My devotions this morning had me in John 15. In verse 3 Jesus says something (again) that changes my world.
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you (John 15:3).
What an amazing thing it is to learn that just a word from Jesus can obliterate a lifetime of self-seeking, sin, brokenness, waste, shame and guilt. Just a word can take these filthy rags that I have made of my life and turn it into something beautifully pure, fit for a bride to wear on her wedding day.
The words of God are pure (Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 12:6). They slice through the heaviness of our world and the baggage we carry and set us free.
IF we will abide in them.
Keep reading in John 15 and we find the secret of lasting freedom: Abiding in his words.
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch that withers (15:6)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done (15:7)
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (15:10)
You are my friends, if you do what I command you.
The words of God are full of if/than statements such as these. If you will do this, than this will occur.
Just a word from Jesus can make you clean. And yet, how often do we run to the “words” of this world to find our nourishment? How often do we turn to the compulsion of our choice, or the praise of our friends, the words of our family, the advice from the media, or any number of other words in order to get through the day?
If we would but only abide in the pure words of God, the only words which have the power to make us free, we would know life and life abundantly (John 10:10).
What words are you abiding by today? Whose words are you abiding in? When we realize that the bible is not full of old words written by dead men but the very words of Life which promise to heal, it will no longer be a chore to read, but a gift we can’t live without.
Just a word and you will be clean. Read them, and be clean.
Every Thursday night I get to be part of an extraordinary event. Each week over 100 people gather to share their struggles and their victories over addictions, compulsive behaviors, relationship issues, grief, pain, loss and more. Recovery at Dayton, part of the Recovery at Cokesbury Network, is changing lives in our church and in our community in amazing ways.
There are a myriad of ways in which this ministry is touching the lives of those who have long been overlooked or forgotten or ignored but one of the major ways is that it offers a fresh start to every person. At Recovery at Dayton everybody matters. I get to tell people every week that while they may have been dealing or been dealt all sorts of things in the past, here in this place we deal two things: Hope and Freedom. And we got it in spades.
Why? Because we believe strongly that Jesus is in this place and he is the champion of hope and freedom. His mission is to set people free from their captivity and to bring rest and peace to the weary. He has an abundant supply of mercy and hands it out generously. And even if you don’t believe in him he believes in you, enough to die for you, and if you will keep showing up he will show up in unexpected ways and move in on your life and everything will change.
This past week I got to hand out 15 white chips of hope. These chips don’t require any time of sobriety. They are given to those who desire to receive the hope and freedom being freely offered and desire to begin a new life starting today. One of those 15 who came forward was so grateful to be dealt some hope that he took a picture of his chip and posted it to Facebook:
I want to offer you the same chip today. While I can’t give it to you personally, I want you to know that Jesus is present and has been calling you. That you are reading this blog is evidence of that. He has something he wants to say to you and it’s this:
I love you. I gave my life for you when no one else would look at you. If you will start doing life with me you will know freedom like you have never known before. Just take the first step.
It’s our failures and mistakes and our brokenness which qualify us for this chip, and for Jesus’ love. Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3). If you are tired of being sick and tired then you are in the perfect position for Jesus to change your position. Take that first step and receive your chip of hope.
Find a group that can support you in your walk. Find a local AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or SA/SAA (Sexaholics/Sex Addicts Anonymous) group in your area.
Check out our Recovery at Cokesbury link for additional resources as well as information on how you can join one of our meetings if you live near one of our campuses. You can also view online all the recovery teachings given each Thursday night.
For those struggling with pornography/sex addiction you can also join one of our online support groups at X3 Groups. I lead one of them on Monday mornings, but we have awesome group leaders leading numerous groups all week long. We also have support groups for spouses!
You can’t walk this walk alone, and the good news is you don’t have to. Take your white chip of hope today and take your first step towards freedom with others.
Please email me if you need some help in finding a place to connect. I’d love to help: email@example.com
I’m in the middle of a teaching series on Sunday called “Reveal” which takes us through the Gospel of John. The aim is to reveal who Jesus is and why he is significant. I don’t normally blog about my sermons but am doing so here for two reasons. One, I think there is something beneficial for everyone, whether you are in recovery or not (yet). And two, I leaned heavily on a chapter in one of my favorite books, We Would See Jesus, by Roy Hession. Perhaps in reading this you will be led to buy his book and read it once or a thousands times. I would.
