10 Feb 2022
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the role of suffering in Christian sanctification. There’s no way to escape the reality that God uses trials in our lives to make us more like Christ. If I’m honest, more of my suffering than I’d prefer to admit is the result of my own unwise, sinful choices.
The Bible gives us clear categories for righteous and unrighteous suffering. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:20, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” Later, in 1 Peter 4:15, he says, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”
God does not want us to suffer as a result of our sinful, foolish choices. His commands are meant for our flourishing. Living according to God’s will in more situations than not will actually lead to much prosperity in this life. In our appropriate resolve to kill any hint of a false prosperity gospel, we can’t throw out large swaths of the Bible, like Proverbs, that would show us how righteous living has many present benefits.
One common form of avoidable suffering
Suffering on some level is usually the context for sexual temptation. While God can and does use that suffering to point us to him in our time of need, what if God also wants to show us a better way to live our lives that frees us from much of our avoidable suffering? Let me give you a few examples.
Perhaps the most common form of suffering that leads to sexual temptation is boredom. That might sound petty to some of you, but the most obvious danger zone for many adult men is time alone at home with no one else around and nothing to do. Boredom is almost always an avoidable form of suffering. There are countless productive things we can be engaged in at any moment, even if we’re immobilized due to injury or COVID quarantines. But a combination of laziness, love of comfort, lack of zeal for Christ’s Kingdom, and the conditioning of modern technology, which has us (myself included) often mindlessly scrolling our lives away, keeps us from pursuing a truly full and rich life. A free afternoon home alone can be a wonderful gift from God that can lead to endless possibilities for your own and others’ enrichment!
Simple steps to reduce avoidable suffering
But many people will complain that they are too tired to really invest their lives into anything more than simply surviving, and there may be legitimacy to your exhaustion. Certain seasons of life are going to leave little to no margin, especially if you have young children. But consider how much of our exhaustion and lethargy is avoidable:
- Learn the value of saying NO. Have you committed to too many things that are keeping you from doing the most important things well?
- Are you exercising? Exercise not only increases physical energy, but it’s also a natural anti-depressant. So many people lack the motivation to get off the couch because they aren’t taking advantage of God’s natural means of physical and emotional boosts through exercise.
- Are you getting enough sleep? I know all too well that many of us struggle with sleep for a variety of legitimate reasons, and there may be no easy answer for you. But have you at least tried the recommended options for getting optimal sleep? Have you tried being disciplined at going to bed and waking up at the same time each day? Have you tried cutting back exposure to blue light before bed? Perhaps much of our sleep issues are really lifestyle issues.
- Are you eating a healthy diet? I know there are many different schools of thought regarding what a healthy diet is. Is fat good or bad? Vegan or carnivore? Intermittent fasting or five small meals per day? My concern is whether you are being proactive at seeking a healthy diet. All nutritionists can at least agree that that second or third piece of cheesecake will probably lead to avoidable suffering.
I could go on to list many other types of unhealthy lifestyles that add to our suffering, but my point is that we are often hindered in our Christian walk not because we aren’t spiritual enough, but because we have neglected the reality that God made us as physical beings. He created us to need exercise, good sleep, and healthy food. Just as sexual sin goes against God’s design for humanity, so too does unhealthy ways of living. Yet we rarely talk about these as issues of sanctification.
I believe that our silence as the Church on these matters can lead many to give up hope that life can ever be better. They’ve capitulated to always feeling tired, lacking energy and motivation, and scraping by at work just to make it to the weekend. No wonder sexual sin looks so appealing! Many of our brothers and sisters gave up a long time ago in believing that this earthly life could bring many blessings and benefits outside of sinful pleasure.
Avoidable suffering and unbelief
Consider Adam and Eve as you listen to the description of the Garden in Genesis 2.
“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east… And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food… And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:8, 9, 16–17).
God gave Adam and Eve a paradise of rich food and enjoyment. He was not stingy with them. But the serpent was able to cast doubt on God’s lavish provision. He tempted Adam and Eve to focus only on what God prohibited, to the neglect of all that he permitted. They could’ve spent their lives enjoying so many good gifts from God’s hands, but instead they spurned his generosity in unbelief and doubt.
In the same way, I would ask you to consider how much of your avoidable suffering is an issue of unbelief. Do you fundamentally see God as a stingy taskmaster who doesn’t know how to give good gifts to his children? Do you see him as a bully who loves to pull the rug out from underneath you?
Or do you view him as a loving Father who delights in seeing his children enjoy his good gifts? Do you see how those gifts are meant to nourish our relationship with him?
For some of you, God may allow you to suffer physically in significant, chronic ways. Much of what I’ve shared in this blog may not apply to your particular situation. But, for most of you, I would challenge you to consider how God wants you to steward your body, your finances, and your time for greater Kingdom impact. God wants you to be healthy so that you have strength to serve him and others. He wants you to flourish because he’s your heavenly Father, and he loves you and wants what is best for you!
21 Jan 2022
It may or may not surprise you that the majority of men seeking help from Harvest USA are married. The majority of these husbands are not coming to us because of their own conviction over sin but because they were caught. They were living, often for decades, in darkness, and now they’ve finally been forced into the light. They usually come to us with a mixture of pain and relief—the pain of the consequences of their sexual sin and its accompanying deception, and also the relief of no longer living as hypocrites.
This initial exposure is freeing and provides with it real opportunities for change and transformation. While there are many dangers and snares along the path towards marital restoration, none is more common and more deadly than going back into the darkness.
For any of you familiar with twentieth-century American poetry or Christopher Nolan’s brilliant film Interstellar, you probably know the poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” In his poem about death, Thomas provides incredible wisdom for a husband tempted to go back into hiding. He writes,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Husbands who are battling sexual addictions are not only wrestling against the allure of sexual sin. They are also facing the constant temptation of lying about it to their wives. I’ve heard all of the major excuses for going back into the darkness:
“I love her too much to hurt her by telling her.”
“I know how she’ll react; she just can’t handle this.”
“She’s not supposed to be my accountability partner; I have men in my life I confess to.”
“Confessing to her doesn’t help me; she’ll just use that as fuel to punish me later.”
“I’ve already confessed it to the Lord.”
While we recognize that there are rare and extreme situations where it may not always be prudent or loving for husbands to confess their sexual sins to their wives, the general rule we find to be most beneficial for marriages is called “the 24-hour rule.”
What is the 24-hour rule?
The 24-hour rule is when a husband promises that he will confess, within 24 hours, any time that he engages in behavioral sexual sin—including masturbation, pornography, fantasy indulgence that lasts for minutes at a time, and anything worse than these behaviors. This includes any active pursuit of these behaviors, even if he is unsuccessful, such as seeking ways around internet filters to find pornography.
What the 24-hour rule is not
The 24-hour rule, misapplied, has the potential to become very detrimental to a marriage, which is why clear, objective expectations are essential. It is unhelpful for a wife to be privy to every single battle a husband faces with sexual temptation. We believe she deserves to know the battles he clearly loses, but not every battle he faces.
