How many of us have responded to trials by figuratively shaking our fists at God and saying, “This isn’t fair!” Or, maybe just tearfully crying out to him, “No, Lord, I don’t want this…I can’t handle it…it’s too much.” I have, on more than a few occasions, done both. Contentment and trust in the Lord are like the waves that crash in from the ocean.
They wash over me as I fix my faith upon him, and then, as the waves slowly recede, I look away from him and get ‘caught’ in the “snare of the compare.”
At The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference in June 2012, Carolyn Mahaney gave a great talk on this subject of comparing ourselves with what God brings into the lives of others. She spoke on John 21, focusing on the dialogue between Jesus and Peter on the beach. After being told of the painful death he would one day endure, Peter’s response to Jesus echoes what so many of us would say: “But Lord…what about this man (referring to John)?” (v. 21). Jesus’ response was the most loving and caring thing he could have said: “What is that to you? You follow me!” (v.22).
I’ve heard so many relationally and sexually broken women express this same kind of struggle: “Lord, why does this temptation of being attracted to other women persist? Why won’t you just remove it completely? Father, why didn’t you allow me to learn of my husband’s porn struggles before we got married? Why do my friends all seem to have happy, sexually whole marriages—and I don’t?
While we live on this earth, we may receive some of the answers to the questions that arise from our hurting and confused hearts. Other questions, however, will remain unanswered. This may feel unendurable in our information-saturated culture, where we seek for and demand quick answers. Yet the most loving, helpful counsel isn’t to have every nitty-gritty detail made available, but rather to hear and reflect on what Jesus said to Peter: “You follow me.”
Yes, to follow hard after Jesus, to be fixed upon him and to let him lead, instruct, teach, and counsel us (Psalm 32:8) through our valleys, temptations, heartaches, and pain. When we are faced with circumstances we don’t want and which are out of our control, Jesus calls us to trust of him. This is faith, expressed in love (Galatians 5:6), and it will look different from woman to woman. Living with unanswered questions is one way the Lord draws us to trust in his heart for us.
What would be some ways to live this out?
• Resolving daily to follow Jesus, and to receive the losses which will come from having to refuse influences which tempt you towards emotional and sexual lust
• Letting go of or allowing significant space between you and a friend in a relationship that has become life-consuming for you
• Courageously and humbly seeking help from others for your marriage when the pain from your husband’s sexual sin is so overwhelming
• Confessing to a sister in Christ or a spiritual leader that you are ensnared in sexual sin and that you can’t battle it on your own anymore—you need help!
What Peter couldn’t understand when Jesus commanded him to follow him at all costs was that soon the Spirit of Jesus would be sent into his soul. It is the Spirit, living within us, that gives us constant communion with Christ, enabling his grace to do its work within us, to follow and obey.
Will you say this to him now? “Yes, Jesus, I will follow you today, and not look behind, or to my right or left, or seek to compare myself to others in their walk with you. I will allow you to do your unique work within me, as I make my home in you.”
Even worse, have you suffered with uncontrollable thoughts? You try to restrain where your mind wanders, but it keeps straying back against your will to certain memories, individuals, or fantasies. Thoughts break in constantly, causing distraction. You’ve prayed, fasted, memorized Scripture—but nothing seems to work for very long. The thoughts, desires, and attractions come back, leaving you feeling defeated and hopeless. You lose hope that victory over your thoughts is even possible.
Since you’ve been trying to change for years without success, you just expect you’ll be at it again eventually.
How has your struggle with sexual sin—in your desires and behavior—impacted your life? It appears so innocuous at first: Masturbation may be a “guilty pleasure,” but it seems relatively harmless. Using porn or fantasy to fuel your behavior then becomes an obvious necessity. But there is always a steady progression. What starts with provocative ads or romance novels turns into soft porn and explicit stories. Then you want to experience more and more. Eventually, still pictures aren’t enough, and the Internet has made video downloads so easy. What began as a pleasant escape from the humdrum routine or pressures of life becomes an obsession. Some people begin spending hours every day surfing the Internet for new porn. Others pursue connection through chat rooms or phone sex. Many end up doing what they previously thought impossible—seeking out sexual encounters.
This increasing escalation has a price tag. We all have a very finite life. The time, energy, and money invested in pursuing sexual sin is stealing from your family, future security, career aspirations, ability to serve God and others, etc. Every day men and women are sacrificing things of infinite value to pursue their sexual desires. Even our health becomes a casualty. HIV and other STDs abound. The strain of living a secret, “double life” results in depression, ulcers, and anxiety.
