14 Jan 2014
Modern psychology tells us—and indeed, our entire culture seeks to convince us—that it’s not good to repress or deny our sexual urges and desires. They’re seen by many as simple biological needs that demand expression; it’s seen as unhealthy not to seek that expression. Now that might be true, were it not for the fact that sex is never really about ‘us.” It’s about the other person.
Ideally, it’s about bringing all of who we are male or female to bless someone else. As archaic as it may seem, the Bible tells us that sex most aptly blesses others and reflects God in the context of marriage between one man and one woman.
Where does this leave the unmarried? Well, it leaves them dependent on God to meet the desires they might otherwise seek to fulfill through sex. This is also the case for married couples who deal with corrupt desires.
This is tough stuff. It runs contrary to the culture. It runs smack up against the messages about sex we get from advertising, TV, and the movies, that our drives and urges must be met at all costs. Resisting where our sexual desires might take us is not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard work. It’s a form of suffering, made more extraordinary because it is entirely voluntary.
But there’s an unseen benefit to resisting instead of repressing. C.S. Lewis, the Oxford University professor who wrote more than 40 books, including The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, had something of value to say about this. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,
“People often misunderstand what psychology teaches about ‘repressions.’ It teaches that ‘repressed’ sex is dangerous’…. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires… as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.”
Lewis is saying that it’s in the active mode of resisting our desires that we come to know more of what fuels our hearts and emotions—that we come to be more aware of our true selves.
In a world that offers numerous ways to dull our emotions and anesthetize our anxieties, fears, and uncertainties, often through sex, knowing one’s self is an amazing thing. It opens us up to knowing God in the depth of our desires in ways we’ve never imagined.
Of course there’s a hint of the supernatural in all of this. It’s not ordinary to resist the pulls of the heart. It can be done only with the power God gives as we seek to worship him and put him first in our lives, by committing our unmet desires to God for him to satisfy in his own way—in his own time.
This is not repression; it’s honestly admitting our desires, yet yielding them to God.
Jesus demonstrated this by putting aside his own desires, drives, and needs and yielding them to his Father. He did this so we could know his forgiveness and love in spite of the weakness of our own flesh and our history of failures.
This article is a reprint of a column published in the Philadelphia Daily News.
A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—Christians even—go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Here is the sixth reason to explain what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
Living in dishonesty
People don’t just jump back into disobedience. What usually happens is that they walk back step by step, and both they and those around them are typically unaware of what is happening. In every case at Harvest USA, in which someone has come for help and then gone back into the gay life, this has happened. When some come back later, we ask them when they first began to experience strong and overwhelming struggles to the point of giving in; they will point back to a specific period in time long before they fell.
Yet they never opened up to anyone about the struggle! Instead, they chose to pursue bondage again to sin—totally in secret. When questioned about why they didn’t come and share their heart with anyone about their struggles, virtually the same answer is given: “I knew you would tell me it was wrong.”
In each case, when the heart begins to do what it wants to do, the idea of honesty with those closest and best able to help was intentionally not pursued. Often, the person will be open with others in the gay life—or even with those in a gay-affirming church—during their time of secrecy with you. Why? Because when they decided to slip back, the thought of hearing what you would say would cause them even more distress! Already struggling, they wanted to get out of the struggle (see the post on demandingness), and hearing truth, even truth spoken with love and mercy, was something they had already closed their ears to.
Those who begin to walk in this kind of dishonesty are sometimes beyond help at this point. They see their new change of heart as a refreshing kind of “freedom” because it eliminates—even if only temporarily—the distress they are in.
Fear and shame enter into this kind of dishonesty. We have seen it in those who have come to us after spending time in Christian counseling, having never really opened up about the real issue of their same-sex attraction or behavior. Instead, they talked about loneliness, depression, and the like, issues which skirted around and shrouded the truth of their struggles.
It’s been our experience that no one gets better, no one grows, unless they lay the cards on the table—all the time! Both with God and with other people. People dealing with same-sex attraction, as with other sexual sins, must be ruthlessly honest with themselves and a few, selected other people they are willing to trust. Sexual struggles and sin move people into lives of denial, secrecy, and silence.
These self-protective mechanisms are simply deadly. It is only in a community of mercy and truth (what should characterize the church) that fear and shame can be overcome and honesty becomes as regular as breathing. If only the church were truly like this, would we see men and women less likely to flee into sexual sin and into communities that support such behavior? When the church, even imperfectly, loves sexual strugglers with mercy and truth, then the struggler is in a better position to see and respond to Christ’s love, even when their hearts are divided. God understands our divided hearts, our doubts, and our deep pockets of unbelief.
