There is an old story of an Indian chief who came across a man in the woods. On each side of the man was a wolf tied to a tree. One was strong and muscular with intense anger and massive fangs. The other was sickly and weak, on the verge of death.
The chief made the man a bet that if he could have both wolves for two weeks, the sickly-weak wolf would be able to fight and kill and stronger. The man took the bet and returned two weeks later. The wolves were thrown together and within a matter of minutes, the sickly-weak wolf killed the stronger.
The man was stunned and asked the chief how it was possible. The chief replied, “Simple. I only fed the weaker one.”
The story is a great illustration of a tremendous truth as we battle temptation in our lives: whatever we focus on (feed) grows in our life.
It is interesting to me that a majority of the books which deal with fighting sin and battling temptation suggest the notion of doubling up your fists and engage it in a fight. I think that is wrong. I may be mistaken, and I’m open to correction, but I’ve come to realize that temptation and sin is far stronger than I am. If I go out to battle sin in my own strength and resource, I will always lose. But perhaps even more important, when I engage the battle that way, my focus is misplaced.
Let’s do a quick experiment. For the next twenty seconds, whatever you do, do NOT think of a pink elephant. Seriously. Don’t think of one. You are probably wondering why on earth there would ever be such a thing as a pink elephant, I know it sounds crazy, but humor me, don’t think of one. They are rare, and while I have never seen one in person before—and doubt I ever will—pink elephants are things not to think upon. Grey elephants, sure, have at it. Think away. But whatever you do, refuse your mind to ponder, dwell, or even have an inkling of the pink ones.
How’d you do? Did you, even once, think about a pink elephant? My guess is yes. Why? Because that is the very thing I told you NOT to think about. When we are using all our energy trying not to focus on the thing we keep telling ourselves not to focus on, all we do is find ourselves thinking about it. If I spend my energy battling the thing I shouldn’t be engrossed in, I soon find myself giving in.
Which is why whatever I focus and dwell upon will grow bigger in my life.
What if victory over sin was actually easier than we’ve made it out to be? No, I’m not saying it’s simple or a quick microwavable solution, but I do honestly think it is far easier than we’ve been led to believe. What if the secret for victory over sin is a change in focus?
What if we got so wrapped up in Jesus that He became our sole focus—that we were captured and captivated by Him?
A wise mentor of mine once told me that the only time we ever fall into sin is when we remove our focus off of Jesus. I’ve found it to be true.
When Jesus is the passion of my heart, the thought upon my mind, the focus of my eye, there is nothing within me that desires sin. I see sin as it truly is (in light of Jesus) and it repulses me. I hate it and want nothing to do with it.
But if, while staring at Jesus, I begin to see in my peripheral the allurement of sin and turn my attention to it, it is only a matter of time before I give in. It would be foolish for a young man to say he accidentally fell into pornography late one night when his mind was consumed with lust all throughout the day – it was the outflow of his focus.
So the key to victory over temptation is not gritting your teeth, taking cold showers, flicking rubber bands, or any other myriad of crazy concoctions we come up with.
The solution is keeping our focus solely on Jesus.
All throughout the day, it is allowing Him to keep our mind and heart in check. He becomes the sentinel at our mind’s door, only allowing in what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, excellent, and worthy of praise (see Philippians 4.8). It is allowing Him to turn our focus back to Him when it is misplaced. It is turning your gaze back upon Him when you find yourself becoming distracted with anything but Him. It is thinking about and talking with Him all throughout your day, no matter what you are doing.
The secret is a tighter embrace with the Person of Jesus. Would you focus upon Him today? Would you allow Him to be your victory and triumph, no matter the temptation, pressure, or habit you are facing? He is far stronger than anything you are facing. He has already won the victory! Jesus is risen from the dead and all that earth and hell can throw at you is already defeated! Would you live in His victory, as He increases your focus upon Himself?
See, it does work. My guess is that within the past few minutes, not once did you think about a pink elephant. How did that happen? It was because I distracted with you a better focus—a focus on Jesus. Remember, whatever you dwell upon (and feed) will grow stronger in your life.