05 Mar 2020
The majority of men who come to Harvest USA for help with sexual struggles are married.
In this video, Mark Sanders shares several important truths that husbands need to know about humbly, patiently, and sacrificially walking alongside their wives in the long process of reconciliation and healing.
You can also read the corresponding blog, Wives and Porn: What Not to Say After She Knows.
27 Feb 2020
Idols are cruel masters that are bent on your misery. But they don’t present themselves that way. First, they convince you that your life is summed up in the attainment of a specific desire. It might be success, comfort, control, affirmation, or intimacy. Then, this idol promises you that it can meet this desire in your life. It even gives you displays of its power and invites you to taste of its delicacies. So you sign on the dotted line and agree to give your heart to this idol in exchange for its services.
The Problem with Your Idol
In the beginning, the idol seems to be fulfilling every single promise it made. It delivers quickly and efficiently. It’s there for you in the good times and the bad. It’s there to comfort you, weep with you, celebrate with you, and offer to spend the lonely nights with you.
Your love for this idol is growing quickly. The more you feed it, the more it draws you in. Over time, your life becomes consumed by it. Other things in life become distractions and obstacles in the way of going back to this idol again and again. Going one day without it feels unbearable, making your inevitable return that much more intoxicating.
This is when you start to question your agreement with this idol. The cost of this pleasure wasn’t spelled out for you in the initial contract. You start to notice that other things in life have lost their value. You don’t enjoy them the way you used to. Your relationships with others may have become awkward, transactional, and strained. Over time, you’ve become more and more isolated, and, eventually, you’re left alone—just you and your idol.
The Struggle with Your Idol
Upon realizing that you have made a terrible mistake, you try to get out of this contract. But this idol has already sealed and notarized it. You beg and plead with it to let you go, but it shouts all the more that it will never leave you. It even threatens you and those you love. It tells you that if you try to get help from others, you’ll be endangering your family and even your own life. Right after threatening you, it woos you back with smooth and enticing words.
Finally, one day, you think you’ve found a way to finally escape this idol’s grip. If this idol offered you such powerful fulfillment in life, maybe Jesus can do the same for you. So you pray that Jesus will meet you in the same way this idol did, maybe even better. That Jesus will give you comfort, intimacy, control, and affirmation. But Jesus doesn’t answer you the way this idol did. The idol said, “You can walk by sight and feel good whenever you want.” Jesus says, “Walk by faith, and trust me when trials come your way.” After a while, you grow frustrated with Jesus, that he’s not helping you the way you want. He seems distant and unable to give you what makes you happy. In anger and unbelief, you willingly return to your idol, hopeless for anything better in your life.
As you stay with your idol, one thing is very clear to you: This idol hasn’t satisfied you. It’s just filled you with junk that tasted sweet but left you bitter. It promised real life but only delivered powerful counterfeits. Your life is now marked by unsatisfied longings that are temporarily mitigated by your idol.
You feel stuck, and it seems that Jesus is either unwilling or unable to free you from your misery.
Freedom from Your Idol
But then Jesus comes to you and offers you a pathway out of your despair. He tells you there is a way to be freed from the tyranny of this idol and its false promises. He exposes the lie that brought you in to begin with: That life can be found outside of the Life-giver. It is the hook of believing that life can be found in living for comfort, intimacy, control, security, and affirmation.
As long as you continue to believe that lie, your hope of escaping this cruel master is vain.
Jesus tells you to repent of coming to him merely to use him as a means of giving you your idolatrous desires. He reminds you of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” You had put your desires for other things before desiring him. You thought that in them was found the wellspring of life.
Jesus reminds you,
“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:8).
Your heart is pierced by his words. You see clearly how you’ve been spurning his offer of himself in order to cling to your idols. And you hear his invitation as a real way forward out of your misery, but your idol retorts with a strong counterargument. It says, “If you give your heart to Jesus, he’s calling you to give up good things and desire him only. Do you really want to give up your comfort, your security, your control?”
Jesus knows your weak faith and the ease at which your idol is able to convince you of its lies. And so, tenderly, with a heart of compassion, he tells you, “You’re not giving up your desires; you’re giving them over to me. You’re giving your whole life to me. In so doing, I will give you myself. And when I give you myself, all of your desires with which I created you find their ultimate satisfaction in me. When you are satisfied in me, you are truly free.”
In tears, you cry out, “Lord, I want to be satisfied in you, but that’s not happening in my life. I’ve tried, and you haven’t shown up for me.”
“My beloved child,” Jesus says, “You’ve been coming to me on the basis of your feelings, your experience, and your doubts. You haven’t been coming to me in faith in my promises to you. You’ve been coming to me demanding that I meet you on your terms. You haven’t been coming to me in trust, submitting to my perfect will for your life. You’ve wanted me to serve you so that you can be lord of your life. I want you to know a peace that comes from offering yourself to me daily as a living sacrifice, because you trust that I am sufficient for every need you have, and I will be faithful to every promise I have ever made to you. You thought that I existed for you. But you exist for me. You exist to glorify my name.”
With these words, your shackles come undone and fall to the floor as you see the path of joy and freedom set before you. Freedom is not in having your desires met in your timing and your ways. Freedom comes from repenting of your idolatry and entrusting your whole life to your first love, to the one for whom you were created.
The Death of Your Idol
Your idol has been dealt a death blow, but with its dying breath, it lunges at you with a sword of doubt saying, “You might want this freedom, you might even desire to worship Jesus alone, but you’ll fail, and you’ll come crawling back to me. Your repentance won’t be perfect.”
