28 Oct 2021
The following is meant to help those who are weary in their battle to overcome sin and need to know how to pray and cry out to God for help.
Father, help…help, God. I don’t know what else to do to get rid of this thing—why won’t you take this away?!
Sexual obedience? Integrity? How is that possible when the temptation chases, hounds, calls out to me day after day? Why do you allow me to feel these things and not have them satisfied? Will it ever get easier? Will I ever be free from this? Is this the cross to bear that people talk about, something that dominates every day of my life? How is this fair? These questions haunt me.
My feelings seem to have the loudest voice right now, so I’ll start there. Looking at porn last night felt good! Sure, it was horrible two hours later, but even though I know that stuff is evil, somehow it does help me forget about the rest of my broken life… so much that I can’t find the words to pray. I earnestly desire to fix my eyes on Jesus, but how do I do that when my feelings are just a swirl of inner turmoil? I feel like the man in Mark’s gospel who cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (9:24). I admit that it feels so hard to believe right now. Oh please, help me to feel differently, to think with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and to trust you. Help, God! My unbelief is wrecking me.
I resonate with the words of the Psalmist when he says, “My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me” (Psalm 38:10). My attempts to help myself have failed. All I want to do is run away. I keep hearing thoughts in my head telling me to hide, saying that other people can’t handle my truth. They tell me I’m not good enough. I might as well quit because I’m too far gone. Where are you, my God? Is this all worth it?
Father, have mercy on me and cause my heart to long for you, even in this minute. Change my desires to truly want you, to want to taste and see that you are good (Psalm 34:8). I’m helpless and need you to save and rescue me from hopelessness and help me get outside myself. I don’t have the words to say right now, but your Word says “to draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” I resist the enemy, who is whispering all these lies to me, and I turn to you, crying out for your help (James 4:7–8). O God, help me!
Even though I am distressed, I am not broken. Even though I am overwhelmed and all I feel is despair, there is hope. Keep me from losing heart. Paul says that though my outer self is wasting away, my inner self is being renewed every day. Help me to see this. Help me to look not at the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. Give me grace to lift my eyes off my here and now and know that the battle I’m fighting in this moment isn’t pointless; it carries eternal weight (2 Corinthians 4:8, 16–18).
I know the verses about your grace being sufficient for me by heart. I want to believe that in my weakness, you are strong. But, if I’m honest, I don’t like how it feels to be so weak. I feel so exposed and out of control. I am not remotely close to being able to boast in my weakness, nor can I say that I am content in hardships and persecutions like Paul. Even so, help me believe that in my weakness, I am strong because of Jesus, even though it doesn’t feel that way (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
Help me not give in to my feelings that tell me you are not present and that you are a distant, impersonal God. Psalm 23 tells me that you are my Shepherd, you provide me with all that I need, you give me rest, you lead me into places of peace, and you bring restoration to my soul. Even though I feel like you have abandoned me and that you will push me away because of my despair and doubts, your goodness and mercy chase after me.
A few years ago, I talked to a man whose girlfriend had recently told him about her past, which included intimate relationships with women. When I asked what he thought about that, he said, “I want to marry a woman someday that has been through something hard. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t as important to a woman who has walked through the fire.”
That comment has stayed with me for years. His perspective was refreshing. Instead of seeing his girlfriend’s past as a disqualification from being marriage material, he saw it as just the opposite. She had persevered and endured things that he knew very little about, but what he did see in her was a woman whom the fire had shaped through suffering.
2 Corinthians 5:16–17 says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” These verses are loaded with meaning, but Paul is acknowledging how, after his conversion, he no longer evaluated people by external, human standards but rather by who they were in Christ, as new creations. Just like the Christian’s sins are paid for by Christ’s substitutionary death, the Christian’s old value systems are replaced with Christ’s righteousness. The cross frees the believer to live a life controlled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).
What does this have to do with the person you are dating and his same-sex attraction? It has everything to do with it! If this is a part of your girlfriend’s past, God counts her old life as ended. If this is a part of your boyfriend’s present, the power of sin has been broken. While this sin struggle may still be a part of his or her life, it no longer controls, and it certainly isn’t what defines that person.
The man in the story from above didn’t see the outward sin struggle of his girlfriend; instead, he saw her heart and, therefore, her beauty as a new creation in Christ. This is really hard to do when you are dealing with something that you perhaps don’t understand. If you are being really honest, maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend’s struggle feels even worse than other sins to you, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
Check your own sins first.
