Living in the Kingdom of God /Spiritual Meditations

I find the Biblical references to the Kingdom of God puzzling. Is it the future ‘coming of age’ at Christ’s second coming or is it God’s people who are living now? Is it the earth transformed into Heaven or is it a separate heavenly realm? Does it include all those that God loves (meaning everyone) or is it the souls of those who have given their lives to Christ as believers?

Consider the following:

The Kingdom of God (KOG) is the realm in which God’s reign is experienced. This realm is sometimes something present, sometimes future. It is a realm introduced after the ministry of John the Baptist into which people entered with violent ‘determination’ (Luke 16:16). Jesus offered the Kingdom to Israel for they were its proper heirs (Matt 8:12), but the religious leaders, followed by most of the people, not only refused to enter its blessings but tried to prevent others from entering (Matt 23:13). Nevertheless, many tax-collectors and harlots did enter the kingdom (Matt 21:31 & Col 1:13). In these verses the KOG is a present realm where people may enjoy the blessings of God’s rule.

Elsewhere, the KOG is a future realm inaugurated by the return of Christ. The righteous will inherit this Kingdom (Matt 25:34) and will shine like the sun in God’s Kingdom (Matt 13:43).   Entrance into this future kingdom is synonymous with entering the eternal life of the Age to Come (Matt 19:28).

There is also an abstract meaning of KOG evident in many passages. Only those who ‘receive the KOG’, (i.e. accepts God rule here and now), enter the realm of its blessings in the future (Mark 10:15). When we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, we seek God’s rule in our lives (Matt 6:33). And “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

However, God’s Kingdom is not just an abstraction. The Kingdom is God’s rule dynamically active to defeat evil and redeem sinners. I Corinthians 15:14-16 says that Christ must reign as King until he has destroyed all enemies, the last of which is death. He will then deliver the KOG. From this passage we understand that the KOG is the dynamic rule of God manifested in Christ to destroy His spiritual enemies and bring to humanity the blessings of God’s reign.

The diversity of the New Testament data has led to diverse interpretations, but one thing seems to be clear; entrance into the kingdom is by the new birth (John 3:3-5), and that there are two stages of the KOG; present and future. Because the future KOG, synonymous with the Kingdom of Heaven, is only symbolically described in John’s Revelation and unknowable by us at this time, I want to explore the present KOG; the KOG that we can experience on earth.

Some of the most notable scripture verses related to our search for God’s Kingdom are:

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here that will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)

For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

At some point in our lives, with enough ‘seeking’, we can come to an actual experience of that Presence which Jesus called the Father within. Not only can we individually experience His presence, but we must contribute in every way possible to making it a part of our world experience.

Experiencing the Kingdom of God

There is no higher goal attainable on earth than an inner communication with this Presence that never leaves us or forsakes us.

To attain it, we have to lose all desire for the visible in the realization that we live not by that which is visible but by that which is invisible, and then we shall find that the Infinite Invisible will produce in our experience the persons, things, circumstances, and conditions necessary to our daily life.

Only by losing our carnal desires, our mortal, selfish human desires, do we prove that we are making advances towards a higher state of human hood and a realization of the Spirit of God that dwells in us.

It is our goal to come to a place where we do not pay lip service to the statement, “I can of my own self do nothing”, but where we demonstrate that it is actually true and let the power of God, assert itself and do the work. When the mind is open to receive the divine impulse, harmonious and perfect form flows out from it.

In the human sense, the mind is creative. It can create good and it can create evil. In the spiritual scene, however, the mind is not a creative faculty, but an avenue of awareness of God’s messages and divine ideas.

There is a spiritual kingdom and dwelling in it would make us completely indifferent even to the good things of life. Only at the beginning of our journey on the spiritual path do we think the goal is the improvement of our human experience. The true God experience that we are seeking is not merely the increase of dollars or an improvement in health, as desirable as these are, but rather it should it be a rebirth, an entrance into that state of consciousness which is My Kingdom not of this world.

The First Steps to Entering the Kingdom of God

We become the light of the world in proportion to our degree of illumination or connection with God. Some attain illumination quickly; and some wait and wait for the great experience to descend upon them. When it comes, however, it comes suddenly, although the preparation leading up to it may have taken many years of study and meditating, during which time we seem to have made little or no progress. From the first moment, however, that we seriously seek the KOG our progress is rapid even though, to our outward appearances, imperceptible.

When we come to the place of realizing that there is a son of God in us, but that the prodigal son of man is still struggling for survival, we begin to understand the warfare between the flesh and the Spirit.

