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.”
07 Jan 2021
The following is meant to help those who are weary in their battle to overcome sin and need help knowing how to pray and cry out to God for a fresh start.
Two thousand twenty one. 2021. Lord, I’m not sure what to think or how to feel as this year begins. There has been so much upheaval, loss, and pain around me. The turmoil of 2020 stirs fear in my heart and anxiety for what may be in front of me this upcoming year, but here I am, coming to you for help, for hope, for comfort.
Lord, I say with David that I do love you, that you are my strength. You say that you will be my rock and my fortress, my Savior, my God, in whom I take refuge. So I call to you now, Lord Jesus, and ask for you to give me a fresh start this year with my battle.
My longtime struggle with sexual sin. I have done this before so many times, God—making a resolution every January: This year, I’m going to beat this thing. This year, I’ll get help. This year, I will have the courage to actually tell _______ about this. O God, help me! I’m scared, weary, and so tired of the shame and sinking down into despair. Can this year be different? I need a fresh start; I need you! My prayers echo Psalm 18:1–3 and 40:1.
You are my only hope, Lord Jesus. As Peter says to Jesus in John 6:68, where else can I really go anyway?! You alone have the words of life, truth, and rescue that I need so desperately. Help me to hear you, to believe you. Help me to obey you with a fresh start for this longtime sin. I name it again before you now: ______________. Thank you, Lord, that there is no shame for those who look to you and honestly tell you their real, raw thoughts in anguish and suffering (Psalm 34:4–5).
I bring my heart to you, Lord, because I know that I’m proud and stubborn. And as much as I hate the consequences of this sin, I don’t want to give it up. So, there…I said it. I hate it, and I love it. I hate feeling guilty, like a bad Christian. The mental assault of all that I’ve stockpiled in my mind from having this sin control me for so long is torment. However, I love escaping the stress of my life for a few minutes or hours; I like the intoxicating pleasure I get. I know it’s wrong, but it feels good. Why does it have to be that way, Lord? That sin feels good and life-giving, while obedience can feel boring, painful, and deathly? Why?! (Psalm 51:1–2)
God, your Word says that my heart is the source for all of this, the choices I’ve made, what I’ve pursued and run away from. So, I’m asking you today for fresh faith to believe that you can change my heart, including my desires, to long for what you long for and to will what you will. Will you change the appetites of my heart, calm my cravings, and bring peace into the turmoil of my thoughts, please?! It all seems like an uncontrollable monster inside of me—can it be different? Change my heart, O God…change my life! (Luke 6:43–45, Psalm 34:8, Philippians 2:13, Psalm 51:10)
Father, I need your comfort for all of the mess and pain that this sin has brought into my life and others’ lives. Even if _________ doesn’t know about it specifically, I know they have felt my detachment, disinterest, and distraction. I haven’t been involved in relationships with honesty, engagement, or love. I know I’ve hurt so many people, and, honestly, Lord, I know I should care more about their pain than mine, but I’m hurting, too. Please, Father, will you let me feel and believe in your mercy again? (Psalm 139:23–24 and 2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
And I do ask you to comfort _________ and __________. Wow, Lord, I guess you are at work already! I’ve not prayed for them for so long, so thank you, Father. As you help me to bring my feelings to you now, I can sense that you are softening my heart—a heart that has felt so hard, so cold towards these same people. Yes, God, cause your work in me to go deep, cut through my self-deception and self-preoccupation, and break my heart over this sin! You’re kind, not mean-hearted, and I need you to lead me into repentance one step at a time. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 and 7:10, as well as Romans 2:4)
Lord, I’m not sure what steps I need to take first. Do I read that book? Call that friend? Should I try to find a counselor? You call yourself the good Shepherd, so if you’re willing to guide a weak sheep like me, please lead me; show me who to reach out to for help. Who do I need to confess this to first? Give me courage, Lord. Even as I pray about this, I’m so scared of what ______ will think about me. Help me believe what you say about me more than anything else, that I am holy, loved, and chosen by you and that, even with this mess of sin in my life, none of these things change. I’m yours, Lord. Period. (Ephesians 5:1–2 and Colossians 3:12)
