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Breaking the temptation cycle: Strength to Strength

How to overcome the repeated cycle of sin in your life.

As Believers, we are acutely aware of our sin.  We know what it cost our Savior when he hung on that tree, taking upon Himself the Father's wrath that we deserved.  Yet, this side of heaven, we will continue to struggle with sin.  Breaking the temptation cycle in an attempt to go from strength to strength is not easy, but the Lord shows us how...

The Temptation Cycle:  The Valley of Baca

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength;
    each one appears before God in Zion.
Psalm 84:5-7

I remember one of the first times I read Psalm 84:5-7,  I chided  myself, "You don't go from 'strength to strength'; you go from 'worry to worry'.

You see, even as a youngster, I recognized the fact that I essentially "sought after" things to worry about.  Once one worry didn't come to pass, I'd move on to the next one...  In my early 20s,  you could say I had legitimate concerns to worry me which ramped up my anxieties to a new fevered pitch.  It was as if the only normal I knew was to dwell in the "Valley of Baca"; a valley I created by living from worry to worry instead of from strength to strength...

Where should my strength come from?  Trusting in God whose strength provides spiritual rest as it carries me along on the highway to Zion...

But I must let Him...

Happy are those whose minds are wholly set on pilgrimage to Zion...

...those who in the strength of God, surmounting every obstacle,
 appear in His Presence and offer their prayers.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

 I've definitely come a long way from my worry wart roots.  You can read about those here.

But, that's not to say I still don't struggle with worry and anxiety...

The reality is, one of my biggest besetting sins is falling into the temptation of worry; lack of trusting God...

When I look back at my almost 57 years of worry, I see all the time that was wasted worrying -   because I'm still here!!  You guessed it, my worries, more times than not, were focused on health concerns.

Strength to Strength:  The Highway to Zion

Since my 20s when my worries about health were for the most part unfounded, the Lord, in His lovingkindness, sent big tests in the area of my health... Creating even bigger opportunities to trust Him and kick temptation to the curb as I went from...

strength to strength...

A mystery illness that left me dizzy and incapacitated for six weeks; doctors unable to truly diagnose what was going on...
  • Although I was practically debilitated from anxiety through this illness, the Lord provided a friend who was going through a similar phenomenon which encouraged me in a very discouraging situation
A baby step in trusting God as I experienced God's strength through the encouragement of a friend - strength I would  need for the next time...

An unusual EKG that alarmed the doctor...
  • It was then I felt my first sense of true peace in the midst of a scary finding.  I remember handing the situation over to God right in the exam room and saying, "Lord you know exactly what is going on with my heart.  This is too big for me to worry about, I leave it with you..." {It turned out my heart was just fine.  In fact, the unusual EKG reading was a result of how God designed the tilt of my heart.} 
A big step in experiencing the strength of God through trusting Him when it was just too big for me to do otherwise - strength I was DEFINITELY going to need for the next time...

The discovery of a thyroid nodule with the possibility of thyroid cancer...
  • My immediate response was to storm the gates of Heaven, through the prayers of the Saints, for a clear biopsy.   I believed God would answer, and He did!
A huge step in experiencing the strength of God through believing the power of the prayers of the Saints.  

All paving the way for the peace I would feel the next time...

And now we come to last week when I went for my routine dermatology full body skin exam.   I was not concerned about anything, and as the doctor began her exam, she said she wasn't finding anything concerning either.  Until she got to the very end of the exam, and I heard her say, "Hmm, what's this?".  She said it is probably a lichenoid keratosis which will clear up with a six week course of cortisone cream.  But then she said, or it could be a squamous cell carcinoma...
  • I can honestly say that I stayed very upbeat and didn't even become alarmed.  I even joked about it when my husband came home.  I truly feel totally at peace about this.

Breaking the Temptation Cycle:  Strength Training

In every instance God provided strength greater than the temptation.  I became stronger and stronger in resisting the temptation to worry.  God allowed this series of temptations as a form of strength training. The temptation cycle is now broken.  

The means by which the  Lord used to strengthen me through the situations above, were certainly quite pivotal, but did not work alone.  As I grew in God's strength to fight those particular temptations, I was also growing in the Lord, through daily Bible reading, Bible study, prayer and not forsaking gathering together with the body of Believers.

A firm foundation to stand on, and the Sword of the Spirit to employ.

