I've moved to the second book in the collection of John Owen that I'm working through, Of Temptation, the Nature and Power of It. Listen to this:
Temptation, then in general, is any thing, state, way, or condition that, upon any account whatsoever, has a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man from its obedience, which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree of it whatsoever.He goes on to discuss how temptation is a neutral word, used in scripture both actively to denote how we fall into or are led into temptation by our flesh, Satan, or the world and then passively to explain the trials and sufferings God allows to refine and prove us. The passive temptations or trials from God occur when he calls us to to great duties far beyond what we are capable of in our flesh and when he pours out great suffering. These temptations or trials, ordained by God for our sanctification, make us more susceptible to the active temptations of our flesh and Satan.
I've sensed in my spirit for some time that this year is going to be much harder than last year for so many reasons. Yet despite the preparation of my soul, I can't stop spinning from the force of impact. I was trying to explain it to some friends last night by saying it's like no matter how hard I work, there's not enough time in the day to do everything I need to do, not because I need learn how to say no or ask for more help or get more organized, but because God is heaping burdens upon burdens on my head in a deliberate and systematic manner as if he were intentionally trying to drown me. And while that is true on a tangible level, I am only just realizing that it is true on the level of my soul as well. There is so much work to do in my soul, and no matter how hard I dig at these roots of sin, they grow ever stronger in my heart.
Owen calls this "the hour of temptation." Because as God places me in the furnace of sanctification, Satan realizes that this is his chance to really destroy me while I do not even know how to defend myself. Owen distinguishes between being tempted and entering temptation. Although even Christ was tempted, he never entered into temptation like we do. I know I am entering temptation when my mind becomes ensnared and entangled, having once entertained the idea of sin in my heart. Now that it has my attention, it keeps calling out to me, reaching its maximum strength through a long, patient wearing away of my soul. Its sheer persistence makes it seem less serious, and I find myself not praying for myself and others as I ought.
But this active temptation alone does not bring about the "high noon" of temptation as Owen calls it. The active temptation wearing away at my soul is more enticing because God has placed me in the furnace of his passive temptation. The heaping burdens placed on me by God (Owen uses the Abraham being called to sacrifice Isaac story as a comparison for this kind of passive temptation) as well was the suffering of loss and loneliness are aimed with debilitating accuracy to expose the deepest parts of my sinful heart in contrast to the complete holiness of God. Being crushed by God, even if for the purposes of sanctification, opens avenues to temptations I've never even thought of before, and they come pouring in like old friends I seem unable to say no to.
Owen's advice? He takes the words Jesus spoke to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, "Watch and pray that you may not fall into temptation," as the only way to overcome. Careful diligence over my heart and mind is required because there will be crucial moments of surrender where I will be called to submit and trust. And if I miss those moments, then I will miss the grace of God, which is the only thing that can carry me through this minefield of temptation. So I find myself standing at attention, waiting for something.