Introductory Note:

In 1399, at the age of nineteen, Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) 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 (1340-1384) 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 useful 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.

Excerpts taken from Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups (Richard J. Foster & James Bryan Smith, Editors. HarperCollins, 1993.).

Photo by Zan on Unsplash

Text First Published December 1988 · Last Featured on June 2023