While every couple requires a nuanced approach, we generally try to steer couples away from certain scrupulous standards of confession. We generally do not encourage couples to adopt the following types of confession as a rule:
- Every time a husband takes a second look
- A sexually suggestive image appears on his device apart from his active pursuit of it, and he immediately flees from it.
- Tempting thoughts that come into his mind but against which he has fought and upon which he does linger for minutes at a time.
It’s important that couples understand the difference between a “rule” and Spirit-led confession. The purpose of the 24-hour rule is to build trust, as I will explain later. Understandably, breaking the rule has devastating consequences in breaking trust, but a husband can also freely confess as the Spirit leads. So, while it is not a rule that a husband confesses every battle with temptation, he may share about specific temptations with his wife from time to time, which can have very positive results for both of them. She can encourage and pray for him, and he can continue to learn how to trust his wife and be more vulnerable with her.
Expecting a husband to confess every temptation or lustful thought is often a grasping for control and only leads to a further breakdown of the fragile trust they are seeking to rebuild.
Why the 24-hour rule?
An entire book could and probably should be written on why this kind of rule is so helpful in marriages seeking restoration after sexual betrayal, but here are just a few reasons why we find this guidance so crucial:
- Often in these situations, the greatest damage done to the marriage is the loss of trust and the difficulty of earning it back. Succumbing yet again to the snare of pornography does great harm to a recovering marriage, but the difference between confessing openly and being caught in covering up sin is worlds apart.
- Wives usually want to know when their husbands have been unfaithful with pornography. It hurts them to know, but they still would rather know than be left in the dark. The most common response I hear from wives to their husbands is, “I’m hurt that you did this, but I’m grateful that you told me.”
- Committing and being faithful to a 24-hour rule takes the burden off of a wife to be a detective. Wives often feel scared when weeks or months have gone by without hearing from their husbands how they’re doing. In this scenario, no news is sadly often not good news. Faithfulness to the 24-hour rule guards wives against fretfully wondering what is true.
- The 24-hour rule forces husbands to live in the realty of their decisions. One of pornography’s greatest lies is, “This isn’t hurting anyone.” Needing to confess each instance kills that lie very quickly. I’ve heard many husbands talk about how great their marriages are apart from this one issue. Men have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize and downplay the impact of their sin on their marriages. Hiding this sin and never talking about it creates a very powerful illusion that things are great, but this backfires in the end. The more a wife believes her husband is being faithful, the greater the disappointment, hurt, and sense of betrayal once she finds out that’s not true.
- Confession creates opportunities for genuine relationship. Whether a husband knows it or not, keeping this sin hidden forces him to put up his defenses. He can’t be his true self around her. He’ll need to hold some of himself back from her. The two of them can’t truly be naked and unashamed, but being open with his wife provides the foundation for truly knowing one another.
- Confession gives his wife an opportunity to forgive him and for him to receive her forgiveness. This is a beautiful display of the gospel, reminding them both that we only have a saving relationship with Jesus because of his grace! Our marriages should point us to the gospel every day, and living in the darkness kills that opportunity.
- The 24-hour rule upholds the great responsibility, dignity, and honor of the marriage covenant. Most couples take vows at their weddings, and many will vow to “forsake all others.” Pornography breaks this marriage vow and tramples upon it. The offended party not only has the right to know but also needs to be involved for proper restoration to occur. A commitment to the 24-hour rule is an outworking of your commitment to your vows.
- Willing confession of sexual betrayal in a marriage is scary for a husband to do. Confession takes all of the control out of his hands, forcing him to entrust himself to the Lord. This is such a critical step in repentance. He must lose his life in order to save it. Sin so often seeks to make life work on our own terms. Hiding your sin is a prime example of a refusal to let God be the Lord of your life.
On more than one occasion, I’ve sat with wives in tears as they come to realize their husbands have been hiding their sin. Their faces show their embarrassment, shock, disappointment, and confusion. But what is perhaps most heartbreaking is watching them plead with their husbands to come back into the light. They aren’t asking their husbands to be perfect, only honest! These women are willing to forgive, to help, to pray, but they feel completely shut out, disregarded, and unsafe when they realize they’ve been deceived. Deception virtually wipes out any growth a marriage has made, leaving wives feeling like they are back at square one. But the enemy is so crafty in telling husbands the very opposite lie—that confession will take them back to square one. Deception, not confession, is your enemy, brothers! Fight it; put it to death. Entrust yourself to Christ because he will never forsake you! Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
04 Nov 2021
This might sound strange, even contradictory, but I’m convinced it’s true: Most people, if not all, watch pornography with their eyes closed.
No, this does not mean that their eyes are physically shut. Of course they’re watching with eyes glued to the screen. But, as they watch, they are deliberately refusing to look at what’s actually happening in a pornographic picture or video. Why? Because acknowledging the truth about pornography is difficult, shame-inducing, horrifying, and even nauseating—but the truth could be just what the Spirit uses to break the spell that porn has on you. So let’s actually take a look at what pornography is.
We’ll start with the most extreme cases. Because so much of pornography is free and hosted by sites that take content from various sources, there is no way to know whether the acts committed onscreen are consensual or not. Many women and minors are being trafficked in the sex industry against their will. Much of this is caught on camera and released onto the internet, and some even finds its way onto mainstream sites. The next video you watch may be a criminal act that you took pleasure in.
This does not mean all pornography can be legally defined as non-consensual, but let’s consider for a moment who ends up on a pornographic website. Were these men and women cherished as sons and daughters in their families? Were they told and shown from a young age the dignity inherent to them as image bearers of God? Do they have a loving community with friends they can turn to when life gets hard?
No, this is not the typical profile of someone in a pornographic video. Instead, these people usually come from abusive backgrounds of all kinds. Drugs and alcohol are ubiquitous in the porn industry, for understandable reasons: It’s hard to imagine living that life without copious amounts of numbing agents. Sometimes, actors’ managers are not upfront with them about what a scene will actually entail until the last minute, and, if they refuse, coercive threats are employed.¹
This is only skimming the surface of pornography’s true, sinister nature, but it doesn’t take long to see that pornography is an exploitative, dehumanizing, slave-recruiting, demonic industry. Christians who view porn are active participants in its oppression. This is the conclusion you will come to if you look at pornography with eyes wide open.
It’s saddening, and even infuriating, that the victims of pornography are so rarely taken into account in our battle against it. Yes, first and foremost, pornography is a sin against God. Pornography is so offensive to God that we can say with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Let us never forget that reality! We must also acknowledge the great sin that pornography is against a current or future spouse. Sexual betrayal is so devastating that many betrayed spouses experience trauma and PTSD as a result. It is in recognizing the great damage they have done to their marriages that many people will start to fight pornography as if their very lives depend on it.
Sadly, I rarely hear people utterly broken and grieving over their sin against the people on the screen, which is perhaps indicative of just how dehumanizing pornography is. Even in their repentance, many people still don’t see these men and women as real human beings. They’re still less-than-human objects. They used to be objects of pleasure; now they’re seen only as objects of temptation to avoid, not image bearers to love and protect.
But God sees them. God cares infinitely for them. God takes up their plight. He is their avenger.