With confident humility you respond, “You’re right. I won’t be perfect. Even in my best moments, my love for Jesus will fall short of his supreme value. But my hope is not in my righteousness. My hope rests in being united to my Savior, who bore my sin of idolatry on the cross and has given me his perfect righteousness, so that I can come to him freely and ask for help from his infinite storehouse of grace.”
Jesus welcomes you into his arms and declares with amazing love, “You are my portion, and I am yours!” Jesus is not a genie or a powerful new way to get what you really want in the way you want it. Jesus Christ is the one who bore all the guilt of your sinful humanity and gives you nothing less than his own indestructible life—he himself is our reward. He doesn’t serve our desires; he reshapes them by his death and resurrection and guarantees them to us by joining us eternally to himself.
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3 ESV)
I looked at my calendar, confused. I already had a dentist appointment scheduled Wednesday. But another one on Friday? I skimmed my phone contacts and of course I hadn’t saved the dentist’s phone number. I checked my wallet for where I’d placed the business card—gone now. And I’d recycled our Yellow Pages long ago.
Old Me would’ve simply looked up the number in my Safari browser (and probably neglected to save it once again).
New Me doesn’t have this option. As I paw fruitlessly through my wallet one last time, I feel a little angry. And a lot humbled. If I didn’t have a porn habit, sending pictures of myself for cheap approval, then I wouldn’t be fishing for something as routine as my dentist’s phone number, simply because my husband helped lock up the internet. Now I’ll have to interrupt my husband at work so he can Google it for me or wait until he returns home to log on for me so I can search for it myself. I feel childish and rather petty, seeking “permission” to use a computer or have a new app installed on my phone. But costing my marriage, my family, and certainly God’s glory for the sake of freely accessing the internet will never balance. I must know my sin.
I’m reminded of my sin, even as I experience changes in my daily minutiae, like figuring out a new way to locate a phone number. My sin is ever before me as I feel frustrated by these changes, however trivial. Then there are times when I feel victory as I see my almost-full cell phone battery from lack of use—and lack of temptation. My sin is before me when I’m quietly folding laundry and my brain starts to replay porn that I viewed five years ago. My sin is before me as I watch my husband spend two hours trying to correctly install web-filtering programs on our computers. Tenderly, my sin is before me when he hugs me afterward and tells me he loves me.
An hour after my missing-phone-number debacle, the dentist calls to confirm Wednesday’s appointment—like a nod from my heavenly Father that he sees my plight.
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
As a married woman—a pastor’s wife, at that—with a house full of preschoolers, I don’t much fit the “profile” of a porn-user. I have no history of abuse, and the only traumatic event I seek to escape is the tedious monotony of life on-call with preschoolers—diapers, laundry, dinner, dishes, repeat. Sometimes not fitting the stereotype can make me feel lonely, or exceptionally depraved. In those moments when I’m more responsive to God’s wisdom, I see it as a reminder of how desperate my heart is: no matter how orderly my life looks on the outside, I was born a sinner and a sinner I will be until Christ’s return.
As a married woman—a pastor’s wife, at that—with a house full of preschoolers, I don’t much fit the “profile” of a porn-user.
I didn’t date much in high school. I was painfully shy but constantly craved affirmation that I was good enough—pretty enough, smart enough, friendly enough. Motivated by curiosity and feeling some warped pressure to ‘keep up’, my first internet search for pornographic pictures occurred after hearing a fellow female classmate share that she missed having sex. I’d never even seen male genitalia and my research was a way to feel good enough, perhaps even prepared enough.
In college my curiosity morphed into intrigue. None of my friends dated much or seemed pressured to be in a relationship, while I felt plagued by loneliness. I discovered porn videos and in the solitude of my dorm room began fantasizing that I could be that woman in the videos—beautiful, desired, confident. Although I contemplated it, my resistance to sharing this new habit with anyone left me vulnerable and solitary. Praise God for his mercy, that he protected me from any harmful relationship in which my lonely heart would have undoubtedly sought affirmation in a man’s physical attention, rather than God’s perfect affection.
I met my now husband in my junior year of college. This led me into a prolonged season in which the internet wasn’t a temptation. He truly led me to desire a deeper relationship with God; beautifully the desire for affirmation elsewhere faded as I found it in this godly man and perfectly in God, Himself. As an engaged couple, we stumbled our way through a conversation about sexual histories and our desires and expectations for physical intimacy. I remember feeling deep shame creep over me as I shared pieces of my struggles, but what sweet, precious relief to yet again experience not only his forgiveness but my heavenly Father’s as well.
As newlyweds, we enjoyed—and struggled through, on occasion—our new physical freedom as husband and wife. I don’t remember feeling particularly tempted to find those old websites. But that all changed when we began expecting our first child. That old context of loneliness resurfaced with no close workplace friends and my husband’s first pastoral position. Combine that with hormone surges from pregnancy and few defenses, I began to find new access to porn videos. My husband had just left for an overnight church retreat. I was alone. And then the old lies returned: I’m not good enough…A good pastor’s wife wouldn’t look at porn…A good mom wouldn’t, either…Besides, no one would find me attractive, anyway…I’m not good enough.
As my pregnancy progressed, I had numerous frank conversations with my husband to build accountability and resistance to this sin. Hormones shifted, our baby was born, and we were thrust into that world of figuring out how to be parents. Busyness temporarily outweighed any room for temptation.
But in the swirl of acclimating to my new role as a mother, I never fully processed why I’d been tempted in the first place. I didn’t root out the reason why my husband’s affirmation was no longer sufficient for me. I didn’t confront my own lie that a pastor’s wife does not struggle like I did. I just assumed that, because these temptations went away on their own, I was “better” now.