God, help me to trust that you can do in my life what David said you did in his: You sent help to him from heaven; you took him and drew him out of many waters. I’m drowning, Lord; draw me out of this place! This sin is too strong for me, and I finally am willing to admit that to you, Lord. This sin isn’t a friend; it’s an enemy, my enemy and yours, so please, be my strength! Rescue me and bring me into a place of freedom, of spaciousness, rather than this prison I’m stuck in now. Yes, God, because you love me, and your Word says that you not only love me but also delight in me. You love me, are with me—you’ll never let go. O God, thank you. (Psalm 18:16–19 and Matthew 28:20)
Lord, I’m in. I commit to walking forward in this obedience. I rest in your power that enables me to obey. To obey just one step at a time. Today, then again tomorrow. So, before you now, I want to commit to taking these steps in the coming week. I know that I need your Word, Lord, so this is my first step: to read the Bible and to pray it, to really take in your truth again as I’ve been so lazy—just going through the motions if I even bothered to open it. No more! Just one step at a time. Truly, Lord Jesus, help me to seek to please you in these steps. Encourage me and help me to not grow weary or give up. I want to trust you! (Galatians 5:13, Colossians 3:16–17, Galatians 6:7–9, and Proverbs 3:5–6)
I put my trust in you, Lord, even in the midst of my fears and weakness. You are worthy of my praise, worthy to be trusted. You will be merciful to me and will care for me as I take refuge in you. You are holding onto me and will never let go. Rain down your faithful love over me, over my feeble faith, and fulfill all your purposes for me. Thank you, Lord Jesus. (Psalm 56:1–4, 10–11 and 57:1–3)
The Harvest USA Direct Ministry staff are available to help you take steps of faith in overcoming your struggle with sexual sin. Please reach out for help if we can serve you in this way by emailing email@example.com.
[Throughout my journey,] walking towards God and not away from him takes effort and deliberate choices. However, just yesterday, God brought to mind a quote from Harvest USA’s women’s support group: “I do not want to let Satan make me ineffective.” I also came across these words on a bookmark: “I refuse to…I choose to…,” something we had discussed in our group.
So, I refuse to let Satan squash my desire to glorify God with my sexual struggles. Instead, I choose to believe that God is good and faithful. His truth far outweighs the thoughts and emotions trying to take over my attitude. I will persevere with my eyes focused on Jesus and eternity, not on myself or on this life of light and momentary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). Now, my testimony.
I have been a Christian since I was young, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to understand how the real gospel applied to life. Not long after, I figured out that I am attracted to women. It’s been about 15 years since I started this journey, and a lot has happened.
The part I’d like to share with you has to do with shame. Satan’s greatest weapon against me has been shame. Shame is a lie that says we’re worthless because of things we’ve done or things that have been done to us. Those lies must be measured against God’s truth because God tells us something very different. He tells us we are worth his Son’s life.
To give you a picture of where I went with shame, I basically walked out on my life four years ago. I distanced myself from almost everyone who loved me. I refused to associate myself with God. I rarely went to church. It wasn’t anger at God that led me to do those things; it was shame. I didn’t think I was worthy of calling myself a Christian, let alone broadcasting that I claimed to be one. I was in a very deep pit of darkness because I saw no way out and no future with purpose. Shame had eaten me alive.
My shame is rooted in a strong desire to be right—not me being right and you being wrong, but more like me doing what is right and honorable and always pursuing perfection in my thoughts and actions. (To be clear, these are the expectations I have for myself, not what I expect from others.)
