Editor's note:

In 1399, at the age of nine­teen, Thomas à Kem­p­is (13801471) became a monk at the Augus­tin­ian monastery where he would spend the rest of his life. He was made sub­pri­or in 1429, but his out­er life was not very event­ful; he lived and died a sim­ple monk. His inner life, how­ev­er, was deep and rich, filled with a gen­uine devo­tion to Christ. The last­ing achieve­ment of his life came in 1441 when he edit­ed Ger­hard Groote’s diary. 

The fol­low­ing pas­sage comes from The Imi­ta­tion of Christ, the clas­sic that some believe was writ­ten by Groote (13401384) and edit­ed by Thomas. Although the book’s tone is somber and its pre­scrip­tions demand­ing, it con­tin­ues to bless count­less Chris­tians because of its clar­i­ty and insight into the human spir­it. In the eyes of many, The Imi­ta­tion ranks sec­ond only to the Bible in its impact on the world­wide Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty. The selec­tion that fol­lows address­es a strug­gle that we all have: temp­ta­tion. May it give you insight and encour­age­ment as you deal with the var­i­ous temp­ta­tions that you must face. 

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

Be on the Watch

As long as we live in the world we can­not escape temp­ta­tions and tribu­la­tions. As it is writ­ten in Job, Our life on this earth is war­fare.” For this rea­son we must be care­ful and con­cerned about our own temp­ta­tions. We must be watch­ful in prayer lest the dev­il be giv­en an oppor­tu­ni­ty to deceive us. For the dev­il nev­er sleeps but goes about seek­ing whom he may devour.” Remem­ber, no one is so holy that he or she does not have to deal with temp­ta­tions. We can nev­er be free of them.

The Use­ful­ness of Temptations

And yet, temp­ta­tions can be use­ful to us even though they seem to cause us noth­ing but pain. They are use­ful because they can make us hum­ble, they can cleanse us, and they can teach us. All of the saints passed through times of temp­ta­tion and tribu­la­tion, and they used them to make progress in the spir­i­tu­al life. Those who did not deal with temp­ta­tions suc­cess­ful­ly fell to the wayside.

The Source of Temp­ta­tions: Why We Can’t Run Away

No one is com­plete­ly free of temp­ta­tions because the source of temp­ta­tion is in our­selves. We were born in sin­ful desire. When one temp­ta­tion pass­es, anoth­er is on its way. We will always have temp­ta­tion because we are sin­ners who lost our orig­i­nal inno­cence in the Gar­den. Many have tried to escape temp­ta­tions only to find that they more griev­ous­ly fall into them. We can­not win this bat­tle by run­ning away alone; the key to vic­to­ry is true humil­i­ty and patience; in them we over­come the enemy.

If we mere­ly turn away from temp­ta­tion out­ward­ly and do not strike at the root, we will make very lit­tle progress. In fact, you will find that the temp­ta­tions will return more quick­ly and pow­er­ful­ly, and you will feel even worse. Lit­tle by lit­tle, through patient endurance of spir­it (with the help of God), you will win a bet­ter vic­to­ry than by your own determination.

Temp­ta­tions Reveal Who We Are

The begin­ning of all evil temp­ta­tions is an unsta­ble mind and a small trust in God. Just as a ship with­out a helm is tossed about by the waves, so a per­son who lacks res­o­lu­tion and cer­tain­ty is tossed about by temp­ta­tions. Temp­ta­tion reveals our in­stability and our lack of trust in God; temp­ta­tions reveal who we are. This is why we must pay atten­tion to them.

How Temp­ta­tions Enter and Over­come Us

We will do bet­ter in deal­ing with temp­ta­tions if we keep an eye on them in the very begin­ning. Temp­ta­tions are more eas­i­ly over­come if they are nev­er allowed to enter our minds. Meet them at the door as soon as they knock, and do not let them in. One sim­ple thought can enter the mind and start the process.

The process works like this. First, the thought is allowed to enter into our minds. Sec­ond, the imag­i­na­tion is sparked by the thought. Third, we feel a sense of plea­sure at the fan­ta­sy, and we enter­tain it. Fourth and final­ly, we engage in the evil action, assent­ing to its urges. This is how, lit­tle by lit­tle, temp­ta­tions gain en­trance and over­come us if they are not resist­ed at the begin­ning. The longer we let them over­come us, the weak­er we become, and the stronger the ene­my against us.

Nev­er Despair: God Is with You

We must not despair when we are tempt­ed but, instead, seek God more fer­vent­ly, ask­ing for his help in this time of tribu­la­tion. Remem­ber St. Paul’s words of assur­ance. God will make a way of escape from every temp­ta­tion so that we may be

able to bear it.” Let us, there­fore, hum­ble our­selves before God and take shel­ter be­neath his hand. God will lift up all who have a hum­ble spir­it and save them in all tri­als and tribulations.

Patience is nec­es­sary in this life because so much of life is fraught with adver­sity. No mat­ter how hard we try, our lives will nev­er be with­out strife and grief. Thus, we should not strive for a peace that is with­out temp­ta­tion, or for a life that nev­er feels adver­si­ty. Peace is not found by escap­ing temp­ta­tions, but by being tried by them. We will have dis­cov­ered peace when we have been tried and come through the tri­al of temptation.