Not surprisingly, when I was pregnant with baby #2, my struggle came roaring back. This time I found a website where women submitted their own pictures for comments and even re-postings. Never having dropped back to my pre-pregnancy weight after my first child and desperate for affirmation in spite of my growing belly from my second child, I submitted my own photo. Never mind that my husband showered me with compliments and sought my physical affection. Was I still desirable to others? After the initial thrill from that post faded, I was deeply ashamed. I sat in a Sunday service, fighting tears, knowing I just had to confess this to my husband, and that he’d be devastated. I was also fearful. Could he be fired for this? What was wrong with me? I remember a tearful conversation with him and lots of crying. Then I remember a season of waking early for time in the Word and prayer—something I’d never done before. All glory to the Holy Spirit for convicting me and enabling me to obey his leading!
“[A] broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17b)
Oh, how I have been dreading writing this next part of my story.
I wish I had learned my lesson. I wish I had taken more time to pray, reflect, and see where these “triggers” came from, other than blaming pregnancy hormones. I wish I had remained vigilant, even when the temptations relented, to maintain internet filters and time restrictions on my computer and smartphone and more honest accountability check-ins with my husband. But how easily we forget!
I became pregnant with our next child and my husband accepted another ministry call, prompting us to move away from all that was familiar and stable. Cue again loneliness and fear of not being “good enough.” Again, I found virtual strangers to whom I could send photos of myself—more cheap insurance as I, the Homemaker and New Pastor’s Wife, sought affirmation from somewhere. I attended new church services, pushing forward, but feeling miserable.
Finally, I closed out my online accounts permanently—no more photos. I remember cold afternoons in our new backyard, reading my Bible and praying while my kids played. Slowly the temptation faded; slowly I rebuilt my relationship with the Lord. Significantly, I chose not to confess to my husband this time. Having nailed this online door shut to strangers, I felt it would cause more harm than good. Feeling almost noble, I bore my guilt alone, as if that were punishment enough for my crime.
It festered…until I couldn’t keep my secret anymore. My out-of-the-blue, terrifying-yet-impossible need to confess to my husband ended in another heartbreaking revelation. This one was even more difficult, because my sin had gone on for so long without him knowing. He felt lied to. It took weeks before our marriage felt “right” again; even then, shame would still creep up on me. Restoring my relationship with Christ was another uphill battle; I felt plagued, living a lie while serving in my home and my church.
My struggle continues. Usually I measure my life as ‘spiritually neutral’, distinguished by peaks of godly growth, cancelled out by valleys of sexual sin. Since my battles come and go, it’s easy to box them up, like a winter coat that gets put away when spring emerges. Satan’s lust for victory is never far away, like recently when I snuck off to send another photo to a website. Enter yet another hard conversation with my husband and new internet restrictions and countless tears. No internet filter can heal my desperation for true spiritual healing.
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:12)
Each failure makes my marriage harder to restore. Yet, each failure reminds me again of my wicked heart that desperately needs to rely on Jesus. I could throw away my computer, but my wicked heart will still find a way to sin—even if only in my mind. My weapons for protection are still the same: prayer, regular Bible reading, tools like Sexual Sanity for Women, and Harvest USA’s Journeyers in Grace biblical support group. I’ve had both a recent failing and victory as well. One day I recognized my own loneliness before it could lead me to temptation by simply texting a friend to see how she was doing. I’ve pushed myself to serve high school girls at our church, instead of letting that “not good enough” feeling cripple me.
Each failure makes my marriage harder to restore. Yet, each failure reminds me again of my wicked heart that desperately needs to rely on Jesus.
While I may never be sin-free in this life, by God’s grace my sin will continue to fade as he is ever illuminated.
Editor’s note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because she has chosen to remain anonymous.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also watch Shalee Lehning’s video, How to Be a Person Who Welcomes Honesty, which corresponds to this blog.
23 Jan 2020
In 2015 I began to struggle with gender transitioning and whether God’s Word would allow me to live as a woman. God’s answer to me was a resounding “NO!” This is my story.
The question of my gender identity began tugging at me during early childhood when I found a bag of girl’s dresses in our garage. I secretly tried on every dress. Fast forward a few years, my subsequent struggle with pornography began as a pre-teen when a neighborhood friend and I discovered a box of old pornographic magazines in one of the local farmer’s abandoned cars. It was a struggle that would last for the next 35 years.
My earthly father led me to the Lord at the age of seven after attending a local church camp. Diane and I met at that very same camp ten years later. During the two years that we dated, I shared with her my struggle with pornography. In spite of this, my bride agreed to marry me and walk alongside me. You see, both of us believed in the common fallacy that marriage would be the answer to my struggle with lust. We were wrong! Instead, our marriage would yo-yo for the next 25 years. At times, when our walk with Christ was maturing, our marriage was amazing. In between, when I struggled with porn, our relationship turned distant and resentful; each time, little by little, my sin would slowly escalate. Yes, sin does that. You don’t skip from A to M to Z; instead, you progress slowly from A to B to C. And when you reach M or Z, you wonder, “How did I get here?”
After twenty years of marriage my lustful desires began to escalate exponentially, to the point where I began wearing women’s undergarments, a habit which slowly grew into full blown cross-dressing. After reading about Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn in 2015, I began to seriously consider the possibility of transitioning, myself. And several months after Diane and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, I shared with her my desire to experiment with living as a woman. My desire to dress as a woman was no longer enough. Hence, I was about to enter the next phase of my struggle with lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
I confessed to my bride, not only that I wanted to live as a woman, but that I wanted her to share in my gender dysphoria, embracing this journey with me! You see, I believed we could continue to enjoy life together, only this time as two women. And I also believed that, by becoming a woman, I could finally conquer my struggle with lust that had persecuted me now for more than 35 years. I so wanted this struggle to end that I was willing to do anything. I questioned God: “Why did you make me this way? Why did you put such strong sexual desires in me? I just want to live for you, but I cannot put to death this sin in my life!”
