In any family, conflicts between parents and their children are to be expected. Especially as a child grows into adulthood, it is only natural for them to develop their own unique beliefs, values, and worldviews that may differ from those of their parents. Although parents can invest all the time and energy in the world into instilling biblical values into their children, they have little control in determining who their children will become. I can still remember the feeling of unease when my dad was preparing to lecture my brothers and me after we had done something foolish. Of course, I already knew everything my dad was going to say, so it registered about as well as Charlie Brown’s teacher saying, “Wah, wah, wah.” (Little did I know I would be here sitting in my mid-30’s reflecting on how true my dad’s words were in those lectures!)
When a child adopts values and beliefs that go against the teachings of Scripture, Christian parents find this extremely challenging, resulting in tension, arguments, and conflict. Perhaps there isn’t a clearer place this can be seen today than in Christian families with an LGBTQ+-identified child. The child’s worldviews, adopted from the LGBTQ+ community that contrast directly with biblical worldviews, often result in tremendous turmoil among family members.
Let’s consider just a few of the arguments and presuppositions of the LGBTQ+ community that conflict with a biblical worldview.
- “My experience of sexuality and gender is the truth I must follow and the authority by which I come to understand myself,” versus, “God’s Word is the ultimate authority that informs how I understand myself and my experiences, including matters of sexuality and gender.”
- “My sexual or gender identity defines who I am; therefore, it should be celebrated and embraced as good,” versus, “Sexual or gender struggles are a result of my broken condition as a sinner. Although my desires may feel natural and right, they must not be gratified or embraced as good if they contradict the Word of God.”
- “To disagree with my sexual or gender identity is to speak against me as a person and therefore is both unloving and an attack on my psychological wellbeing,” versus, “God’s love accepts me as I am, yet works to conform me to his holy character, so that I might be free from the bonds of sin and alive in righteousness.”
Do any of these conflicting values and beliefs resonate with what you have experienced between you and your child? Perhaps you can identify others that lie underneath the disagreements and tension.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Paul defines these arguments and opinions that rise against the knowledge of God as spiritual strongholds. These strongholds include false beliefs, thoughts, arguments, and reasoning that stand in opposition to the truth of Scripture. Individuals who embrace them will be bound by them and, in turn, will be unable to see God or themselves rightly. The fruit of this bondage manifests itself in a person’s behavior.
Paul is giving us insight into where the real battlefield is: the spiritual realities at work in your son or daughter’s heart. Your child’s underlying beliefs that stand in opposition to the truth of God’s Word become a stronghold that can be seen in the fruit of their actions and words. Paul’s reminder to the church of Corinth is the same reminder we need today: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood!
Not against flesh and blood
We are often far too shortsighted when it comes to doing battle against the issues we see in our children. Typically, parents try everything in their own power to address the behaviors they see. This might look like wanting to talk sense into their child, giving them articles or books to read, rebuking or disciplining them, and trying to convince them of their error. Although these strategies may have their place, they are often a means of doing battle with ”flesh and blood” and are misguided in addressing the real powers at work. Paul’s words remind you that your aim must be set at doing battle against the spiritual strongholds that undergird your child’s beliefs. It can be helpful to consider where the bulk of your efforts and energy is directed to. Are you waging war according to the flesh or by the Spirit of God against the spiritual strongholds that exist?
Weapons of our warfare
Parents who belong to Christ possess great power to do battle for their children. In fact, according to this passage, you have divine power to do battle against the strongholds that exist in your child! This is true because of the One who is in you, as 1 John 1:4 says: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Because of the victory Christ has over sin and death, you can have confidence that battling for your child is not in vain. But how do you do this?
God gives us divine power through the spiritual weapons available to us in Christ. These weapons, as Paul lays out in Ephesians 6:10–18, consist of the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes fitted with the readiness given by the gospel of peace. When parents suit themselves up with the armor of God and remember to pray on all occasions, they are most prepared to battle effectively for their children. Here are a few closing questions for you to consider as you examine the weapons of your warfare.
- Do you pray truth over your child more than you speak it to them? Speaking truth has had an important place in your role as parent through the years. But if you still are acting as if your own words, or even your persistently repeated biblical words, are the primary weapon that will reach the strongholds, you are mistaken. The more you recognize that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more your prayers to him will outnumber and outweigh your own words to your child.
- Does the truth of Christ guard your heart from despair and hopelessness for your child? Despair and hopelessness are bad fruits that can indicate a reliance on your own strength and effort, which simply cannot win and so can only lead to despair.