For someone who wants so desperately to be right and pure, just knowing that my own sexual desires are twisted and broken produces a lot of shame. Choosing to actively pursue relationships with women, while knowing these choices were in direct rebellion against God, intensified my shame. My struggle lasted a number of years before my greatest shame, which came from taking that last step with women that I didn’t think I would ever take. When I finally let those relationships progress to a sexual level, I did it with a huge bang. God’s not kidding when he says that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
I’m not sure if I just refused to let go of my shame or if I wasn’t aware I could, should, or needed to do it. Whichever it was, I know I felt utterly lost and powerless. God used a dear friend gently, but plainly, telling me I was hurting Jesus by not letting go of my shame. I was saying that his suffering and death weren’t enough. I tried to rationalize keeping my shame by saying he was already taking the punishment for my sins; I didn’t want him to have to feel the weight of my shame, too. But where is the gospel in that? He voluntarily died knowing that he would also be carrying that shame for me. That day, I asked forgiveness for holding onto my shame and started giving it over to him. He willingly took it; he keeps his promises.
God didn’t leave. He waited and then pursued me hard because he loves me. Once I repented, God started preparing my heart to step back into serving him. I completed the counseling homework I had previously abandoned. I was seeking God.
One day, I ended up in John 21. Now, nearly every time I read the exchange between Peter and Jesus after Jesus’s resurrection, I tear up. Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times before Jesus’s crucifixion after stating he would never do that exact thing. Peter’s pride showed, and then he fell hard—just like me! He denied even knowing Christ who loved him and who was willing to sacrifice his life to be Peter’s Savior. Imagine the shame!
But Jesus gently reminded Peter that his actions did not negate his love for Jesus. Peter couldn’t bring himself to say that he loved Jesus after his denial. He knew he had chosen to preserve himself instead of sacrificially loving Jesus. The tenderness Jesus shows Peter hits deep in my heart. Jesus recognized the struggle in Peter and made a point to assure him that he still loved him.
Then Jesus tells Peter to tend his sheep and follow him! I know levels of shame and certainty that I no longer had anything to give in this life, let alone give to God. I felt so broken that I would never be able to do anything worthy again. I thought I had failed God and had lived in complete rebellion: denying God, giving up hope that I could ever change, believing that he did not love me because he had left me with this unbeaten struggle.
If you can imagine the shame, then you can also imagine the feeling of knowing that God isn’t done with me; he has work for me to do. Reading about Jesus telling Peter he was worthy of being used for the kingdom’s sake is something I can latch onto. The work to which God called him was not second-rate. Does that give you hope for what God has in store for you? It does for me!
I need to hear the gospel frequently. That is the only thing that keeps me above water and out of the woods. God has provided people in my life to help me keep my eyes on him because, as much as this single, independent woman would like to do it on her own, it’s just not possible.
God provided a fellow struggler who shared her story publicly at a conference we both attended. She has been on this road with me longer than anyone else, and we have experienced the full gamut together. A great core group of people in my church have been walking with me for years, celebrating the victories, pointing me to Jesus, praying me out of the pits, and just doing life together. They are the people I can’t hide from, and that’s a good thing.
I’ve been connected to Harvest USA for almost nine years now, and I’ve seen God use the Women’s Ministry in my life. They have opened my eyes to Jesus’s compassion by helping me work through some of the deeper intricacies of my heart’s struggle. I have found a community of others pursuing Jesus in their sexual brokenness. I didn’t know I needed that community as badly as I did, but God did. He always provides.
I have been praying that anyone who reads this will have a renewed sense of hope. Because there is hope. I say that with such certainty. I’ve seen God show up over and over again in my life. He’ll do the same for you—I promise!
This blog is an adapted article from our Fall 2020 Harvest USA magazine, which is available as a free digital download. In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because she has requested to remain anonymous.
Finding a greeting card for someone you love can be tough! Have you noticed how the messages in cards are often exaggerated, lofty, and unattainable?
“You make life complete and worth living for!”
“Mom and Dad, you are my unfailing rock and support. Without you, I would have failed to accomplish anything of worth.”
“You’re the friend I’ve always longed for, the other half of my heart living in another person.”
Movies and music also frequently touch upon deep longings for unfailing love and commitment. As image bearers of God, desiring intimate relationships is in our spiritual DNA—yet God alone can offer us unfailing love. We can taste love like this in human relationships, but spouses, parents, children, friends, siblings, and mentors are supposed to point us to God’s love, not hijack our heart’s devotion to him.