These situations are painful for all concerned. It is especially painful to see those you love, with whom you’ve spent much time and in whose lives you have built a growing relationship with, seem to desert all that they once held so strongly. No one escapes this tragedy.
These six factors are the main reasons that people revert back to sinful behavior. I must point out that these reasons are not unique to people with same-sex attraction. I have seen men and women in the church who have deserted the faith or left their marriage vows, and their reasons for doing so can be the same ones I highlighted here. The heart of the person dealing with same-sex attraction is not unlike the heart of any other sinner. Every one of us is prone to follow his own course in life. It’s only the Lord’s grace and goodness that keeps anyone pursuing the truth and living life on God’s terms rather than his own.
Updated 5.3.2017, 6.1.2018
A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—Christians even—go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Here is the fifth reason to explain what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
Disappointment with God
Demandingness and disappointment go hand in hand. Disappointment with God is a natural consequence of demands not met. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (ESV). How true this is! That is why it is very important to know why we are following Christ.
Too many people come into Christianity because of what they want God to do for them. On the one hand, it is important to realize that there are things only God can do for us. Only he can make our hearts come alive to him—what the theologians call regeneration; only he can forgive and cancel the debt of sin we have incurred; only he can shape us to conform to his image and give us a changed character and a new direction for our lives; only he promises us to never to leave or forsake us; only he can raise us from the dead and give us life everlasting.
On the other hand, we must realize that some of the deepest desires of our hearts may never be fulfilled. A deep disappointment with God can occur when we place those desires—however unaware we may be of doing so—in a place of prominence in our lives. We are mistaken when we think that it is only bad desires that are sinful in our lives. Sometimes even good desires can become so large and important in our lives that they take center stage in our hearts, and then we find ourselves living for them rather than for God.
James 1:14 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” James is using a Greek word, epithumia, which basically means “over desire,” or very strong desire. These desires can be for good things, but they can also be destructive if they are out of balance in one’s life (“I must have this in my life!”) or out of bounds (outside of God’s design).
Too often, even without realizing it, God can be viewed as a kind of spiritual Santa Claus. All of us have a wish list miles long. One must be sure of what the “desire fulfilled,” like in the Proverbs passage, is for oneself. To think with a biblical worldview of life, we need to acknowledge that we may not get everything we desire while on this earth. We are left to live with longings and desires, many of which will not be fulfilled this side of the new heavens and the new earth.
There is nothing that exposes the real foundations of our faith as when we realize that we are deeply disappointed with what God has allowed to be, or not allowed to be, in our lives. It is one thing to submit to God in his withholding, grieving those things that we have wished for while trusting in his goodness for his specific plan in our life; it is another thing altogether to develop a deep disappointment with God, which will inevitably produce a cold and demanding heart.
It is easy to look at our disappointments in life and question whether or not God is really good—whether or not he knows what is best for us. If we do not answer that question affirmatively, then we can find ourselves slipping into disobedience where, with our actions, we will avoid being disappointed again at all costs. Watch out for demandingness and deep disappointment! They go together, and they mark the path of impending spiritual disaster.
A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people, Christians even, go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Here is the fourth reason which explains what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
This is a very subtle thing, but it is something significant that begins to characterize the heart of the struggler. How does it show up? Well, in a variety of ways.
The most common way is the demand that one’s feelings and attractions change, usually on the person’s own timetable. Sometimes months or years later, a man will complain to us that he still feels strongly attracted to men, or a woman still feels attracted to women. Our response is, “Why does that surprise you?” It would surprise us if they didn’t.
You see, if you spend years cultivating desires, acting on attractions, and feeding temptations, it is perfectly understandable that one’s heart is still stirred by what has characterized his or her life. If a man or a woman has spent years looking at others in a way that diminishes the image of God in them, reducing others to what you can get from them, then that will be the first place their hearts will turn until they learn, steadily over time, to love others biblically. This is an important lesson to learn; else you will be surprised at the ferocity of the desires of the “old man” or “old woman.” Within this context, a struggler can demand that God stop those attractional pulls and desires now, but they need to understand that there can be a number of reasons that these temptations still occur.
What else is going on here? One, there is a false idea of what healing means, and there is a lack of understanding of what it means to have the old (sinful) nature and the new (redeemed) nature be at war within you. The latter ignorance is to be vulnerably exposed to the wiles and schemes of the evil one, which can lay a foundation of demandingness in the heart.