God created sex to elevate human dignity, not smear it. Godly sex is meant to be one of the most honor-giving, safe, intimate, protecting experiences a human being can know. Satan takes that amazing humanity-celebrating gift and uses it to destroy our dignity. God hates that! His holy wrath cannot let that stand, and we shouldn’t either. Pornography should stir up in you a holy, righteous anger. The people being treated as less than dirt are image bearers that God intricately spent nine months knitting together in their mothers’ wombs. You can’t be consistently pro-life and consume pornography. You can’t defend a human being’s dignity while in the womb and then, once out of the womb, strip him or her of it for your sexual pleasure.
This should be painful to read. It is a grave indictment, and one that I can’t escape from either. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:4–5).
God is so rich in mercy and kindness that he seeks out lost oppressors of his image bearers. He takes those who trampled on human dignity and crowns them with glory and honor in Christ. He does this all without forgetting the victims. He executes justice perfectly for your sin and mine by taking the punishment we so rightly deserve and placing it on his Son on the cross.
Many people struggle to believe that God can love them because of their pornography use. The way forward isn’t to minimize our sin; instead, we need to heed the words of Jack Miller when he said, “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.” Or, to quote from our Savior, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
As we refuse to pretend about the realities of porn while keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, we are guaranteed a greater appreciation and gratitude for how deep the Father’s love is for us in Christ. The weight of our sin quickly becomes overwhelmed by the torrent of his love for us. This leaves no room for pride or judgment of others. Instead, Christ calls us to be warriors against injustice and sin while, at the same time, showing and embodying the forgiving love of Christ towards sinners, of whom we are the foremost.
The Church of Jesus Christ is being called to acknowledge and restore the dignity of every image bearer of God. This is your role, and mine.²
² I deeply thank Ray Ortlund for his book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility. My blog was inspired by his compelling, winsome, fatherly call to Christian men to take a stand in a world saturated by the oppression of pornography. I encourage you to take up his book and read!
07 Oct 2021
Think about the last time you gave into a vice that you had been trying to avoid. Maybe it was sexual sin, drunkenness, gluttony, or binging on entertainment. While there are many complex reasons for turning to our sins of choice, the most common one involves some kind of suffering that we are trying to escape or numb.
The men in our biblical support groups at Harvest USA have voiced the most common scenarios that precipitate running to sexual sin:
- An argument with a spouse or some other relational turmoil
- Struggling to fall asleep
- Stress or anxiety related to work or school performance
- General feelings of dissatisfaction in life
All of these situations involve some form of suffering. And how do we respond to suffering? We want to mitigate it in some way—quickly. Our first responses will often involve trying to change, fix, or resolve whatever situation is causing us suffering. If our efforts work, great! The suffering is relieved. But what if your spouse is still angry with you? What if you can’t fall asleep and it’s four o’clock in the morning? What if you get fired from your job for losing the sale? What if your efforts to form relationships continue to fall flat? What if the suffering doesn’t go away?
This is a crucial fork-in-the road moment! You can’t remove the suffering, so now what? How you respond in this scenario determines whether you will see growth in Christian maturity or whether you will remain in patterns of unbelief and sin.
We all know the classic cartoon when the character is presented with two paths. One path is sunny, with birds chirping, flowers blooming, and hope just over the horizon. The other is dark and stormy, with crows squawking and danger lurking. It’s obvious which path is more appealing.
Spiritually speaking, in times of suffering, sin often masquerades as the safe, enticing, bliss-filled answer to our suffering, while following Jesus looks like the path of despair. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before sin’s charade falls apart. Our enemy is more than happy to give us a moment of reprieve from our pain if, in the long run, he can add to our suffering through our sinful responses to it.
So, while sexual pleasure, alcohol, or double chocolate mousse cake may give a hit of dopamine that brings temporary relief, our sin is never the answer to our suffering.
But here’s the problem: Anyone struggling with habitual sin knows that truth, and yet it doesn’t stop them from going back to it anyway. Why is that? Simply put, we struggle to walk by faith, not by sight. Walking by faith is often painful, while walking by sight is quick and easy in the moment of suffering.
There is a simple yet difficult gospel truth that you must embrace in order to mature in faith: Suffering is how we grow. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself what Scripture has to say (Romans 5:3–5, James 1:2–4, 1 Peter 1:6–7, John 15:2). Suffering is always part of God’s means to conform us more into the image of our Savior, who was known during his earthly ministry as the suffering servant. Jesus himself “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8) because a savior who never suffered could not save us. While Jesus suffered under the Father’s wrath so that we would never have to, he didn’t suffer on earth so that we could avoid all earthly suffering. In fact, the opposite is true. Being united to Jesus means that suffering is a marker of our lives on this earth as we “fill up what is lacking in the Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).
That is a really difficult pill for all of us to swallow. How can we possibly accept that truth? What makes that pill go down is the reality that God uses our suffering, in love, to conform us into the image of our Savior (which is the deepest reality of Romans 8:28–29).
But how does this work? How does God use suffering to shape us?
My favorite hymn is probably William Cowper’s “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Take some time to slowly meditate on these three stanzas. If you know the music, sing them!
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding ev’ry hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flow’r.¹
What is Cowper saying here? He’s saying that God has good for you in your suffering. He has loving purposes behind it all. The most immediate purpose, the most obvious good that God intends in your pain, is that your suffering would draw you into humble, dependent relationship with him.
One of the greatest tragedies of turning to sin in our suffering is that we rob ourselves of the comfort that God is offering. In what context does Paul call the Father the God of all comfort? It’s in the context of affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4). God has a special comfort reserved specifically for your moments of suffering. There is nothing sweeter than his comfort in the midst of bitter affliction.
But here’s the rub: That comfort is not something we can control or demand in our timing or liking. God often calls us to wait upon him. That comfort may be come on the far side many tears, great anguish, desperation, and even feeling abandoned by God at times. This comfort is laid hold of by faith, not by sight, but it is a comfort that God has purchased for you and guarantees for all of his children in Christ who will look to and wait upon him.
Vaneetha Risner proposes a great way to think about suffering. She observes that we often ask the question, “If God loves me, why is this happening to me?” But a better, faith-filled question asks, “Because God loves me, why is this happening to me?”² This does not mean that all suffering has easy answers if we just trust God—some suffering may never make sense this side of eternity—but your heart’s posture in trusting the Lord’s loving purposes is what matters.
While we’re not called to enjoy or invite suffering into our lives, see it as an opportunity when it comes and listen for your sympathetic High Priest’s loving invitation to come to him as your refuge, your strength, your high tower. As you come to him, he promises to use the fire of affliction not to destroy you, but to refine you.
As you trust God and turn to him in your suffering, you will find that your faith grows. At every turn, his promises remain true and become even more meaningful and significant as God lovingly forces you to cling to them for your life. A faith that is never practiced, never relied upon, never needed is a very weak faith. God wants to strengthen your faith in him; he wants you to experience how strong he really is. And there’s no better way to know God’s strength than in our weakness
¹Cowper, William. “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” Trinity Hymnal (Rev. Ed.), No. 128.