So the following are highlights from the sermon and the book. You can view the sermon below. I pray it blesses you.
Jesus as the Door
In the beginning there were no walls. There was perfect fellowship between God and humans, and perfect fellowship between man and woman. We didn’t have walls between us until sin entered the fabric of the universe. You can read about this in Genesis 3. Almost immediately, after Adam and Eve reached beyond what God instructed, a wall went up. Shame and guilt surrounded the relationships both here on earth and between us and heaven. This is what sin does. While it promises life and freedom it delivers only death and shame. With each transgression it’s as if we are adding another rock to the layer until we wake up one morning and find our fellowship with God and others strained.
Even those of us who have walked with God for many years experience this wall from time to time if we are not vigilant. It’s so easy to allow jealousy or bitterness or some resentment to erect a wall almost without our awareness. Creep happens, where the things of this world entice us bit by bit and we unintentionally give ground, allowing sin to tantalize us just for a moment and before we realize it a habit has developed. This habit soon becomes an addiction and we wake up one morning with a great wall between us and God and our fellows. Who among us have not had periods of famine where it seems as though the pages of scripture have dried up and our prayer life has grown stale and worship has become routine?
And what do we try to do when we find a wall? We try to fix it by doing more. We pull up our boot straps and determine to scale the wall. We try, try, try harder. We white-knuckle ourselves until we are blue in the face and we fail again, frustrated that the wall now seems higher rather than more manageable. If only there were some other way through this wall!
Read John 10:1-10. Here we discover the great truth that God has not left us to eternal separation and frustration but has provided not only the one who can show us the way through the wall, but is the way himself! Jesus not only points us to the door, but he is the Door! If only we will come to him and acknowledge that we are in no position to scale the wall on our own, we will find the abundant life he promises (John 10:10).
As we consider Jesus as the Door, we discover four characteristics of this door. Each of these by themselves are significant and praise-worthy. Taken together, they will revolutionize anyone’s world, and set them free.
1. It’s an OPEN Door.
When Jesus hung on the cross and announced it is finished, the wall (veil) separating the most holy place within the Temple from the rest of the world split in two. Jesus forever demolished the wall that stood between us and God requiring that we work our way towards salvation through the Law. So open is this door that the biblical authors declare we may now go boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
What qualifies us for this door? It is our sin that makes us qualified to come enter through it. It is our coldness, our unbelief, our hard hearts, our addictions, our jealousies, and a myriad other ways in which we sin which qualify us for this Door, provided we will simply acknowledge this. We cannot conquer or suppress or scale these things on our own, but are invited to judge these things as sin and bring them to the open Door.
2. It’s open at STREET LEVEL
Not only is the door open to everyone, it’s open to us right where we are. We do not need to dress ourselves up in order to make ourselves look more presentable before we come to Jesus the Door. This is Good News! The door to God is open to the sinner as a sinner, and the failing saint as a failing saint.
I know in my own life I may have thought of the door as open at street level for others but never myself. Whenever I was failing in some area of my life I placed the door just a bit higher up, just out of reach. I would convince myself that I need to get a few days sober before I approach God, or in some way make myself a better Christian before I can be accepted. No! Our failures do not disqualify us for the door but rather make our need for him all the more urgent, and his grace all the more abundant. Run to him the moment you fail him and discover that he is everything he promises to be and more.
3. It’s a LOW Door.
In order to pass through we are going to have to bow our heads in repentance (turning away from our old ways and accepting Jesus’ ways). Scripture speaks again and again of “stiff-necked” people whom God cannot use or transform because they are stubborn, self-willed, and full of pride.
If you have come to the door again and again and have left unchanged and unfulfilled, it might be because you came to the door with your own agenda and your own ideas of how this new life is going to look. Remember, our best thinking has gotten us here, to this point of need. All it has done is erect a great big wall. If we are going to pass through this door into life we are going to have to be broken, lower our heads to the dust and trust that the things God requires of us are for our own good and will lead us to wholeness. Everything must change. And that change begins with me as I bow my head and enter.
