Idols of the Heart (Part 2)

In the last video, we started to talk about the stages of temptation. I encourage you to watch the Idols of the Heart (Part 1) if you haven’t gotten a chance to yet.

The first stage discussed in the last video was desire. At the top of this cycle is the state of desire. In an earlier video, we talked about how that really means over-desire—a strong craving for something, even a good thing. We talked about different over-desires that can compel us into the arms of pornography. We mentioned several: relationship, respect, refuge, reward, revenge.

Identifying our triggers

Moving on from desire, we now arrive at triggers. Awareness is the key: we need to know what our triggers are, and we need to train our minds to deal with them quickly. What is it for you? Is it a specific website with a bunch of racy ads? Is it Facebook? Is it a TV show or a specific channel on TV? Is it a certain kind of music? Is it a certain place? Is it when you’re hungry or tired or stressed out?

Take inventory of this, and then write out an escape plan. When this trigger comes along, what’s your off-ramp? What exactly will you do? Where will you go? Who will you call? If you don’t actually make a plan, chances are you just won’t do anything the next time the trigger comes. When the trigger comes, God provides a way of escape, but often we don’t have the eyes to see it because our minds get foggy really quickly. So in your more clear-headed moments, in prayer to God or in conversation with a Christian friend, write down your common triggers and your planned off-ramps.

The first tempting thought

Moving from there we come to the first tempting thought. Same thing here: you need a plan. When that first stirring of hormones hits you, when that first thought comes to mind, what will your plan be? If you don’t sit down, think about it, and write it out, you probably just won’t do it.

In this, you need to fight thoughts with thoughts. Let’s think about this neurologically for a moment. When that first tempting thought surges through your mind, that’s the limbic system of your brain in action, the house of your emotions and cravings. Your limbic system is saying, “Remember what satisfied that desire last time. Do that again.”

Well, you have another part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex that is designed by God to be the center of judgment and wisdom. This is the area of the brain that throws the brakes on cravings and makes decisions based on real information and values. It’s where you do all your abstract thinking, make goals, and solve problems. Think of your limbic system like your “reacting brain” and your prefrontal cortex as your “reasoning brain.”

Like a muscle, we can exercise this region of your brain, and we exercise our reasoning brain primarily through the use of words. The worst thing we can do in the moment when temptation comes is stay silent. When that first tempting thought hits us, our plan needs to involve us speaking truth to ourselves—even speaking it aloud or under our breath.

We see this in the Bible in many places. Think about how many times in the Psalms we read the phrase “O my soul.” Each time the author is not addressing God as much as he is addressing himself: he is writing out words to himself, to his soul, the core of his being, saying, “Hey soul, do this,” “think this,” “remember this,” “understand this.” Like these psalmists, when inner turmoil strikes, we need to get into the habit of speaking truth to our souls.

What to speak to our soul

So what should we say? We should first call sin what it is. When the thought enters your mind to look at porn, speak truth about that thought: that would be sinful. You might want to say the things Scripture says about the consequences of sin: that it ultimately leads to misery and bad consequences, that it is a sin for which Jesus bled and died on the cross.

Speak aloud the positive motivations for not looking at porn. Instead of allowing your brain to get restless as it thinks about all the pornography you’re not watching, instead of saying to yourself, “I shouldn’t do that,” say, “I DON’T watch pornography because…” and then repeat God’s promises for those who are pure in heart. “I DON’T watch pornography because the pure in heart will see God, because I don’t want to be enslaved to my passion so I can be free to serve others, because I want to make the most of my time, because I want my mind to be clear, my heart teachable, because I want to be filled with the life of God.”

When you’ve justified your wrong behavior

Let’s say, however, that you’ve justified your behavior, you’ve started engaging in your rituals that are bringing you closer to porn. At this point you’ve fooled yourself, and your head is in a fog. In those moments, don’t be surprised if there are times when God sovereignly allows certain things to come across your path to interrupt you. Someone walks in the room, the phone rings, you get a text message, something else grabs your attention. When this happens, see it as a grace from God and let it shock you back to reality. At that very moment, get up, stop what you’re doing, and immediately begin speaking to your soul the truths of God. Pray to God for help.

Here’s the lie that gets everyone at this stage in the cycle: “I might as well just do it and get it over with.” The subtle lie in there is that this thing is just some unstoppable monster that will take you down eventually, so you might as well let him get you. When that thought enters your mind, again, combat it with truth and speak it out loud. Sin is not inevitable in that moment. Say what Paul says in Romans 6. Say, “No. I am dead to sin but alive to Christ. This impulse feels strong, but it is not my master. Through the Holy Spirit, I will give myself to Christ as an instrument of righteousness.”

Even if you’ve started to watch pornography, these are the thoughts you can tell yourself if you remember to do so, but chances are, if you are giving in, you probably don’t want to stop right then because the craving has become so strong. Just remember, God is always greater than sin, and it is never too late to turn around.

If you do indulge, remember the stages of guilt and shame that come after this are also part of the deadly cycle, so it is also important to escape from these snares. Check back with us next week when we talk about the last two parts of the deadly cycle more in depth because it is in that video where I will wrap things up for you and give you insight into how to strive to defeat this cycle.