It is tempting to look at other people’s sins like they are worse than your own (Matthew 7:3–5). We might even see others’ sins and not really know how to deal with them. Before you allow yourself to worry about the nuances of your boyfriend or girlfriend’s sin, you should have the humility to first examine yours. If we see ourselves rightly, we are less likely to hold struggles against someone else because, after all, we all struggle. Some of us just struggle with things that are more public than others’ hidden sins.
Not every same-sex friend is dangerous.
A common misconception is that if someone is attracted to the same sex, then they could be attracted to anyone of the same sex; therefore, no one of the same sex is safe. This is simply not true! Same-sex attraction looks different for each person, just as heterosexual attraction does. We would never say that a person is attracted to every single person of the opposite sex, so we shouldn’t impose that assumption on people who have an attraction to some persons of the same sex.
Resist the temptation to project others’ sin into the future.
It can be tempting to over-fixate on how your boyfriend or girlfriend’s struggle will impact the future. You may wonder, “Will they always struggle with this? What if we get married and this becomes a larger issue? Will I be enough?” These are scary questions, but you don’t even know how your own sin struggles are going to present themselves in the future, so don’t waste time trying to predict theirs. If God plans for this person to be in your future, he will provide the grace needed to walk that out with this person.
With those caveats in mind, here are five things you can do to care well for your boyfriend or girlfriend’s heart:
- Seek to understand your boyfriend or girlfriend’s heart. Resist the temptation to be a detective who only wants to know whether your girlfriend is going to struggle with this particular sin while you date her. As with any sin struggle, pain, heartache, confusion, and misunderstanding accompany sexual sin. If you learn what this experience has been like for your significant other, your questions might be answered, and you might even be surprised by the strength and faith that has led him or her to Jesus.
- Treat this struggle the same as you would any other struggle. Instead of responding with, “I don’t know what to do about this,” you should simply do what we are called to do as Christians: Extend love and grace (1 John 4:7, 1 Corinthians 13). Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2, Colossians 3:13). Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). Show Christ’s love (John 15:12, Romans 12:10). Die to self (Luke 9:23). And so on.
- See Christ at work. Truly see your boyfriend or girlfriend as a person, not just his or her struggle. Marvel at his or her perseverance. Look with wonder upon your boyfriend’s awareness of his dependency on Jesus. Respect your girlfriend’s strength as she stands upon God’s promises. God allows our struggles to bring us to himself. If this is what God uses in someone’s life, it is not for you to change or fix the struggle; after all, he or she will have to do the same thing for your struggles by appreciating God working in you.
- Discern your emotional response. Work to understand the root of your heart’s response to this information. What is the cause of your fear, intimidation, anger, or insecurities? Are you worried? What specifically about this concerns you? Are you afraid? Are you intimidated? What is it that you don’t feel capable of addressing? Why? God might use this in your life and heart as much as he is using it in your significant other’s.
- Acknowledge your significant other’s humility and courage to entrust you with this. To be honest is to be brave. It would be far easier for your girlfriend to keep this from you than it is to invite you into her struggle. Don’t miss an opportunity to encourage your boyfriend for taking the courageous step of being known in this way. Whatever you do, don’t use this information as a weapon. Instead of distorting the struggle to be all about you, how might God be giving you a unique opportunity to be a reflection of Christ, who diffuses shame and loves us with tenderness (Ephesians 5:1–2)?
You probably did not anticipate a sexual struggle like this to be one of the challenges in your dating relationship. Perhaps you knew you would have to deal with selfishness, different priorities, and baggage from each other’s pasts. Likely, God has surprised you with caring about someone whose story contains a significant sexual struggle. Is God’s grace sufficient to let Christ’s love compel you forward and to refrain from looking at this person from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:14–17)?
If marriage is in view for your relationship, you will need to realistically face this struggle together, as with any sin. To a degree, most marriages experience things like intimacy challenges, painful feelings of rejection, and loneliness.* Ultimately, all of us need to unlearn our culture’s slavery to spontaneous passions and instead learn intentional and sacrificial intimacy. The unique nuances of walking alongside a spouse dealing with same-sex attraction is different for each couple. None of these challenges should be minimized, and, as you walk this out together, inviting others whom you trust into this challenge is a wise and perhaps necessary choice.
Whether your relationship continues moving forward or not, you have an invitation to love this brother or sister by imitating Jesus. The patience, understanding, and care you model to her through your dating relationship might be what God uses to show her Jesus. Men and women who drink deeply of the grace of Jesus and forsake the attractions that feel so natural to them are courageous. They should not be made to feel like they are unlovable but, rather, should be embraced with the compassionate love of Christ through his people—especially those whom they are moving towards in romantic relationship. This is not other to Jesus, and it shouldn’t be to any of us either.