Satan appeared to be winning the battle for my life, our marriage, and our family, but God had other plans! Over the next four difficult years, he worked miraculously in our lives and our marriage, pursuing us in different ways and maturing our faith, while burning the sin from my heart and life. And, although we were both believers, because of our different reactions to my gender dysphoria God led us both on two remarkable, contrasting journeys.
Diane turned completely to God for her strength, crying out to him from the beginning. He walked her through what she now describes as the most agonizing time of her life. In time, God revealed to Diane that she had made me her god! Without realizing it, she had been placing her trust in me, instead of him, and I had become her idol. With this realization, God provided Diane comfort. Faithful and obedient, she kept praying and began relying exclusively on him.
I wish the same had been true for me. I tried having it both ways, keeping myself in church, weekly men’s Bible studies, even accountability groups, and discipleship with a fellow brother in Christ who struggled with pornography like I did. But I still allowed pornography and my own sinful desires to consume my thoughts, convincing myself that God would be OK if I chose to live as a woman. And, thus I continued to justify my own sinful desires. After all, since he made me, he also must have made these desires and feelings as well!
As my struggle with gender dysphoria advanced, it appeared to be the answer to my life-long struggle with pornography. Or so I thought! What I found was that, when I wasn’t able to cross-dress frequently, that old struggle with pornography would return. Not only had my gender dysphoria not healed my pornography addiction, but in time, it even escalated it! Slowly, I was becoming what I really loved. Yes, I loved God, but I loved my sin more. And my sin was idolatry, plain and simple.
Slowly, I was becoming what I really loved. Yes, I loved God, but I loved my sin more.
In her obedience to God, Diane saw my situation clearly. But, stubborn and rebellious, I was blind to God’s truth because I wanted to walk with my Lord and Savior and live in my sin! I became the double-minded man described in James 1:6-8, “One who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
But God was still faithful. He pursued me, even when I failed to pursue Him, in spite of my doublemindedness and false assumptions held onto since my youth. What I’d originally thought of as ‘a small compromise’ had enslaved me over time, culminating in gender dysphoria and threatening my marriage. Rules that I thought didn’t apply to me, or were outdated and limited my fun, I dismissed. Thinking I could create my own boundaries, I failed to see that God’s laws were intended to protect me.
Blindness caused by sin is why many will disagree with me, and I realize that, in today’s culture, my point of view will not be a popular one. But having traveled this journey, I know now beyond a shadow of a doubt that my gender dysphoria was rooted in my rebellion against God. I allowed lust to reign in my life for all those years. And that lust ballooned into even uglier sins—idolatry, selfishness, and covetousness—sins that I cherished over my Savior. I was guilty of interpreting God’s Word through the lens of a secular worldview and I chose what I thought best suited me! In full rebellion, I even used Scripture to justify my actions, dismissing those who tried to speak truth to me.
My gender dysphoria was rooted in my rebellion against God.
Together, Diane and I sought help from numerous Christian counseling services, only to be turned away because they did not feel prepared to deal with the gender dysphoria struggle. Then, in a unique and unexpected way, God led Diane to the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) where she restarted her college education. Amazingly, God personally used those courses to minister to both of us, becoming our personal counselor, himself.
Then we learned about Harvest USA. Together, we attended a conference where we listened to Tim Geiger speak on transgenderism. Afterward, I reached out to Tim for help and over the next six months, Tim discipled me via Skype. Diane also received counseling from Harvest USA staff as well. At the conclusion of our remote counseling sessions, we traveled to Philadelphia for intensive face-to-face counseling with Tim and several other members of the Harvest USA staff who discipled us and prayed with us. Diane and I are so thankful that God provided Harvest USA to walk faithfully alongside of us.
Several months after our time at Harvest USA, God revealed my rebellion to me, caused by my sins of lust, covetousness and idolatry. While I was praying one day, God even spoke out loud to me when I heard a literal voice say, “It is done.” I was stunned! I looked around to see if anyone else was present, but I was alone. Immediately, I knew our tribulation was over. As I continued to move toward God in repentance, about a week later he placed the beautiful old hymn “I Surrender All” in my heart, one I had learned as a child. From that moment on, God removed my sinful desires, released me from my self-imposed yoke of spiritual blindness, and began to repair the destruction I had sown.
Only now can both Diane and I fully appreciate God’s redemption in our marriage. If you struggle with pornography, gender dysphoria, or any other sin, remember God’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When Diane and I were married, God already knew this tribulation was ahead of us. He never allowed us to give up on our covenant with him or our marriage. If you are his child, he will never give up on you, either! My prayer is that my own testimony will lead you to allow God to write his story with your life. He loves you more than you will ever know!
Editor’s Note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name and we refer to his wife as “Diane” because they have chosen to remain anonymous.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom from Harvest USA. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
09 Jan 2020
Derrick and Carli are three months out from their wedding. Invites have been sent, RSVPs have come in, the honeymoon has been booked. When they sat down last week for their final premarital counseling session, they both had the wedding jitters. However, a painful and unexpected truth came out in that hour of counseling—a secret Derrick had kept not only from their premarital counselor but from Carli as well. He had been struggling with pornography off and on for the last twelve years, since he was fifteen. He had tried everything he knew to overcome it, but he was always on his own, never daring to share this with anyone. Now that he was in seminary to become a pastor, the terror of being found out had kept him even more committed to hiding. However, as he explained, he loved Carli and wanted her to know about it before their wedding so that she would be able to help him.
Carli was shocked . . . and heartbroken. He’s just telling me about this now?