The Pain of Temptations

But,” you may say, What about those who find such plea­sure and delight when they give in to temp­ta­tions?” To be sure, there is plea­sure for them, but how long does it last? It is like smoke — it van­ish­es quick­ly. Soon even the mem­o­ry of the joy is gone. They will nev­er find rest, and they will live in bit­ter­ness and weari­ness and fear.

The very thing they think will bring them joy will bring them sor­row; that which they think will bring them plea­sure will bring them only pain. Because of their blind­ness and numb­ness they may nev­er see or feel how mis­er­able they are. They may not even know that their soul is slow­ly dying.

The Way to True Delight

But, if you want to have true delight, here is the way: have con­tempt for all world­ly things and all low­er delights, and rich con­so­la­tion will, in turn, be giv­en to you. In pro­por­tion as you with­draw your­self from the love of these things, so you will find con­so­la­tions from God much more sweet and potent.

At first this will be dif­fi­cult. Long-stand­ing habits will resist, but they will be van­quished, in time, by a bet­ter habit — if you per­se­vere! The flesh will cry out, but it will be restrained by the Spir­it. The dev­il will try to stir you up and pro­voke you, but he will run away the moment you begin to pray. And above all, try to en­gage in use​fl​.il work. In doing so, the dev­il is pre­vent­ed from hav­ing access to you.

Lay the Axe to the Root

If we made an effort to stand firm­ly and coura­geous­ly in the strug­gle, doubt­less we should see the help of our Lord from heav­en, for he is ready to help those who trust in his grace; he gives us occa­sions to fight that we may win. If our spir­i­tu­al progress relies only on out­ward obser­vances, our devo­tion will not last long. Let us lay the axe to the root, so that being purged of unruly pas­sions we may have peace of mind. If every year we uproot­ed a sin­gle fault, we should soon become per­fect. But we often feel that we were bet­ter and more pure at the begin­ning of our spir­i­tu­al lives than we are now after many years of liv­ing our vows! Fer­vor and progress ought to increase dai­ly, but it is thought to be a fine thing these days if a per­son can hold on to even a lit­tle of those first intense feel­ings! If we would exer­cise a lit­tle self-dis­ci­pline at the begin­ning, then we would lat­er be able to do every­thing eas­ily and joyfully.

Defeat­ing Old Habits

It is hard to give up old habits, but it is even hard­er to go against one’s own will. Yet, if you can­not over­come small, triv­ial things, when will you over­come dif­fi­cult ones? Fight the urge when it starts, and break off bad habits, lest per­haps, lit­tle by lit­tle, they lead you into greater trou­ble. Oh, if you could only know how much peace for your­self and joy for oth­ers your good efforts could bring, I think you would be more anx­ious for spir­i­tu­al growth!

The Temp­ta­tion to Gossip

I won­der why we are so eager to chat­ter and gos­sip with each oth­er, since we sel­dom return to the qui­et of our own hearts with­out a dam­aged con­science? The rea­son is that by idle chit-chat we seek com­fort from one anoth­er and we hope to light­en our dis­tract­ed hearts. And to make mat­ters worse, we chat­ter most freely about our favorite top­ics, about what we would like to have, or about those things we espe­cial­ly dislike!

What a mis­take! This out­side com­fort is no small detri­ment to the inner com­fort that comes from God. There­fore, we must watch and pray that we do not waste time. If it is prop­er to speak, speak of what will ben­e­fit oth­ers spir­i­tu­al­ly. Bad habits and neglect of our spir­i­tu­al progress con­tribute much to our end­less chatter.

Putting Trou­bles to Use

Some­times it is good for us to have trou­bles and hard­ships, for they often call us back to our own hearts. Once there, we know our­selves to be strangers in this world, and we know that we may not believe in any­thing that it has to offer. Some­times it is good that we put up with peo­ple speak­ing against us, and some­times it is good that we be thought of as bad and flawed, even when we do good things and have good inten­tions. Such trou­bles are often aids to humil­i­ty, and they pro­tect us from pride. Indeed, we are some­times bet­ter at seek­ing God when peo­ple have noth­ing but bad things to say about us and when they refuse to give us cred­it for the good things we have done! That being the case, we should so root our­selves in God that we do not need to look for com­fort any­where else.

Our Need for God

When a per­son of good will is trou­bled or tempt­ed or vexed by evil thoughts, then he bet­ter under­stands his need for God, with­out whom he can do noth­ing good at all. In such a state, he is sad and he sighs and prays because of the mis­eries he suf­fers; then, he is tired of liv­ing any longer and he wish­es to die, so that he may be set free to be with Christ. When all that hap­pens, he knows for cer­tain that per­fect secu­ri­ty and full peace can­not exist in this world.

Four Sources of Peace

Final­ly, I want to teach you the way of peace and true lib­er­ty. There are four things you must do. First, strive to do another’s will rather than your own. Sec­ond, choose always to have less than more. Third, seek the low­er places in life, dying to the need to be rec­og­nized and impor­tant. Fourth, always and in every­thing desire that the will of God may be com­plete­ly ful­filled in you. The per­son who tries this will be tread­ing the fron­tiers of peace and rest.

Bible Selec­tion: 1 Corinthi­ans 10:12 – 13

So if you think you are stand­ing, watch out that you do not fall. No test­ing has over­tak­en you that is not com­mon to every­one. God is faith­ful, and he will not let you be test­ed beyond your strength, but with the test­ing he will also pro­vide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

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Originally published December 1988