* For further reading about same-sex attraction in marriage, see Tammy Perlmutter’s article, “My Mixed Orientation Marriage,” on our website.
Join Shalee as she talks about commonly deferred hopes, dreams, and expectations; the painful feelings that accompany these unfulfilled longings; a biblical way of hoping well; and how God sees our pain and wants us to come to him.
27 May 2021
Do you enjoy or despise it when someone asks you, “Is there anything I can do for you?” This question might be a kind gesture that makes you feel seen and provides just the care you need. Or maybe you find this question difficult to answer. Not only can it be challenging to receive help, but pinpointing specific needs can also feel impossible as we struggle to articulate what we may have kept hidden in our hearts.
Not so with a man named Bartimaeus! This blind, marginalized man responded succinctly and immediately when Jesus asked him straightforwardly, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight” (Mark 10:51).
Friend, how would you answer Jesus’ question? Do you have secret sins that you dare not mention to Jesus because you fear his response? Maybe you wonder, “Can I actually talk to him about sexual addictions?” You may not be blind, but, like me, you have a lot more in common with Bartimaeus than you think, and that’s a good thing!
You can be boldly dependent
In Mark 10:46–52, we read about Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus. Apart from a miracle, there was no cure for his blindness; he would experience this ailment the rest of his life. One day, he was sitting on the side of the road when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. In desperation, he began yelling and crying out for mercy. The people around him tried to quiet him; how dare a blind man interrupt Jesus, who was journeying towards his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1–11)? But Jesus heard Bartimaeus and stopped to ask him a pointed question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51).
Like Bartimaeus, the men and women who come to our ministry for help and hope deeply feel their weakness and utter desperation to change. Yet what we see in this story is that simply acknowledging his impediment wasn’t sufficient for him; he needed to boldly acknowledge it before Jesus (and others!) and ask for help, which is a good model for us. Can you imagine what Bartimaeus may have been thinking and feeling after he uttered the words, “Let me recover my sight!” He couldn’t see Jesus’ facial expression or tell if he was listening carefully, but he believed enough to cry out for help, boldly and with utter dependence. You can too!
What does bold dependence look like?
- Naming your neediness to God (1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 145:18, and Psalm 28:1–2).
- Asking him to help you and to give you courage to reach out to others (Psalm 121:2, Matthew 11:28–30, and Philippians 4:6–7).
- Looking and waiting for God’s help (Jeremiah 29:12–13, Hebrews 4:16, Psalm 27:13–14, and Proverbs 3:5–6).
Jesus responds to us with attentive compassion
In this passage, we see Jesus respond to Bartimaeus’ specific need. Jesus knew he was blind, and he knew that the man desired his sight. Yet Jesus stops, asks him what he wants Jesus to do for him, listens, commends his faith, and eventually heals him. Before Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?,” he needed to approach Jesus in his heart. Here’s the crazy thing: Bartimaeus’ dependency and blindness is what qualified him to approach Jesus! He needed help from the only One who could truly help him!
Dane Ortlund says in his book, Gentle and Lowly, “The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with. Verse 28 of the passage in Matthew 11 tells us explicitly who qualifies for fellowship with Jesus: ‘all who labor and are heavy laden.’ You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come.”¹
Not long ago, a friend of mine asked what I wanted Jesus to do for me. I struggled to answer. What am I allowed to say? The thing that scared me the most about answering this is that to be honest is to be vulnerable. If I bared my heart before Jesus in such an honest way, how would he look at me? How would he respond? Would he hurt me or be disappointed in me like others were when I was vulnerable with them? Would this be the one time that he withheld grace or forgiveness?
To answer honestly would mean an additional layer of trust and surrender to him, which is why I think Jesus asks the question in the first place. Answering his question gives us an opportunity to express our trust in him. I see this same tension in some of the women who come to our ministry. In the midst of wrestling with sexual sin, they can be tempted to believe that what they’re going through is where Jesus draws the line. Strugglers can believe that his compassionate care, his tenderness, his forgiveness applies to everyone else—but not you and not what you’re going through. But, like Bartimaeus, our specific heartaches and struggles are the very things that qualify us to go to the One who can help. His attentive compassion awaits us.
Steps to help you engage conversation with Jesus
First, know that Jesus sees you and is inviting you to be honest with him in the same way that he addressed Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:50). Would your answer to Jesus solely focus on healing you from your sexual sin? Healing from porn addiction, attraction to the same sex, etc.? What can or should we ask for?
