Ashley (not her real name) is a college student in our church. During her middle and high school years, she faithfully attended student ministry Bible studies, events, retreats, and mission trips. Ashley shared the story of her conversion experience on more than one occasion. She exhibited the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. The life-changing power of the gospel was evident in her life during those years.
However, something happened during her freshman year in college. A certain guy in her English 101 caught her attention. He was cute, humble, funny, and, oh yeah, really, really cute. She managed to find a way to introduce herself to him, and they began hanging out. They studied together, ate lunch in the cafeteria, and hung out in the student commons. A strong friendship quickly developed.
During this time, she discovered that he wasn’t a Christ-follower. He wasn’t particularly against God or the Bible, he just didn’t grow up going to church and had very little interest in anything about Jesus. Yet, even as he talked to her about his non-religious views, Ashley found herself distracted by his great hair, deep blue eyes, and that million dollar smile.
Pretty soon, really cute guy and Ashley were boyfriend and girlfriend. She was head-over-heels for the guy, and their relationship became very physical, very fast. It wasn’t that she felt any pressure from him; she wanted this experience with him. Sure, she’d made the commitment to wait until marriage, but that was before this guy walked into her freshman English class and into her life. She knew this decision went against her own beliefs, against the teachings of the Bible, and very well might be one she later regretted. However, she didn’t care. Her appetite for this physical relationship was strong, and she didn’t want to wait. She wanted that appetite satisfied now.
Ashley’s story is similar to one found in Genesis 25. Esau was hungry and Jacob had prepared a wonderful smelling stew. Esau’s appetite was strong. His desire to have his stomach filled was overwhelming, to the point that he was wiling to sell his birthright to Jacob for one bowl of stew. For a single meal, he gave up a future of financial gain, honor, and family control. He didn’t care. He wanted what he wanted, and he wanted it now.
It’s a heartbreaking trade we all are tempted to make. Perhaps it’s the purchase of a big ticket item; maybe a new car. It’s more than I can afford, but the salesman tells me that I can finance it for eight years and that way I can shoehorn it into my budget. Sure, it’ll mean paying thousands in interest; however, I don’t care. My appetite for this car is strong. I want what I want, and I’ll happily sell my birthright for that bowl of stew.
Or maybe it’s an addiction to alcohol. I know that if I take this drink, it’ll lead me once again down a dark road. Drinking has cost me so much in the past, and to take this drink will mean sacrificing so much of my future. Yet, I just don’t care. My appetite for this drink is strong. I want what I want, and I’m willing to sell my birthright for this bowl of stew.
Perhaps it’s an extramarital relationship. My marriage has grown stale and now this individual is showing me some badly needed affection. My thoughts and emotions have become consumed with this person. Our chance meetings are now no longer just coincidental; I’m doing my best to make them happen. I know this relationship will likely cost me my marriage, my relationship with my children, and a myriad of other issues. However, I just don’t care. My appetite for this relationship is strong. I want what I want, and I’m wiling to sell my birthright for this bowl of stew.
We have all faced these times when a desire is in direct conflict with what we know to be right. Our appetite fights with our moral and logical self. What can we do when these desires we know are wrong and dangerous begin to overwhelm us? Here are three practical changes you can make to control your appetite and protect your future.
1 — Change Your Environment
Esau was certainly hungry, there’s no doubt. It’d likely been many hours since he’d last eaten. However, the human body can survive days and even weeks without food. He may have felt as if he was starving to death, but these feelings didn’t match with reality. He could’ve survived a few more hours without food.
The wise choice for Esau would’ve been to leave the tent and go somewhere else; anywhere else. The smell and sight of the stew was overwhelming and caused his appetite to control his thinking.
There is no reason to spend time hanging out in a place where temptation is strong. Alcoholics are wise to avoid environments where the wine and beer is freely flowing. A person who is tempted to engage in an inappropriate relationship is wise to avoid that other person. Shopaholics are wise to avoid malls and Black Friday sales.
My husband has a friend who has recently lost weight through intermittent fasting. The key to this guy’s success has been controlling his environment. As long as he is at his job, he’s fine. If he comes home early, he immediately goes outside the house and begins working in the yard or cleaning up the garage. If he hangs out in the kitchen, he knows that he’ll break the fast.
Stay away from those places where your temptations are the greatest. Change your environment, and you’ll be much more likely to control your appetite.
2 — Change Your Friends
Sure, Jacob was family and Esau couldn’t just “de-brother” him; however, it’s clear that Jacob didn’t have Esau’s best interests in mind. When his brother was hungry, Jacob was more than willing to feed him. “Just sell me your birthright, and this stew is all yours.” Really, Jacob? Your brother is famished, and you use his weakness to your advantage? Not exactly being your brother’s keeper there, are you?
Esau would’ve known that his brother wasn’t exactly on his side. Esau should’ve done everything in his power to avoid Jacob, especially during times where he felt weak. Sure, he would’ve been expected to show up to the obligatory family gatherings; however, that should’ve been the extent of his involvement with Jacob.
It always breaks my heart when I’m in a group of girls and I hear them bad-mouthing their husbands. It seems to become contagious, and I worry that it might encourage those who are already struggling in their marriage to continue down the path of growing apart from their husbands. There is a line often crossed between genuinely asking for prayer /advice / wisdom when you’re struggling in your marriage and simply looking for a chance to criticize your spouse to others. Over the years I’ve found myself pulling away from friends who use girls’ night out solely to complain about their husbands.
True friends won’t encourage you to sell your birthright for a bowl of stew. They won’t say things like, “Oh, just go ahead and take that drink, buy that car, have that affair… you deserve it.” They will recognize the fact that your desires aren’t in line with what is right, healthy, and best for your future, and they will do their best to help you control your appetite.
3 — Change Your Perspective
Esau’s fateful decision is mentioned in the New Testament. The author of Hebrews wrote: See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done (Hebrews 12:16-17).
After his decision, Esau was full of regret and tears. He’d sacrificed his future for the momentary satisfaction of his appetite. The patriarchs of the Old Testament should’ve been “Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.” Yet, one awful decision caused this trinity of Jewish forefathers to forever be “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” His desire to fill his appetite removed Esau and his descendants from the people of God.
When you really consider the ramifications of the choices you make, it becomes a great incentive to curb your appetite. Think about your future, the future of your family, and how this decision will affect your children, their children, and the generations to come. Sure, you may really, really want it now, but will you later be like Esau, full of tears and regret?
If you have children, you certainly desire for them to be happy and healthy. None of us want our kids to repeat the same mistakes that we’ve made in the past, mostly due to our poor choices in not curbing our own appetites. We simply want spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally healthy and happy children, as well as healthy and happy relationships with them; however, we don’t always take proactive steps to ensure this will be the case.
One very practical and proactive way to invest in your children and the health of your family is to study the Bible together. If you’re looking for a resource to help you in guiding your children to make wise choices, consider Wisdom for Tweens: 30 Days in Proverbs. This e-devotional resource equips parents in teaching their children how to seek wisdom from studying the Bible and even to learn the art of patience and saying no to “instant gratification” type choices if they are contrary to God’s word.
In a world where the FOMO and YOLO mindsets reign supreme and a culture where hurry and hustle are lauded above all else, making dangerous, impulsive, and short-sighted decisions is all too easy (for us and our children). May we as parents model these three practical tips and may our children follow our lead in living a life without regrets.