- Are you concerned with your own personal growth in righteousness, even as it pertains to how you relate to your wayward child? The true battle of prayer always brings us, ourselves, to transforming relationship with Jesus. As James says, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16).
- Do your words and actions toward your child reflect the demeanor of one who is controlled by the peace of God? If you are not resting in the power of God alone, it will show in fruit like frustration, anger, manipulation, or a tendency to take over and make things happen the way you want them to.
- How might you grow in discerning when you are waging war according to your flesh? According to the power of the Holy Spirit in you?
May you remember that your struggle with your son or daughter is not against flesh and blood, and that God has given you divine power to combat the spiritual strongholds that grip your child’s heart and mind.
06 May 2021
Our world today is obsessed with self-concept and “identity.” We have never been more encouraged to form thoughts about ourselves and to shape our lives by those thoughts. But what our culture lacks is an objective truth beyond ourselves by which our self-assessments might be shown to be false and harmful.
The Bible is full of stories of people just like us—people who are blind to who they really are and blind to their own blindness! Since Adam and Eve, we humans have tried to understand ourselves under the guidance of our autonomous hearts. The result is that we alternate between thinking too highly of ourselves and thinking too lowly of ourselves. We are either building ourselves up in pride, arrogance, and entitlement or descending into self-defeating despair and depression. The lies we believe about ourselves have contributed to the power of sin over us.
Consider some of the characters whom we know from Scripture. Let’s try to straightforwardly state the things they believed about themselves.
- First, Adam and Eve thought, “I am like God.” Then, “I am more able to discern good and evil than God.” And finally, “I am a doomed rebel. My only hope is to flee God.”
- How about Lamech, Cain’s descendant who thunders menacingly at his wives, “…listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:23–24). How does Lamech define himself? “I am powerful; I am entitled to fear and respect.” Or, could it be, “I am unsafe and vulnerable, and I must protect myself by controlling others with violence and fear?”
- How about the son in Jesus’ parable who has come to be known as the “prodigal” (Luke 15:11–13)? What does he believe about himself as he asks for “what is coming to me” and then goes off to squander it in “reckless living?” “I am entitled to ease and prosperity. I flourish because I am true to myself.” And, after he came to his senses, returning with his rehearsed speech to his father, perhaps he thought, “I am an unlovable failure.”
- How about Saul, after having been anointed by Samuel as God’s choice to be king, cowering and hiding among the baggage (1 Samuel 10:20–22)? “I am doomed to failure.” “I must rely on my own resources and strength to succeed.” “I am a fraud; if people ever saw me truly, they would reject me.”
Do you recognize any of those thoughts in yourself? Do you cling to self-thoughts that are both exaggeratedly autonomous, independent, and selfish, as well as fearful, condemning, and self-loathing? Are you the one whom David describes, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated” (Psalm 36:1–2)? Or does your heart speak with the voice of Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people?” Those with sexual sin in their past and present know both sides of these thoughts about self, often simultaneously.
What can be done? How does one find freedom from such destructive thoughts?
The answer lies outside of yourself. The supreme lie of our current world may be the ever-present message that you must define yourself, that you find your identity within, whether in your experience or in your heart (defined in the Disney way). That is the oldest lie humans were ever told. But the truth is that you do not have the authority to define yourself. None of us do. So who does?
If we do look outside of ourselves, our first tendency is to look to other people. Their praise or their abuse weighs heavily in our self-identification. Of course, the psalmist thinks he is “a worm and not a man,” for he is “scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” If you have been bullied or abused, you may find it easy to think of yourself as “as a worm and not a man.” Also, many of our relational and sexual choices have the aim of surrounding ourselves with the society of those who (we think) will rescue our broken sense of self or reinforce our chosen identity. But other people do not have authority to define you.
The authority to define you lies outside of yourself, not merely in the sense of being outside of your individuality. It is outside of your nature. Only your Creator defines you. And if you have spent your lifetime defining yourself, the identity your Creator gives you will surprise you. Remember that prodigal son? Even when he returned to his father’s house, he only brought with him his self-plausible ideas about who and what he was. The father completely surprised him with love, life, and glory that he could not have anticipated. It turned out he was not a worm, not a failure, not a slave—neither a slave to his own desires and choices nor a slave to his father’s anger and justice. He was a beloved son. What a surprise.
Will you stop defining yourself and let God begin to surprise you?