²Risner, Vaneetha. “If God Is with Me, Why Did This Happen?,” Desiring God. August 4, 2018. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/if-god-is-with-me-why-did-this-happen.
26 Aug 2021
It’s happened to me more times than I can count. I’m sitting with a man who has given in to sexual sin for the majority of his life. He’s tried many things to stop, but he keeps failing to say “no” to temptation. He’s fighting to believe that victory is possible, but he feels weary and scared. Teetering on the edge of hope and despair, he asks me a simple question: “Does the battle ever get any easier?”
While simple questions rarely have simple answers, David Powlison was fond of saying, “[There is a] simplicity on the far side of every complexity.”¹ So the simple answer to this question is, “Yes, the battle does get easier.” However, in order to understand what that really looks like, we need to wade through the complex depths of the human experience.
The battle has a context
In humility, we always need to treat each person as a unique individual, and that requires great attention to the details of their lives. I always want err on being slow to speak and quick to listen. I want to assume that I don’t know what this person needs unless I first get to know them. I want a holy curiosity about his or her life. I don’t just want to know about his sexual sin. I want to know about his family, his childhood, his hopes, his disappointments, his suffering, and his understanding of the world, God, and himself.
As I get to know someone more intimately, I begin to understand in greater ways the functionality of sexual sin in his life. I see more and more the specific false promises that sin has tailor-made to fit someone’s particular desires and weaknesses. Consider the complex algorithms employed by modern social media giants. How is it that Facebook knows exactly what advertisement will hook you? It’s because Facebook has studied you. Facebook knows your heart based on what you click on and how long you stay. Sin operates in the same way. The battle is so difficult partly because you have an enemy who knows exactly where you are weak. Sin preys on its knowledge of your life, your sufferings, your heart, and your desires, and it exploits them.
Growth in the battle against sexual sin requires an increasing self-awareness of your own life experiences and how they have shaped you. Your enemy knows your weaknesses. Do you?
The battle has a past
If we’re honest, we often live our lives thinking only about the present, and sin capitalizes on this short-sightedness. If I only think of life in 24-hour chunks, then what’s the big deal about eating one or two donuts? No problem, right? But what if I eat two donuts every day for a whole week? That’s 14 donuts. What if I eat that same amount for an entire month? Now you’re looking at close to 60 donuts! It’s not hard to see that this kind of lifestyle will lead to major health problems down the road. The problem is that you can’t simply stop eating donuts one day and then pretend like you didn’t eat donuts every day for the past 10 years. The effects of those 10 years will linger and perhaps have lasting, lifelong consequences.
We reap what we sow. In Galatians 6, Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the impact of years of sowing into fleshly desires. He writes, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Galatians 6:7–8). Sin has a corrupting impact on our hearts and minds. Every time you give in to sexual temptation, you are sowing seeds of corruption. Think of it like an investment. Sexual sin isn’t just an isolated event. Giving into temptation today makes it harder to resist tomorrow. And science has now definitively shown how habitual pornography use in particular actually rewires your brain to make you that much more prone to return again and again to your sin.
Someone who has sown into sexual sin for decades has a difficult battle ahead of him because he has invested into corruption. Even if in the present he does all the right things to avoid temptation, he will still be reaping the consequences of sowing into a corrupt mind for so long. This is why it’s so difficult to not automatically lust after others. This is why people feel like they lose all self-control when triggered by specific circumstances that lead them right back to their well-worn paths of sin.
That’s the bad news. Most people wait far too long to stop investing into sin and corruption. Just like you can’t erase years of unhealthy eating, you can’t erase years of sinful seed sowing either.
The battle has a future
But the good news of the gospel is far better than being given a do-over. Jesus is greater than our sin, he’s greater than our pasts, and he’s promised us a future that is bright with biblical hope.
First, we must acknowledge that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is more powerful than decades of sinful sowing to the flesh. Jesus, by the Spirit, raises the dead to life. There is no one who is too far gone from the free offer of the gospel. Our hope is not simply in being cleaned up; our hope is that we have been made new creations who are definitively alive to God in Christ.
But while the new birth does a definitive, eternity-shifting work in our lives, the working out of our sanctification is a much slower and more painful process—and here is where we return to the idea of investing.
The principle of sowing and reaping works both ways. Not only does sowing to the flesh reap corruption, but Paul also goes onto say, “…but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us no grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:8–9).
When you turn from sin to Jesus, you are not only repenting today, but you are also investing into repentance for tomorrow, and next week, and a year from now. Saying “no” to sin today makes it easier to say “no” to sin tomorrow.
But, as Paul warns, we can grow weary of saying “no.” We can feel like giving up at times because we aren’t reaping as much as we expected in the short-term. This is why the battle must be fought through faith in the promises of God that are all “yes” and “amen” in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
If you have just started investing in your retirement fund, you know how futile it feels to make such a slow crawl towards your retirement goals. You faithfully sow paycheck after paycheck into this fund, expecting to see a great return on your investment. In those beginning years, checking your balance might tempt you to cut back on your monthly payments or stop all together and instead save up for a nice vacation next summer. You look at other people who have been investing faithfully for 10 years longer than you have, and you think it’s impossible to ever get to their level—but that is short-sighted thinking. Just as you are called to trust in the promises of your financial advisor (promises that have less-than-perfect guarantees), so we are called all the more to trust in the promises of our heavenly Father!
So when someone asks me, “Does the battle ever get any easier?,” my response is, “Are you ready to invest for the long haul?” While I can’t go into everything that investing entails, I want to highlight a few simple, God-ordained means by which we can sow to the Spirit.
Negatively speaking, we sow to the Spirit by removing all hindrances and sin that weaken our endurance in the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). The battle won’t get easier if we continue to keep temptation close at hand. No one struggling with alcohol hangs out at the bars, and yet we often do very little to truly cut off access to sexual temptation, especially through technology.
We also sow to the Spirit by acknowledging our weaknesses and making wise arrangements that will helps us in those areas. A weakness may be a time, a place, a circumstance, or an experience. You need to know where you’re weak and plan accordingly. So often we lose the battle because we fail to plan, and we don’t take our failures as opportunities to learn.
Positively, we sow to the Spirit through the ordinary means of grace, including, but not limited to, prayer, the reading of Scripture, hearing the Word preached, and genuine fellowship with believers. It is rare to meet a man ensnared in sexual sin who also has vibrant fellowship with God through daily prayer and Bible reading.
You may have never thought about it this way, but I’m convinced that fighting sexual sin is a “good work.” In fact, I would go so far as to say it is Kingdom work. And when no one else in the world sees or cares about your resistance to temptation, God sees you, along with innumerable angels who fall down in worship before him who is worthy of your obedience, even when it requires great pain and endurance.
If you will faithfully sow into this Kingdom work, not giving Satan a foothold, you will find that the battle gets easier. As my former colleague David White liked to say, “Faithfully sowing to the Spirit makes temptation go from being a lion that will devour you every time to becoming a mosquito in your life. Mosquitos can be annoying and pesky, but they don’t devour you. But if you continue to sow to the flesh, you are feeding the lion.”
Where will you invest your heart and time today? What you do in the present is an investment into your future.