Now what do they do? Should they move ahead with the wedding and hope for the best? Do they postpone it? Do they call it off?
Michael and Shaina have been dating for eight months and are now beginning to talk about marriage. Sure, they have a few fears, but excitement is growing as they both sense God is doing an amazing thing in their relationship.
However, there are significant secrets hidden in each of their hearts. Each has engaged in pornography and masturbation, though it’s Shaina who is more actively pursuing porn online. She is most drawn to lesbian stories in the sites she visits.
Shaina has been encouraged that, since her relationship with Michael became serious, her struggle with lust seems less intense, even if she’s still giving into temptation. She’s thought to herself, “God must be preparing me to marry him. Maybe when I’m married to him, the temptations toward women will go away all together?”
Michael would be shocked to know that Shaina struggles with porn. It’s completely off his radar that women would be tempted in that way. He’s mentioned several times that men really “wrestle with lust . . . it’s a guy thing.” She wants to be confident in his love for her, but his comments have tempted her to feel dirty and ashamed because she’s looked at porn for years—lesbian porn at that—and isn’t a guy.
Should she be honest with him, or just with her two closest female friends who can keep her accountable? Wouldn’t it be more hurtful for him to know? After all, her private fantasy life isn’t really hurting anything, is it?
Maybe you connect with one of these stories. You’re engaged to someone you truly love and yet you wrestle with knowing exactly what you should share with your fiancé(e) about your past sexual experiences and your present temptations and struggles.
Perhaps you’re not in a relationship at all right now, but you’d like to be married in the future. You’re anxious about the how, the what, the when, and the how much of sharing the parts of your story that include sexual struggle and sin.
These are important things to seriously and prayerfully consider before you get engaged, and even more crucial to consider before you get married.
But what happens when a couple enters marriage and they don’t really know each other? Wise premarital counseling addresses important issues of family history, depth of faith in Jesus, finances, children, sex, roles of each spouse, desires for lifestyle (standard of living, social life, ministry involvement), etc. However, people often marry having avoided, or barely discussed, a critical component of their story: sexual history.
Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, or with oneself, sometimes through technology-based communication and/or sexual fantasy. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what his or her struggle has looked like in terms of length of time, frequency of giving way to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness or resistance to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.
There are any number of reasons dating people (and premarital counselors) avoid discussing sexual history:
- Fear. It’s scary and feels too vulnerable. Will my boyfriend or girlfriend reject me? Is my past or present struggle too much for him or her to handle?
- Some think, “Let the past be the past.” Sharing this will be more damaging than helpful. Leave it alone and trust God to work things out.
- Private sin struggles. Pornography, masturbation, sexual hookups, mental fantasy, etc. may seem to lose some of their tempting power in the euphoria of a new dating relationship. It’s easy to think that perhaps your relationship with this person has solved the problem, as Shaina believed.
- Shame. Derrick had kept his porn struggle hidden from everyone until that fateful moment in the counselor’s office. Shame is a persuasive yet destructive force that leads many to keep secret sin in the dark.
- Feeling intimidated. Therefore, they avoid them all together. Pastors, mentors, and counselors allow personal fears and feelings of insecurity to inhibit the necessary probing into these sensitive issues.
For couples to grow into an honest, truly knowing-each-other level of intimacy, it takes time, risk, and vulnerability. This needs to begin in the dating relationship, as both man and woman wisely open up their true selves, one to the other. Based on that true knowledge of each other, including sexual history and present struggles, each can discern if this is a relationship they want to commit to for life. For this to happen wisely and thoroughly, couples need other trusted people to help them navigate these crucial and often scary conversations—before they get engaged.
Why It’s Wise to Discuss Sexual History Before You Get Engaged
Couples are wise to not wait until engagement and “formal” premarital counseling to discuss sexual history. Pre-engagement is the time for the messiness to be shared and known—not in traditional premarital counseling, which is almost always pursued post-engagement. Why?
Engagement communicates, “I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. I delight in you, respect you, know you, and will support you to grow in Christ through your joys, trials, temptations, and struggles.” Therefore, before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you and stand by your side, ministering to you as I also receive your love and ministry to me.”
Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life.”
Consider another life-impacting decision that requires thorough knowledge and taking the time to gain detailed information before taking action: buying a house. Most people would never purchase a home before the costly, time-consuming process of completing a home inspection. Buyers want to know everything possible about a house before making one of the most significant purchases of their life. A thorough home inspection, conducted by an experienced and trustworthy person, will produce a report that addresses the true condition of that house, from the roof to the foundation. A well-done home inspection brings every problem—both present and potential—into the light. Relationships are much more complex than a physical structure—and thus the importance of knowing potential challenges is that much more crucial!
If it’s commonly accepted as wise to inspect a house, how much more so for couples to do the hard work of knowing, and being known by, each other as thoroughly as possible before committing to marriage? A man and woman need to know each other’s external and internal issues, both past and present, so that they can make a wise decision regarding a lifetime investment into a marriage. Sexual history is certainly one such issue.
Wisdom would lead this couple to invest the time, money, and effort to “go deep” in knowing this house to the best of their ability before purchasing it. Even though they’ve seen the house with their own eyes and have walked on the floors together, there’s more to learn. To avoid the cost and process of a professional home inspection, or to ignore the long-term implications found during the dangerous discoveries of one, would be foolish at best and catastrophic at worst.
Committing yourself to marry a person is so much weightier than buying a house! Taking the time, effort, and vulnerability to truly know a potential spouse isn’t an “inspection”—it’s a way to show humble love to one another and build trust. Rest assured, God delights in honesty and is committed to helping his children walk in the light before him and each other.