Awhile back, when I led a discipleship group for women seeking to overcome sexual sin, I was amazed at how prevalent abuse was in the stories of these dear sisters in Christ. It’s not that abuse is an unusual part of the backstory of women who come to us; sadly, most who reach out to us for help have experienced sexual abuse in one form or another. What made this group different, though, was the depth of trauma that was so common across the board among group members. I took in their courageous sharing with sobriety, heartbreak, anger, and confusion.
The very questions that many of them asked were now flooding my thoughts: “Why, God? Why did you allow this? What good could possibly come from this? How are they supposed to trust you when you didn’t stop this from happening?”
These are difficult questions, and there are no easy answers. It is too much for me to sort through why God allows what he does. It is too great for me to discern whether sin is to blame or if it is just a result of the fallenness of this world—or both. I admit that I have given in to demanding answers from God as I have attempted to sort through confusion created by others’ suffering.
In those times, I turn to Isaiah 55:8–9, which says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There are answers that my finite mind can’t understand, and it lies in the character of who God is and the fact that he knows all of the things I don’t.
But, as helpers, what are we to do when God allows us to come face to face with what seem like “splashes of hell”?¹
If we’re going to truly identify with Jesus in this world, it’s important to realize a few things as a helper. First, hearing traumatic stories is hard, but it is a part of our calling as believers to bear with one another, and Jesus is compassionate to us in this process. Second, we can hear, hold, and steward these stories wisely.
Hearing Traumatic Stories Is Difficult
In Genesis 34, we read about Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, who was horrifically raped by a man named Shechem. This chapter largely focuses on her brother’s response to the rape, which resulted in his anger boiling over into murder as a form of retaliation. But consider for a moment what it would be like to sit with Dinah. What anguish would you hear her heart express? What fears did this experience cause to rise up in her? What questions is she struggling to find answers to? It would be an understatement to say that her answers would be hard to hear and, most likely, grieve our hearts.
Now let’s consider Jesus: We see him entering into these broken spaces with people. He knew the story of the Samaritan woman who had slept with and married many men (John 4) and the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1–11). We don’t know the details of those actual relationships and what exactly those women endured leading up to the moment they encountered Jesus; we only get a glimpse at where they ended up. Yet Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed by their sin or suffering. He saw them and engaged them through his questions, listened to them, offered hope, and even offered himself.
We can do this too, but we need to be prepared: Hearing traumatic stories is difficult. We need to be aware of a few possible temptations for us helpers.
- Dependence on self. Many of us can rely on ourselves to heal, fix, and come up with answers for pain that often doesn’t have easy solutions.
- Pride. Our desire to help can get mixed in with pride that convinces us, “Look at what a great helper I am by hearing such traumatic stories!” Or we can begin to think someone needs us in order to get better.
- Avoidance. In many ways, it is easier to ignore hard things. We put our heads in the sand and pretend it away, or we even run away all together.
We need to remember that we aren’t entrusted with abuse stories unless they have first been heard, seen, and known by Jesus. He cares for the sufferer and for us, the one called alongside those who have endured horrific pain.
Dane Ortlund says in his book, Gentle and Lowly, “In our pain, Jesus is pained; in our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t—not that his invincible divinity is threatened, but in the sense that his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress. His human nature engages our troubles comprehensively. His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.”²
Holding Difficult Stories Can Be Done Wisely
So what should we do when someone comes to us and wants to open up, to share a painful experience of abuse with us? What about childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work? This is a wide and deep topic with lots of necessary detail that would need to be explored in each situation.
Let me offer four key starting points to keep in mind.
- Pray. Prayer must be utilized often as we confront this type of evil. Pray for wisdom to know what God is inviting you into as a helper, for God to guard your own heart as you listen, and for heart healing and comfort for the person sharing.
- Listen and learn. Don’t worry about having the perfect theological answer or the right thing to say. Intentional listening and seeking to understand the person in front of you will help eliminate your responses that lean towards, “I don’t know what to do with what I’m hearing.” Jesus was the ultimate question asker, and he already knows the ins and outs of a person’s heart and situation.
- Get the help you need. As we have talked about, being a helper in these situations can take its own toll on you. Hold the person’s story with honesty and integrity, but invite others to know you in this so they can pray specifically for you. In addition, seek safe spaces to talk about how the weight of these stories is impacting your heart.
- Help the person connect with someone trained in trauma care if needed. Often, the most helpful and loving thing we can do is to acknowledge that we care yet aren’t equipped to address certain experiences of trauma. So, seek to help this person connect with someone who is trained to help in these areas. Practical ways to do this are offering to research professionals in your region, making a phone call to learn more about their specific areas of focus, and providing contact information to the person in need. This doesn’t mean we eliminate ourselves from the situation, though, because God gives us the Body of Christ, and there is wisdom in coming alongside hurting people together.