Consider asking God for grace (2 Corinthians 12:9–10), for comfort amidst the pain of ongoing struggle (2 Corinthians 1:3–4), that you would know him more amidst trials (John 17:3), for healing for your broken heart (Psalm 147:3), and to feel his nearness (Psalm 34:18).
God uses suffering as an opportunity to know him more, so instead of praying solely for the pain to go away, how might you pray for more of him amidst it? Here are some ideas:
- Walk towards Jesus. Bartimaeus “sprang up” and came to Jesus (Mark 10:50). He didn’t cry out for help and then sit back, hoping Jesus would find him. Despite not being able to see Jesus, simply knowing he was there was enough to make Bartimaeus reach out to him. We too can do this by going to Jesus rather than walking away to false comforts, distractions, or pulling away in isolation.
- Start with honesty. Tell him your pain, struggle, and shame. Try to put words on it. I mean really tell him. This might be messy and full of tears or feel like emotional turmoil; it probably won’t feel neat, tidy, and emotionally composed. We are complex beings, so when our emotions get stirred, we need to keep intentionally bringing these things to the Lord. Jesus is a Shepherd who also shepherds us through our emotions. You know what? It is okay if you go to Jesus, and you can only muster up “I don’t know” in answer to his question.
- Are your thoughts all that you’re listening to? Sometimes our shame and pain can drown out what God is trying to share with us. Answering Jesus’ question is only a part of his interaction with us. After Bartimaeus told Jesus what he wanted him to do, Jesus spoke back to him (Mark 10:52). His Word and his Holy Spirit also speak promises and comfort to us, but we live in a noisy world, and our own thoughts usually have a lot to say. Silence can feel awkward or even painfully loud. Listening is a skill that often requires practice, so consider how you can pursue quiet, slow down, and simply listen. Are you leaving space to pause and listen?
The physical healings we observe Jesus doing in the gospels reveal his power and the in-breaking of his reign as Savior. Can Jesus simply take away and heal your struggles? Yes, he could, but it seems that God more often leads his children through a process of transformation that draws us closer to him, and not only to answers. He longs for our full restoration, yet is just as passionate about having a close relationship with you.
Think about that! Your sexual and relational sins are serious, and God does want them to be repented of through changed behavior. Yet, more than that, he wants your heart changed through faith, dependent upon him, especially when temptations remain or growth is slow. He is not withholding anything from you and will not withdraw from you either!
Which of the above seem to be the most necessary step for you to take? Are you sitting on the road like Bartimaeus, needing to cry out for help with bold dependence? Have you heard Jesus’ call to come near to him, to leave where you are and ask for help? Have you been praying, seeking to grow, and yet change is slow? Jesus not only knows what you need to do next but is also with you as you take that step. Don’t give up; follow the example of a blind beggar who got up, approached Jesus, and followed him on his way.
¹ Dane Ortlund. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2020. 20.
21 Apr 2021
This blog, along with the sampling of questions, is an excerpt from Lesson 6 of Sexual Faithfulness: Gospel-Infused, Practical Discipleship for Women, our new small group curriculum. Sexual Faithfulness is available as a free digital download in our online store.
“What are you thinking?” We ask this of each other often, don’t we? When our minds are troubled, and our thoughts seem filled with unholy and disturbing ideas or images, we need outside help. Christ does not leave us to fend for ourselves but rescues us out of our distress to produce peace in our thought lives.
God’s Word makes a startling statement about a believer’s thought life. 1 Corinthians 2:16 tells us that, through our union with Jesus, we now have the mind of Christ. This gives us the ability to distinguish good from evil and truth from lies. Believers can think as Christ thinks. Throughout this lifetime, we will battle to keep our thoughts set on him and the truths of Scripture, but, no matter what you have been through, it is possible to have your mind renewed so that you experience thought patterns that line up with the gospel and an increasingly Christ-centered emotional life.
Women who have pursued pornography, sexual fantasy, sinful sexual experiences, and other expressions of sexual sin increase their likelihood of experiencing troubled thought lives. Sadly, women who have been sinned against with sexual trauma can have troubled thought lives, through no fault of their own. Some say that an image or memory can pop into their minds in an instant, even though they have not looked at porn or been involved sexually with someone for years. Others’ patterns of thought are entangled with troubling emotions that seem deeply engrained in their responses; prayer, Bible reading, and listening to Christian music push away these thoughts for a time, but they still return. Distressing, scary, shame-provoking memories about themselves, their bodies, men, women, relationships, and more flood their minds like an incoming wave or an unexpected hurricane that threatens to undo them.
