Have you ever seen the classic Disney movie Aladdin? A quick recap, if you haven’t: A street kid finds a magic genie’s lamp and is granted three wishes. His first wish saves his life (pretty good wish, if you ask me). The third nobly frees the genie from his prison in the lamp. But the second proves to be a rather worthless wish: he wishes to be a prince so he can get the princess. Unbeknownst to him, she’s not impressed with his apparent wealth and power. In fact, she fell in love with him while he was still living on the streets. So what did his wish get him? A really angry rival and his princess (and her father) almost killed. What an unhealthy wish! Surely he could have come up with a much better one. But he wasn’t patient. All he knew was what he wanted, so he chose the quickest, easiest way to get it.
Sound familiar? It does to me.
To be honest, I’ve struggled with destructive desires my whole life. A few of my main ones are sugar, laziness, and possessions. Sugar… well, let’s just say chocolate, cookies, and milkshakes are almost irresistible. My lazy self doesn’t want to do the work to exercise and use my time wisely. And new technology and the latest action-packed video games are like an itch just under the skin that begs to be scratched (or bought, in this case). Substitute in your own Achilles heel(s), and I’m sure you can relate.
Every once in a while guilt rears its ugly head. Then I’m forced to confront these sins (yes, covetousness and a lack of self control are sins so let’s not sugar-coat it). For a while I persevere, but then a particularly delicious looking dark chocolate bon-bon will call out to me and I’m a goner. Or I’ll start a diet that is so restrictive it’s impossible to keep up for long. I’ll exercise faithfully for a few weeks and then suddenly find “no time” to do it. And then comes the temptation to jump on the latest “quick-fix” pill.
So why can’t we defeat these destructive desires? Why is it they always, always return to haunt us? Why can’t we just squash them flat and move on with our lives? My Bible study today gave me some pretty good ideas as to why that might be. Check this out:
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
“Selfish gain”. “Worthless things”. Huh! That sounds strangely like an unhealthy wish. So whoever wrote Pslam 119 must have understood what I’m going through. There was something in his life that he recognized as being displeasing to God. As I read through this morning’s passage (verses 33 through 48) I noticed two things. 1) The author knows he has a few destructive desires. 2) He wants to be able to speak uprightly and in truth to the audiences God places in his life, which apparently he knows he can’t do well with these things pulling him down. But then comes hope!
I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place (NKJV uses the word liberty), for I have sought your precepts.(Psa 119:44-45)
What was the solution to his problem? Seeking God’s “precepts”! Delighting in God’s “testimonies”! His “commandments”. His “rules”. His “ways”. In other words: having a passion for the Word of God can free us from any desire that holds us captive.
Don’t get me wrong: We will always struggle. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be defeated. Check out Jeremy Ham’s post Why Do Christians Still Struggle with theFlesh? for more on that subject.
So the next time I find myself struggling with an unhealthy wish, maybe I should grab my Bible. Maybe I should memorize Scriptures like Jeremiah 17:7-10. Maybe I should start examining where God’s Word stands on my list of priorities.
When was the last time you used God’s powerful Word to refute temptation? Are you really truly trying to overcome the sins that “so easily entangle”? Are you looking to Jesus, the Living Word? (Hebrews 12:1-3, John 1:1-5)
Think about it.
When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food. Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.
Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.