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)