As for what healing is, there is confusion about, and sometimes a demand that, God remove feelings and attractions for the same sex, while at the same time cause feelings and attractions for the opposite sex. It has been our experience that God doesn’t bring one out of a general lust for the same sex and into a general lust for the opposite sex. Rather, as one begins to have an understanding of, acceptance and appreciation of who they are in their true sexual identity, they can begin to experience a lessening of same-sex attraction over time. What may also occur is an attraction for someone of the opposite sex—not generalized but specific toward one person with whom they are in relationship. But it is important to note that the ability to walk in obedience and to experience a sense of the wholeness of Christ can occur whether or not one ever develops sexual attraction for the opposite sex.
At times during their initial interviews, when someone is asked why they came to Harvest USA, we’ll get this response: “I want to be like everyone else. I want to be married and have a traditional family.” We tell them that, while that is a noble and good goal to have, it cannot be the reason for their being here. Why not? Because, invariably, when feelings don’t change and these expectations don’t materialize in the person’s timetable, they will grow disillusioned and want to give up. Often underneath is the demand, “God, you better come through for me! Look how much I have given up for you!”
God does come through for us, but often in ways we don’t expect or even want.
Updated 5.3.2017, 6.1.2018
A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—even Christians—go back to a gay
life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Here is the third reason which explains what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
Failure to develop a prayer and devotional life
By developing a prayer and devotional life, I’m not talking about the kind of desperate praying that one does by begging God, “Please change me!” I understand why some pray such prayers and are exhausted by the years of praying in this way. Many of the people who come to Harvest USA have already prayed these prayers for far too long. Their early connections with or interest in the gospel really had to do with finding relief from an intolerable situation. Once someone really comes to God on his terms, this kind of immature prayer fades away. After all, it is a prayer that is wholly focused on self, wishing (demanding?) that God alter his life by divine fiat so that no further effort or struggle need occur. It’s an understandable prayer, and we feel for those whose cries speak it.
We must replace the “change me” kind of prayer with a prayer life that realizes that it’s only in communion with God wherer I can come to my senses about my heart, my struggles, and the world around me. This is the kind of prayer life that doesn’t look to God to make me feel better about my struggles but has, as its focus, a growing desire to know the living Lord in the depths of the chaos and unbelief that swirl though my soul.
Psalm 88 is a classic study of a heart given to prayer, even where there seems to be no resolution to the struggle. This is not a feel-good psalm! It is one of the few psalms in which the psalmist doesn’t experience any obvious joyful breakthroughs. In fact, it’s filled with unbelievable sarcasm. The end of the psalm is as distressed as the beginning. That is, until you look carefully at some of the words.
The one common refrain throughout the psalm is, “I cried out to you.” This is repeated three times and is a key to understanding the psalm and the one who wrote it. The suffering psalmist realizes that coming before the Lord that is the important thing—not necessarily to gain relief, but to know that the God of the universe is aware of his suffering. Upon closer observation, one realizes that the process of the prayer by the psalmist is the resolution.
This reminds me of a line from the movie, Shadowlands, the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy. In the movie, he was once congratulated on his wife’s remission from cancer. One of his college friends tells Lewis that his prayers seem to be changing things. Lewis’ response is remarkable. He says, “Oh, I don’t pray to change things. Prayer changes me.” Whether or not Lewis actually said those words in real life, it is still a profound and true statement.
Bringing our hurtful, unbelieving, struggling hearts before the Lord in true honesty (as honest and true as the psalmist of Psalm 88, whose words are scathing!) is crucial for any believer, and especially so for someone who is struggling with homosexuality. Prayer must turn from attention to self to attention to the One who loves us, no matter our sin or struggle. He does care; he does pay attention. But he wants, first and foremost, our hearts to be dependent on him and not on getting his gifts, like changed circumstances, so that we can go on and live our lives as we please.
Updated 5.3.2017, 6.1.2018
A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—even Christians—go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Let me give you six possible reasons to explain what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
It’s just too painful
Pain is a major motivator for all of us. We seek to avoid pain, and if we are in pain, we seek to get out of it. Even if the pain we are experiencing is something we need to go through in order to reach a better place, the experience of the pain itself can move us to go back to our original state.