The Bible teaches that all things are the servants of God (Psalm 119:91) and that all things are in subjection to and under the authority of Jesus (Ephesians 1:22–23). Yet many of us struggle to come anywhere close to clean and holy thought lives that serve Jesus. Present and past experiences have formed pathways in our minds that produce dark thoughts—and usually result in sinful behaviors too. Maybe we have absorbed sexual images through pornography, movies that normalize and celebrate sin, or books that feed sensual ideas and fantasies. Maybe the memories that currently trouble you aren’t primarily sexual in focus, but they are connected to messy relational dynamics in which you were ensnared, like codependency and emotional enmeshment. Perhaps fear triggers a moving sidewalk in your thoughts that carries you from distraction to distress to destructive patterns of thinking.
We have thoughts; we feel different things; we make behavioral choices and decisions. Trying to untangle and tease out all the components can be complicated. Whether this process occurs over a matter of seconds, minutes, hours, or days, we eventually arrive at conclusions. Many women describe the result of this moving sidewalk as a painful, hopeless place in their minds that eventually leads them to respond with less-than-helpful choices and actions.
Do you relate to this at all? If so, how? If this does not resonate with you, what has helped you to keep your thoughts off the moving sidewalk?
2 Corinthians 10:3–5 is one of the most quoted passages regarding our thought lives. Paul is defending his ministry against false teachers and the unbiblical ideas contained in their teachings. Just a few verses later in 11:1–3, we gain more insight into the unseen forces: Satan used false teaching to deceive and seduce the Corinthians’ minds away from devotion to Jesus. In addition to outside influences, our personal unbelief has effectively served as “false teachers” in our lives.
It’s important to recognize this so that we can learn how to take “every thought captive” to God’s truth in order to obey Christ. Rather than allowing our thinking to control us and lead to sin, we must let God’s Word control us and transform our thinking.
Sisters, sometimes we can be tempted to just want an easy, comfortable Christianity, can’t we? We often don’t want to do the hard work that results in a Christ-honoring, Bible-aligned thought life. Rather, we want to simply roll up to a drive-through, place an order through prayer, get what we want, and move on down the highway with a no-effort, no-cost faith. Here’s the problem with that: Such a highway doesn’t exist! As Romans 8:5–8 warns us, there is so much at stake when it comes to the posture of our thoughts.
For believers, over time, our belief systems and thought patterns are conformed more and more to God’s Word. Triggers will lose their power to tempt us towards sin and self as God’s Word becomes more real to us. Christ will be honored in our lives and relationships. Memories of certain images, stories, and experiences will fade over time, maybe completely, maybe not. But we will experience a huge change in how we respond to those memories and what choices we make when we’re triggered by them. The result will be a slow, steady transformation of our thoughts and lives becoming more and more like Jesus. This is what we have been created for!
Questions for Reflection, Discussion, and Application
- What do you learn from Psalm 139:1–2 and 23–24 about why God is so important when it comes to our thoughts? What does he do and provide that no one else, including ourselves, can do or provide?
- Isaiah 26:3 offers this amazing promise: “You will keep [her] in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because [she] trusts in you.” Does this promise comfort you or taunt you? Does it provoke hope or shame in your heart? Explain your answer as much as you are able.
Awhile back, when I led a discipleship group for women seeking to overcome sexual sin, I was amazed at how prevalent abuse was in the stories of these dear sisters in Christ. It’s not that abuse is an unusual part of the backstory of women who come to us; sadly, most who reach out to us for help have experienced sexual abuse in one form or another. What made this group different, though, was the depth of trauma that was so common across the board among group members. I took in their courageous sharing with sobriety, heartbreak, anger, and confusion.
The very questions that many of them asked were now flooding my thoughts: “Why, God? Why did you allow this? What good could possibly come from this? How are they supposed to trust you when you didn’t stop this from happening?”
These are difficult questions, and there are no easy answers. It is too much for me to sort through why God allows what he does. It is too great for me to discern whether sin is to blame or if it is just a result of the fallenness of this world—or both. I admit that I have given in to demanding answers from God as I have attempted to sort through confusion created by others’ suffering.
In those times, I turn to Isaiah 55:8–9, which says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There are answers that my finite mind can’t understand, and it lies in the character of who God is and the fact that he knows all of the things I don’t.
But, as helpers, what are we to do when God allows us to come face to face with what seem like “splashes of hell”?¹
If we’re going to truly identify with Jesus in this world, it’s important to realize a few things as a helper. First, hearing traumatic stories is hard, but it is a part of our calling as believers to bear with one another, and Jesus is compassionate to us in this process. Second, we can hear, hold, and steward these stories wisely.