God gave to Moses the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and Jesus gave us the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  This is where we begin our contemplation and absorption of the principles that lead to God’s Kingdom.

Living in an atmosphere of spiritual wisdom and feeding your consciousness with Biblical truth, there will come a moment when the truth takes over the mind, and then it is no longer necessary to fill the mind with Truth. From then on, the flow is the other way. It is not we who are thinking truth, remembering, declaring, or meditating on truth: it is the Spirit using our mind for its expression, always using us, always flowing through us.

The Kingdom of God is Within You

When we become spiritually attuned and live in accordance with the law of God, we begin to realize that all that the Father has is embodied within us – the bread of life and the wine of inspiration – the whole KOG is established within us. Then, instead of living life with the idea of gaining, getting, or achieving, we reverse that, and our attitude is one of serving, giving, bestowing, sharing, and cooperating. The good things that come to us on the human sphere are the reflex action of our giving and sharing.

Right where we are is the very KOG. All that is in heaven is on earth; but whether we find earth a heaven or a hell depends on whether we are seeing the earth through spiritual or through material vision. The minds interpretation of experience determines whether it is a heaven or hell.

Indifference to Good and Bad

Let’s not take our finite views of what is good and what is bad to God, nor take our human hopes and ambitions to him, but let us go to God as if we really trust him more than we would trust our own mother, trust him as a divine Love and the divine Wisdom of this world, which in truth he is.

There is a spiritual kingdom and dwelling in it would make us completely indifferent even to the good things of life. We can determine how close we are to this kingdom by observing to what degree we still react to good and bad. How joyously do you react to the good and how much are you disturbed by the bad? And to what measure are you becoming indifferent to either the human good or the human evil, knowing that God will handle it.

Seeing God in Others

Any good human being can overlook the faults of others and even forgive them. but it takes spiritual vision to be able to say, “I cannot see anyone, only the face of God. The soul of God looks out through all eyes. “

Everyone has a soul – not a separate soul, but the same soul – and God is that soul. When this is understood a spiritual relationship of harmony, peace, and grace is established, and then the relationships in our lives are mutually beneficial; whereas, if we look to one another humanly, we shall be disappointed. Only in the realization that God is our soul and that that soul is the source of the good in our lives, can our freedom from bondage to the material way of life and material things of life be attained.

Love of the Worldly

Why do we seek for bread, wine, or water, for clothing, companionship, money, or capital when God promises that in His presence there is fullness of life and that it is His good pleasure for us to share His riches? There is no such thing as God and. It is for this reason that all we have to do is seek God‘s presence. And living with God‘s presence, we live life eternally, with an infinity of supply, brotherhood, peace, joy, protection, and safety. In His presence there is fullness of life – nothing is absent. But there is one requirement: to have His presence – not meaningless affirmations or the mouthing of the deep truths of Scripture – but His presence.

So, we learn that we no longer need to fight for the things of this world; we don’t need to fight either aggressively or protectively. We can stand still and think no thoughts – just be receptive and allow the Spirit to permeate our being. And then our work will be accomplished. But I must remind you that the Spirit is never working for us. It is working in and through us as we yield and surrender ourselves and even our thoughts – so that God can take over.

Judgement and Punishment

To be spiritually whole, harmonious, and complete, and enjoy the KOG on earth, it is necessary that, in addition to our knowing the truth for ourselves and those within our orbit, we branch out and know the truth of universal kinship so that we do not judge some people as separate and apart from God or as unworthy to be God’s people.

God does not accept our idea of what constitutes justice, love, and mercy, but if we listen, God imparts His idea of justice, love, and mercy to us. Instead of telling God what we think He should do, let us be so silent within ourselves that we can hear the still small voice.

The practice of true Christianity lifts us to a consciousness of grace and truth which reveals a God of love instead of a God of rewards and punishments. We should never return evil for evil, never pray or hope or wish or desire that another suffers for their offenses.

Jesus never taught that God punishes – no, not even the thief on the cross. Always it was, “go, and sin no more. “. Whatever evil we are experiencing we are bringing upon ourselves – it’s not God inflicting it on us. Whenever we have pushed or elbowed someone aside mentally or physically, we reached out for what was rightfully theirs. To that degree we have violated spiritual law.

Only when the Spirit of God touches us, can we feel spiritual love, and that love is not limited to our own family, but extends to our neighbor and enemy far and near.

