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How to Fight Sin Like a Psalmist

Last Updated: May 9, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. During that time, he also served as a worship leader, Bible teacher, and pastoral assistant. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Rexford, Montana with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

Thanks to my wonderful wife Ruby, who suggested I write a post on this passage and gave me this outline.

Let your cries for help be praise.

“I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:1-2).

When I was in my early twenties, I went through seasons of intense struggle with lust. I remember late nights where I couldn’t sleep, praying desperately to God for freedom from sexual temptation. Sometimes the battle would last for hours. Sometimes I was victorious and prevailed until gracious sleep took me off the battlefield. Other times I fell.

Despite my intense awareness of my sin and my weakness, these were profoundly spiritual experiences. How could that be?  I believe it’s because God wanted me to recognize my need for Him. Sexual struggles are so visceral, so internal, and so powerful that they made me existentially aware of my sin and need for God’s grace and mercy.

Likewise, Psalm 141:1 says that our cries to God for help are like a sweet incense to Him. When sexual temptation confronts you, offer up to God a sweet incense of prayer. Cry out to Him for help. Let your struggle be a sweet sacrifice of praise to Him.

Put It Into Practice:

The next time you face temptation and cry out to God, try thinking of it this way. Don’t just wallow in your feelings of guilt and shame; use this as an opportunity to praise God.

How? After you acknowledge your sinful desires and pray for help against temptation, thank God for showing you your weakness and your need for Him.

Ask for (and use!) defenses against evil.

“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips... Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me (Psalm 141:3, 9).

Chances are, the first time you came across porn, you weren’t looking for it. John Fort is a porn recovery expert who has helped hundreds of men and women overcome porn addiction. In every case, they were first exposed to porn as children. John says, “Most children, even those who become addicts, first see pornography by accident.”

(See more in “The Common Reality of Early Exposure.”)

If you were accidentally exposed to porn as a child, it wasn’t your fault. We’re often unintentionally exposed to sexual temptation. Like the psalmist adds in verse 9, there are wicked people out there trying to trip us up. Big porn companies are evil geniuses in advertising.

But, it is your responsibility to ask God to defend you against further exposure. The Psalmist isn’t talking about porn specifically here—it’s more about careless words. However, the same principle applies: “Put a guard over my eyes.”

Put It Into Practice:

It’s not enough to ask God for help with this—you need to take advantage of the resources He gives you to defend against porn. What are some practical suggestions?

  • If you’ve already been exposed to porn, talk to someone about it. The burden of a secret porn habit is overwhelming—don’t bear it alone.
  • Install Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability and porn blocking on your devices.

And that leads us to the next important point.

Avoid the wrong company.

“Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies… Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety” (Psalm 141: 4, 10).

Verse 4 describes what usually happens when we see porn: our hearts are drawn to what is evil, and we end up looking again, even if we don’t want to. The Psalmist recognizes the corrupting power of these influences and prays that God would keep them away. 

Evil company has evil consequences. Verse 10 is both a prayer and a declaration of trust that evil will be judged and goodness will be vindicated.

Put It Into Practice:

Practically speaking, how can you avoid “evil company?” Maybe there’s someone in your life who influences you to make bad decisions, and you need to set up some healthy relationship boundaries.

However, more likely your temptation to look at porn doesn’t come from a specific person. The “evildoers” this psalm talks about are more likely “triggers”—situations that sweep you up into a porn-seeking mindset.

Learn about your triggers, and avoid them. Stay clear of “evil company.”

Seek accountability

“Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers. Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs, and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken. They will say, ‘As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave’”(Psalm 141:5-7).

These verses hardly seem like a great advertisement for accountability—“let a righteous man strike me.” In fact, they describe the negative feelings that many people have about accountability: it’s opening myself up to being hurt by another person.

Um, thank you, no.

But notice what the psalmist says—from this righteous person, though uncomfortable, it’s actually “a kindness.” Their rebukes are “oil to his head.” How can he say this? It’s the idea of Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

Unfortunately, I’ve spoken with many who have had bad accountability relationships. They’ve been struck down, but not in a righteous or constructive way. When you experience wounds like this, you’re probably hesitant to open up again. It feels too risky.

But look at the contrast to those who live without any accountability: eventually, their lifestyle will catch up with them. The psalm puts it in particularly graphic terms—their rulers are thrown down from cliffs. They say, “My bones have been broken up like a plow.”  

Many people who have struggled with porn addiction describe that “thrown down from cliffs” feeling when they hit rock bottom.

This psalm tells us that it is much less painful to find a righteous person and ask them to keep you on track. It may feel like they are “striking you,” but if it’s done in love, it will keep you on track. The temporary discomfort could just hold ruin at bay.

Put It Into Practice:

Tell someone about your struggle with porn. If it’s not porn, whether lust or some other temptation, tell someone. Ask them to keep you accountable. If you’ve never done this, you’ll be amazed at the power of bringing someone else into your battle against sin.

Keep an upward focus.

“But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death” (Psalm 141:8).

The point of avoiding porn and sexual temptation is not to avoid porn and sexual temptation. For Christians, the purpose of staying away from something like porn is that it gets in the way of our relationship to God. When our vision is clouded by thoughts of porn, it makes it hard to see God. On the flip side, keeping God at the center of our thoughts is the best way to drive out temptation to look at porn.

The psalm ends with this back-and-forth relationship between fighting temptation and seeking God. Always remember: the end goal of seeing God is so much bigger than porn.  

Colossians 3:1 captures it well, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

Put It Into Practice:

One practical way you can direct your focus to God is through our 40 Day Challenge. It includes practical insights on quitting porn, but it also teaches you to direct your eyes to God Himself.

  • Comments on: How to Fight Sin Like a Psalmist
    1. Konig Samuel

      Thank you for this wonderful post! It was encouraging and enriching!

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