Hearing Traumatic Stories Is Difficult
In Genesis 34, we read about Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, who was horrifically raped by a man named Shechem. This chapter largely focuses on her brother’s response to the rape, which resulted in his anger boiling over into murder as a form of retaliation. But consider for a moment what it would be like to sit with Dinah. What anguish would you hear her heart express? What fears did this experience cause to rise up in her? What questions is she struggling to find answers to? It would be an understatement to say that her answers would be hard to hear and, most likely, grieve our hearts.
Now let’s consider Jesus: We see him entering into these broken spaces with people. He knew the story of the Samaritan woman who had slept with and married many men (John 4) and the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1–11). We don’t know the details of those actual relationships and what exactly those women endured leading up to the moment they encountered Jesus; we only get a glimpse at where they ended up. Yet Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed by their sin or suffering. He saw them and engaged them through his questions, listened to them, offered hope, and even offered himself.
We can do this too, but we need to be prepared: Hearing traumatic stories is difficult. We need to be aware of a few possible temptations for us helpers.
- Dependence on self. Many of us can rely on ourselves to heal, fix, and come up with answers for pain that often doesn’t have easy solutions.
- Pride. Our desire to help can get mixed in with pride that convinces us, “Look at what a great helper I am by hearing such traumatic stories!” Or we can begin to think someone needs us in order to get better.
- Avoidance. In many ways, it is easier to ignore hard things. We put our heads in the sand and pretend it away, or we even run away all together.
We need to remember that we aren’t entrusted with abuse stories unless they have first been heard, seen, and known by Jesus. He cares for the sufferer and for us, the one called alongside those who have endured horrific pain.
Dane Ortlund says in his book, Gentle and Lowly, “In our pain, Jesus is pained; in our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t—not that his invincible divinity is threatened, but in the sense that his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress. His human nature engages our troubles comprehensively. His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.”²
Holding Difficult Stories Can Be Done Wisely
So what should we do when someone comes to us and wants to open up, to share a painful experience of abuse with us? What about childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work? This is a wide and deep topic with lots of necessary detail that would need to be explored in each situation.
Let me offer four key starting points to keep in mind.
- Pray. Prayer must be utilized often as we confront this type of evil. Pray for wisdom to know what God is inviting you into as a helper, for God to guard your own heart as you listen, and for heart healing and comfort for the person sharing.
- Listen and learn. Don’t worry about having the perfect theological answer or the right thing to say. Intentional listening and seeking to understand the person in front of you will help eliminate your responses that lean towards, “I don’t know what to do with what I’m hearing.” Jesus was the ultimate question asker, and he already knows the ins and outs of a person’s heart and situation.
- Get the help you need. As we have talked about, being a helper in these situations can take its own toll on you. Hold the person’s story with honesty and integrity, but invite others to know you in this so they can pray specifically for you. In addition, seek safe spaces to talk about how the weight of these stories is impacting your heart.
- Help the person connect with someone trained in trauma care if needed. Often, the most helpful and loving thing we can do is to acknowledge that we care yet aren’t equipped to address certain experiences of trauma. So, seek to help this person connect with someone who is trained to help in these areas. Practical ways to do this are offering to research professionals in your region, making a phone call to learn more about their specific areas of focus, and providing contact information to the person in need. This doesn’t mean we eliminate ourselves from the situation, though, because God gives us the Body of Christ, and there is wisdom in coming alongside hurting people together.
People who are willing to begin facing abuse and trauma are courageous. To invite someone else to know about that truth is even braver. So, while it is an honor to be entrusted with such stories, we, as helpers, need to be prepared for how those stories will impact our hearts. We also need to be prepared that removing the blinders of the depth of evil and suffering around us is often painfully uncomfortable.
When my co-leader and I finished the group I mentioned earlier, we marveled, with tears, at what we had witnessed in the lives of the group members. They had grown forward, healing had gone a bit deeper, and the pull of sin was lessening. Their stories of trauma had changed us as we bore witness to Jesus, the One who draws near to the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1–3).
Jesus was moved to compassion when he saw the needs of those around him (Matthew 9:36 and 14:14). As we sit with those who have experienced abuse and trauma, may we be moved to compassion, knowing that, although it is hard to hear such stories, Jesus is the one who redeems, restores, and enables us to hold challenging stories wisely.
¹ Joni E. Tada described suffering this way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU6q1r1Z9jg&t=2s, last accessed 2/24/21.
² Dane Ortlund. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2020. 46.
Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in completely unexpected places. That is definitely true of Shalee’s journey. She went from playing college basketball to achieving her dream of playing professionally. But then her life shifted in a completely unexpected direction, which led to seminary and now a job in full-time ministry at Harvest USA.
You can also read the blog, “Meet the Staff: Shalee Lehning“, which corresponds to this video.
17 Dec 2020
In this blog, we’re happy to highlight our newest staff member, Shalee Lehning!
Women’s Ministry Staff
Description of Work at Harvest USA
I serve in our Direct Ministry by offering targeted discipleship and small group facilitation. My focus is working with individuals who seek help for their sexual struggles, as well as those who have been impacted by the sexual struggles of others. In addition, I’m involved in the equipping component of Harvest USA, which includes participating in teaching and equipping events and producing resources for Harvest USA.
How did you get to Harvest USA?
In 2015, while living in Laramie, Wyoming, I was first introduced to Sexual Sanity for Women, a discipleship resource by Harvest USA. Not only did God use that resource in a powerful way in my own life, but I was ultimately able to use that same resource to facilitate biblical support groups for other women in my home church. Several years later, I discovered the internship program at Harvest USA, which compelled me to move across the country in 2018 in hopes of becoming better equipped to minister in these areas. At the completion of my yearlong internship, the opportunity arose for me to join the Women’s Ministry staff full-time in July of 2019.
What is your favorite Scripture?
2 Corinthians 10:9–10, which says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
What do you love or enjoy about working at Harvest?
In the face of deep struggle and heartache, I get to watch men and women courageously battle for that which they believe in. We live in a world today that boasts in autonomy, and we are constantly bombarded with messages that crash against biblical beliefs. I am so encouraged when I see believers standing for what they believe is true, even as they expose themselves for their beliefs. In addition, I think it takes great humility to invite someone into the mess and pain of your life and ask for help. Working at Harvest allows me to witness this type of bravery on a regular basis. There truly is beauty in our brokenness, where Jesus meets us.
What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far from direct ministry?
Only God can bring about true heart change in our lives. Even our most valiant efforts to bring about change will come up empty if we aren’t allowing God to work in and through us. This has been a deep encouragement to me personally because, in a way, it takes the pressure off of us as ministry staff. The burdens of this life are too heavy for us to carry. We will buckle under the pain and heartache of this world without God, and what a wearisome task it is to rely on our human efforts to bring about anything more than behavioral change. As I’ve walked with women through our direct ministry, a verse I have turned to often is the promise God gives us in Isaiah 43:1–2, which says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
What are one or two things you would like to share with anyone reading?
First, you are not alone. No matter what hidden struggle you might have. No matter how many questions you might have about God. No matter how broken or ashamed or worthless or hopeless you might feel. Jesus sees you. There is not only a way out of the darkness but also healing for your pain. If you are struggling to believe that right now, reach out for help. I believed the lie for a long time that I was the only Christian struggling in these ways. Not only is that not true, but many other Christians are also drinking deeply of the grace of God in these areas.
Second, don’t go at this alone. As we step out in honesty, we open ourselves to receiving God’s care and love from other believers. I refer to Exodus 17:12–13 often when I think about needing others’ help. Moses was leading the people of Israel into battle, and, as long as he held his staff in the air, the Israelites prevailed. As time passed, though, his arms grew tired, and Moses was unable to hold the staff up on his own. Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses and literally held his arms up for him. If we are honest, we all need people to come alongside us and hold our arms up through life’s storms.
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia?
The Wissahickon Valley Park Trail System. I love being active outside! This trail system goes for miles, connecting the city to the suburbs. I enjoy riding my bike on this trail into the city as it provides a unique vantage point to experience Philly.
Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself?
I love sports! I grew up playing a variety of sports, but my love for basketball eventually won out as my favorite. I was blessed by an opportunity to play college basketball at Kansas State University. Eventually, my childhood dream of playing in the WNBA came true when I was drafted in 2009 by the Atlanta Dream. It was a privilege to travel all over the country and play the sport that I loved.
You can also watch the video, “From Athletics to Ministry: God’s Unexpected Surprises“, which corresponds to this blog.
God created us as sexual beings, so it makes sense that our sexual desires would be a primary target for attack. Thankfully, God did not leave us helpless. He gave us his word, and he gave us Ephesians 6—a very well known passage addressing spiritual warfare. In this video, Shalee Lehning explains how we can pray the armor of God (as outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20) into our sexual struggles and temptations.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Mary Dykas. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, When an Unseen Enemy Assaults You, which corresponds to this video.