¹David Powlison, “Answers for the Human Condition: Why I Chose Seminary for Training in Counseling,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2001: 49.
03 Jun 2021
Name: Mark Sanders
Position: Director of Discipleship
Hometown: Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
Describe your work at Harvest USA.
As the Director of Discipleship at our main office in Dresher, PA, I oversee the Men’s, Women’s, and Parents and Family Ministries, but the majority of my work is focused on the Men’s Ministry. I am in charge of shaping and directing what we offer to men who come to us for help with a variety sexual struggles. I also recruit, train, and provide support for interns and volunteers who serve in our biblical support groups. While I provide a large amount of oversight, I spend a fair amount of time doing individual discipleship and facilitating our in-house biblical support groups each week. Alongside of my responsibilities in our direct ministry, I am also a part of our equipping team at Harvest USA. In seeking to equip the Church to faithfully disciple her members in matters of sexuality, I am involved in resource development, teaching and training events, and writing articles for our blogs and magazines. Lastly, I also film, edit, and produce the majority of our video content at Harvest USA, including our 15-lesson Sunday school DVD series, God’s Design for Sexually in a Changing Culture.
How did you get to Harvest?
Like most people involved in ministries like Harvest USA, my heart longs to see men experience deep repentance, transformation, healing, and change in the area of sexual brokenness because this is my own story. My generation was the first to grow up with entire adult bookstores readily available within the confines of your own bedroom. I spent many years, first as a Christian adolescent and then as a young adult, fighting and wrestling to break free of the chains of sexual sin. Through the ordinary means of grace that God provides for his people, the Holy Spirit did a decisive and powerful work of redemption in my life, and, as I considered potential vocational ministry, Harvest USA was always in the back of my mind as one way that God could turn for good what Satan and my own heart meant for evil. While going through my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary, I had the privilege of volunteering and interning with both Harvest USA and CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation). My internship with Harvest was both challenging and rewarding, and it eventually led to me joining the staff in June of 2015.
What is your favorite Scripture?
As my colleague, Jim, has said, different seasons tend to highlight different Scriptures. Right now, I continue to come back to Colossians 3:1–4 for a few reasons.
First, my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary whetted my appetite to go further into the insights of my school’s theological forerunners. In particular, the writings of Geerhardus Vos as expounded on by Richard Gaffin have deeply shaped me. Gaffin’s work on union with Christ and his explanation of the centrality of the resurrection in the writings of Paul have greatly enriched my understanding of the gospel and salvation. Colossians 3 and Romans 6 have become so important to me when I think about the practical implications of being presently raised with Christ.
Second, this passage has given me great comfort as I watch my mother’s decline with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Apart from occasional smiles, precious-but-momentary eye contact, and squeezing my hand, my mother has lost virtually all of her ability to communicate with us. I have so many difficult questions about her experience, with few answers, but what God has made clear to me is that my mother’s life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). This idea of hiding has so many precious implications for my mom. First, who she truly is in Christ is hidden from us right now. We don’t yet see her in her glorified state, but, in Christ, she has already been raised with and united to the firstfruits of one resurrection harvest. Second, being hidden with Christ means that she is safe in his arms. Nothing, not even Alzheimer’s disease can steal her away from her permanent home in the heavenly places. Third, Christ hides what is most precious to him. There is not one second of my mother’s suffering when Christ is not actively caring for her and providing for all of her needs.
To end this brief reflection, verse 4 is incredibly hope-giving. Right now, my mother is not who she once was. She used to be strong, filled with life and vigor. Her laugh lit up a room. Now, looking at her, it is impossible to escape the ravages of the curse that mark her present experience. But as this disease slowly steals every earthly thing from her, even her life one day, I am reminded that, ultimately, Christ is her life. In almost every chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he is our life. My mom’s entire life is wrapped up in Christ. Her hope is fully tethered to him and him alone. One day, not only will I see her as she was before Alzheimer’s, but I will also see her as she will be when Christ appears in glory. It will be the extreme opposite of her current state. She will be radiant, glorious, and fully fit for eternal communion with our triune God.
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia?
For anyone who is local, it’s important that I clarify that I don’t live in Philadelphia proper, but in Montgomery County, which is part of the greater metropolitan area. It’s hard to have an objective perspective because I’ve spent the majority of my life here. Philly is home. Most people I know and love live here. And while I must admit I’d rather live in a state with more natural wonder and beauty, I think this is wonderful area to live in. There is so much diversity in Philadelphia, and, as a self-proclaimed foodie, I have much of the best cuisine from around the world within driving distance of my home. Lastly, growing up in Philly afforded me the privilege of not having to move away in order to attend seminary.
What is an interesting fact about yourself?
I lived in South Korea from 2007–2012. It was in Korea where God did some deep spiritual work in my heart, and he gave me a wealth of opportunities to share the gospel. I met my wife there and still have my in-laws and many friends there whom we love going to visit on a biennial basis. Before working at Harvest USA, I had a vision in seminary of doing similar work in South Korea. South Korea is like my second home, and my wife and I are fairly content not seeing much of the world as long as we can make frequent trips back to Korea! I’ve grown to feel strangely comforted every time we get on a plane and hear the captain speaking in Korean. It’s like I’m going back home. While the Lord clearly has called us to Philadelphia for this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually flew a U-Haul back to Korea one day.
08 Apr 2021
A few years ago, I made my first journey to Niagara Falls. I had seen pictures and videos and heard stories about this iconic landmark, but nothing could prepare me for the awe and wonder of seeing the falls up close. The sound was overwhelming. The mist spilled over into the parking lot. The sheer magnitude of this mammoth waterfall took my breath away.
For the first hour, I couldn’t get enough of viewing the falls from every angle possible, taking in the joy of feeling so small in comparison to something so glorious. But after three, four, then eight hours of being there, the dopamine rush in my brain dissipated. I no longer saw the falls with the same excitement or awe. They were just waterfalls—beautiful, yes, but I was ready to leave. I didn’t care to stay any longer.
The same could be said about sex. Sex is a wonderful gift from God to humanity, and every good feeling that accompanies sex is something God takes delight in, because he created it that way. He created our bodies to experience such soaring pleasure and excitement. He created husband and wife to know a depth of intimacy in sex that has no equal in other human relationships. He created sex to be a physically enthralling and intensely loving experience that makes husband and wife want to be nowhere else in the world except united to one another in those moments.
But then, it’s over. While the joy and intimacy of sex should last well beyond the moment, eventually, it’s time to move on to other good things. Holy, godly, loving sex is a wonderful experience, but it can’t fully satisfy our hearts, because God never designed it that way. God created Niagara Falls and sex, and both point beyond themselves to our Creator, who invites us into pleasures that are forevermore at his right hand.
All good, earthly experiences only satisfy to a certain point. Whether it is your favorite song, your favorite food, your favorite vacation spot, or your favorite person, they all have their limitations. C.S. Lewis put it best in Mere Christianity when he said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”¹
We’ve come to expect that every good experience has an expiration date. We all know the phrase, “Nothing good lasts forever.” But that’s not true, and it’s not the language of our hearts. Even though we find in this life that nothing fully satisfies, we still keep looking, hoping that eventually we’ll find what our hearts were made for. For all of those in Christ, we have found the One for whom our hearts were made.
