Picture the scenario in your mind: A person in church is struggling with temptation and giving into sin. They reach out to their pastor or ministry leader for counsel and prayer. Some typical questions asked by the pastor intended to help the person when temptation comes might be,
Are you reading your Bible enough?
Have you memorized the proper Scriptures?
Are you praying enough?
Are you fasting?
Do you journal?
Are you leaving your addictions behind?
Have you been baptized?
Are you in worship at church consistently?
Are you serving in the church?
Are you in a small group at church?
Are you giving financially to the church?
More than not, these questions are asked to someone struggling with giving into temptation. These cookie-cutter, habitual coat hangers church leaders hang their hat on. These aren’t the questions that should be asked by the church leader. At least not at first. There’s some merit in asking if someone is spiritually centering their focus on Jesus, with Bible-reading, dedication and prayer; not on money, not on sin. While somewhat helpful, these questions can do more harm by increasing insecurity around the ministry leader for not measuring up to the churchy works expected.
Plus they don’t help that much when it comes to resisting the temptation to sin.
(Whoa! Did I just say that?)
I’m not saying the typical church leader questions aren’t important, because they can be. I’m saying they shouldn’t be asked first. What initially needs to be discovered when it comes to a Christian sinning repeatedly is whether or not they are living a balanced life.
There are three divergent questions pastors and church leaders should start with when meeting with someone who is struggling and these can be asked in love and genuine care, without guilt or spiritual intimidation. They are,
- Are you eating healthy meals when you should?
- Are you sleeping the appropriate amount of hours each night?
- Are you in vulnerable Christian community?
In a foundational question, How balanced is your life? Please recognize that,
You Will Be Tempted Greatly When You Are Hungry, Alone and Fatigued.
I see this in the Bible in the book of Luke, chapter 4. Right after Jesus is baptized and before He enters into public ministry, He goes into the desert. He fasts from food for forty days (so He’s hungry), He’s isolated from people (He’s alone), and sleeping on the desert floor for six weeks has made Him exhausted (He’s fatigued). This is when the devil himself shows up to tempt Jesus three different times, when Jesus is hungry, alone and fatigued.
When my dad was alive, he would call me just to ask me a few basic questions. He would ask, Z, are you eating meals? Z, are you sleeping enough? Z, are you in Christian community?
He wouldn’t ask me if I was praying enough or reading my Bible daily or putting God first in my finances, as important as those are. He knew that if I wasn’t eating right, sleeping well and being vulnerable with others, then I would be prone to sin more frequently in ways Bible-reading and prayer wouldn’t stop. And he was right. I sin mostly and easily when I can hide my true self from others, when I skip meals and when I stay up late at night.
As a church leader who cares about the daily lives of the people around me, let me ask these questions to you: Are you eating when you should? Are you sleeping the amount you should? Are you in good, close, genuine friendships where you can talk about struggles and still be accepted and loved? (Side note: just because someone is in a small group at church or says they have friends who are Christian, it doesn’t mean they are being vulnerable/ugly/confessional in order to be supported and checked in on. I’ve fake my way through small groups to keep up a mirage of holiness and all I really kept was sinning)
I guess I could ask all of those in one question: Is your life balanced? (Answer yes or no)
If your life is crazy busy and there’s too much in the schedule every day, week to week, that most likely means you’re skipping meals or eating junk on the run. It means you won’t rest because you’re trying to squeeze everything in and your brain is frantic with thoughts whenever you do finally lay down. It means you won’t take time to have friends over for a meal or have coffee with them or call them simply to see how they’re doing, or look forward to when it’s time to be around friends from church. I have lost touch with close friendships of people I trust being ugly about myself with because my life was unbalanced.
Is your life balanced? If not, temptation will be more difficult to resist.
There are days where your physical energy levels are low. You’re been working too much, volunteering too much, exhausted from the kids, or you’re on the road a lot, or there’s an illness – days when you’re energy is depleted and you’re not eating when you should, what you should. Be warned, temptation is near when aren’t eating meals.
You’ll get be tempted greatly when you’re isolated. It’s the kid tempted when away from home on a trip with friends, or with the travel team, or it’s the career-worker on a business trip, the person alone at night and online. It’s that feeling of no one is watching you, that false sense of freedom. Be warned, temptation is near when you are alone.
You’ll get hit with temptation when you’re tired. It’s a college student away from home staying up late playing video games, watching movies, missing assignments because they were undisciplined. Be warned, temptation is near when you’re beat.
It’s a young professional who moves to the city for their first job, has their first apartment, no mom or dad, gets to reinvent themselves. And because they don’t eat right, sleep right, choose to make and be transparent with godly friends, they struggle. Instead of living in freedom they enslave themselves by living for the weekend more than for a lasting legacy.
It’s the married person who hits the road for work, hits meetings earnestly, then after work hits the bar, then hits the hotel room with temptation hounding them. If they are healthy, rested and held accountable by friends, they’re more likely to choose what is right over what is easy.
Christianity is not about reading your Bible and checking that box each day.
I’ve sinned greatly on the same day I’ve read my Bible, prayed, journal and fasted.
And I’ve chosen holiness at times where I have gone days without Bible-reading or prayer.
Christianity is about living a loving, obedient life, which is best done by attaining balance daily.
I’m more likely to be prayerful, loving toward others, obedient under God, hold fast to my integrity, choose what is godly over what is worldly when my life is balanced. And my life is balanced when I can answer “yes” to the three questions church leaders should be asking the people they say they love. We must eat right, sleep well and open up with loved ones about what we struggle with.
Think about Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends in adulthood. On the night of Jesus’ arrest and trials, Peter is near with intended devotion, but temptation and fear overcome him as he chooses to deny to strangers even knowing who Jesus is. He does this three times. He is struggling with temptation. He doesn’t want to be asked by church leaders if he’s been reading his Torah.
Is Peter hungry? He had a Last Supper meal that may or may not have included meat (maybe Jesus was the Lamb to be sacrificed at this Passover meal, maybe there was an actual lamb to eat, let’s not be divided over it). What we do know in John’s writing of Jesus’ arrest and trials has Peter denying Jesus the third time right before the rooster crows. Meaning, the next early morning after he ate dinner the night before, Peter chooses lies and betrayal. Yes, Peter is hungry.
Is he tired? After dinner, after listening to Jesus teach at the table, after singing hymns, after traveling to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus grabs His friends and asks them to pray for Him and to pray that temptation doesn’t overtake them. Jesus goes on to pray Himself intensely and three separate times He finds his friends, Peter included, falling asleep. And as mentioned in the pervious paragraph, Peter is up until sunrise the next day. Yes, Peter is fatigued.
Is Peter alone? After Peter tries to defend Jesus and defend his word at dinner that he would die for Jesus, (instead he cuts someone’s ear off intending to kill them), most of Jesus’ friends flee the scene as their Leader is arrested. Peter tails close behind the chaos to try to keep an eye on Jesus. He denies knowing Jesus and no other close friend of Jesus’ is near to hold Peter accountable to being one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter is isolated.
Be careful. You will be swarmed with temptation when you are hungry, alone and fatigued. Watch your loved ones when they are hungry, tired and spending too much time in isolation.
Take the brave step to invite accountability to someone who will ask you regularly if you are eating when you should, sleeping as much as you need and if you are continuing to open up about the temptations and vices you struggle with. It’s a gift to have those people in your life.
Thanks for reading. Even the longer blogs. You are loved.