4. It’s a NARROW Door.
When we arrive at the door we stand there utterly alone, with no room on the left or right of us for anyone else. We cannot wait for nor depend upon our family and friends, our church or pastor, to get us through the door. One day we will all stand before God and give a personal account of our lives and no finger pointing will do (Rom. 14:12).
Nor can we wait for someone else to get right before we do. This drives the co-dependents among us, myself included, crazy. We can’t be the door for others, or wait for them to get through the door before we start taking care of ourselves. If we are going to realize Jesus as the Door and all the blessings that come with it, we will have to trust that He is also the Door for them, but only as they come alone and decide on their own to walk the path Jesus has made.
Thank God for Jesus! The wall between us and God or us and others cannot be scaled on our own by our own power. But thanks be to God for Jesus, who is himself the Door, always open, right where we are, ready to transform us one by one. All that is required of us is that we come to him. Just come. Don’t wait. He’s ready and willing and more than capable of doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
I came to The Walking Dead late in the game but became a fan almost immediately. Beyond the zombie lore there is a story consisting of compelling characters struggling against good and evil in both the new world around them and the one within them. Rick, the main character, is the leader of a group of survivors who for five seasons have been battling it out against both the walking dead (zombies) and the living who are in some ways even more deadly, all while trying to maintain some sense of decency and connection to the values by which they were once governed.
By the time we get to the current season five, the group is battle hardened. They have been tested at every turn and have grown wise to the ways of this new world. In episode 12 of this season they arrive at a camp called Alexandria which from all appearances looks like an oasis, nearly untouched by the death around it. Walls protect a town of citizens who have running water and electricity and a budding form of government. The people of Alexandria have jobs and they throw house parties and they discuss what sort of food they should bake for their new neighbors. It’s a very different world than the one Rick and his gang have known for the past few years. It’s one they longed to find for themselves, but now that they are in it, the question posed to us viewers is how well can they adapt and live normal lives after being part of so much death?
At the end of episode 12, Carol, Rick and Daryl look out from the porch of their new home and bring voice to their growing concern about this seeming paradise: What if we grow weak here? What if we drop our guard? It’s at this point that my recovery antenna began beeping and I was willing Rick to quote the scripture passage that corresponds with Step Ten:
Therefore, let anyone who thinks that they stand take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
He didn’t. Instead, he assured the others that they would not grow soft, that they had been through too much to go back. If by this Rick means that they will rely on what they have learned thus far and practice the tools which have kept them alive, I couldn’t agree more. But if he means what far too many of us in recovery often think, that they will never grow soft merely because they have been through so much already, then they, like every addict in recovery, are setting themselves up for a great fall.
Step 10 says that we “continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Combined with it’s scriptural component, quoted above, it is the step we must never skip nor cease stepping. It encourages us to stay vigilant, to always keep watch, and to never forget that sin, like the walking dead, is always crouching at the door with a burning desire to consume us, and we must learn to master it (Gen. 4:7).
Every person who has ever been sober for a good length of time and then relapsed will no doubt testify that the days and weeks leading up to their relapse were less than vigilant. The routine that had gotten them sober was somehow disrupted. The fellowship between they and God was somehow strained. Devotion time and prayer time waned. If you have ever relapsed think back on the days leading up to it. Had you grown comfortable in your sobriety? Maybe you started letting things in which before you had cut off?
When we grow comfortable in our new found paradise called Sobriety we open ourselves to the walking dead who haven’t stopped being hungry.
Step 10 begins laying the foundation for the rest of my life. It is a pledge to continually monitor my life with honesty and humility. It requires me to be vigilant against my addictive behavior and against the triggers for my addictive behavior. It requires me to be humble before my God who can keep me from my addictive behavior if I have the right attitude. It requires me to deal with my defects promptly when they arise and not to let them linger in my life.