God created our hearts to be satisfied fully in him alone. I know that some of you reading this might start to tune out because your experience of God doesn’t compare to the pleasures you find in this world. Your experience of worship, Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship often pales in comparison to food, sex, entertainment, and what the world holds up as “the good life.” If you balk at the idea that God alone can satisfy your heart, consider these two realities.
First, the life we live in the flesh, we live by faith. Faith is the instrument through which we delight in God in this life. Just as taste buds are required to enjoy food, so too faith is required to enjoy God. If you have found our triune God to be boring, unsatisfying, and a weak offering compared to the world’s delights, it is because you are coming to him on the basis of sight, not faith.
But if, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, you walk by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you, you will find that our God has no comparison, that he alone has the words of life. Every promise you’ll find in Scripture of life, delight, joy, and pleasure in the Lord are all eschatological realities that Christ himself has already entered into in his resurrection and ascension and freely gives to you through Spirit-wrought union with him. We must lay hold of these realities by faith, as they are not fully consummated realities yet.
Think of it this way. Jesus has already entered into heaven. Right now, he sits at the right hand of Father with every spiritual blessing. He is living in the fullness of resurrection life. If you are united to Christ by faith, Paul is so bold as to tell you that you are presently seated with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). The Father has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places through Christ (Ephesians 1:3). You not only died with Christ to sin, but you have also been raised with him as well! This present resurrection is only a spiritual resurrection, which is why we must walk by faith in “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Second, I want to challenge you to meditate on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Whatever you imagine heaven to be, it’s far better! Your mind has no capacity to even begin to comprehend what God has in store for you. While that should keep us humble about speculating what heaven will be like, it shouldn’t stop us from getting excited. To whet your appetite, let’s return to Niagara Falls.
Imagine going to Niagara Falls, and, instead of experiencing a slow diminishment of wonder and delight, your awe at the falls is not only sustained but also increases over time. This is what fellowship and communion with God will be like for all of eternity. Or, for you music lovers, just imagine listening to the same song on repeat thousands of times, and, each time you hear it, it’s sweeter than before! Worshipping the Lord for all of eternity will never get old. There will never come a point when we’ve had enough, when we’ll want to move on to something else.
Knowing God for all of eternity will be like climbing a mountain range. Hiking towards the peak, you expect to reach the end of the range, but, as you come to the summit, you look out ahead to see a dozen more peaks in the distance.² Even in eternity, God will still be the infinite Creator, and we will still be finite creatures. We’ll never exhaust the deepest mysteries of our God. There will always be secret things that only belong to the Lord, but what he will reveal to his people will sustain us for all of eternity and will only get sweeter over time!
Sex is a wonderful gift that God wants married couples to delight in, but, as my former colleague David White liked to say, “In eternity, it will be laughable to think about someone bemoaning a lack of sex here on this earth.” Why will it be laughable? Because we will have everything that sex was pointing towards. Both the delight and the unsatisfied longings that accompany sex should point us towards heaven!
I can think of no better way to end this short reflection than the final stanza of “Amazing Grace.”
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Then when we first begun.³
¹ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 136–137.
² This analogy of the mountain range did not originate with me, but, at this time, I am unaware of any other original source.
³ John Newton, “Amazing Grace,” in Trinity Hymnal (Rev. ed.), no. 460. It is commonly known that Newton did not write this stanza in the original hymn. All that is known is that this version of the hymn was arranged by Edwin O. Excell in 1900.
18 Mar 2021
“What will I do if they make me sign something that goes against my biblical beliefs?”
“How will I feed my family if I lose my job?”
“If we lose federal funding by staying faithful to our convictions, how will our organization survive?”
No doubt many of you have already been asking these very questions in light of bills like the Equality Act, which pose genuine threats to expressions of religious freedom in the United States. To be clear, very real injustices, violence, and hatred of people claiming an LGBTQ+ identity should be abhorrent to all Christians who honor God. Harvest USA is passionate that all people are made in the image of God and deserve to be cared for, respected, and treated with honor and dignity. But Christians are right to be concerned about the government forcing individual Christians or Christian organizations to do things that would go against their beliefs.
While the Equality Act may or may not dramatically change the limits of religious freedom in America, it is hard to deny the general direction that our country is headed in. The Church must face the reality that it is no longer advantageous to be a Christian in the larger culture. For a long time, it was considered a boost to your job resume to attend church regularly, and, to this day, it still seems a prerequisite for the highest public offices in our nation.
But, more and more, we are feeling and experiencing the liabilities that come with faithfully identifying with Jesus Christ. The cross is not only foolish to our culture; it is increasingly seen as dangerous. Faithfully holding to a biblical sexual ethic in the years to come will become even more costly for the church of Jesus Christ. So I ask you, as I need to ask myself, “Have you counted the cost of following Christ?”
Jesus told a great crowd in Luke 14:26–27, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
This passage, and many others like it, shares words that the Church in America has always needed to hear. But often, to our spiritual detriment, these warnings have felt largely inapplicable in our lives. Our expectations for life in America have often shown a blatant denial of Paul’s words that, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
But every believer, every church, every Christian organization in America is being called at this moment to do some spiritual accounting and boldly face the real cost of following Jesus. While I know that I still have much to pray through and many fears that need to be continually submitted to my high priest, I thank the Lord that he has already given me countless examples of men and women at Harvest USA who are showing me what it means to count that cost!
What do I mean by this?
Much of the work we do with men and women seeking out help for sexual struggles revolves around one central question: “Is Jesus worthy of your trust and complete submission?” One of the biggest reasons we often go back to our sins of choice is that we don’t believe that God will take care of us. As Isaiah described it, instead of trusting God to be our light in the darkness, we light our own torches, which results in torment (Isaiah 50:10–11).
The husband who is unwilling to confess his sexual sin to his wife doesn’t believe that God will bring him through the relational pain that would inevitably follow. And so he continues to play the role of the perfect husband, all the while sinking deeper into hidden shame and misery.
The single woman who desperately wants to be known, loved, cherished, and cared for seems to have found what she’s looking for in another woman. She is faced with the gut-wrenching choice of being offered two antithetical paths, wishing she could hold onto Christ while also pursuing what she feels would make her happy.
The young man who, from an early age, has struggled to fit in with his peers finds himself more drawn to his mother than his father, his sisters than his brothers, and even female clothing and makeup. Now he feels the daily pressure from the wider culture to embrace the narrative that he is actually a woman trapped in a man’s body and that to deny this reality would be to live a lie.
The wife whose husband has gravely sinned against her in committing adultery is now faced with the excruciating call to forgive her husband, and pray for him, while her own world is collapsing all around her.
The parents whose child tells them that she is transgender threatens to cut off all relational connection with them if they do not embrace her choice to transition. They desperately want to maintain relationship with their child, but they feel stuck about how to do that.
