“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” ~ James 1:14-15
Maybe we could define temptation roughly as “the act of being lured and enticed by desire.” Interesting, but the verse doesn’t say “evil desire” or “desires of the flesh”. Which begs the question: is it possible to be “lured and enticed” by good desires? Say…the desire to get married? Uh, yes. From experience, yes. My desire to get married someday lured me into letting wrong thoughts overtake my mind instead of focusing on my relationship with God. Basically that counts as idolatry, because something took priority over God, and thus, it became a sin. Is it wrong to want to get married? No. And yet it was able to trip me up just as easily as wrongful desires. So no, desires don’t have to be bad in order to tempt us.
What makes even good desires turn into snares? Well, what does James say the desires are doing? “Luring and enticing.” When you lure a fish with a worm on a hook, what does it do? If it’s a stupid enough fish, then it will grab for the worm without any thought as to the consequences. Its desire lured and enticed it to its death. It’s the same with us when we grab for our desires, trying to grant them ourselves. That’s when the desire “gives birth to sin”. Why?
Let me back up a bit. Who is supposed to grant our desires? (Clearly granting our own desires doesn’t go so well!) The right to grant or withhold desires belongs to the God who created both us and the things we desire. So if we’re trying to grab them for ourselves, it makes sense that the result is sin, whether or not the desires were evil to begin with. When we usurp God’s position, the result is always sin.
Alright, so if we are’t supposed to grab for our own desires because the right to grant them only belongs to God, what are we supposed to do? How can we get to a point where God will grant our desires? You may have noticed that Psalm 37:3-5 is one of my absolute favorite passages in the Bible. Well, I think it has some pretty good advice on this point.
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.”
I love verses with obvious steps. Here are five actions we can take instead of grabbing for our desires:
- Trust in the Lord – Trust that God’s incomprehensible timing is better than the timing you think should happen, and choose to wait patiently for Him to work it out.
- Do good – Find ways to bless other people, even while you’re waiting to receive your own longed-for blessing.
- Dwell in the land – Focus on what’s right around you, rather than what you wish was there. Jim Elliot is quoted as saying “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
- Befriend faithfulness – Practice serving God with what you already have. Develop a character of faithfulness in the little things, and you will also be faithful with the desires that He grants.
- Delight in the Lord – Learn to love and delight in spending time at His feet. Make your relationship with God your priority, and seek His will.
The result? The psalmist says that the Lord “will give you the desires of your heart”. Those good desires that otherwise become a snare? When instead of chasing them down ourselves we turn to God and focus on Him, He will grant those desires because they no longer have the power to lead us into sin. And the desires that weren’t good to begin with? Well, they will begin to fade into nonexistence under God’s hand as He slowly reshapes your heart according to His will.