Codependency: Worldly Wisdom vs. Scriptural Truth
In the 1980s, self-help books popularized the term “codependent” to describe dysfunctional relationships in which an individual excessively relies upon others for worth, approval, and self-identity. Professional organizations made diagnoses for personality and relationship-based disorders. One example was dependent personality disorder, described as an “excessive and pervasive need to be taken care of; submissive, clinging, needy behavior due to fear of abandonment.”¹ Tragically, the American Psychiatric Association offers little hope because “personality disorders are resistant to treatment!”²
The word “codependent” isn’t in the Bible, and yet Scripture addresses unholy relationship patterns. What the world calls codependency, God’s Word calls “idolatry,” the worship of anything or anyone other than him. When we displace God with human relationships, relational idolatry happens.
God’s explicit command is that we have no other gods, including people, before him in our lives (Exodus 20:2–3). The sin is subtle, but the idolatry that causes codependency happens when relationships entice us away from the Lord, and we selfishly demand that someone give us, or receive from us, love, attention, and affirmation.
Our closest relationships can present the fiercest temptation to turn from the Giver to his gifts. Codependent relationships are idolatrous because they usurp Jesus’s rightful place. Instead of yielding to the Lord who loves us, we yield our sense of well-being to a person. Even though these connections at first feel emotionally intoxicating or comforting, a painful harvest of discontentment, anxiety, and insecurity eventually develops because people can’t fill, heal, or satisfy our hearts!
Delighting In, Rather Than Running After, People
Codependency, or relational idolatry, is something I personally know well. God used Psalm 16, particularly verses 1–4, to help me step away from broken patterns of relating to people.
“Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ’You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.”
David looks to God as his refuge, the One apart from whom there is “no good!” This echoes Jesus teaching his disciples that the truest intimacy and security could only be found in relationship with him: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When we abide in Jesus alone, he will bear good fruit in our relationships.
Having proclaimed God as his true refuge and Lord, David expresses a godly heart posture towards people: a holy delight in and affection for them. He cautions that when we desperately run after anyone to feel good about ourselves, devastating consequences will result: sorrow, pain, and grief.
When you “watch” Jesus relate to people in the Gospels, he is never aloof or selfishly distant. His relationships weren’t fueled by flattery, people-pleasing, or demands that people make him feel good about himself. John 2:24–25 explains how Jesus lived out Psalm 16:1–4: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
Jesus loved, served, and enjoyed people without “entrusting” himself to them in the same way that he entrusted himself to his Father. He compassionately and selflessly loved people and obeyed the command to love God alone with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. For all of the Bible’s commands regarding marriage, friendship, parenting, and neighbors, God never said to place our trust in people with our whole being—yet we are to love as he has loved us (John 15:12). That kind of love and trust is rightly focused on our Savior, who refused to allow people to capture his heart’s focus and “sideline” God.
God-dependency Displaces Codependency
If you struggle with idolatry in your relationships and recognize the symptoms of codependency in your life, take heart! Worldly wisdom cannot offer effective treatment for a spiritual matter, but the gospel can through Jesus. He offers all that we need to grow into healthy and holy people. Jesus offers you himself! Our Savior makes a home in us through an eternal union based on his grace. This is the most intimate, satisfying, and healthy relationship anyone could ever enjoy!
Jesus also forgives us when we sin in our relationships, and he heals our broken hearts. Many people were never taught what healthy relationships look like, much less how to cultivate relationships and friendships fueled by rightly ordered love. Pray that God would guide you to love that abounds with knowledge and discernment.
Finally—though so much more could be said—Jesus came to transform your heart so that you would be captivated by his love and freed to move towards people with God-honoring motives rather than selfish demands. With Jesus in his rightful place as our loving Lord, other people will increasingly take their proper place as gifts to be enjoyed.
¹ https://www.theravive.com/therapedia/dependent-personality-disorder-dsm–5-301.6-(f60.7), accessed by author May 29, 2020.
You can also watch the video, “Once Codependent, Always Codependent?“, which corresponds to this blog.