Each of these men and women are, in their own ways, being forced to count the cost of following Christ. For most of them, this cost is not financial, but relational. It is a sobering reality to sit with a man and call him to do something that may change his life forever. It is heart-wrenching to have to tell him that his obedience may not result in the outcome that he wants. I’ve felt my body shake as I imagine the very real possibility of a future wrought with loneliness, rejection, and difficult consequences as a result of his obedience.
But there are few moments in my life as precious as seeing these men and women count that cost and do so with genuine hope and joy. When someone decides to follow Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death, I’ve never seen them do so despairingly. Without exception, I always see a measure of hope, peace, and even joy as they follow their good Shepherd. If only we could see what is happening spiritually when the Holy Spirit brings that conviction and hope. I firmly believe that I have witnessed miracles in our office that exceed the wonder of walking on water. I have seen brothers and sisters boldly and courageously step out into the storm with their eyes fixed upon Christ! I have seen young men struggling with same-sex attraction, never knowing if God will grant them a spouse, boldly testify that God is their portion, both in this life and in the next. I have seen husbands resolve to confess their sin of adultery to their wives, knowing that it may lead to the end of their marriages. I have seen wives graciously extend costly forgiveness to their husbands, even when their churches and their own families were opposed it.
We get regular front-row seats into the stories of fellow saints carrying heavy crosses. But here’s the key: They don’t carry them alone. None of them do this in their own strength. They do so through abiding in Christ and through genuine fellowship with his Body. The Church in America will not survive if our relationships with one another only stay on the surface. We will not bear up under the pressure if Jesus is not our life and deepest satisfaction.
You may be reading this and asking yourself, “Will I have the strength to lose anything in order to follow Christ?” If you’re concerned with your response, ask yourself these four vital questions:
- Have I learned the secret of having plenty, and being full, through Christ who strengthens me? If you haven’t learned Christian contentment in seasons of plenty, you won’t be ready for a season of hunger and want.
- Have I been getting through life as a functional lone ranger, or do I have brothers and sisters who truly know me? In times of peace and ease, our sense of need for one another can go numb. But when the true cost of following Christ is put before you, you shouldn’t expect to make the right decision on your own.
- Is Jesus my portion in this life and the next? God describes himself in Scripture as a generous Father who knows not only how to provide for his children’s needs but who also loves to give us an abundance of good gifts that show his lavish character. But more than the gifts he gives, God wants us to ultimately rejoice in him, the greatest gift to his people. If you don’t love Jesus more than anything right now, you won’t be ready to lose whatever is required of you for his sake and the gospel.
- Am I seeking first his Kingdom and righteousness? Jesus knows that we are prone to anxiety about our earthly needs, and, as our good Shepherd, he doesn’t merely chastise us for our concerns. Instead, he shows us how to live a life of genuine peace and hope. To paraphrase Matthew 6:33, Jesus basically says to his people, “Focus your energy on the Kingdom, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Working at Harvest USA has shown me that it is possible to hate even my own life as a faithful disciple of Christ. I’ve seen so many men and women do so in our offices to the glory of God. And our Lord’s promise to us is that, if we lose our life for his sake and the gospel’s, then we will save it (Mark 8:35).
11 Feb 2021
The following is meant to help those who are weary in their battle to overcome sin and who need help knowing how to pray and cry out to God for a fresh start.
Father, I’m scared…
I’m scared of many things. I’m scared of people finding out who I really am. I’m scared of seeing their faces when they hear about my sexual sin. I’m scared of the consequences not only for me but also for those I love if this ever gets out. I’m scared of being seen as a fraud, a pervert, a hypocrite. I’m scared that everyone will abandon me, and I’ll be alone in my sin and shame. I’m scared of wearing a scarlet A for the rest of my life.
But, Lord, I’m also scared of my heart growing colder and colder towards you. I’m scared of what this sin is doing to me and how it is destroying my mind and thought life. I’m scared that I’ve already gone far deeper into places of sin and darkness than I ever expected, and that maybe I’ll go even further. I’m scared that I’m not really your child; what if I’m just fooling myself into thinking I am? There are so many parts of the Bible I avoid because I know they expose me and my hypocrisy. It’s been so long since I’ve read your Word with delight because I’m constantly bombarded with guilt and fear when I read it.
I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I want a third way! I want an easy way out. I want to be truly known and loved, but I don’t want people to know these things about me.
Jesus, you tell me in your Word that you are the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to go after the one lost sheep. I know you’ve come for me. I sense your Spirit convicting me. I used to be able to live a double life with ease and even excitement. But now I feel like David in Psalm 32 when he said, “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.”
Lord, I feel your heavy hand upon me, and I cannot escape your conviction. I have to tell others. The thought of putting on a fake smile for one more Sunday is too much! I’m so tired of hearing compliments from others when I know they would take them all back in a second if they knew the truth. Their words of encouragement sting! Their affirmation leaves me feeling even more empty!
I know the only way forward is to follow you, Jesus, into the valley of the shadow of death. I confess that I struggle to believe that you too won’t abandon me there. I’m not sure I even know what it means for your rod and staff to comfort me—because I’ve rejected your comfort for so long in exchange for the comforts of sin. You’re asking me to trust you with something that would be completely new for me. And yet, Lord, even now, I do sense your Spirit comforting me. As painful and scary as it is, I feel a strange comfort at the thought of surrendering my life completely to you. Is this what Paul meant when he said that your peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus?
Father, Abba Father, I need to confess to you that I have made so many excuses for why it was right for me to hide. I don’t know whether I really believed them or not, but I kept justifying myself, and I kept hoping that somehow you’d excuse me too. I made the excuse that telling the truth would hurt people too much, and I wanted to spare them of that pain. Forgive me, Father, for I know that wasn’t really true. It wasn’t ultimately about sparing them pain—I was really protecting myself. I didn’t want to feel the pain of causing others pain. In my heart, I know that telling the truth is not what ultimately causes them pain; my actions have done that. If I really cared about them as I said I did, I wouldn’t have done these things over and over again for so long.
I need your grace, Lord, to get me through this. I don’t have what it takes. I don’t have the strength to see my loved ones hurting so much and not turn inwards on myself. I want to truly grieve with them and not sink into self-pity and despair. How could I possibly love someone this way when I feel so wretched about myself?
Jesus, did you really bear all of my sin on the cross? Did you take the shame, the mocking, the scorn, the beating, the nails, and the wrath of the Father because you love me and want me to live in freedom? Do you really love me? Do you see my sin? Do you really see the decades of hiding, of living for myself, and still want me?
Right now, Jesus, as weak as my faith is, I’m trying to believe you and take you at your word because you said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Lord, I come to you for cleansing, for forgiveness, and for redemption. I can’t fix myself. I can’t clean myself up. I am utterly in need of you to restore me.
I’m so scared of the shame and the scorn, but you took that shame upon yourself in love so that, “Everyone who believes in you will not be put to shame.” Lord, if I expose my sin to others, I know I will feel shame. And I know others will seek to shame me further. But I believe. I pray that you would help my unbelief, that at the final day, I would not be put to shame if I trust in you. In spite of my sin, I will be raised, and when you appear in your glory, Jesus, I will appear with you in glory!