How can we practice Step 10 in our lives? Here are a few suggestions:
Practice what got you here. Continue the daily disciplines that you did when you were first getting sober. If you have stopped these at some point pick them up again. If you feel it’s time to alter them in any way, talk it over with a sponsor or mentor first.
Begin every day with prayer. Turn your will and your life over to the care of God for today. It doesn’t matter that you did this yesterday. Jesus said we need to take up our cross daily. We need to daily put to death our willful selves and surrender each morning to the life God wants to work in us. We can’t do even one day alone.
End each day by examining where you were dishonest, what secrets you may be keeping, what wrongs you have committed. Who were you unkind to or where did you puff yourself up or look at others as less significant than yourself? Ask God to bring to light anything that you need to bring under the blood of Jesus and go to bed with a pure heart and clear conscious.
Clean house. When you first got sober you no doubt cleaned yourself and your environment of your drug of choice. If porn and sex is your thing, you probably limited your cable TV (or better yet, cut it out completely), monitored your music, kept clear of certain hot spots, installed filters and accountability software on all your devices, unsubscribed to any magazines or books which have suggestive material in them, etc. Beware of creep. Creep is when these things which you once were convinced needed to go begin to creep back into your life. It’s human nature to think we are doing great so now we can slack off and watch a show or two which before we would never consider. Remember, sin is crouching at the door! The Walking Dead are still hungry.
These are just a few suggestions based on personal experience. Please add your own suggestions in the comments.
I don’t know what is in store for Rick and his group in Alexandria but I do know that unless they, and we, remain vigilant and keep walking the walls to ensure there hasn’t been a breach, we are setting ourselves up for relapse. So to the question, what if we grow soft and let our guard down? May we be resolved to answer like Rick: We aren’t going to let that happen.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
I love this song by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser along with Bethel Music. I’ve played it over and over and like it more each time.
Today I’m grateful that Jesus came to liberate all of us who are in captivity to brokenness. “If you abide in my word,” Jesus said, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
I’ve discovered in my own life that when I am drifting off course or even shipwrecked completely, it’s always because I’ve stopped abiding. I’ve ceased to run to the one who is my freedom and rest in his embrace.
If you recognize in yourself a dis-ease, a dissatisfaction with life, a compulsion to do something that always leaves you feeling empty inside, a hunger for something more, then you need not look any further than Jesus who is always accessible and always willing and abundantly capable of setting you free. Don’t hide from him a single moment longer. Acknowledge your need for him and begin now to abide in his word. Every day. Every moment.
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ~ Jesus
Genesis 3 contains everything we need to know about what goes wrong in all of us. It contains the anatomy – the inner workings – of temptation, from the beginning seed planted by the enemy to the tragic fall which follows. It’s a fall that need not happen to us because we know how the enemy attacks. And yet, we fall for it time and time again.
Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian church that we should not allow Satan to get an advantage over us, for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11). That we are not ignorant of how Satan works may have been true in the first century, but is it today? Do you know how the enemy sets out to destroy you? Do you even know that you have an enemy? Peter, another one of Jesus’ first followers, warns that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If you don’t know this, nor understand how he works, you are easy pickings.
So, looking closely at Genesis 3, learn this “anatomy of temptation” well so that you can be better prepared to defeat the lion, and even see him coming a mile away.
The Enemy Subverts
Bring into question whether God really said something or not.
“Did God really say…?” (3.1)
Twist the command into something absurd.
“You must not eat from any tree?” (3:1)
Notice how he twisted God’s original command, that they may eat of every tree but one (2:16-17), into one that seems absurdly restrictive.
Implants doubt in the mind that God has my best interests at heart.
God must be holding out on me. He is not a good Father.
The Unprepared Response
A misquote of the original command, even adding something (we may not touch it) that is not there (3:3).
Because we are ignorant of what the bible actually does say, the lies the enemy tells us ring true.
How easily we fall into the trap of adding more rules to the perfectly good ones God has already given, thus adding to our delusion that God is not a good Father and is holding out on us.
Water down the punishment.
This is more evident in the original Hebrew, but God’s initial command came with the warning that if they disobey, they will surely die. Eve misquotes the command itself and then diminishes the punishment, essentially saying, “If we do this, God said we might die.”
