We judge others by their actions. Yet most actions start as mere desires. And it’s a lot harder to judge someone for a desire, isn’t it?
For example, some of us have never felt a desire for (pick a vice)—it just didn’t seem appealing—while others battle the enticing pull of that same thing every single day.
How’s that fair?
Why do some people face temptations others don’t? And is it even possible to control what we do and don’t desire?
Short answer: Yes
“Let no one say . . .’I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” -James 1:13-15
My desires were to blame for my sins? Reading that passage for the first time as a young Christian, I felt like I was bound to be a serial sinner for the rest of my life. I mean a random food craving is a desire. I have zero control over that stuff—I thought.
It wasn’t until I came across a certain Bible story that I started to better understand that scripture.
A Big Victory and a Big Defeat
If you grew up in Sunday school, you’re probably familiar with the story of Israel conquering the city of Jericho after its walls miraculously crumbled to the ground.
As fascinating as that story is, Israel’s very next military venture was just as dramatic.
Emboldened by it’s victory over mighty Jericho, Israel confidently stormed the much smaller neighboring town of Ai. Well, as the story goes, that little town opened up a big ole can of you-know-what on Israel—making them flee with their tails between their legs.
As you can imagine, this was a bit of a head-scratcher for Israel. How could God all but hand them a victory in one battle only to then step aside and let them get demolished by a much weaker army in the next?
To make a long story short, it all turned out to be one guy’s fault.
A Beautiful Cloak, Silver and Gold
Going back to when Israel was preparing to attack Jericho, God specifically commanded them to destroy everything inside of the city—sparing only precious things like silver and gold for Israel’s treasury.
Well, one guy named Achan didn’t follow that command. This is what kindled God’s wrath against Israel, causing them to suffer a hamulating defeat the very next battle.
After Achan was discovered to be the transgressor, he spoke up and explained what happened:
“Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I desired them and took them.”-Joshua 7:20-21
So there’s an example of desire leading to action—really unfortunate action seeing as Achan was swiftly put to death for his wrongdoing.
Yet Achan’s confession is incredibly insightful. It’s clear that his desire for the spoil lead him to take what he shouldn’t have. But what lead to his desire?
“I Saw Among the Spoil”
Before he was ever consumed with desire, Achan first looked upon the spoil.—and I doubt it was just a glance.
If this were a scene in a movie, I imagine Achan charging into Jericho with the rest of the army, slicing enemy soldiers like a knife through butter as he runs, blood EVERYWHERE—I’m a guy who likes war movies so . . . sorry I’m not sorry—then he runs into some building and just stops. His shoulders rise and fall as he catches his breath, his hands tremble with adrenaline but his eyes are locked in place (dramatic close-up of his face). The camera then swings around to reveal that which captured Achan’s attention: a beautiful cloak, silver and gold—glowing like fire as it sits perfectly positioned in the sunlight.
I won’t give away the entire movie, but Achan continues to stare for a while—every passing second intensifying his desire to do what God commanded against—until finally his desire outweighed his better judgement.
Had Achan simply glanced at the spoil and kept on running, his desire would have been a mere spark instead of a consuming fire. So there is an unmistakable correlation between what we intently look at and what we desire.
Monkey See, (Monkey Desire), Monkey Do
Desire is the link between seeing and doing. This is often most evident in kinds. I remember watching my dad shave when I was still years away from peach-fuzz. I started wanting to shave so badly—my lack of facial hair didn’t faze me! So one day when no one was around to stop me, shave I did—again, blood EVERYWHERE.
But somethings we don’t grow out of; adults still play “monkey see, monkey do”—it just looks different.
When I was a freshmen in college—still young, but technically an adult—a friend of mine invited me to a 2-day seminar on real-estate investing. I didn’t know a thing about real-estate nor had I any money to invest, but you know . . . I wanted to keep my options open—anything could happen.
The seminar was taught by a somewhat young millionaire real-estate guru. After 2 days of watching his presentations that were full of humble-brags about all the money he made, the foreign cars he drove and ocean front homes he owned, I didn’t just want to be like him, I wanted to BE HIM—that’s how cool I thought he was!
So it shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did when my friend later pointed out that I started to mimic the guru’s speaking style. After staring at this guy for 2 days, I started to desire his life so much so that I subconsciously started behaving like him.
Whether or not we are aware of it, the ads we see, the shows we watch, the friends and influencers whose lives we carefully observe on social media, if any of that influences what we do and don’t desire, then it almost certainly influences our actions.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As long as we have control of our eyes, we will have control of our desires. Sure there may be some exceptions, but in many cases our desires are the product of our gaze. This understanding offers a sense of empowerment as well as increased personal responsibility.
I encourage you to take a few minutes and do a mental audit of yourself. What behavioral patterns do you consistently struggle with? Take one step back and think about the desires you feel that drive those behaviors. Finally, what visual queue trigger those desires?
I believe getting the answers to these questions is 90% of the battle—the other 10% being self-control.
Control your eyes and control your life.
May God bless you.