Jesus set the example of how to effectively use of the Sword of the Spirit when fighting temptation...

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  

But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

  Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the 
kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you,
 if you will fall down and worship me.” 

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Matthew 4:1-11

When the Word of God is hidden in our hearts, we are able to discern the lies of the Devil when he tempts us, and to stand firmly on the Truth.

God promises that He is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13b

The Word of God directs our thoughts and actions in the ways of righteousness.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105

The more we memorize Scripture,  the more we know God.  The more we know God, the more we love and trust Him.  The more we love and trust God, the more of His strength we build up to break the temptation cycle.

...that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,  so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
Philippians 1:9-10

You might say, but Karen I am in the Word of God daily and I have memorized Scripture, but I still seem to fall short and succumb to the same temptation over and over again.  I would respond, I do too...

But there is great encouragement to be found for our dilemma in the following excerpt from Streams in the Desert...

Temptation is necessary to settle and confirm us in the spiritual life. 
It is like the fire which burns in the colors of mineral painting, or like winds that cause
 the mighty cedars of the mountain to strike more deeply into the soil. 
Our spiritual conflicts are among our choicest blessings, 
and our great adversary is used to train us for his ultimate defeat...   
So temptation victoriously met doubles our spiritual strength and equipment.
Streams in the Desert

"Every temptation victoriously met doubles our spiritual strength and equipment!"

Think about a diet.  In the beginning it is hard not to be tempted to have sugary junk food, but we persevere keeping our eye on the goal of reaching a smaller size once again.  It certainly is hard at first and can be down right uncomfortable when the hunger pangs hit us, especially at  night if you're like me, but each time we resist the temptation to snack on junk food, it inevitably gets easier and easier to pass up that sweet treat to the point that there isn't a struggle anymore, but almost a resolve not to have desert - you have lost your desire for excessively sweet food.

We have the strength to fight the temptation to eat sweets through the establishment of a new habit; a good habit!

Why do I bring up the example of a diet?  Because when we fall into the same temptation repeatedly, we have formed a sin habit.

Wikipedia describes a habit as  "a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.[1][2][3]

"In the American Journal of Psychology (1903) it is defined in this way: "A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience."[4] Habitual behavior often goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting it, because a person does not need to engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. Habits are sometimes compulsory.[3][5] The process by which new behaviours become automatic is habit formation. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioural patterns we repeat are imprinted in our neural pathways,[6] but it is possible to form new habits through repetition.[7]

As the habit is forming, it can be analysed in three parts: the cue, the behavior, and the reward. The cue is the thing that causes the habit to come about, the trigger of the habitual behavior. This could be anything that one's mind associates with that habit and one will automatically let a habit come to the surface. The behavior is the actual habit that one exhibits, and the reward, a positive feeling, therefore continues the "habit loop".[13] A habit may initially be triggered by a goal, but over time that goal becomes less necessary and the habit becomes more automatic."

I found this explanation quite sobering applied to the context of temptation to sin.  

Instead of the temporary feel good sensation of sin which causes us to continually fall into the same temptation, let us make Jesus our reward and turn our sin habit into a Jesus habit.  Every time temptation knocks at our door, we must pray and ask God to bring to our remembrance the very Truth that banishes Satan's lie.  Each time we say no to temptation, we will become stronger for the next time, until finally, the temptation no longer has power over us.   

The strength of a man 
consists in finding out
 the way in which God is going,
 and going in that way too.  

~ Henry Ward Beecher

For more encouraging posts on becoming an overcomer, click on the following titles:

           Let us break the temptation cycle and go from strength to strength.

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  1. Karen, this was a wonderful post--I loved the quote at the end-"The strength of a man consists in finding out the way in which God is going, and going in that way too." This has been the message of my life the past few months as I have been seeking the Lord's will in a specific area, trusting, worrying, and then being lifted up by the Lord to trust Him again. It resonates with my heart so much!

    I am going to write to you soon; I have to share with you a beautiful answer to prayer!

    Much, much love,

    1. Hi Bekki!

      Indeed! That quote brings much courage. Praising God that you have found solace and peace as you "go in the way of God".

      I appreciate your honesty referring to "trusting, worrying and then being lifted to trust Him again". I can so relate to this cycle.

      I look forward to hearing about all that the Lord is doing in your life!