The Enemy Pounces
Seeing an opening, Satan presses in on the angle of non-punishment. “You will not surely die!” (3:4). You will be fine!
He then appeals to our sense of entitlement, desire and independence.
You deserve to be happy. Everyone else has it. You have the right to be your own boss.
Satan convinces us this will make us like God. It will give us life. It’s what we have been missing all this time.
After seeing that the thing wanted is appetizing (isn’t all sin?) Eve reaches outside of God’s design and grabs something she shouldn’t.
Result is estrangement from God rather than unity.
Result is shame and guilt rather than a deeper intimacy with God and with each other.
Result is blaming everyone else, never taking responsibility for the choices made.
Result is a sure death, both physical (one day) and spiritual (immediate).
Consider how this plays out in your life. If you are addicted to something – sex, porn, food, fame, career, money, whatever – then every point above has been compromised as your reaching for something outside of God’s parameters has become habitual. We addicts have, over time, whittled away at what God has really said about how we should live our lives (if we ever knew it to begin with), convincing ourselves that God is holding out on us and that we must seek happiness on our terms. Even more, we have watered down the punishment God promised would come to us if we do this. The enemy has pounced on this and each time we do it without getting caught we think ourselves more and more invincible.
And yet, if we are honest, in the cool breeze of the evening (3:8) when God comes looking for us, we are found hiding. The intimacy and connection we crave is broken, not only with God but with all our relationships. Our reaching for life on our terms has not delivered anything the enemy promised. We are dying, both physically and spiritually, with each successive bite.
Want to be free of this insane cycle of destruction wrought through this anatomy of temptation? Go and read Matthew 4:1-11 and see how Jesus handles the same cycle. Jesus knows and respects the words of God and their authority. Jesus knows where the true source of Life is found and never questions the goodness of his Father (even while he is going to a cross!). Jesus knows the designs of his enemy well, and comes through temptation victorious.
You and I can do the same. The enemy is prowling. Are you prepared to face him?
The message this past Thursday at Recovery at Dayton dealt with the avalanches in our life and what we do when things start to cave in all around us. It’s a powerful message by Mark Beebe and you can watch the whole thing HERE.
One of the main questions each one of us has to wrestle with – and this is true of everyone of us, addict or not – when life throws us a curve is this:
Who gets the glory?
Who gets the glory when an avalanche happens all around you? Check out this story from Acts where two followers of Jesus get into a pretty big avalanche. Look and see how they answer the question, “Who gets the glory?”
22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods.23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape.24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!
Can you believe that? After being beaten and thrown into a dungeon, Paul and Silas gave glory to God. Their avalanche didn’t steal God’s glory.
This has been one of the hardest things for me to learn and even harder to practice. It’s so difficult in the midst of a storm to praise God. I’m reminded of Job’s words after he lost everything – his family, his land, his home, his livestock – Job declared, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). That is to say, even if this event and calamity is caused by God Himself, I trust that He is good and I will put my hope in Him and give Him glory alone. That’s faith! God, give me faith like this!
Because here’s the deal. Someone or something is always going to get the glory. In the midst of an avalanche, either:
you are going to get the glory because you will yourself to grit your teeth and get yourself through the mess,
your circumstances will get the glory because they will be all you or anyone else ever gets to hear about,
your addiction will get the glory because you’ll run to whatever compulsion it is that you think makes you feel safe,
or God will get the glory, and you’ll be like Paul and Silas singing praises to Him, trusting that God will bring you through this mess and certainly will not forsake you in the midst of it.
This is a hard lesson to learn and harder to practice. It’s much easier, and far more recognizable, to give myself, my circumstances or my addiction the glory. It’s so much easier to blame everyone and everything and to retreat into isolation and indulge in my drug of choice, whether that be porn, a pill, a drink, food or another person or whatever. It’s downright unnatural and weird to sing praises to God while life is crashing around me. But that, and perhaps that alone, is the difference between a defeated life and a victorious one. The difference between an addicted life or a sober one. The difference between a broken life or a holy one.