23 Nov 2020
If you struggle with codependency and obsessive attachments, take heart! The Lord can help you and change you.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart or Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share by Ellen Dykas. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “Codependent No More: Encouragement for Keeping Christ Central in Our Relationships,” which corresponds to this video.
Take a moment to simply consider what your son or daughter desires. What is he longing for? What does she feel she is getting from her identity that she cannot live without? Questions like this move you to discover what lies beneath the surface and lead you to a deeper understanding of your child.
To learn more about this topic, consider downloading Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity which is available as a free digital resource. You can also purchase Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom by Tim Geiger. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “What Lies Beneath Your Child’s Sexual and Gender Identity,” which corresponds to this video.
Understanding your child’s perceived sexual and gender identity is no simple task. Perhaps you have tried to piece together how your child may have come to these conclusions about himself, but you still don’t understand what may have really formed the person he is today.
Although you may never be able to completely answer the how and why questions, you can be sure of one thing that lies beneath your child’s perceived sexual or gender identity: the desires of her heart.
Scripture speaks often about the fruit of our actions coming from what lies in our hearts:
“…from out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:4).
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality…” (Matthew 15:19).
This is a simple yet profound truth that gives great insight into the reasons for why a person comes to do what they do. Take a moment to simply consider what your son or daughter desires. What is he longing for? What does she feel she is getting from her identity that she cannot live without? Questions like these move you to discover what lies beneath the surface and lead you to a deeper understanding of your child.
As you explore these questions, you will probably discover in your child’s heart some of the most fundamental desires that we all experience: the desire to be loved, the desire for acceptance and affirmation, the desire for freedom from pain and suffering, the desire for comfort or affection.
Perhaps your child longs to be accepted and loved by a particular person or group. Maybe she has always felt unwanted or different from others and desires to be affirmed and feel attractive. Often, going through tough experiences shapes the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If your son or daughter has learned that they can meet an overriding desire through sexual experiences, a romantic relationship, or a unique community, he or she will hold onto it tightly and oppose anything that may threaten the security of keeping it close.
We pursue particular desires because we think we are the authorities on how to bring ourselves joy and contentment. But when we pursue them apart from God, or when we cannot fulfill a particular longing, we begin to live for these desires, doing everything in our power to bring about their fruition. Jeremiah 2:13 paints a vivid picture of Israel’s disobedience in this way.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water..”
This is the inclination of our sinful hearts. We seek to have our needs met outside of God’s provision for life, and we turn to broken cisterns that we think will give us nourishment. Although the things to which we turn for life in the created world are nothing more than leaky cisterns, we revisit them over and over again, believing these wells can satisfy our souls.
Somewhere along the way, your child has come to believe that his sexuality or gender expression is a central means to having his desires met. Becoming aware of his underlying desires will not only help you understand your child better but will also have significant implications for your relationship with him. Let’s consider a number of things you can cultivate as a result of this insight.
Lead with empathy and compassion. Rather than reducing your daughter down to her behavior, you are able to consider how your child’s suffering and pain have uniquely shaped the particular desires that she wants to be met. Knowing your own tendency to turn to your choice broken cisterns can help you see that you are more alike than different from your daughter.
Dealing with tension and even hostility in relationship with a child is so challenging for parents. Understanding the role that desires play will help you make sense of his defensiveness and rejection of your interpretation that his sexual or gender identity is sinful.
Pray More Meaningfully
Rather than simply praying for behavioral change, pray for the desires of your child’s heart to be molded to God’s, knowing that he wants to satisfy your child’s desires with good things. Pray that God would show himself to be living water, faithful to meet your child in her thirsts.
Have Conversations that Move to the Heart
Knowing something about how desires lead to behaviors moves conversations beyond the surface fruit and helps you to discover what is in your child’s heart. Ask why his identity or sexuality means so much to him and how his sexual or gender expression meets his felt needs.
Although this may seem like a daunting task, as you apply these relational measures, your understanding of your child and what God may be after in your child’s life will become a little clearer. You will see that God does not simply desire to redeem your son or daughter’s behavior; he is after the heart. Though you aren’t able to see the whole picture clearly, he is still at work!