In Psalm 32:3-4, David describes the cost of hidden sin: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (ESV). We willingly sacrifice everything most dear to us—spouse, children, career, financial success, even faith (described as “more precious than gold” in 1 Peter 1:7)—on the altar of our sexual desires. It is crucial to reckon with this reality.
What has your sin cost you?
Even if your struggle hasn’t escalated as just described, have you noticed that the desires are taking up more space in your head and heart? Maybe you are able to manage your behavior on a day-to-day basis, but do you invest time carefully planning your next opportunity? Or savoring the memories of your last exploit? How do you respond to others when your carefully orchestrated plan is thwarted? Maybe your behavior looks okay on the outside, but inwardly you’re enslaved.
There is something incredibly important you need to know: You are not alone in this battle against sin. Too many in the church either aren’t being honest or are blind to this reality, but every Christian who wants to grow in holiness needs to face the fact that there are places in life where he or she is still enslaved by sin. So Paul writes,
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:15-25).
Paul poignantly describes the experience of every Christian battling against sin. There is a profound sense of slavery and frustration in our inability to overcome particular struggles. You can almost see Paul beating his head against the wall in utter exasperation. And the battle is on two fronts: We both continue in sin we hate, and at the same time we woefully neglect God’s calling to love him and others in specific ways. Your situation is not unique. It was experienced by the most prolific writer of the NT, the eminent apostle who fearlessly took the message of Christ to Rome, the place of ultimate power and opposition to Jesus in the 1st century. And it has been the experience of every other leader in the church since and every man in the pew. All of us continue to struggle significantly with sin as Christians and sexual sin in particular reduces us to slavery. But in the midst of his seeming despair, Paul clings to the hope of our Deliverer. The goal of this book is for you to see the heart of the gospel. Jesus came to deliver you from the kingdom of darkness now!
Regardless of where you are in your struggle with sexual sin, prayerfully consider the following questions, and know that despite where you’ve been, Jesus is offering you a transformed life!
What have you sacrificed on the altar of sexual sin: money, time, relationships, etc.? Are you honestly assessing what it is costing you in your life, your relationships, your walk with God?
What encouragement can you gain from Paul’s struggle with sin in Romans 7?
04 Jan 2011
How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you get excited about ways you can grow and mature in the coming year? Or are you bombarded with memories of all your past failures, all your grand hopes for change that were dashed before the end of January? This passage is in favor of New Year’s resolutions because it challenges us to take stock of where we are in life—and then get moving!
Read the following passage from Hebrews 12:1-3:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).
It’s the first day back after the holidays, so we’ll keep it simple. The passage describes the Christian life as running a race. What does this mean? The Christian life isn’t easy. Spiritual growth is grueling, strenuous labor. We are encumbered by “weights” and entangling sin that thwart our progress.
Many men have said to me, “I know what I have to do—I need to put Jesus where porn is in my life.” Theologically this is true. Idol worship needs to be replaced with worship of the true and living God. But here’s the rub: Jesus will never become like porn for you. If it was that simple, none of us would sin. The Christian life is always living by faith, and, as my colleague Bob says, sometimes living by faith doesn’t seem like much. We aren’t tortured for our faith in this country. Faith doesn’t usually produce a runner’s high. Let me tell you: Having spent many years abusing drugs, running the race of faith is not my definition of being “high.” But it is better in the long run.
Do you know why I keep running? Because of how I feel when it’s over. The process is torture, but the end is glorious. Sexual sin lures, promising immediate pleasure, but it withholds the truth of the guilt, shame, wrecked relationships, etc., that always follow. The Christian life is hard, probably much harder than you realized it would be when you signed on. But it’s worth it.
What do I mean? The Christian life is kind of like a runner’s high. After my wife’s passing in 2010, I started taking exercise seriously and began running regularly. I hate to run. But at long last, I experienced the runner’s high.
So, let’s look at three quick things the passage tells us about this race:
1) The race has an audience. Following the list of Old Testament saints in chapter 11, this passage begins telling us that they are witnesses to the race we are running. They are cheering us on! And, more importantly, they stand as a witness to us that the end is in sight. This race will be over before we know it. They encourage us to persevere, standing as proof that God’s grace is sufficient for us.