Whenever we cultivate sinful behavior or thought patterns, there is always a “death” that goes along with putting off and abandoning that behavior or thought pattern. A void opens up in the place of the person you need to leave or the addictive habit you need to stop. What once filled your heart, even though it was ungodly to do so, leaves a pain-filled emptiness inside. However, this is an important part of the healing process! It must happen! Repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry;” it involves a change of mind and heart and necessitates a different action—turning around and going in the other direction.
There is pain involved in denying ourselves what we wish for in the depths of our heart. It’s true of the drug addict coming clean, of the single person saying “no” to continuing a sexual relationship outside of marriage, and of the gay person struggling with same-sex attraction or behavior. Sometimes it just hurts to see that you can’t go back to an old place that was so familiar, so second nature.
“Wait a minute,” you might say. “How could someone hunger for this or her old life when he or she has the presence and promises of God?”
It happens. Why? Because it is our nature! The Bible talks about how the Israelites were led out of captivity in such a powerful way by the miraculous power and presence of God. Yet, when hard times came, they hungered for their past bondage, believing that what they had was better than what God was giving to them (see Exodus 14:1-12). It’s in all of our natures!
Some people who begin a journey out of homosexuality know they must cut off associations, friendships, and those with whom they have been sexually involved. That’s a kind of “death,” albeit a death that will lead to life. Sometimes people who begin such a journey don’t want to endure the pain any longer when they encounter it, and they despair of Christ ever giving them a feeling of peace and enjoyment that characterized their old lives. So, they go back.
Moreover, when we see the muck and mire of our own hearts, people may attempt to avoid this pain at all costs. Most people wrongly think that their first need is to be pain-free. We know biblically, however, that our first, greatest, and ongoing need is to be forgiven. Only when we see our hearts as they really are do we begin to grasp our deep need of Christ. Yet, so often, we will go to any lengths to avoid seeing the true condition of our hearts.
I call this the “Tupperware Syndrome.” Sometimes I’ll go to the refrigerator, hungry for a snack. Because my wife is a Tuppeware adherent, I must discover through extensive investigation what leftover lurks beneath the lids of all those containers. Occasionally, I’ll lift the lid and, before I even see what’s inside, I can smell it: the odor of something that’s been in the refrigerator way too long. It’s gone bad. What’s my reaction? I press down the lid and slide it back in the fridge. I’m going to let someone else deal with it. Well, that is often the first response when we see the ugliness of what is in our heart.
Even when we begin to follow Jesus earnestly, we must deal with the scars on our hearts—the scars caused by our own actions and the actions of others against us. The truth is that Jesus changes us through a process of growth, but the pain of our past and the ramifications of our sinful choices and behaviors may remain. Although God gives us a new future, he doesn’t rewrite our past. The past may leave a dark blot and an open wound in our hearts.
Into that pain, the struggler must believe that God really does give us a new beginning, a clean record from our past sins, and a new way to interpret life, heal from our wounds, and live in a way that brings glory to God. Pain is not an enemy in this new journey; it is what opens us up to who we are and who God is, so that we might see a new path forward.
Updated 5.4.2017, 6.1.2018
A third reason why we may change our minds on what Scripture has historically about the acceptability of homosexuality has to do with the company we keep. By this I mean, consider what you are reading, seeing, and viewing in today’s media. I’m not advocating we turn off the TV or stop reading articles and books that take positions different from our own, but we need to be careful that those positions may alter our view—not because of their reasoning, but because of the status of the person writing the material.
One author I have always enjoyed for his devotional work is Henri Nouwen. During the last years of his life, however, Nouwen’s theology openly shifted not just regarding homosexuality but also regarding the uniqueness of Christ and his work as the only way to God. Only after his death did some of the reason for that shift become apparent: Nouwen himself secretly struggled with same-sex attraction. Couple that with dabbling in eastern religions, and Nouwen began to shift his own views. It wasn’t so much his own wrestling with Scripture that brought about this positional shift; it was what was going on in his own life. But Nouwen’s status, huge and imposing in the Christian world, had and still has a powerful impact on those who read him.
Who we listen to really does matter. Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read anything that differs from our own viewpoint, or anything that differs from an historic Christian doctrinal position. We need to have our own positions, and the historical Christian position is sharpened by interacting with how the current culture is thinking. But we also have to be aware that when someone we admire begins to shift his or her position on what the Scriptures say, that can have a significant impact on us. We can be swayed not merely on the basis of a reasoned argument, but because we don’t want to look “out of step” with people whose thinking we have admired.
Have you ever been swayed to a different position than what the Scripture has historically taught (on anything) because someone you admired or respected took a different position?