      I love you Bekki! :-)

  2. Worry is something I struggled a lot with in college and then I put the verse about not worrying and trusting God in my car and every time I saw it I remembered not to worry. I still worry every now and then which is normal, but that totally changed my life. Great post.

    1. Amanda, Isn't it wonderful when the Lord gives us a promise and through our obedience in trusting that promise, it changes our lives! Thank you so much for sharing how you "broke the temptation cycle".

      Thank you for your kind words.


  3. Oh, dear friend! I could SO relate to so much of what you said here! Only with me, I still worry. Way too much. I do try not to, but too often, I do. I so appreciated the thoughts you shared and praise God with you for bringing you through so many health scares and issues. Sending you much love and many hugs!!

    1. Oh Cheryl, I certainly still struggle with worry. In fact, it seemed after I wrote this post, I was in the throws of spiritual attack with all manner of things worrying me. I recognized it and fought hard not to believe the lie, but to over and over again remind myself of the Truth.

      Thank you for your honesty here sweet friend.

      And thank you for always lifting me up. You are a treasure!

      Praying God's peace for you dear friend.

  4. I too have been known to go from worry to worry. Thank you for posting your thoughts on this most encouraging passage of I had temporarily forgot about!

    1. Amy,

      I had too! It's always wonderful when God brings us to a verse once again that washes over us with fresh encouragement.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.


  5. What a beautiful post about Gods promise! I love what you said about seeking worry, I have to question myself as well!

    1. Erica, Thank you!

      I think we all do it to a degree! Praising God for His great patience with us. :-)

      Thank you for stopping by.

  6. "When the Word of God is hidden in our hearts, we are able to discern the lies of the Devil when he tempts us, and to stand firmly on the Truth." I've found this to be true in my life, too. When our faith is firmly rooted in God, then when those troubling times come, we know that running to God and trusting Him is the best thing we can do.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Karen! Blessings to you! I'm your neighbor at #TeaAndWord.

    1. Gayl, Thank you so much for sharing in the conversation. I appreciate it!

      You are welcome!

      Blessings to you too! Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  7. I've been preparing a Bible study on Psalm 84 this week! And this post was such a helpful reminder to trust God in the difficult things of life. Very much needed at the moment, thanks.

    1. Bella, Thank you so much for sharing that with me! Praise God!

      You are welcome. :-)


  8. Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm so glad it pronpted me to come here to read your post. Worry has been a long-standing issue for me too and health is sonething I still worry about far too much. Thanks for this advice about how to break the habit and for sharing your experiences of how God helped you to deal with the fear.

    1. Lesley, You're welcome! :-)

      Awe, I'm glad too!

      Praising God that you were encouraged.

      I think it's always the case, that the things we struggle with many others do as well. The Lord uses each of us to encourage the other in our own unique, but God ordained way.

      I appreciate so much your comment. Thank you.

  9. I loved this line: I had legitimate concerns to worry me which ramped up my anxieties to a new fevered pitch.

    I totally get this.

    I thank you for sharing your faith-building experiences with us! Ours has been one of financial faith-building it seems. And for over a decade when things would come up, we would grow each time and see God work! I also love the quote at the bottom...amen!

    1. Meg, Thanks for sharing your own struggles with worry and for your kind words.

      Early on in my walk as a Christian, my very first faith-building exercise was financially. How fitting. The Lord showing a new believer how HE provides.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story.


  10. Hi, Karen! :) Oh, worry -- it's a biggie for me too. Thank you for sharing part of your testimony of overcoming it. God sure is a faithful God. Thanks for sharing. :) ((hug))

    1. Hi Brenda!

      You're welcome. I haven't quite "overcome" it, but I've come a long way from where I was. :-)

      Indeed He is!

      Your welcome. Your comment has blessed me. :-)

  11. Visiting you from Christian Bloggers link up. I struggle with worry too. It is too easy to let worry take over control of our minds and get to the point of being paralyzed in it. Thank you for this very helpful post. We need to seek the Lord in all of our worries and remember He is in control. May your soul be refreshed as you grow in trusting Him more through each and every worry in life. Sweet Blessings to you.

    1. Cheryl, I'm so glad you stopped by. :-)

      Thank you for sharing your own struggles with worry. It certainly can control our minds. I am reading "Fear Fighting" and the chapter I am in now she talks about "bad company" and when we worry, it is like keeping company with a "bad friend". That is so true! It ends up molding how we think and view life.


      Thank you so much for your encouraging words.

      Blessings to you too.


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