2) The race has been set for us. Your life is not an accident. This includes all the painful trials, temptations, unwanted attractions, etc. You are running a path set for you by a loving God who promises that he is working everything together for your good to conform you to the image of Jesus so that he will be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (see Romans 8:28-29).
3) The race has already been run by your Champion. We’ll spend more time in later posts considering this crucial reality. Jesus has already run this road, faced every trial and temptation you face, but never stumbled. He ran the race ahead of us, blazing the trail, and offers us the exact grace we need to face all the specific challenges because he has already endured them for us victoriously.
Are you weary at the start of the New Year? Where do you need to be encouraged? What “weights” are slowing you down? What sins are entangling you? May God give us the grace to look to Jesus and get up and run!
17 Dec 2010
Did you fast last weekend? How did it go? I fasted from checking and writing email. Why?
When I’m feeling lonely or disconnected from people, going online to check my email or checking my phone for text messages is what I do to have my heart soothed and comforted (that is, if I hear from anyone!). But when I reflect on why I do this so frequently, I realize that I am not going to the Lord for my comfort.
When I turn from the Lord to something else in order to pursue life, comfort, security, value, feeling loved etc., this is when I have fed the temptation rather than starved it. I’ve found that a common thread in the hearts of women who become ensnared in sexual sin of any type is the emotional pain they feel. That pain must be soothed, denied, or escaped from at any cost, and it is through sexual encounters, a fantasy life, or emotionally entangled friendships that the pain is soothed and calmed—for a time.
But when we move in that direction, it comes at a cost. What we feed on grows. What is growing in our lives becomes the focus of our lives. Will that focus lead to Christ-likeness or to a deeper enslavement to my sin patterns?
One initial step for you to grow in Christ-likeness, rather than in patterns of sin, is to think about the following:
1) Can you name the desires in your heart that seem to rule over you? Desires can be holy or evil, depending on the motive of our heart.
2) Can you identify the paths you walk in order to soothe those desires? This connects with the ‘fasting’ exercise I mentioned in my last blog post. What we can’t give up for a week, a day, or an hour may be something we are using as a way to feed and nurture sinful desires.
3) Take one passage of Scripture and reflect daily on the passage that you have chosen, meditating on the qualities listed that you want to see growing in your life. Let me suggest one of three: 2 Peter 1:1-11, Galatians 5: 22-26, or Colossians 3:1-12, as these are passages that describe qualities of Christ-likeness. Focus on Christ first, not your sin that must be done away with.
4) Find a ‘safe’ person to pray for you and help you think through how you can develop ongoing habits that will nurture your soul in Jesus and starve out your flesh. A safe person is someone who consistently lives a life of following Christ, is honest about their own struggles, is self-controlled with her mouth, can listen with wisdom, and can speak words of grace and truth back to you.
These are just some initial steps to take. Are there other things you’ve found in your spiritual journey that have been helpful as you’ve sought to turn from temptation?
07 Dec 2010
Today, I want to share more thoughts on living in light of Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV).
If we’re going to be women who resist the pull of our flesh towards sexual temptations and relational idols, and grow as daughters of God who make no provision to invite temptation to lurk nearby, we must understand the two commands in this verse.
First, we are to daily clothe ourselves in Jesus, rather than any other thing. Being “clothed in Jesus” is another way of saying that we are to live and respond to life by faith and in surrender to the amazing truth that Jesus lives within us. We are his in regards to all areas of life. We are not our own and have no right to say, “Jesus, I love and worship you, but in this area, I’ll take care of things myself.”
These areas in which we seek to be queen of our universe are generally linked to our fleshly desires, such as being emotionally or sexually comforted, whatever the cost. Or being #1 in someone’s thoughts or affections, regardless of how unhealthy the attachment to that woman or man might be. Or pursuing (via pornography and other venues of media) a consistent stream of material that fuels our self-constructed worlds of romantic and sensual fantasy.
Later this week, I want to explore help us discover a) our specific areas of fleshly pull and b) the specific wisdom Jesus has for each of us in taking steps toward cutting off the fuel supply to our lusts.
- Jesus conversed with, pursued, spent time with, loved, healed, and forgave sin-ensnared women throughout his ministry while on earth. Often the church has been silent about the sexual sin patterns with which women are struggling. Read and reflect upon Psalm 139; think of it as a prayer you might say to Jesus as you seek help and freedom from your addictions to people’s attention and affection, to your five-, ten-, or twenty-five-year masturbation pattern, to your inability to stop having sex with others. Jesus knows you in these struggles and loves you so much that he wants to free you from them.