Matthew 5:23, 24, 6:15  plainly states that if any malice, envy, jealousy, revenge, or hatred is in our hearts, there is a block in our consciousness which prevents our prayers from being answered. If you are finding this difficult, please read How to Forgive.

Prayer

When we are not thinking of food or money or climate or anything that constitutes our security and we realize that our real life is sustained by the word of God, we are living the spiritual life with no dependence on human beings, human investments, or human positions. Not throwing them away but realizing that they are the added things in life, part of God’s grace, and we have no fear that God will not provide for our needs.

Is asking God for things an indication that we understand God to be intelligence and love, or do such requests imply that we believe God is withholding something from us? Let us learn to sit quietly, resting in the realization that underneath us are “the everlasting arms”, and that no amount of praying will put those everlasting arms there: they are already underneath us.

When we pray in secret, our oneness with the Father and because of that oneness, all that the Father has is ours by divine inheritance. It is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We then need no longer look to any man for reward, compensation, gratitude, cooperation, or affection.

Conclusion

As we come to this place in consciousness where we can relinquish human might and power, human opinion and judgment, a divine grace, invisible, yet perfectly tangible to the person experiencing it, takes over. We cannot see this transcendental Spirit, hear it, taste it, touch it, or smell it, yet it is here, and it is now – we feel it, and we know it. When we let go of our human rights, human will and human desires – even the good desires – and absolutely resign ourselves to God‘s will, the Spirit rushes in as if there were a vacuum, and then it takes over. We are one with the rhythm of the universe, and all is well. All that the Father has is now flowing through us into this world as a divine grace, bringing to us all that we need and bringing us to all those who need us. When we are touched by the Spirit, we become one with it and allow ourselves to be a channel for the mystical presence and power which we called God.

It is the ultimate yet lofty goal. When we look around at those who are God’s people, we see varying degrees of this utopia. We may be filled with the Holy Spirit, but we sometimes have lapses. It has been said that “God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful.” So, we continue to do our best. We meditate on His truth and we progress.

If you found this post inspiring, interesting, informative or helpful, please share it.

References

The Thunder of Silence by Joel S. Goldsmith

The Zondervan Topical Bible

Pictorial Bible Dictionary published by the Southwestern Company

 

young boy praying with Bible

What to Know About the Bible / Spiritual Meditations

The Bible belongs to the whole world as no other book does. Phrases from its pages have become common idiom and illusions to its stories are widely understood. Yet relatively few people are familiar with it as a whole, and acquaintance for the most part is limited to a small selection of passages. Much is not easy to understand and not all is equally rewarding for all purposes. What every reader should first understand is the range and variety of the Bible, and what parts can best serve the purpose for which one turns to it.

The Briefest Summary of the Old Testament

The opening chapters of the OT deal with human origins. They are not to be read as history, but neither are they to be dismissed as myths. They teach that God created man to be obedient to him, and that in that obedience man’s well-being exists. By disobedience man turned from the true source of his life, so that before Adam and Eve were ejected from the garden, he hid himself from God. These chapters think of sin not as a theological abstraction, but as something real which recoils upon man. It broke up the first family, brought murder, strife and corruption, and ate into the heart of man.

These chapters are followed by the stories of the patriarchs, which preserve ancient tradition known to reflect the condition of the times, though they cannot be treated as strictly historical. It is for religion that they are preserved and the reader should be alert to understand not merely Gods dealing with the patriarchs, but what he is saying to us through these stories.

In a one illustration, the story of Abraham’s narrowly averted sacrifice of Isaac is more than a memory of times when human sacrifice was common, or of the first awakening of Israel’s ancestors to the recognition that God did not desire it. It is a story of a man who loved God more than all else and who was willing to surrender to God even the son in whose life his own was bound. There are sacrifices which God does not ask; there are none a man should be unwilling to make.

With the story of the exile and the settlement in Canaan we come nearer to the historical, though we are still dealing with idealized history. The main purpose of this narrative is to bring the reader to realize that God chose Israel to be His people and delivered her by His power, thus revealing His own character and laying on her the constraint of obedience. God’s election of Israel was to privilege but it was also to service.

Into this story the legal section of the OT has been fitted, and especially, all the provisions for the sacrificial rituals. Much bears the marks of the social and religious background of the times and not a little is without authority for the Christian. For the Christian, animal sacrifices are superseded by the sacrifice of Christ. The letter to the Hebrews links the death of Christ with the ritual of the Day of Atonement.

Other references in the New Testament (NT) allude rather to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. This chapter contains the most remarkable thought on sacrifice found in the OT. The Servant was one who willingly gave himself to be sacrificed, a morally blameless man instead of a physically unblemished animal, and his sacrifice was wider in its efficacy than any sacrifice mentioned in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the OT).