I’ve discovered, and Mark shares this in his video message linked above, that the following wisdom found in A.A (Alcoholics Anonymous) helps me tremendously:
One day at a time.
When a disaster happens with my kids or a meltdown occurs between my wife and I or something at work just doesn’t go like I expected or I get that phone call from a family member that someone is sick, or I wake up to find I’ve been hacked and my bank account is empty, I can handle giving God glory for the next 30 minutes. I can do one day at a time.
It’s when I begin thinking I’ll have to do this all week, or all month, or for the rest of my life that I get paralyzed and feel this is impossible. But I can do one day at a time. I can focus today on giving God glory no matter what happens today. I can trust that He will be with me today. All day. And tomorrow, by God’s grace, I can wake up and do it again.
When Paul, the same guy who gave glory to God from a prison, had a “thorn in his flesh,” a constant avalanche about him, he prayed that it be removed but heard these words from Jesus: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8-10). One day at a time.
Who gets the glory in your life? I pray that when the avalanche comes (and it will come!) you would run to the strong, loving arms of Jesus who has everything you need for today. His power works best when you come to him in need. One day at a time.
I have heard it from others nearly as many times as I have lived it myself:
I went to the altar and asked God to take away my addiction to pornography (or insert any other compulsive behavior) but when I woke up Monday nothing changed. Why won’t God heal me?
For many, many years I walked that dusty road between the pews and knelt at the altar, confessing my sins from the past week and pleading with God to take my affliction away. And for many, many years I woke up Monday wondering why God hadn’t answered my prayer.
This cycle went on for nearly 2 decades until another godly man who had been down the same road I was on and was now living a victorious Christian life told me the hard truth I needed to hear. I’m not sure if I had heard this prior to his entrance into my life or not. Perhaps I had but simply was not ready to receive it. Sometimes truth falls like seeds onto rocky ground and just lays there. Sometimes it takes a great upheaval – like the loss of everything in my life – for that rocky, fallow ground to be broken up just enough for that seed to take root. In any event, I was finally ready to hear from this man what I’m about to share with you now. He said,
Your kneeling at the altar is not the end of the fight but the beginning. It is to say I am powerless to do this on my own but I am choosing to trust that Jesus will be fighting alongside me as I pass from death into life. And anytime you are being reborn it’s going to be painful. It’s going to be a fight. Welcome to the club.
The “club” is real, vital Christianity as opposed to the passive, vapid religion I had long been living. For far too long I had been under the delusion that if God really wanted me to be free from sexual sin He would set me free. It was as though I expected some magic wand to tap me on the heart and take away all the compulsive tendencies. That I would wake up Monday free from lustful thoughts and impulses.
But that never happened. At least not for me. I rejoice with those who experience such radical transformation overnight but my experience, and the experience of most people I meet, is that it’s not so instantaneous.
But it’s every bit as radical.
It’s radical if you understand the truth I shared above. It’s radical if you change from seeing yourself at the altar as some passive consumer coming to be magically delivered and see yourself instead as a broken man or woman kneeling before your king to be knighted, and rising thereafter to enter the war from which you have long been absent or oblivious to.
Monday is not the day to wake up expecting to be free from impure thoughts but the day to rise up and don your helmet and go to war, fighting for the first time on the right side of the battle, knowing you have beside you the one who already conquered sin and death.
Turning your life over to God doesn’t mean you wake up the next day and your addiction is gone. It just means you pass from being dead to waking up in a UFC cage match. It means you finally enter the fight. It’s going to be a battle but one you don’t fight alone.
One of the first and greatest Christian thinkers in history, Augustine, is also known as the patron saint of sex addicts. He struggled mightily with lust as he was coming to know Jesus. In his book, Confessions, he describes well this battle to which our trip to the alter enlists us:
The enemy held fast my will, making it a chain with which he bound me tight. Out of my perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity. By these links, which is why I called it “a chain,” hard bondage held me in slavery. My new will, which had begun to spring up in me freely to worship You and to enjoy You, O my God, the only certain Joy, was not yet able to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence. Therefore, my two wills – the old and the new, the carnal and the spiritual – raged in conflict within me. They tore my soul apart by their dispute. (Confessions, Book 8).