You can also watch the video, “Desires Fueling Your Child’s Sexual and Gender Identity,” which corresponds to this blog.
The parents sitting before me had tears streaming down both their faces. Their 22-year-old daughter was now married to another woman. These Christian parents experienced understandable grief and heartache.
“It’s not just the pain over our daughter that’s so difficult—it’s the fact that grandparents and many of our friends have embraced it all. They all see us as the problem; we’re what’s wrong in the whole situation.” Though they believed that God’s Word was their guiding principle, they feared that they, too, might cave under the mounting pressure.
This couples’ fear is not unusual when facing these kinds of challenges. Siblings, grandparents, and friends of someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ or adopts LGBTQ+ theology all face similar trials when they are called to reflect both the truth and mercy of the gospel. How do we walk through this minefield, pursue humility in our own hearts, and yet remain firm in God’s Word? Here are a few things to consider.
Expect misunderstanding and persecution. Our culture’s man-centered theology is based on the heart’s desires, where there are no absolutes and everything is relative. When we take a contrary position, we become a threat and affront to others. Nowhere is this more evident today than in the debate about sexuality and the Bible. Believing that God speaks clearly and authoritatively about sex and sexuality is supposedly bigoted, unloving, and socially incorrect. You may be viewed as the problem or the enemy. Don’t let that shipwreck you! Expecting these responses and believing on Scripture’s reliability guards you from dismay when people react against your lack of approval or enthusiasm.
Engage and ask good questions. As others voice their disagreement with you, realize that all worldviews—how people see themselves, the world, and God—stem from past experiences, wounds, and powerful emotions wrapped around sinful and twisted hearts. While we cannot correct others’ views and convictions—which is the work of the Holy Spirit—we can try to better understand them by diving more into their story, who they are, and why they believe what they believe. This usually happens through genuine listening and asking good questions, which often helps people drop their defenses, leading to more productive, non-combative conversations.
Also, consider sharing your testimony, particularly highlighting your need of God’s grace. Admittedly, being able to do this is a supernatural work, especially when it comes to our families, where emotions can run high and quickly escalate. But taking initiative in conversations like this can actually strengthen your faith and make you feel less defensive yourself.
Embrace the hurt and suffering that come with being misunderstood or seen as the bad guy. Even though you may attempt the first two points above with sincerity, you may still experience real, ongoing pain and heartache. When we see family or friends pursuing a destructive path contrary to God’s will and his Word, we often feel powerless and hopeless. I’ve found that many Christians who eventually adopt the mentality of “gay is okay with me and with God” usually do so because they simply feel worn down and want to be thought well of by others. You may feel like you are alone in a desert, barely holding your own with your beliefs about God’s Word—but know that Jesus is with you. He too was in those desert places as he obeyed the Father and stood on Scripture.
Remember that this is a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that we battle not against flesh and blood but spiritual forces of evil. Ultimately, only God can address the spiritual issues of family and friends’ blindness and rebellion. If you constantly feel pressured to change others’ views or make them see the light, you will likely end up frustrated and perhaps even begin to question your own beliefs.
Those who walk in blindness need what Tim Keller calls a “self quake” and a “God quake.”1 God is the one who must intervene to change hearts. Can you relinquish (not abandon) your family, friends, or loved one to the Lord? Can you trust God to write his story in their hearts and lives in his way and in his timing? The gospel is the greatest need for those who pursue sexuality on their own terms—along with those who agree with them and buy into worldly sexuality.
Bathe everything in prayer. Pray for those who disagree with you. This is pretty self-explanatory! Prayer both softens our hearts and allows us to seek the best in and for those who we love. You may feel incapable of doing anything about what others believe—or believe about you; for the most part, you are! However, we can pour out all of our troubles, fears, confusion, and hopes at the throne of grace, as well as gain the courage to boldly persevere.