Jesus Strengthens and Comforts You in the Process of Sharing Your Sexual History
Sharing your sexual history can be a scary thing to consider. The Lord says that honesty is a good and necessary part of being joined with other Christians (see Ephesians 4:25). If honesty is crucial for our relationships in the church, how much more important is it for those who are preparing to join in the most intimate of unions? Here are some encouraging truths to consider as you prepare to be completely honest with a potential future spouse.
You’re not alone. One of the beautiful facets of a Christ-centered relationship is that it’s not just a twosome. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide (see Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).
God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 contains a sweet promise and a sober warning as well: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” A lack of joy and freedom in Christ, versus God’s mercy and grace—which reality do you want to live in? Which of these qualities do you want to be embedded in the foundation of your relationship? Jesus already knows us fully and loves us completely. This truth compels us to confess and turn from sin, which is the invitation given to us in the gospel! Humility before God in acknowledging your need of his gracious love will embolden you to be honest with the person with whom you are contemplating marriage.
God enables us to love rather than be self-protective. Jesus loves us, and also sends us to be ambassadors of his love to people around us (see 2 Corinthians 5:20–21). This includes your girlfriend or boyfriend. Galatians 5:13 commands us that in Christ, we are to no longer live for ourselves, but rather to serve others. A decision to be honest about your past and present sexual struggles may not seem like a way to love and serve someone, but it truly is. You are honestly acknowledging and offering a component of your life story to this person. You are inviting them to know and trust you. Hiding, spinning the facts, and telling half-truths are all basically the same thing: deceitful self-protection. For a future marriage to be healthy, it must be built on transparency and solid trust, which itself begins to grow in an honest dating relationship.
God forgives our sin and redeems our past. As God forgives you, you and your future spouse will have many opportunities to offer and ask for forgiveness, participating in Christ’s work of redemption in each other’s lives (see Colossians 3:12–17). Your relationship becomes a testament to the power of the gospel to make all things new, and to restore years of sinful living. In fact, one of the beautiful ways that God uses the unique “one-flesh” union between husbands and wives is to give them a 24/7/365 experience of being known, unashamed, and loved. This images God’s steadfast love for his people who sin, who are weak, and who have painful and stigmatizing scars.
God provides helpers. Another comfort of Christ, though it may feel scary at first, is that you have brothers and sisters to walk with you. Jesus doesn’t expect couples to navigate their relationship alone. In the euphoria of a new relationship, some couples can pull away from other key relationships, which will hurt them in the long run. Such isolated future spouses evolve into an island of two—and when the storms hit, they have only each other to rely on. Proverbs 11:14 encourages humility, which reaches out to others for help, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
Jesus is our eternal companion and spouse. Finally, Jesus is with you now and forever, and will never abandon you. Your relationship may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past. It’s better to know now, before making lifelong marriage vows, if this person can accept and be committed to the real you.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Ellen’s minibook, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
To learn more about this topic, watch Ellen’s accompanying video, Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History.
27 Nov 2019
Ten, twenty, thirty years of consistent patterns of giving into sin are hard to overcome. Decades of sinful responses to life will produce ingrained ways of thinking and acting that are not easily changed.
At Harvest USA, I find that men who struggle the most to find consistent victory over sin are not those who have suffered significant losses as a consequence of severe sin. Instead, the men who struggle the most to gain traction in their repentance are those who consistently make small compromises with sin, which leads to minor consequences in life.
They don’t lose their jobs; they don’t lose their families. But what they are in danger of losing is hope!
When someone starts to take repentance and accountability seriously, it’s initially a very encouraging endeavor. They feel a high degree of acceptance among others who struggle in similar ways. They experience a clean conscience from confessing sin to others. They feel hope that they are not alone in their struggles, and have real avenues of support and encouragement. All of this momentum gives many people a record-breaking initial season of freedom from sinful behaviors. Victory appears to be on the horizon!
But then they fall back into old patterns. After two months of a clean record, they cross that line and indulge in pornography again, or hook up with someone again. At this point, most people are tempted to question everything that they’ve been doing so far. Was it all a sham? Have they really made any progress if they are back at this place again? To make matters worse, that initial act of sin leads to more acting out. This is when they feel like they are now in a worse place than when they began this journey.
It is not uncommon to put forth unprecedented degrees of effort and resolve into battling sexual sin and still experience regular failure in this area. If this description matches your experience or the experience of someone you are helping, how are we to interpret and understand what God is doing?
First of all, I want to dispel two opposite yet companion false expectations of repentance. These are two lies to guard your heart against:
- The first lie: No matter what you do, you are doomed to eventually act out again, it’s only a matter of time.
- The second lie: All you need is the golden key of a specific insight, technique, or experience to be completely free from this sin.
Both of these lies give false expectations for what repentance looks like. The first lie I confront quickly. I boldly tell new groups of men at Harvest USA, that in Christ, nothing is forcing them to go home that night and act out in their well-worn behaviors. Sin is no longer their master; they’ve died to sin when Christ died to sin on the cross. It is a lie from Satan to believe that you are always doomed to eventually go back to your enslaving patterns of sin. God always provides a way of escape.
Yet the opposite lie is also very tempting and prevalent. Those enslaved to addiction want complete freedom, and they want it as quickly as possible. It’s tempting to believe that this will be an easy fix when there is often powerful momentum in the beginning stages of truly fighting sin. But this expectation of a quick, simple fix, only to be discovered by some insight or a new technique, both misunderstands the power of indwelling sin and also the scope of transformation that God is truly after.
I find it common for men to flip-flop between these two false expectations. One week, they are in the pit of despair that this sin will always enslave them; another week, they feel invincible, believing they’ve crossed a threshold where they’ll never be severely tempted again. But what if God is after more in your repentance than a clean track record?
