I realized the other day that my children have grown up in an era where television shows are normally recorded and watched at their convenience. Although VCR’s gained some popularity as I was growing up, I still remember what it was like to be tied to a weekly schedule, aligned around when TV shows that I was following were broadcast over the airwaves.
Another side effect of being able to record TV (combined with a busy schedule) is that my wife and I will sometimes catch up on many episodes of a show in a relatively short time. Responsibilities prevent us from traditional “binge-watching”, where someone watches an entire season in a weekend, but we might watch an episode or two of the same show each night, and get through a season in a couple of weeks or so.
However, this does lead to some cynicism. When watching a new series of an adventure drama, one can observe how the protagonists are set up against impossible odds, with the fate of the family / team / country / universe at stake, to the point where there seems to be absolutely no way for a favorable outcome. As the heroes try valiantly to overcome their opponents, even their great plans continue to be foiled as the end of the season approaches. Still, for the kind of shows that result in the “good guys” (as defined by TV, at least) winning, an incredible series of events ends up happening: all of the dominoes fall into place and they manage to emerge victorious.
As our pastor explained in a past sermon, God does not promise to never give us more than we can handle. While an eternity spent in God’s presence is a “happy ending” by any measure, this mortal life (in a fallen world) is not always going to result in a short-term ending where everyone is happy, safe, and victorious.
However, God does make a lot of promises to us, including this one:
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT
I think that this is an encouraging verse. No matter how bad things may be – even if we feel like we are trapped with no way out – there is always an alternative to giving in to temptation. We might feel like we’re in the last couple of episodes of the season, where the forces of evil have destroyed our plans, our safety net, and our chances of success. In these cases, though, God shows us the path to get through. (Until Jesus returns, sin will keep pressing in on us, so while a single victory – by taking God’s path – is something to celebrate, there will likely be more “seasons” of temptation for us to navigate.)
Jesus showed us 3 good examples in Luke 4:1-13 (or Matthew 4:1-11). His responses to being tempted weren’t just teaching illustrations, but specific actions that He took, in response to real challenges that He endured. Looking at how He avoided temptations (related to food, safety, and power), there seems to be some element of preparation involved. Jesus was able to cite Scripture, probably because He had invested in learning it over the previous 25+ years. However, in addition to being prepared, there was a path that led around (or away from) each of these temptations.
Still, it’s one thing to see that Jesus Christ (i.e., God the Son) could overcome temptation, but quite another to realize that we have the same opportunities to get out when we feel trapped by pressure to sin. Jesus didn’t get a “pass” because He was the Son of God. He did have the ability to take the path of righteousness every time, but the availability of that path is open to each of us, in every situation.
My challenge, though, is to look for the “escape hatch” when I need it. Too often, when I am presented with the opportunity to sin, I either try to tough it out on my own, or just try to forcibly will myself to “not sin”. Needless to say, these self-driven solutions are often ineffective. And, like a character in a movie, who doesn’t know the rescue that awaits around the corner, I worry, fear, and fail as I try to overcome on my own.
Instead, I probably should take those opportunities to lift up a prayer to God, and ask Him for the “script” that will lead me out of the temptation. Note that the verse above doesn’t tell us what the “way out” is in every circumstance. That’s probably because it’s not always the same, and possibly because if we knew it, we might not look to God in order to find it. If we memorized the solution to every problem, we might think that we are good enough on our own, and that we don’t need God (which would be a very dangerous mentality, indeed).
So, the next time you feel like you’re not going to make it to the end of the season without giving in, look to the One who has known the thrilling conclusion from the beginning, and who has promised to show you a way to escape the clutches of temptation. No matter how bad things look, we may be pretty sure that the heroes are going to win (in some shows) at the end of the season; however, with God, we can find a way out every time.