Max is our dog. He hasn’t always been our dog. He was somebody else’s dogs until one day he was anonymously donated to us. In a moment of weakness, we broke the iron-clad rule and gave the poor dog some food. To no one’s surprise, Max never left. After nearly 2 years, this canine character has grown to be of fair size and stature. He also has become quite spoiled. Contrary to his belief, Max really isn’t a house dog per se. Nevertheless, he does find his way in on occasion when someone happens to leave the door open or he barks at the back door until some spongy-spined family member lets him in.
It obviously is no problem getting Max into the house. The difficulty arises when it is time for him to depart. As you open the door and call his name, he comes bounding around the corner but then abruptly slams on the brakes when he sees the door open. He knows the drill. He usually will yawn and stretch and just stare at you, thinking certainly he isn’t expected to go out there in the elements. As resolute as Max may seem to stay in, we have discovered that Max does have a weakness. That weakness is hot dogs. He will do anything for a hot dog, even go out the door. When we pitch that little piece of meat out onto the back porch, Max loses all sense of reason and out he goes in pursuit of the hot dog. Before he even has time to eat his little treat, the door closes behind him and he suddenly finds himself exactly where he originally had no intention of going.
I should make it clear that Max is not a malnourished puppy. He always has a supply of dog food available and picks up a snack or two here and there throughout the day, so his nutritional needs are well met. Therefore, it isn’t hunger that puts Max on the outside, it is his appetite. Hunger is a natural and normal need, whereas appetite is solely a psychological response triggered by our thoughts or our senses. Appetite usually refers to desire outside of the presence of actual hunger. Furthermore, hunger and appetite can relate to much more than just food, things both tangible, such as clothes and money, and intangible, such as a particular relationship or social standing.
We all have hunger, and we all have appetites. Hunger must be met and appetites must be managed. As Max so clearly demonstrates, an out-of-control appetite will take us where we really don’t want to go. That means that devouring that whole container of ice cream can take us to the next size of pants, an overwhelming desire for attention can take us into a destructive relationship, and financial ruin can be our lot if we simply must have the coolest car in town at all times.
Appetites in general make suitable servants but very menacing masters. They will either be controlled or they will control us. The good news is that even though appetites can be a force to be reckoned with, we don’t have to throw up our hands and surrender to their demands. There are some strategic things we can do to take the wheel and keep our appetites in the passenger seat where they belong.
1. Take heart. We don’t have to do this by ourselves. God is on our side.
Galatians 5:22 says this: But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and SELF-CONTROL. (NLT, emphasis mine)
If we are in a relationship with God through faith in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. As such, self-control is one of the fruits that will manifest itself in our lives on an increasing basis as we grow in our relationship with God through prayer and study. Yes it will take patience, but then that also is something that God will work within us.
2. Take a detour. Whatever appetite we may struggle with, it is in our best interest to limit our exposure to that which feeds that appetite. That may mean curbing our visits to the mall, avoiding certain interpersonal situations, or skipping the cookie aisle at the grocery store. Even certain subjects of conversation or particular media presentations may have to be side-stepped if they could place us at risk. Remember, appetites tend to flourish if they are fed and fade if they are not. Now, it is certainly unrealistic to think we can avoid every temptation every time, but when we find ourselves in that place, we have the reassurance from 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will provide a way for us to break free, but we must be quick to avail ourselves to it and not linger in the way of danger. The longer we stay, the harder it is to get away.
3. Take prisoners. We must also guard our thoughts regarding that appetite. Thoughts have consequences just like actions do. Don’t think you can mentally dwell on that new budget-busting sports car day in and day out and not end up on the lot signing the papers one day soon. As 1 Corinthians 10:5 declares, we must take captive those thoughts that are not congruent with God’s best for our life and instead do as Colossians 3:2 directs us and think about the things of heaven and not the things of earth.
4. Take stock. Count the cost. Consider the end from the beginning. Take a moment and contemplate if that choice you are making is consistent with your goal. Look forward beyond the momentary thrill and realistically evaluate the tomorrow you are creating for yourself today. Instead of focusing on what you seem to be losing, choose to look down the road and see what you are really gaining by one wise decision. The Message Bible sums this up very nicely “So watch your step. Use your head.” (Ephesians 5:15)
One more thing, we all lose the battle with our appetite from time to time. This isn’t the time for wallowing in regret but rather a time to regroup and give it another shot. Success is not reserved for those who never fail but for those who never fail to try again.