What if God is after more in your repentance than a clean track record?
It is certainly a good thing to want complete freedom from destructive behaviors. But it is not good if that is the only thing you care about in your repentance.
God is doing so much more in you than merely stopping behaviors. He’s doing a comprehensive renovation of your heart. And for many people, that transformative process involves a much longer season of prolonged failure than they initially expected.
While there are many things God may be doing in allowing people to experience slow growth, I believe there is one fundamental lesson he wants everyone to learn in their repentance.
If God gave us immediate victory over sin, so many of us would be left with immeasurable amounts of deadly pride. We would look at others with judgmental hearts and have little room for patience or compassion as they continued to struggle and fail.
C.S. Lewis captures this deadly exchange when he describes Satan’s delight over prideful law-keeping. He writes, “He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your [blister] cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. (p. 125).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
It’s important that we qualify what humility looks like in the battle against sin. Despair is a form of pride; you are looking to yourself as the answer to your problems, and when you can’t find the strength from within, your pride keeps you from looking to God.
Humility, on the other hand, leads to genuine hope. Humility accurately assesses the degree of helplessness we experience in our own strength to kill sin. The humble person accepts that reality and does not shake their fist at God for allowing them to experience weakness.
Humility leads to genuine hope. Humility accurately assesses the degree of helplessness we experience in our own strength to kill sin.
Instead, the humble person comes to God in trust and faith, continuing to believe that God is good, God is strong, God is mighty to save. The humble person acknowledges God’s goodness in calling them into a dependent relationship with him. That it is eternally better to be weak and experience God’s strength than to be strong in yourself and be separated from God for all of eternity.
God’s highest goal in your battle against sexual sin is growing your dependence, trust, and reliance upon him in ever-increasing intimacy and fellowship. People entrenched in sexual sin are not marked by this kind of relationship with God. This kind of relationship is not quickly grown. And thus your slow progress in fighting sexual sin is directly connected to the progress of your humble reliance upon God.
The more you give in to the temptation to despair over your lack of progress, the harder it is to find hope in a humble relationship with God.
If you are struggling today to make progress in your battle against sexual sin, focus your attention on cultivating a humble relationship of trust and reliance upon God. Fight to hope not in yourself, but in God. Fight against laziness and presumption that you can go a single day without a vital connection with him. Fight to believe that this depth of relationship with God is what you’re ultimately fighting for, and it is what God has promised to accomplish in your life.
Learn more by watching Mark Sanders’ accompanying video: Why Isn’t God Answering My Prayers for Deliverance?
03 Oct 2019
As a teen, I had a major porn problem. And that was magazines and VHS tapes (does anyone remember the VCR?). But that’s nothing compared to what kids face today.
Teens are confronted with a staggering level of temptation. I would have failed middle school if I had access to the pornographic material now available to kids.
Here’s the sad, hard truth: it will be nearly impossible to completely shield your child. Porn infiltrated my Christian elementary school in 1979, and now the ubiquity of digital devices (forty years later) means porn is always at our fingertips. It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.
It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.
Here are four ways to do that:
- Respond in faith: don’t freak out!
Don’t give way to fear and begin extrapolating the worst case sexual scenarios awaiting your child. And don’t make it about you and your disappointment, as if your child failed you in some way. Depending on your temperament, avoid the two typical default extremes for most parents: bringing down the hammer or burying your head in the sand.
Instead, before talking with your child about their porn usage, thank God for exposing your child’s sin! Because God disciplines the children he loves (see Hebrews 12:5-11), this is evidence of his favor on your child. Trust God’s purposes here, believing he is wooing your child more closely to himself. Ask God for grace to enter into the situation and to give you his words of life to speak to your child. Abide in him as you love your child through this (see John 15:5). Don’t try to handle this alone!
- Be direct
Confront the situation— honestly and with love. Don’t dance around the topic or use veiled accusations like “Have you done anything I should know about?” Let your child know what you’ve discovered and express your concern. But remember: tremendous shame surrounds sexual sin. Your child already feels this, so be sure your approach points them to Jesus.
First, assure your child of your love and that there is nothing he can do to negate that. Second, remind him of God’s love and encourage him with the hope of the gospel. The essence of the Christian faith is God’s pursuit and redemption of us, not based on our worthiness, but the wonder of his matchless love and grace. Your child needs to be reminded of this confidence now more than ever!
Further, explain that these behaviors come from the heart. Help your teens begin considering how they turn to false comforts to cope with the challenges of life in a fallen world. It is helpful for you to model repentance here. What false comforts tug at your own heart when you are stressed and struggling? Acknowledge your own weakness and propensity to turn to the things of the world instead of God. Your self-disclosure demonstrates your own ongoing need for Christ’s mercy and the empowerment of his Spirit. Your child needs to see that her parent(s) also struggle with sin and weakness, so when she comes to you for help, she knows you understand.
Gently ask your child to open up about the history of his or her sexual struggles. Your own humility and openness about your struggles in this area may invite a responding honesty.
- Establish better safeguards
Hopefully you’ve taken steps to guard the technology in your home. If not, now is the time to start! Monitoring technology has vastly improved over the years. Some combination of parental filters and accountability software is necessary. For the home, the best software or devices are those linked directly to your Wi-Fi router. Usually there is the ability to place varying levels of restriction on different devices, so that a family PC or tablet can be set at a very high level of filtering to protect young children, while an older teen’s smart phone might have fewer restrictions while on the home network.
But the main thing is the capability of viewing the browser history on all devices. Some of these products also have an “on the go” feature that maintains filtering and tracks data usage of phones, iPads, etc., even monitoring the devices on other networks. I am intentionally not promoting specific products because new ones emerge regularly, but do some research and determine what will work best for your family. This is going to cost you something, but the money spent is worth it to protect your child’s mind and heart.