Jesus, I died with you. I have been crucified with you. It is no longer I who live, but you who live in me. Help me to no longer walk by sight but by faith in you, the Son of God, who loved me and gave yourself for me. Hallelujah! All I have is Christ!
Help me, Father, to see that I am fundamentally beloved in Christ; while I was still your enemy, you loved me so much that you sent your Son to die for me. I have no argument against that! I only plead with you to give me the grace to believe this more and more each day.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in view of your great mercy towards me, I commit to telling ________ about my sin today! I’m picking up the phone right now to tell them that I need to talk with them about something very important, and I commit to setting a date and time to speak with them. Holy Spirit, give me your words to speak. Help me not to just spew details that are too specific, but to speak truthfully and appropriately. Lord, right now, I ask that you would make their ears and heart ready to receive this very painful news. Prepare _______’s heart to turn quickly to you, Jesus, as the one who wants to bear our burdens. Bring others around them for support in this devastating news. Guard me against wanting a quick resolution, and prepare me for whatever the response may be. I confess that I want quick reconciliation, but, Lord, even if that never comes on this side of glory, help me to continue to trust you.
I love you, Lord. I know that life is going to become very difficult. But there’s no other way, and I’m done with doing things my way. I thank you for your peace right now, and I pray for peace for my loved ones. Guide me, Savior; lead me. I thank you for being with me in this time of prayer, and I ask your blessing upon this step of faith, in the name of my Savior Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me. Amen!
14 Jan 2021
A complex web of mixed emotions, circumstances, and motivations lead us to feel like victims—and we have all felt this way at some point. On one hand, none of us wants to feel like a victim of our circumstances. It makes us feel powerless, frustrated, ashamed, and hopeless. But, on the other hand, a victim mentality unlocks endless opportunities for justifying escapist behaviors that, at the very least, make our difficult circumstances a little more bearable. Perhaps in no other setting does our sin feel so justified as when we see ourselves fundamentally as victims.
Let me give you an example of this dynamic:
Frank is 50 years old, works a demanding job in sales, and has a boss who is slow to compliment and quick to criticize. He is married with four children, and he is the sole breadwinner for the family. He often fears getting fired from his job and being unable to provide for his family. This leads him to work long hours, and, with the little time he’s able to sleep, he’s often kept awake by anxious thoughts.
Frank’s wife is frustrated with his lack of attention to her and the kids. The only day he’s not working in some capacity is Sunday, and he typically spends the majority of the day sleeping and watching TV. His wife has tried many times to address his lack of engagement with their children, and she’s worried about their oldest son, who has been caught with marijuana on three separate occasions.
Frank feels like a victim. At work, he’s unappreciated and expected to be on call any hour of the day. At home, he feels the same thing from his wife. He doesn’t think she appreciates how much he does by providing for the family, and all he hears from her are complaints. This has led Frank to seek out conversations with women through a phone-sex hotline. Frank feels that these women are the only people who care about him, who listen to his problems, legitimize his pain, and make him feel special.
For Frank—and all of us—his experience of feeling like a victim is a mixture of legitimate and illegitimate grievances. He is genuinely mistreated and taken advantage of as an employee, but he misjudges his wife’s concerns as expressing the same critical spirit as his boss. Frank lacks discernment, and, in his isolation, he paints everyone in his life with the same broad brush. He finds himself in an ever-descending experience of never feeling adequate, and he blames everyone else in his life, including God.
What Frank needs is holistic, gospel ministry. He needs someone who will speak the whole truth in love to him. That means addressing both his suffering and his sin because that is how Jesus ministers to us. He both heals and rebukes. He ministers with a gracious, gentle touch—but also with clear calls to repentance. In John 5, Jesus heals an invalid who couldn’t walk for 38 years and then tells him, “Sin no more.” Jesus meets us holistically in all of our needs.
Here are four ways you could help Frank:
1. Validate his suffering—Jesus cares about the fact that Frank is kept up at night with anxiety and exhaustion. As Jesus indwells Frank through the Holy Spirit, he is intimately near him in his pain. Jesus knows what it is to stay up all night in torment of the soul. He knows what it means to be mistreated, abused, unfairly criticized, and maligned. He’s not ashamed to call Frank his brother! Jesus is on the side of those who suffer injustice.
2. Rebuke his sinful response to suffering—Frank is sinning in many ways. He is neglecting his wife and children. He is committing adultery and covering it up with lies and deceit. And he justifies these actions by fundamentally identifying as a victim. But this mentality has not led to a response of faith. God gives us a clear opportunity in our sufferings to turn to him for help. Frank’s greatest sin is one of unbelief. He doesn’t believe that God is an ever-present help. He doesn’t believe that God is a God of justice. He doesn’t believe Isaiah 30:15: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” Instead, Frank is doing what the Israelites did in their affliction from enemy invaders. Isaiah goes onto say, “But you were unwilling, and you said, ‘No! We will flee upon horses.’”
Frank has been unwilling to return to God. He’s been unwilling to quiet his soul before the Lord and find his strength and salvation in trusting and resting in God. Instead, he finds false strength in blaming everyone in his life. He seeks comfort and understanding from people who don’t love him and only want his money.
3. Show him Christ’s heart—Jesus sees Frank holistically. There isn’t one moment of suffering or affliction that Jesus misses or forgets. There isn’t one sinful response of Frank’s heart that goes unnoticed. Jesus knows Frank perfectly. Jesus looks him in the eyes with love and says, “I long to be gracious to you, and I exalt myself in showing you mercy. I am a God of justice, and you will be blessed if you wait for me” (paraphrase of Isaiah 30:18). Christ invites Frank into an embrace of forgiveness, protection, comfort, and rest. Frank has but to believe and turn to him!
4. Show him Christ’s power—Frank’s identifying as a victim kills any motivation to love others. Each complaint or criticism just adds fuel to a self-focused pursuit of comfort. But, in union with Christ, Frank has the supernatural ability to respond to criticism in two fundamentally new ways:
1) First, because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to Frank, he has the freedom to acknowledge his sin and failure with his family. He is able to own his sin without his identity being crushed because he has been made righteous in Christ. He’s even able to genuinely grieve his sin against his family and work to change the priorities of his life. Only by living out of our new identity in Christ do we have the ability to receive legitimate criticism.
2) Secondly, Frank is able to respond to his company’s injustice and abuse with long-suffering Christlikeness because the Spirit of the resurrected Christ abides within Frank, giving him new life. In 1 Peter 2:23, Peter tells us that when Jesus “was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus is the true Israelite who responded to God’s call in Isaiah 30 perfectly. Jesus rested in his Father’s care. His strength came from a quiet trust in God. Jesus is the blessed man who waited on the Lord.
Even more amazingly, Jesus willingly subjected himself to this abuse because he loves Frank. Peter goes on in verse 24 to say, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Jesus’ unjust death and suffering purchased for us the forgiving and sanctifying power of salvation. Because Jesus suffered victoriously on our behalf, Peter’s response is the same as Isaiah’s: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (verse 25).
Do you feel like a victim? Are you using your experience as an excuse to continue in sin? Return to the Lord, and receive the comfort he can provide by changing your mentality. “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”