In a few deft lines, Augustine brilliantly captures the hell of addiction. What we have for so long been indulging becomes our master, and when we kneel before a new Master, Jesus, our freedom from the former life will not come without great struggle and sacrifice. Being reborn is painful, and cannot be done alone.
So, when you went to the altar your life didn’t immediately change. I am by no means saying you should not continue to make that trek to kneel before your king. Do it daily, in fact. Do it until – and even beyond – the truth of what you’ve read here, and the grace of Almighty God, explodes the rocky ground of your heart and you rise up finally willing to enter the fight that many of us, and all of heaven, have been waiting for you to fight. Remember, you don’t fight alone.
In the course of my own recovery and through counseling many others I’ve concluded this one simple truth:
our mind is a battlefield.
Every compulsion, every relapse, every giving over to whatever is our “thing” begins in the mind. If I had a penny for every time I heard, or said myself, “I was having a really good day, and then this image/thought entered my mind and I….” I’d have a lot of pennies.
I wasted many years of my life and did a lot of damage to myself and others because I never learned (and nobody taught me) how to win the battle in my mind. In fact, I never really understood that I was at war! While I often would say I was “struggling” with pornography what I really meant was this: A lustful thought keeps entering my mind and 99% of the time I cave in to it. That is not the picture of a person struggling but of being a doormat (For more on that topic read “Are you REALLY Struggling against habitual sin?”)
If you are serious about kicking your habit of looking at porn (or whatever else you have a compulsion towards) you will need to get serious about a few things. Here’s a short list…
1. Get serious about this warfare thing. Really. Some segments of Christianity will play down the warfare imagery in scripture, others glorify it. You need to get away from both and simply, yet hugely, take it seriously. A cursory read of Scripture makes it abundantly clear that there is a battle for your soul and there will be winners and there will be losers. The enemy is always prowling like a roaring lion seeking one to devour (1 Peter 5:8). It’s no surprise that included in this admonition by Peter is to “be alert and of sober mind.” You need to know that when you determine to pursue holiness in body, mind, and soul, you will be entering a battle with the enemy who has studied you. He knows where to trip you up, he knows what thoughts will seduce you, he knows how to cause you to stumble. So be alert! Take this warfare motif found throughout all of scripture seriously, and view it as God’s textbook written solely for your benefit to know how to win not just the battle but the war.
2. Get serious about your thoughts. The bible teaches that we ought to take every thought captive to be obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Surely this is to include suspending those lustful thoughts (or other compulsions) and surrendering them over to the blood of Jesus. Any thought contrary to the revealed will of God ought to be – and can be! – brought into obedience with Christ. Do not fall for the enemies lie which says your thoughts do not really matter. Jesus said that if you have even the intent of lust in your heart it is as good as committing adultery and that if you harbor anger you have committed murder (Matt. 5:27ff). He also taught that it’s what is inside us that defiles us. Clean the inside of the cup (which will include your mind!) and all will be clean (Matt. 23:26)! Your thoughts matter to God. And they will either lead you to life or shipwreck you again and again.
Know this: Just because a thought enters your mind does not mean you have sinned. As I said above, the enemy will bombard you with all sorts of schemes and make you believe you are justified to dwell upon them. You have a choice when a sinful thought crosses your radar: Chew on it or spit it out. Keep reading to learn how to do the latter.
3. Get serious about fighting. Your most valuable weapon in the fight against your thoughts is prayer. I teach my guys in recovery and my church in recovery (because we are all in recovery) to pray instead of think. When I would struggle with impure thoughts and had determined I would not be a slave to them any longer I began praying the mercy prayer almost with every breath I breathed. It would be on my lips when I rose and when I laid down at night. I would recite it hundreds of times throughout the day and even more when I was bombarded with temptation. I would go to bed exhausted from praying but victorious. And guess what? Over time the battle got less and less intense. Over time I realized that I was “being transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Rom. 12:1-2). My mind was actually learning to think -and pray – in new ways. I was taking every thought captive to obey Christ.
