Strategy #1 – Avoidance
Don’t let your mind think about it. The moment it pops in your head, frantically think of something else… anything else. I call this avoidance… and cite Phil. 4:8-9 as scriptural reference. Avoidance works best if you combine it with Strategy #2.
Strategy #2 – Turning the Tables
This strategy is really just a derivation of Avoidance. But when you are accosted by thoughts or desires for sinful things, sometimes the source of these actions come from outside yourself. To turn the tables, you follow the Avoidance strategy. When a temptation pops into your head, immediately revert to some sort of spiritual activity, i.e. Meditation or Prayer. This takes the Avoidance Strategy and gives it a beneficial twist. Two things may then happen. First, if the temptation is coming from outside yourself, then whatever the demon had hoped to accomplish will be avoided, and your action will provoke a favorable spiritual response, making it dangerous for him to tempt you again for fear that it will only make you pray or meditate harder, and the last thing Satan wants for you to do is pray and meditate on God’s word.
Strategy #3 – Counting the Costs
Sometimes you don’t have the will to practice avoidance and turning the tables. Often I find myself in the position of wanting to dwell on the sinful habit/thought and can’t stop thinking about it. This leads inevitably to purposing to commit the action. When this happens you’re in a tight spot. Few things at this point will turn you back. In this case, you might try Counting the Costs.
Tell yourself that you are going to do it, but that you want to try a hypothetical first (I tell myself that I’m going to do it to deflect myself from coming up with reasons to not do the cost/benefit analysis). Mentally do a cost/benefit analysis of the action. List all the benefits, and be honest. Then list all the costs, being honest. The goal here isn’t to avoid the sin, and this is key. The goal of this exercise is to understand fully what it is going to cost. The decision to not follow through is simply a byproduct of the fact that sin always take you farther than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and costs more than you want to pay.
In my personal experiences, I’ve found that once I’ve gone through the costs, I don’t feel inclined to do said action as much. The key here is activating the conscious mind and dull the memory. Emotions will tend to overwhelm logical thought, but an active mind will push the body in the background giving you room to make decisions with the will instead of your flesh.
Strategy #4 – Living in the Present
This strategy works very well with Counting the Costs. You might think the two titles would indicate that they are antithetical and opposites, but its not true.
Too often we become overwhelmed by how hard something appears to be. A task, and in the specific context, refusing temptation, is always harder when viewed from the beginning. We tend to not look at refusing a single temptation but try to look out and gauge how hard it would be to refuse all the temptations for the rest of our life. Of course, that’s really hard, or seems to be when you’re looking at it from now.
The trick here is to stop borrowing trouble from tomorrow and simply deal with the trouble that faces you right at this moment. Living in the Present means not becoming depressed at what has happened in the past (you’ve been forgiving those sins) or becoming proud in past accomplishments (Christ enabled you anyway and deserves the glory), nor does it mean becoming discouraged at what may happen in the future (God has that under control, it isn’t your problem). Living in the Present means dealing with just what you need to deal with to get through the next 5 minutes.
A note: This strategy doesn’t mean you should make plans for the future, or prepare taking into consideration the past. These are important parts of counting the costs, and being wise with resources. What it does mean is not dwelling on the past or future. Deal with the present.
Observations on the Enemy’s Battle Strategy
Here is the problem. Sin is devastatingly expensive. But the costs are rarely presented up front. Basically, Sin has really good marketing and Satan has been at the game for a very long time. If you look at the costs and benefits of sin vs. sacrifice, sacrifice will beat out sin every time. But that analysis is rarely performed. In the middle of temptation, sin appeals very strongly to your emotions. It knows how to key your body up to make your emotions volatile. It uses this volatile emotional state to skew your perception of reality, making the prospect of sacrifice so difficult and so hard that it seems impossible.
Sin uses two basic emotions to get at you, Fear and Desire. Desire is familiar, it uses this to make its product look better, enlarging the pleasures to exaggerated proportions. But fear is the more dangerous. Sin uses fear to keep you from experimenting or trying something new. Fear tells you that it may not be worth the sacrifice to maintain purity. Fear says, “its hard”, and this is true and lends credence to what comes next, Fear then tells you that, “the reward isn’t worth it, and takes to long to get here”. And that is where the lie is. Truth is, the reward is so great it isn’t even worthy to be compared to what will come, and no wait is too long. But we can’t see it because we are blinded by desire and fear.
Broader Strategies For Maintaining Freedom
Sin is always easiest to avoid if it unknown. In this, fear works for you, because is general, the human mind is most comfortable in the places it knows best. This means that the best way to avoid addiction is to never get involved with addicting substances or actions.
When you get caught up in an addiction, getting free means doing some work. When you fall into addiction, certain lies get embedded in your soul. The lies work themselves into all parts of your thinking. We call these lies strongholds. If you picture your soul as a country, then an addiction stands like an enemy’s castle inside your borders. Its hard to defend against his attacks because he attacks from within. The solution to the problem is to run him out of his castle. But this is only half the solution, because he might come back, and he might bring friends, and the ensuing battle you fight next will be much harder than the first. No, you have to run him and, then tear down his castle, and build one of your own to take its place. We call these new bases of strength, Towers of Truth. Towers of Truth are specific truths that you have studied, applied and setup to combat specific dangers in your life. They are a great asset and are vital parts of wisdom.
Broader strategies are preventative. The very basis and foundation of Christianity is the relationship a Christian has with his Father. Christ came to provide a way to relate to the Father and it is from that relationship that we gain all the reasons we have for obedience to God’s wishes. We obey Him because we love Him. (we obey him because he first loved us) But relationships are dynamic things. Like a campfire they must be tended. God has provided four basic avenues for relating to us. Now, there are many derivations and variations on these themes, but these are the pillars and the basics and must be pursued. Without them, you will be weak, and your relationship with God will be anemic.
The first is His word. The memorization, meditation, study and reading of God’s word is important because it is our best and clearest view into the mind and character of the Being we Worship. It is how we know what pleases Him. The second and equally important is prayer. Prayer has many forms, and should be constant. It is how we express what we want, and what pleases us and it is how we express our efforts to please Him. Fellowship with other believers serves several purposes. It binds us to God by giving us examples in miniature of God’s character. It gives us a chance to demonstrate on earth the kinds of actions we would show to God if He were here. In many ways, the Body of Christ is the living representation of God today, and as such is the recipient of our efforts to please God because of our love for Him. (They shall know you by your love one for another, and we love because we were first loved.)
The last is the act of sharing our faith. Preaching the gospel should be a natural reaction to the fruits of our relationship with God, and by extension our relationship with other believers as representatives of God on earth. (Whatsoever you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me). A vibrant Christian can no more hide his faith from those around him than a fire can be hid under a bushel. Because when you put things close to fire, they in turn catch flame and burn.