Good discipline is not punitive because Jesus was punished for us. Discipline, though painful at times, is intended to steer us in the right direction (see Hebrews 12:5–13). Discipline includes establishing wise and protective boundaries, proportionate to the age and maturity of your child.
Do not take lightly the effects of pornography. Take proactive steps, but avoid bringing down the hammer and exasperating them (as we are warned in Scripture: see Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). A total internet lockdown or relegating to flip phones might produce short-term compliance, but it is unlikely to form mature disciples of Christ. Only repentance and a deepening relationship with Jesus, modeled through your walk with Christ, will do that. Parent to those ends!
- Keep walking with them
It is important to realize that this will be an ongoing temptation. Again, porn is everywhere, and access is easy. Many parents are gung-ho when the problem first rears its ugly head, but don’t persevere in addressing these challenges. Be faithful in prayer and ask God to reveal sin, but don’t stop there! Stay on top of technology and be willing to ask the awkward questions about how your child is doing sexually. This includes ongoing monitoring of his relationships. Through it all, continue pointing them to Jesus and his love. Remind your child of the mercy that covers their sin and the power given to obey through his outpoured Spirit.
Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
26 Sep 2019
God created sex and wants us to know pleasure in it that leads to thanksgiving and worship of him as the Giver of good gifts. That’s the ultimate goal of sex in marriage.
The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
19 Sep 2019
David White shares five essentials for talking to your kids about sex: work out any unresolved sexual issues in your own life, proactively engage your kids in multiple conversations, start positive, explain that the motivation for chastity is love for Christ, and finally, remember that your marriage is the most important sex education you can give your children.
The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
19 Sep 2019
I remember the intoxication of my early sexual sin. Porn and sexual release provided a technicolor rush against the drab backdrop of middle school reality. And that was looking at magazines. Not surprising, the internet’s heightened experience leads many to addiction. Like all the blessings of this life, sex is a good gift from God. (That’s why the Bible is overwhelmingly positive about sexuality expressed according to God’s design.)
The problem arises from our propensity to worship the gift instead of the Giver. In all beauty and pleasure, we catch a glimpse of transcendence in the Creator’s handiwork. But this can lead us to confuse the signpost for the ultimate destination. Sexuality is a realm of human experience where this is particularly true.
Specifically, God designed the delights of sexuality to point to the wonder of his heart for us. So, in teaching about marriage, Paul writes, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31,32). This means sexuality is ultimately about God.
Sexual expression consummates lifelong, covenant promises because it points to the glory that our relationship is rooted in God’s covenantal promises to us. Further, he created us to experience the thrill of romance so that we’d glimpse Jesus’s heart and delight in us. Consider this incredible declaration from Isaiah 62:5, “…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you”! The exhilarating thrill of falling in love, the wonderful bliss of sexual experience, the joy and delight of romantic love that has inspired poets and artists over the millennia, are all a dim reflection of an infinitely greater reality: God’s heart for you and Jesus’s great anticipation, as the ultimate Bridegroom, of sitting down with us at the wedding feast at the beginning of the world to come (see Revelation 19:6-9).
The most beautiful experiences of romance in this world are a drop in the Pacific Ocean compared to God’s heart for you. Because of the deep theological truths behind romance and sexuality, God has imbued these experiences with great delight. But the downside is that this particular signpost can become incredibly enslaving when people worship the gift rather than the Giver.
And this is a problem for all of us. Because the Fall has infiltrated every aspect of our personhood, broken sexuality affects every individual and community on the globe. It’s important to underscore that sexual sin is a gender-neutral pathogen of the soul. This is a universal human condition, impacting men and women. All of us need sexual redemption. This includes every Christian—Jesus doesn’t wave a wand over anyone when they come to faith. All of us need sanctification in this area of our lives.
It’s important to underscore that sexual sin is a gender-neutral pathogen of the soul. This is a universal human condition, impacting men and women. All of us need sexual redemption.
But things are not so broken that they do not recall their original goodness or so marred that they can’t be repaired by God’s grace.
How to Move Forward
Realize the theological significance of sex. The passages warning against sexual immorality make clear that sex reveals the allegiance of your heart. Sexual immorality is what pagans do; Christians are to be ruled by the Spirit and so steward their sexuality in holiness and honor (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). 1 Corinthians 6:13 goes further, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Spiritual life and physical reality are inextricably linked together. Being a Christian means acknowledging Jesus is Lord over all.
The aforementioned passages are in the New Testament (along with several others) because Christians struggle with sex. There’s good news here: you’re not the only one. But, do others really know what that struggle means for you? The gospel gains traction in our lives through humble vulnerability. Honest confession of our struggles reflects a confidence in Christ’s atoning work and commitment to be purified as his bride.
Sanctification in this area of life is just like any other. You need the strength of the Body of Christ. Ephesians 4 describes how we reach maturity only as we are inextricably linked to one another and “each part is working properly” (v. 16). If you want to grow in this area, you can’t do it alone. (For this reason, our workbooks, Sexual Sanity for Men and Sexual Sanity for Women, were designed for small groups!)
Because sex is about God, regardless of your experience and life situation, Jesus invites you to a deeper place of relationship with him through these desires. In his teaching on marriage and divorce, Jesus was clear: there is no marriage in the new heavens and earth. It is a “this world” experience that points beyond itself to the greatest union yet to be. Your desires are a small window into Jesus’s longing for the coming wedding feast. Even unsatisfied, they provide an opportunity to know him and worship him. Jesus meets us in the pain of unsatisfied desires, reorienting them toward himself, because this is what all of life, including sex, is ultimately about.
Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.