When we come to the books of Samuel and Kings, we have much very good history. The unsurpassed account of the reign of David probably comes from the time of Solomon, and it is without equal as historical writing in the literature of any country at so early an age. All these books, as also in the latter books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, are concerned with the lessons of history as much as with the history itself.

The Prophetic books offer special difficulty to the modern reader. They contain utterances of the profits to their contemporaries exposing the political and social ills of Israel without mentioning the context. The reader should seek to penetrate beneath all that belongs to that age to that which is significant to his own life and times.

The prophetic oracles are mostly in poetry, but the poetic book of the OT par excellence is the book of Psalms. Here we have poems which were created for religious use, many of them probably to accompany the rituals of sacrifice and feast and they have continued to serve us, publicly and privately today. Not all the Psalms reach the same height, but as a whole, they still nourish our spirit of devotion.

Of the OT wisdom books I will mention two. The book of Proverbs is mainly a collection of poetic observations used for the instruction of youth. They are governed throughout by the conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that the way of wisdom is the way of integrity and of obedience to God’s will.

The book of Job carries one of the profoundest messages to be found in the OT. Its story is of a godly man who suffered grievous pain and loss, and who was tormented by his friends who came to comfort him until he was goaded into an appeal both to God and against God. God then answered him out of a whirlwind to remind him of the folly of passing judgment on God out of his ignorance. The author teaches that more important than discovering the reason for suffering is finding God in the suffering.

The Briefest Summary of the New Testament

When we pass from the OT to the new, we move to a different world. Yet the two testaments are bound together in a very real way. In the first three gospels we have stories of Jesus which are linked together by the use of common sources, while in the fourth gospel we have an independent account which is more concerned to interpret the significance of our Lord.

None of the gospels offers a biography of Jesus, yet by their study we may come to know him better than others are known from full and careful biographies. By the intimate study of the gospel we may know much about Jesus; but better than that, we may come to be infused with something of his spirit.

History is represented in the NT by the book of Acts. Yet here again history is not recorded merely for its own sake. The reader is told of the spread of Christianity until, in the person of Paul, it is carried to Rome, so a great deal of what we would like to know is left unrecorded. Yet we see the spirit of the early church and can understand its message. More importantly, we can realize that from the beginning it was perceived that the Christian faith was not something to be enjoyed alone, but was given to the church so that it may be communicated to all men.

In the letters of the NT are reflected some of the churches which were founded by the apostles, and – more importantly – we see the unfolding significance of the Christian message. The death and resurrection of Jesus are seen not simply as the facts of history but are charged with meaning for us.

When the cross of Christ becomes the means of our surrender by faith to him, in a profound sense, we die with him and are born anew in him. His resurrection becomes the means of our renewed life, whose essential character lies in the union of our life with him, so that he lives in us, and we are linked with his character and purpose and live no longer unto ourselves but become extensions of his personality in the world. The son of God lifts us to become the sons of God, in whom our Father is seen, and heirs of God, whose heritage is to share His spirit and purpose.

The final book of the NT came at a time of suffering and persecution, like the book of Daniel in the OT, whose character it so much shares. Neither scripture should be read as a cryptic plan of the ages, but as the expression of an underlying hope in God and a great faith that humble loyalty to him transforms suffering for him into a privilege. The wise reader is less concerned with the intricate symbolism then with the spirit which penetrates it.

The Unity of the Bible

There is a place for the study of every detail of the Bible considering the situation in which it arose with all the illumination of science, archaeology and history. But more important is the recognition that this is a book of the living oracles of God, which may speak to us and nourish our spirit when we approach them in devotion and humility. We should always remember the variety of literary form found in the Bible and should read a passage in the light of its own literary character. Legend should be read as legend, and poetry as poetry, and not with a dull prosaic and literalistic mind.

There are themes throughout the Bible which impart unity despite its diversity. Throughout, God is One and reveals Himself to humanity and who desires their fellowship. He reveals Himself in history and through persons, until He finally revealed Himself in One who is both God and man. In both testaments it is the same God who is revealed, and this above all else gives unity to the Bible.

At the same time, it must be recognized that much of the OT is superseded in the New, and there are ideas of God in the OT which are not to be approved. For though both testaments bring us revelation of God, the revelation came through men who could not always understand it in its fullness. Just as light is modified by the glass through which it passes, while none derives from the glass itself, so revelation whose sole origin is God, is modified and often marred by the personalities through which it comes. That is why the perfect revelation could come only through the perfect Man.

