Desert Wisdom: Means of Temptation

In a world where you cannot even log on to a website without first having to watch a commercial, Book Six of The Desert Fathers is devastating.  The twenty-two sayings leave us with a “You’ve got to be kidding” feeling, when we see the extent to which our predecessor went to empty themselves of all their possessions.

But they weren’t kidding.  They were dead serious.  They believed that material possessions were one of Satan’s primary doorways for temptation, and fall.  For one thing, what we have can so quickly be used to evaluate “where we stand” in relation to others.  But worse, our desert mothers and fathers knew that what we have creates a never-ending desire for “more.”  If we have “one” of something we enjoy, the ego says, “Why not have two?”  And once we put our feet on that path, it winds its way to the pits of Hell.

As a professor, I was stunned to read Saying 12: “A brother said to Serapion, ‘Give me a word.’  But he replied, ‘What can I say to you?  You have taken what belongs to widows and orphans and put it on your window-ledge.’  He saw that the window-ledge was full of books.”

I had never stopped to think that all my books might be an offense to anyone, and this saying helped me to see that even what I so naturally think of as “necessary” may become a source of downfall—or at least of distraction.

I cannot say what you have—what you possess—that seems so natural or necessary, yet upon further notice ends up actually possessing you.  And I end this post with a very public confession that I am struggling to know how to apply the lessons of Book Six to my life.  But I can say this much—I am glad that Book Six is there.  Otherwise, I don’t think I’d even have a means (in the world today) to be stopped in my tracks about these things.  No matter what you and I conclude, we cannot leave this question out of our spiritual formation:  “Are my possessions possessing me?”

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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3 Responses to Desert Wisdom: Means of Temptation

  1. Larry Teasley says:

    This is devestating to me, as well, in that, as I am in the process of packing my “stuff” to move, I have ended up with more than 20 boxes of books. And these do not include the ones I have given away.

  2. Steve Williams says:

    For most of my adult life I let myself be measured by others, and even myself by what I possessed, or foolishly thought “I” possessed. These things I worked so hard to possess in fact possessed me. I could not go anywhere or do anything without clearing it with my business (referred to as “my mistress”, one of my boats always needed repair or attention, these “possessions” needed maintenance, paint, more money, more time.

    Then God orchestrated a wonderful thing. He took it all away. Some of it quickly, some slowly. The amazing part was that it didn’t bother me. It bothered others a lot. They would say, “What is wrong with Steve?”, looking at my aversion to the material as some sort of illness. The truth was, “What is becoming “right”with Steve?” After a period, I was not in bondage to any “thing” and I could focus on the truth of His Word. I found my “life” in a wonderful godly woman, godly friends, a wonderful godly place of employment, and ministries that He lead me to serve.

  3. Donna Bogan says:

    I now live in a federally subsidized apartment, and I moved into it from the only house I’d ever owned, having lost it to foreclosure. This teaching about possessions really hits home with me. I have moved boxes of stuff from place to place for years. I am finally in a small enough place that I simply have no ROOM for “stuff”. An interesting requirement of this federal program is that one may have no more than $5,000 value in everything in one’s apartment. I am paring down not just books but CD’s, VHS tapes, dishes, pots and pans–I literally have too much of EVERYthing for this small place. It becomes a matter of stewardship very quickly. If I am not using it and don’t have room to store it, why am I keeping what might be of use to someone else? The Desert Fathers were wise beyond my understanding.

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