October 26, 2009

Temptation starts in the stomach, not with the food

We had a Mexican potluck for my hubby’s birthday this year. Our son made burritos and fish tacos. Our daughter made taco salad. I made chicken enchiladas. Everyone contributed other goodies. We drooled as someone took a picture of the table, then dived in as if we had been starving. Everyone ate too much.

My devotions have been about temptation. This morning I’m thinking that the temptation to eat too much never happens when the menu is full of things that I don’t like. This is backed up by today’s reading from James.

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. (James 1:14)
Hunger is one thing, but this tendency to overeat seems to me a sinful desire. After all, gluttony is suggested as one of the seven deadly sins in the late 6th century by Pope Gregory the Great. Besides that, overeating seems so common in North America that it could almost be listed as a pastime.

For curiosity’s sake, I looked up that list of seven. Here they are, in no particular order.
Pride - an excessive belief in my own qualities and abilities that keeps me from recognizing of the grace of God.
Envy - wanting what others have, their traits, status, abilities, or circumstances.
Gluttony - that inordinate desire to consume more than I need, and it could be more than food!
Lust - an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Anger - resentment toward others, fury instead of love.
Greed - like gluttony, wanting material wealth or gain and ignoring the realm of the spiritual.
Sloth - avoiding physical or spiritual work.
While the Bible doesn’t list some sins worse than others, I could make a list of my own “deadly sins” that seem to be most difficult to conquer, but all of them are like this list; they start with me — not the things that tempt me.

As I think about the verse in James that says temptation comes from my own desires, it seems that if I did not have those desires, temptation would be less of a problem. If I didn’t love Nanaimo Bars, I wouldn’t eat them. If I didn’t love books, I wouldn’t break my budget buying them. If I didn’t value my own ideas, I’d not get feisty with those who challenge me.

James tells how to be complete, how to be in a state where I do not want anything because I am satisfied. He also explains how God works to bring me to that place. He says,

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)
A patient person is never anxious about having it now. That means if God is using trials to test my faith and produce this wonderful and mature quality of enduring patience, things will not tempt me as they once did because my “I-wants” will be in check. I can trust God to provide what I need. He may not do it “right now” but patience is willing to wait, because patience gives the sense of being complete, not wanting anything. It rids me of that anxiety about my own wants and needs.

While pondering this, for a few moments I thought that the way to solve overeating might be to always select and cook the foods that I don’t like, but that isn’t what the Lord wants. He wants to teach me to be satisfied with ‘enough’ and feel no need for too much, regardless of what is on the table before me.

This is practical. Since temptation begins within and is not about that table full of good food, and since it is about me and what I want, then I don’t need make-over my menu. Instead, I need to take my desires to God and let Him do the make-over. He is totally able to change my I- wants into patient endurance.

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