In both testaments God is revealed as compassionate and saving. He had compassion on Israel in her Egyptian bondage, and on those who were in the deeper bondage of sin. Throughout the Bible God is concerned to save humanity from sin, but in the NT we have the supreme expression of that concern when God, in Christ, takes upon Himself the curse of sin, that by the sacrifice on the cross deliverance might be complete. The saving character of God was revealed in bringing Israel out of Egypt; but it was revealed on a new level at Golgotha.

Again, in both testaments, religion is seen in terms of covenant, and the covenant is the response in gratitude for the deliverance that has been accomplished. When Israel was saved from Egypt she went to the sacred mount and there pledged herself in covenant to the God who had saved her. The new covenant in Christ calls for the cherishing of the larger revelation of God given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Yet another theme that runs through the Bible and demonstrates its unity is faith. Faith is something more than a belief about God. When the Israelites stepped onto the sand left by the receding Red Sea, they showed more than their belief about God. And Christian faith is more than an intellectual persuasion; it is the abandonment of ourselves to Christ so that henceforth we live in him and he in us.

In both testaments the theme of judgment figures. When Adam sinned and isolated himself from God, his self-judgment lead to the judgment of exclusion from the garden. The prophets announced the coming judgment when Israel, by her disobedience, cut herself off from God. All judgment begins in self-judgment. So, too, in the NT: “he who does not believe is condemned already “ (John 3:18). This is the flip side of the teaching that man’s well-being consists in walking in obedience to God.

Yet the judgment of God is ever tempered with mercy. His mercy is shown in his patience and in sending his servants, the prophets, to warn and to reclaim. It is shown, too, in the sparing of the remnant. Sometimes it is a righteous remnant, spared for its own loyalty, and sometimes it is a remnant spared to preserve for another generation the revelation it so lightly regards.

From the earliest pages of the Bible the thought of the remnant appears. Noah and his family are the remnants spared at the flood, and throughout the prophetic words of judgment there appear promises of the remnant that shall remain – the remnant to whom alone the heritage of the covenant belongs, and through whom it is to be shared with those who do not belong to Israel according to heritage. And in the NT the church consists first of a remnant of Israel. The first disciples were all Jews, who inherited the revelation of the old covenant and the new revelation from the same God given in Christ. They brought the response of faith and obedience, and then shared their heritage with Gentiles who brought the same response.

Conclusion

A rich diversity of types of literature marks the Bible. There is progress in revelation; part of the OT was outgrown before the OT was itself complete, and more was superseded in the NT. Yet amidst the diversity runs a unity, and in all the progress there is the thread of a true continuity which derives from the God who speaks through it all. The goal of true study of the Bible is to hear His voice, and all who have ears to hear may hear it. The wise student of the Bible will welcome every aid to understand its background and meaning, for his supreme need is one no other book can supply: it is a humble desire to find God in His word and hear His word that you may find repose in gratitude and obedience.

Basic Q&A about the Bible

Why is it called the Bible?

By about the 5th century the Greek Church Fathers applied the term biblia – ‘books’- to the whole Christian scripture. Later the word passed into the western church and in Latin became ‘book’. The names ‘Old’ and ‘New Testament’ have been used since the close of the 2nd century to distinguish the Jewish and Christian scriptures. The word ‘testament’ is the Latin translation of the Hebrew word ‘berith’, which meant ‘covenant’ and referenced the covenants God made with His people.

What languages were the Bible originally written in?

The OT was originally written in Hebrew before the Babylonian Captivity. After it, Aramaic was used as it was the language acquired in Babylon. The NT was composed in Greek the common language used in that area of the world at the time.

Why are the Protestant and Catholic Bibles different?

The Protestant Bible consists of 39 OT books and 27 NT books. The 39 books of the OT are the same as those recognized by Palestinian Jews in NT times. The Greek speaking Jews of that period recognized the 39 plus 7 more and additions to Esther and Daniel. These became the Catholic Bible.

The Hebrew Bible and Protestant OT contain the same material, although they are organized a little differently. In the Greek (now Catholic) OT, the number of books and their arrangement is different than the Hebrew Bible. It is evident that the NT writers were familiar with the Apocrypha (the additional material in the Greek/Catholic OT) but there is no quotation from it in their pages. The books of the Apocrypha are all late in date, confirmed by the fact that they were originally written mostly in Greek. The more scholarly of the Catholic Church Fathers did not regard the Apocrypha as canonical although they permitted its use for edification.

