Lures are about the art of deception.
Temptation will take something and whisper to you, “This is all that you need in order to be complete. This is the ultimate thing you need in your life. If you have this, then you’ll need nothing else. You’ll be complete.” That is the deception. It happens anytime that I walk into a guitar store. When I see that guitar, it whispers to me, “I am all that you need to be the perfect musician—I will complete you.”
Maybe you have experienced the same thing with romantic love. When you first start dating someone, it is like magic. This person is the ultimate thing. They are the answer to all of your questions, all your problems. They understand you. They listen to you. You have so much in common. They meet your needs on the deepest level. And then life happens, and for many people, all of that changes. Over time, they don’t meet your needs anymore. So what happened? What happened is that you were deceived. You were worshiping a person or the ideal of a relationship. The idol fell off its pedestal, and when they break, they shatter in a spectacular way. They shatter, because they are based on deception.
2) Our desires rarely deliver on their promises.
A good lie only works because it contains some truth. If there wasn’t the promise of real good that would meet our need, then we wouldn’t believe it. For example, we all sense our incompleteness. In our hearts, we sense that there is something not right—something is broken—and so we go about our lives trying to find that missing piece. The deepest desire in our lives is actually to feel complete.
You might not remember the movie “Jerry McGuire” about the sports agent who loses his career and then regains it with a good woman at his side. You may not remember the movie, but I’ll bet that you remember the line. She has finally left him and he has come to your house to make a last desperate appeal for her love. Standing in the living room, Tom Cruise delivers a line that we all remember by heart: “You complete me.” It sounds so good to us, because it scratches just the right spot, but it is actually so wrong. That is the lie that idols tell our hearts. “You complete me” is simply a promise that an idol can never deliver.
If you are Jerry McGuire, three years from now, once you have been living with her, sharing a bathroom, cleaning up one another’s dishes and seeing her naked on a regular basis, you know what? She won’t complete you anymore.
Completeness is a good gift that only God can deliver. The text in James goes on to say, “Don’t be deceived: every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” The good gifts from the Father won’t blow up in your face, or shatter the way that an idol will, because there is no changing with God. The only way that a good gift of God will blow up in your face is if you have made it into an idol.
Temptation thrives on deception, but can never deliver on what it promises.
3) Our desires will never be repressed, but only encouraged.
If desires are deceptive and won’t deliver on their promises, then is the answer to try to repress or deny them? In Christian circles, some have that kind of strategy. We tend to conceive of desires as necessary evil that must be managed. Repress the desire, and hope that it goes away. Distract yourself. That never really works, or at least, it doesn’t work for long. You aren’t strong enough to will that kind of change in your life. Just ask the people at Alcoholics Anonymous. The reason it doesn’t work is that we have legitimate needs that are going unmet. Is there a smarter way to deal with desire—even to use it for our direction?
You only endure temptation by encouraging a greater, more powerful desire. Is there something that all the people who endure temptation in this passage have in common? They all have cultivated a deeper desire in their hearts, a love for Jesus. I believe that is the way of escape—developing a passion for Christ that is deeper and more intense than any other desire you have known. You can’t eliminate a desire without putting a greater desire in its place. That is the way that we are wired as humans. The answer to temptation is not to try to repress desire, but rather, to encourage desire for something else.
In one of his most famous quotes, C.S. Lewis says the following in his essay, “The Weight of Glory”: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” If you far are too easily pleased, then you will never be satisfied, because nothing on earth can deliver.
The only answer is to encourage a greater desire, a desire for Jesus. That will happen in your prayer life. Devotion might start out as a discipline, but you will find that as you begin to pursue Jesus in this way, it will change your heart. You will begin to love Him more than the desires that tempt you. This is a desire that will actually deliver on its promises, and won’t become worn out. Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living waters.”
We are asking God to lead us to a place where there are quiet waters and where our souls will be restored. We are asking Him to lead us to a place where the gifts of God are not put in the place of God, but that lead us to love Him even more. As we pray “Lead us not into temptation,” we are praying something positive as well: “Lead us into meaningful joy. Lead us into blessedness. Lead us to your living water. Lead us into desires that will actually deliver on their promises.”
Dan Radmacher © 2015