Remain grounded in the Word yourself and seek the support of others. You are vulnerable to outside voices tempting you to give in, but the best remedy for standing firm for the long haul is to remain in God’s Word, continually steeping yourself in his perspective and truth. When I speak about how the Bible should inform our sexuality, someone invariably comes up to me and says, “Thank you. I needed to hear that and be reminded of the real truth again.” We always need to be reminded of the truths of Scripture. But we also need the help and encouragement of others who will walk with us, shoulder our fears and burdens, and hear our pain and confusion—people who will always point us to the Savior and the truths of God’s Word.
1 Keller, Tim. “The Gospel and Your Self.” The Vision of Redeemer Series on Isaiah 6, November 13, 2005. Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York.
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.
01 Oct 2020
Take a moment and ask yourself this question: Do you remember a time when your desire for God was stronger than it is today? Maybe it was right after you first came to Christ. Or a difficult season in your life forced you to depend upon him in new ways. Your desire for fellowship with Christ was strong. The Word of God refreshed and strengthened you. Gratitude and praise were a normal part of your prayer life.
What happened? What changed?
Our appetite for God will be dulled from overtly sinful things, but oftentimes our appetite for God is dulled by many other, seemingly harmless things to which we give our time and attention. These could be people, activities, or circumstances that, on the surface, appear benign, but they crowd out our desire for God and subtly replace it with other things. In fact, many of these are actually gifts given to us by our kind and loving God. For example, it may be family, a favorite sport, a hobby, a certain form of entertainment, an educational pursuit, your job, or a relationship you are in. Though not overtly sinful, they still have the capacity to dull our appetite for God—and frequently do! Ironically, when we worship the gifts rather than the Giver, those very gifts draw us away from God.
I have seen this is in my own life again and again, and I have frequently seen it in the lives of the men and women to whom we minister here at Harvest USA. These men and women normally come to us because they have a particular sin that they want to “put off.” In many ways, they know exactly what they want: “I need to get rid of ______ sin in my life. It’s really hurting me. My problem is this one area of my life. If I could just get it under control, I would be alright.” As we explore together how the gospel changes us, our hope is that these men and women begin to see that the problem is actually worse than they think—and that the solution is actually better than they imagined.
The problem is worse because it reaches beyond behavior to the heart. Sin has corrupted our desires and twisted our thinking. It is not simply that we desire sin but also that we do not desire God. The solution is better, though, because, through our union with Christ, we are not simply given grace to resist corrupt desires and twisted thinking. Rather, we are given new desires and renewed minds. In Christ, we are given a new capacity to delight in that which is truly delightful—namely, God himself.
If you are in Christ, you have been given new desires. These desires are to know, please, and worship God, to praise him, to meditate on his Word, to talk with him in prayer, to fellowship with his people, to grow in holiness, and more. But these new desires must be deliberately cultivated and protected if they are to grow and not wither. When they are not cultivated and protected, we will find our desire for sin growing. Our battle to kill sin will be ineffective unless our desires are being changed and our appetite for God is growing.
How do we know if our appetite for God is being dulled?
Are there warning signs that this may be happening in your life? Consider these three indicators.
- What was once both a duty and a delight to you is now simply a duty. Instead of thinking about worship, Scripture reading, prayer, and the things of God as things you get to do, you now think of them mainly in terms of things that you have to do.
- When you think of spiritual activities, you find yourself saying, “I just don’t have enough time.” It is harder and harder to make time to do those things you once did in order to know and love God.
- Your prayer life has withered, and, when you do pray, your prayers consist mainly of requests. Also, your prayers are short on adoration, praise, and thanksgiving.
What is dulling your appetite for God?
Even if we recognize that our appetites are being dulled, it can be difficult to identify exactly what is dulling it. In this case, prayer and other people can be of great help. In prayer, we have access to our heavenly Father who has promised to hear and answer our prayers when we ask according to his will. Let us ask boldly then!
Also, consider asking others who know you well, “What do you think may be dulling my appetite for God?” Our pride will resist posing this question to them, but God has promised us grace if we humble ourselves. Expect his grace and think of a few people you can ask. And then actually ask them!
As we pray and invite the observations of others, we can begin to identify what’s dulling our appetite for God. We can then ask God for his help to repent and cultivate the new desires he has given to us.