All branches of the Christian Church agree on the NT canon.

Is the text in our current Bible the same as the original?

The Bible was written over a period of approximately 1400 years ending during the 1st century AD.   Until the invention of the printing press in the middle of the 15th century all copies of the Scriptures were made by hand, which resulted in some errors by the scribes. However, the Bible has come to us in a remarkable state of preservation. There is evidence that ancient Jewish scribes copied the books of the OT with extreme care. The evidence for the reliability of the NT is large and includes about 4500 Greek manuscripts dating back to about 125 AD as well as quotes taken from the NT material by Church Fathers in their writings beginning at the end of the 1st century.

How did chapters and verses come about?

The books of the Bible originally had no chapters and verses. For convenience of reference, Jews of pre-Talmudic times divided the OT into sections and these correspond to our current Bible. The chapter divisions we use today were made by the Archbishop of Canterbury who died in 1228. The division of the NT into its present verses is found for the first time in an edition of the Greek NT printed in 1551 in Paris. In 1555 the first version to include both chapters and verses as we see today was published by the same printer in Paris. The first English Bible with these divisions was printed in 1560.

When were the first translations of the Bible?

The OT was first translated into Greek between 250-150 BC. Parts of the OT were rendered into to Syriac in the early 1st century and a Coptic translation appeared probably in the 3rd century. The NT was translated into Latin and Syriac c. 150 and into Coptic c. 200.

According to Wikipedia “As of October 2019 the full Bible has been translated into 698 languages, the NT has been translated into an additional 1,548 languages and Bible portions or stories into 1,138 other languages. Thus at least some portions of the Bible have been translated into 3,385 languages.”

What is the Bible’s overall message?

The Bible is a collection of books recognized and used by the Christian church as the inspired record of God’s revelation of Himself and His will to mankind. Although the Bible was written over a long period of time by a great variety of writers, most of the authors of the Old Testament (OT) did not know each other. It has an organic unity that can be explained only by assuming, as the book itself claims, that its writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give God’s message to humanity. The theme of the message is the same in both testaments; the redemption of man.

References

The Oxford Annotated Bible revised standard version college edition published by Oxford University Press

Pictorial Bible Dictionary with topical index published by Zondervan

 

 

woman holding green apple

3 Ways to Conquer Temptation/Spiritual Meditations

Are you tempted to criticize your mother-in-law or something more serious?  The treatments suggested here by psychologists and mystics  can be utilized for your particular temptation while taking into consideration your personality and depth of faith.

Using Willpower to Overcome Temptation

Citing Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow study from the 1960s, some very smart people consider willpower as the key to success in overcoming temptations. In the study, young children were given a choice between eating one marshmallow now or two marshmallows in 15 minutes. Some gobbled up the marshmallow immediately but most did their best to resist temptation so they could have two.

The follow-up study 40 years later contributed additional confirmation that willpower was the key to success. Published in Psychological Science, the researchers revealed that the kids who were able to delay gratification went on to have more success in high school, higher SAT scores, better grades in college, better jobs, better relationships and were even in better physical shape than those who couldn’t wait.

As a result, policy makers, educators, psychologists and parents were convinced that the key to self-control is learning how to overcome emotion. Recommended strategies include distraction and distancing, as highlighted in an article in the New York Times:

“Don’t eye the basket of bread; just take it off the table. In moments of emotional distress, imagine that you’re viewing yourself from outside, or consider what someone else would do in your place. When a waiter offers chocolate mousse, imagine that a cockroach has just crawled across it.”

Rebecca Gladding M.D. in her Psychology Today article “Tips to Resist Temptation” outlines rational steps to overcome temptation utilizing willpower which could be effective for you. The challenge is to diligently use the four steps even when you don’t need to, so that you keep your brain wired and trained the way you want it to be.

As an example, Dr. Gladding applies the steps to her love of chocolate.

  • I start by being more aware of my cravings, urges, and thoughts. I use step one: relabel to make mental notes. I literally say to myself, “Oh, there’s that craving for chocolate again.” I notice and investigate the craving, but do not give into it.
  • Then, I reframe the experience by reminding myself that my brain is generating this desire for chocolate, not me. Sure, I started the habit by responding to fatigue, boredom or stress by eating chocolate a few days in a row, but now my brain has taken over. My goal at this point is to change my perception of the importance of this unhelpful brain urge and move on.
  • I use step three to refocus and choose to do something that is healthier for me. If I truly am hungry and have not eaten, I will eat something less desirable, but filling and healthy. If I am not hungry, I will go take a walk, call a friend, work on a project, or do something else that’s fun.
  • As the craving continues trying to tempt me, I use step four: revalue to remind myself that this is just the feeling of craving. I need to realize that this craving does not define me—it is not something I have to pay attention to or prioritize. In fact, I can let it be there and move on with my day without giving in.