The first wave of attack against any enemy force is going to be the hardest. And the bloodiest. If you are new to this sort of warfare you can expect some casualties. But don’t give up! Surround yourself with like-minded soldiers who are fighting the good fight as well. Call them consistently and constantly, particularly in the early stages until you get some traction (60-90 days minimum). It won’t be long before you are the one others are calling, and you’ll be sharing your experience, strength and hope with them.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Phil. 4:8)
In the bible there is this fascinating series of events in the book of Exodus where the ruler of Egypt refuses to let the people of God, whom he is holding as slaves, free. Moses has been sent to lead them out to the Promised Land but Pharaoh will have none of it. What follows is a series of 10 plagues upon Egypt, displaying both the power of God and the hardness of the human heart.
I don’t know about you, but after the first plague of all the water in my country turning to blood, I think I’d give in. I think I’d say, “Okay, Moses, you win, I’m thirsty. Take your people and go.” Or at least I like to think I would. But then I look back over the decades I spent in active porn addiction and remember the first wave of plagues it caused. I remember the way my wife first reacted when she found out and the fear I felt that she would leave me. I remember promising to never do it again. I remember how after a few really bad weeks, things got a little bit better. A sense of calm was restored. The water was again drinkable.
And I, like Pharaoh, went back to my old ways. This cycle continued for 7 long years.
In Exodus 7-12 we are privy to not just an awesome story of God’s power over creation and desire to free his people, but to the universal condition of every human heart. Faced with consequence after consequence, some incredibly serious (imagine waking up to a huge bullfrog on your face, or breaking out in boils all over your body!), Pharaoh would play the game I’ve played countless times in the past:
God forgive me! Amy I’m sorry! I won’t do it again!
And then, once the pain went away, I would harden my heart and go back to what I wanted to do. Until the next time I got caught.
For Pharaoh, it took the death of his first born son before he finally hit bottom and gave up. I hope that isn’t what it takes for you. It doesn’t have to be.
Pharaoh, and many of us, understand the difference between godly sorrow over our sin and worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is being sorry that I’ve been caught, that my choices have caused so much pain in my life and in the lives of others, and that this situation is extremely inconvenient for all involved. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, includes all of that but has an additional, essential element. It’s sorrow that my actions have grieved God’s heart and have put separation between Him and I. It’s to realize that my sin has offended a holy God and, worse of all, I am making a mockery of the great sacrifice made on my behalf when Jesus shed his blood for me.
This distinction is critical because Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that godly sorrow will lead to salvation – freedom! – and leave no regret, whereas worldly sorrow will only lead to death (2 Cor. 7:10).
That is what Pharaoh experienced. Death. He had lots and lots of worldly sorrow with each passing plague, but never godly sorrow. And because of this, with each passing plague, after the storm subsided and things went back to normal, he went right back to being his old self. He relapsed.
I get to talk with many people fighting addiction to all sorts of things and we all have this in common: When things get really bad we want help. We show up to a meeting. We call a friend. We check into rehab. We do all the right things – necessary things- because the pain is great and we need to act. Thank God for this. But we have another thing in common, too. It’s that when the pain goes away and it looks like life is going to continue, we grow complacent and we think we can return to the things we did and just be smarter about it. Maybe hide it a bit better. Maybe we believe the lie and say we won’t go as far this time. But like Pharaoh, that never ends well. It always leads to death.
If this is a cycle you are on it may be because you haven’t yet come to real godly sorrow over your sin. You don’t have to be like Pharaoh (and me) and lose everything before you come to your senses. Ask God today to break your heart over your sin and help you to see it the way God sees it. Pray that God would give you a heart that breaks over sin and a desire to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Ask God to help you see the cross of Jesus as though for the very first time, and that you would desire to know nothing apart from Jesus Christ crucified for your sins.
God knows you intimately and loves you dearly. He knows what the greatest enemy is to your soul, and what hinders you from having the abundant life for which he died so that you might taste. It’s the difference between worldly and godly sorrow. May you experience today a refreshing drink from the living waters of Jesus and never again return to the bloody waters of your old self.