15 Oct 2020
We have an enemy, and he doesn’t play fair. He is a cunning schemer who lurks behind confusion and chaos, seeking to accuse and destroy. His name is Satan, and his job is to undermine God’s redemptive plan in any way he can, particularly by harassing God’s people.
Many believers fail to realize that we are in a war over competing desires that arise from two opposing kingdoms. The kingdom of the beloved Son, Jesus, has conquered the kingdom of darkness, yet the unholy trinity—the world, the flesh, and the devil—will continue to wreak havoc until all things are made new.
Satan is obviously having a heyday in the battle field of sexuality. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). What better place for our enemy to attack than the fertile ground of sexual desires? Here, the fallout is widespread, and the devastation cuts deep. We know that we cannot blame our sin on the devil, and yet we have become desensitized to his influence.
Christian, don’t fear the devil, but don’t ignore his existence.
In and through Christ, God has given us the power to withstand the enemy’s schemes and personal temptations. Sexual temptation may leave us feeling handcuffed, broken, doubtful, and weary—but we have hope!
We are already clothed with Christ and have everything we need to engage this battle. On the heels of warning us to be sober-minded and watchful against Satan, 1 Peter 5:10 tells us that the God of all grace will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us through the power of his Word and the presence of Jesus, who dwells within.
Put on Christ, who is all the armor you need for spiritual warfare.
Ephesians 6:10–18 provides helpful wisdom for us. As he’s done throughout chapters 1–5, Paul exhorts the Ephesians to know who they are in Christ and how that should make a difference in the way they live. He says to put on the whole armor of God, our precious resource as we abide in Jesus. Does your pornography addiction feel like the drug you can’t go a day without? Put on the armor of God. Are you exhausted from fighting your attraction to the same sex? Put on the armor of God. Is your mind flooded with sexual images you wish you never saw, but, even if you try, you can’t stop thinking about them? Put on the armor of God. Is someone who isn’t your spouse leading you to fantasize about another, easier life? Once again, put on the armor of God.
Let’s look at the pieces of armor that Ephesians 6:13–17 lists.
Put on the belt of truth (verse 14). God’s Word is our truth, and with it, we stand prepared and ready.
How? We are forgetful people, so we need to daily feast on God’s Word through reading and meditating on his truths. It isn’t enough to just read the Bible; we must knead God’s truths into our hearts.
Put on the breastplate of righteousness (verse 14). When we feel unworthy or incapable of righteous emotions and passions, Christ’s righteousness defends us, guarding our beliefs and hearts from pursuing fleeting feelings.
How? We keep our hearts with all vigilance and safeguard what we allow “in.” Pay attention to everyday things that illicit jealousy, resentment, frustration, discontentment, or arousal. As you become aware of what triggers you—music, movies, social media, specific people—make changes to limit the access that those things have to your heart.
Put on the shoes of peace (verse 15). We must stand firm through the assurance that we are firmly rooted in our relationship with Christ. Our feet are the foundation for the good news of the gospel, which brings salvation from sin.
How? Preach the gospel to yourself daily. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.” As we think about the personal implications of Christ’s death and resurrection, we become anchored in those realities, rather than the lies that steal our peace.
Put on the shield of faith (verse 16). When under attack by temptations, we put up our shields of belief in God’s Word and the truths we have heard.
How? We ask for God’s help to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We look upward to God and outward to others instead of inward to self. Then we choose obedience even when we don’t feel like it.
Put on the helmet of salvation (verse 17). The helmet protects our minds and thoughts in the heat of battle. We do this by thinking about what is true, our eternal hope, and our destiny.
How? Literally redirect your thoughts to what is true, noble, pure, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8). Repeat truth to yourself: I am loved. I am saved. I am not my sin. Through Christ, my victory has already been won (1 Corinthians 15:57). This affliction is preparing for me an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Put on the sword of the Spirit (verse 17). The Word of God is our sword. It effectively cuts down distorted messages from the kingdom of darkness. Jesus used Scripture to resist the tempter, and so must we.
How? Our weapon is reciting God’s truth and speaking it into our situation: I am a child of God, and my sexual sin doesn’t define me (1 John 3:1). God is with me; he is mighty to save, and he will quiet me by his love (Zephaniah 3:17). This requires us to know his Word enough to deploy it.
Lastly, Paul elaborates in Ephesians 6:18 on the importance of prayer. Just as soldiers would be unsuccessful in battle if lines of communication were broken, communication with our loving Father is our lifeline amid spiritual battle. Take heart, resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
You can also watch the video, “Pray the Armor of God Into Your Sexual Temptations,” which corresponds to this blog.