Using Compassion to Overcome Temptation

Dr. Samantha Boardman says that while will-power strategies can be effective, they are not fool proof for everyone and agrees that genetics, environment, stress and fatigue among other factors play a role in the ability to resist temptation. Additionally, most experts agree that willpower is in finite supply. It’s the reason you can skip the candy aisle at the market but can’t resist buying a candy bar when you reach the gauntlet of tempting treats at the checkout counter. The thing is, it takes a great deal of energy and effort to combat emotional impulses with cognitive thinking. Plus, suppressing emotions is stressful.

So, what else can we do? David Desteno, Ph.D., author and professor of psychology at Northeastern University, proposes a counter-intuitive approach to building self-control. Instead of demonizing emotion, he argues that some emotional responses may be the most powerful weapons we have against temptation. According to his research, socially oriented emotions like gratitude, love and compassion greatly enhance self-control and facilitate delayed gratification.

As he writes in Pacific Standard:

“…there are two routes to self-control: cognitive strategies that depend on executive function, willpower, and the like; and emotional strategies that rely on the cultivation of specific feelings…You might prevent yourself from making an impulse purchase by placing your money in an account with stiff penalties for early withdrawal…Or you might do the same by taking a few minutes to stop and count your blessings.”

Other research supports this approach. Kurt Gray, a researcher at Harvard University, found that when people donated money to charity or thought about helping another person they were able to hold up weights longer  than those who didn’t engage in pro-social thoughts or actions. According to Gray, helping others heightens willpower and self-control. As he suggests: “Perhaps the best way to resist the donuts at work is to donate your change in the morning to a worthy cause.”

And Dr. DeSteno concludes: “We can’t just exert self-control by willing ourselves to resist the first marshmallow or averting our eyes from it; we have to be grateful that someone’s offering it to us in the first place.”

Spiritual Redemption

If the suggestions above seem feeble against your temptation, a deeper spiritual way of thinking and being may be the answer.

You may wonder as you go through the years with no apparent change in your affairs, why this thing called God isn’t doing something for you. You can go on for your entire career and still find no increase or improvement unless there is an expansion of spiritual vision.  There is no external change without an internal development. Where you are on your spiritual path will influence the time it will take to get your more serious temptation under control.

The Judeo-Christian can use the 40 years of desert experience as a metaphor. We go forward and fall backward; we progress and backslide – but with every trial, temptation, persecution and conflict we develop more faith, hope and courage coming with the Lord’s support.

I highly recommend meditation and prayer to help you recognize a temptation before it becomes ingrained.  Temptations can visit us disguised as ‘angels of light’. The soul may fail to recognize them until they have done it a great deal of harm; they suck our life blood and put an end to our virtues and we go on yielding to temptation without knowing it. We should pray to the Lord that we will not be deceived and that light and truth will not be hidden from us. For God knows our intentions to please him and serve him and keep near to him in prayer, and the Lord is faithful.

Although you are familiar with the 10 Commandments , meditating on them in a new light, as steppingstones to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, is helpful in making the transition to a more spiritual life.  For example, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The first commandment is in admonition to look to one source for our good and it indicates that God is that source. If we always followed the first commandment, the journey into the Kingdom of God will be a quick one.

As you acknowledge God as the moving factor in your experience,  you no longer see evil or error in the circumstances governing you.  Your spiritual vision is awakened and you are lifted above all material conditions and limitations.  You can discern spiritual abundance right where lack and poverty is claiming presence and power.

Your Inner Being is God’s Holy Spirit.  You are one with God.  It is only as you give up the belief in a self-hood apart from God that you achieve the awareness of your true spiritual identity,

Consider the real significance of Jesus‘ ministry.  It is lost if we do not grasp his statement: “I can of mine own self do nothing “and “the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwells in me He doeth the works.“ Jesus did not say these things in modesty, but as actual facts. There is a Spirit within you. Jesus was always conscious of His Presence.

The evils of temptation are universal, and if you have permitted them to use you, it is an opportunity for correction rather than condemnation. Every evil craving that befalls you is the evidence of some belief not yet consciously thrown out of your thought. You are for the most part pure, but sometimes tempted by that in your consciousness which is impure or incorrect.

