Jesus told the disciples: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
That verse was the answer to my friend’s question. We were in Bible study and had just watched one of the videos from “The Easter Experience.” The video focused on the criminal who was crucified beside Jesus. In their final moments together, the criminal recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and asks for mercy for his sins. Jesus had mercy on the criminal and told him that on that very day, the criminal would be with Him in Paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)
The discussion that followed the video was to remind us that we need the same saving grace of Jesus every day, and to be assured that Jesus forgives and accepts all believers who confess their sins to Him and claim Him as their Savior and Lord.
To better appreciate the sacrifice Jesus made for us, we talked about sin. The Bible says that sin is not just our actions, but also our thoughts. For instance, Matthew 5:27-28 tells us that it’s not just a sin to commit adultery. It is also a sin to lust after another man’s wife. Matthew 5:21-22 says it’s not just people who murder who will be subject to judgment, but also those with anger in their hearts. This means that we might not physically commit a sin, but we could still be guilty of sinful thoughts. Yikes!
I shared with our group that I remembered the first time I read those scriptures. “It’s not fair!” I thought. “How can I help what my mind thinks?”
We talked about how sinful thoughts can lead to sinful actions and words, and wondered how we are supposed to keep our minds from having sinful thoughts.
Then we considered the sins we commit on a regular basis, like the daily things we can’t seem to keep ourselves from doing – yielding to temptations, things we fail to do, the way we talk to others, how we treat others, etc.
Realizing how easily and how frequently we are prone to sin, one of the group members, who is usually quiet and reserved, spoke up with frustration and asked, “Then what are we supposed to do?”
The answer to her question was given to us by Jesus when He spoke to the disciples. Knowing that He would soon be leaving them alone to face the trials and temptations of the world, Jesus instructed the disciples to stay awake and pray so they wouldn’t yield to temptation. Jesus acknowledged that our spirits are willing to be good, but our flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41) By staying alert and aware of our temptations and weaknesses, we can pray so that we stay strong against the sins we’re prone to commit.
I tried this proactive prayer approach this week and it worked! I prayed for God’s help when I’m in situations that anger or frustrate me, asking the Holy Spirit to guide my words or keep me silent if I shouldn’t speak . The very next day a situation arose that tested my patience. Angry thoughts started swirling in my head, and then angry words started coming out of my mouth. I took a few seconds to mentally claim the help I had been proactively seeking in prayer . In that moment of pause, the Voice I heard in my head said, “Just listen. Don’t say anything.” I did just that. I stopped trying to speak and just listened. It was hard at times, but not as hard as I thought it would be. When tempted to say something, I remembered the words, “Don’t say anything.”
The result? In the moment, it reduced the tension of the conversation and prevented a combative, possibly hurtful discussion. In the hours that followed, I was able to reflect on what the other person shared without being angry or too proud to consider their thoughts, and it made me feel good that the conversation hadn’t escalated into an argument. Praise for that!
Were those prayers a “one and done” kind of thing? No. Like Jesus said, we have to stay watchful and prayerful, remaining diligent in our preparation for the trials and temptations around us. Then, when we find ourselves in battle, we will have the strength to fight against temptation.
I’m thankful my friend asked what we’re supposed to do to help us resist the temptations to sin, for her question led me to Jesus’ instructions and made a difference for me. I hope and pray the words of Jesus will help you, too.
Added note: Knowing that it’s often my words that get me in trouble, I keep the following verse posted at my desk:
Be quick to listen and slow to speak. – James 1:9 It’s been there for a long time. 🙂
To read more from the passages above or the teachings of Jesus, check out the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John at http://www.BibleGateway.com
God bless you.