You may believe that your evil thoughts, traits and deeds bring you into punishment, slavery and bondage, but the healing state of Christ-consciousness and forgiveness rescues and lifts you and you learn that God has gone before you every step of the way.

As your spiritual nature unfolds, your human conduct improves. Too many believe that if they can improve their thoughts and acts, it will bring them closer to a spiritual sense. Reverse that: in proportion as spiritual consciousness becomes more real, the conditions of human existence improve. Therefore, do not make the effort to improve yourself humanly but keep your vision on the spiritual, let your life unfold progressively. As you live in a higher consciousness – on a higher plane – your world will unfold harmoniously, joyously, peacefully and successfully. For this reason, the human thought is not the factor in healing or in being healed. As spiritual truth reveals itself in your consciousness, the harmony of body, family or business appears as tangible evidence. Therefore, receptivity to God’s spirit should be your watchword.

Receptivity to God’s spirit should be your watchword.

It may be tantalizing to be told that the attempted improvement of human thought and conduct is not the basis of spiritual development. We are trying so hard to be careful of our thinking and acting. Well – that does no harm; perhaps even that effort is Spirit’s way of breaking through. Only be careful – don’t stop there. Human goodness is but a step on the Way.

The Temptation of Pride in Our Humility and Virtue

Have you known anyone who you would consider sanctimonious or self-righteous? We should be cautious, and not let our humility break down or to become our pride. For, when we attain virtues, we feel that we are doing nothing but receiving God’s gifts, and, therefore, have a greater obligation to serve. But when we become proud of these gifts we think our giving and serving, obligates God to reward us, and this, little by little, does us a great deal of harm. On the one hand, our humility is weakened, while, on the other hand, we neglect to cultivate that virtue, believing we have already acquired it. The best thing seems to be what our master teaches us: to pray, and to ask God not to allow us to fall into this temptation.

If you think the Lord has given you a certain grace, you must understand that it is a blessing which you have received but which God may take away again, as indeed, in the great providence of God, often happens.

For example, I may think I am extremely detached from material things, and, in fact when it comes to the test, I am: yet at other times I feel I have such attachment to things (which the day before I should perhaps have scoffed at) that I hardly know myself.

Sometimes it seems not to matter in the least if people complain or speak ill of me, when the test comes, I still feel like this, indeed, I even get pleasure from it. And then there come days when a single word distresses me and I long to leave the world all together, for everything in it seems to worry me. Teresa of Avila 

This being so, whoever says that he possesses a virtue, may find himself devoid of it at the very time he needs it most. If others, thinking we are good, bestow favors and honors upon us, both they and we shall look foolish when it becomes clear that our virtues are only lent to us. This is a great favor on God‘s part, for it helps us to realize fully that we have nothing which He has not given to us.

Our Past Failures to Overcome Temptation

Do not become depressed by your failures to overcome temptations so that in time you withdraw from Christian fellowship and give up your private prayer because you feel unworthy to engage in it. You can get to the point where your soul can be made to believe that, being imperfect, you have been forsaken by God, and doubt his mercy. All the service you render, however good, seems to be fruitless. When you find yourselves in this frame of mind, stop thinking, as much as you can, of your own faults and think of the mercy of Jesus and of his love, forgiveness and sufferings for you.

There is another very dangerous kind of temptation: a feeling of security caused by the belief that we shall never again return to our past faults and habits. If this temptation comes to beginners it is very serious; for, having this sense of security, they think nothing of running once more into the arms of their temptation. Despite the pledges of love the Lord gives you, you must never be so sure of yourself that you are not afraid of falling back again, but continue your vigilance.

Teresa of Avila suggests that we take great care to begin and to end every period of prayer with self-examination. We need to constantly pray for God‘s help.” Show us, Lord, some way of recognizing temptations and guarding against them.”

The road is a safe one and you will more easily escape from temptation if you are near the Lord instead of far away from Him. Your developing enlightened consciousness goes always before you, carrying you beyond your temptations in a purifying experience until at last you are the ruler over your body, thoughts and actions.

Relevant Scripture

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 1 Timothy 6:9

And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6:13

Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. Luke 8:13

Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:5

Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also. Gal 6:1

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. James 1:13

References

The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila

Spiritual Interpretation of Scripture by Joel S. Goldsmith

Samantha Boardman M.D. Psychology Today “Forget Willpower: A Smarter Strategy to Resist Temptation”

Rebecca Gladding M.D. Psychology Today “Tips to Resist Temptation”