People who are willing to begin facing abuse and trauma are courageous. To invite someone else to know about that truth is even braver. So, while it is an honor to be entrusted with such stories, we, as helpers, need to be prepared for how those stories will impact our hearts. We also need to be prepared that removing the blinders of the depth of evil and suffering around us is often painfully uncomfortable.
When my co-leader and I finished the group I mentioned earlier, we marveled, with tears, at what we had witnessed in the lives of the group members. They had grown forward, healing had gone a bit deeper, and the pull of sin was lessening. Their stories of trauma had changed us as we bore witness to Jesus, the One who draws near to the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1–3).
Jesus was moved to compassion when he saw the needs of those around him (Matthew 9:36 and 14:14). As we sit with those who have experienced abuse and trauma, may we be moved to compassion, knowing that, although it is hard to hear such stories, Jesus is the one who redeems, restores, and enables us to hold challenging stories wisely.
¹ Joni E. Tada described suffering this way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU6q1r1Z9jg&t=2s, last accessed 2/24/21.
² Dane Ortlund. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2020. 46.
Join Chris and Shalee as they talk about how to help parents whose children self-identify as LGBTQ+. They discuss common struggles and challenges that Christian parents face as they process the initial discovery, hold on to the truth of God’s Word, and walk forward in a loving relationship with their children.
What parents need most when they first discover that their children identify as LGBTQ+: Someone who can listen to parents’ experience of shock, grief, pain, and confusion is what they most need in these initial stages.
Specific challenges that parents now face in their relationships with their children: Parents need support in figuring out how to navigate their relationships with their sons and daughters, love them with integrity before God, and trust the Lord’s sovereign purposes.
Unexpected findings on this journey: Parents can learn how God works to draw parents to himself, making them more like Christ as they persevere through this trial.
Impact on the helper: It is a great privilege to walk with hurting parents, to be trusted with the most sensitive matters, and to witness strong faith and courage in the midst of very difficult circumstances.
Many Christian parents of an LGBTQ+-identified child feel at a loss for what God is up to in their families. One of the most common questions you may find yourself asking again and again is, “God, what are you doing!?” When you contemplate your child’s situation—from the devastation and deep hurt you have felt to the haunting question of your son or daughter’s relationship with the Lord—you will undoubtedly search anywhere and everywhere to discover where God is working.
More often than not, you may feel that these questions are left unanswered, but you can be assured that God is at work, and you can pray for his purposes to prevail. God may use these difficult circumstances to draw your child closer to himself and to bring conviction of the truth deep into your child’s heart, dislodging the false beliefs they have adopted and the negative influences that surround them. The God of Joseph, who used what was meant for evil to bring about good (Genesis 50:20), is the same God in whom you can place your hope and trust as you consider where your child’s journey may lead.
Out of all the ways in which God could possibly work, there is one purpose that you can be sure he is accomplishing through these difficult circumstances. This particular work of God may not be as obvious to you, but rest assured that it is there. This is the purpose that God is actively working on your heart. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28–29).
This familiar passage in Romans may not be the most comforting words at first glance—this is not my “go to” passage for a parent first discovering their child’s chosen identity—but opening your heart to this promise of God is sure to bring clarity and hope as you see God’s tangible work unfold in your life.
The Lord, in his sovereign providence, has placed you on the difficult road on which you find yourself. If you are in the love of God, he is at work using these circumstances to make you more like his Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly, the Lord desires to comfort you in your pain, guide you in relating to your child, and soften your child’s heart. But there is more that God desires to do through the suffering and trials you are experiencing; he wants nothing less than to remake you into the image of his Son.
Practically speaking, what might this look like?
Embracing this purpose of God’s refining begins by taking your eyes off of your child and putting them on yourself. The purpose is for you to pause and consider, “Where do I see God at work in me?” More specifically, ask yourself the following questions.
- How do I see God teaching me to trust in him with my whole heart and not lean on my own understanding?
- In which area(s) is God prompting me to relinquish control of my child’s life?
- What does this trial show regarding what my heart truly believes about God and who he claims to be?
- How is God challenging me to stand firm in his Word and its promises?
- How am I handling this differently now compared to when I first discovered that my child was identifying in this way?
- Where else have I seen God work in my heart through this hardship?
Questions like these will help you see evidence of God’s purposes at work in you and challenge you to embrace his sovereign will all the more.
Below are some of the things you may discover and enjoy as you walk in this purpose of God.
- God will show you more clearly your own broken condition and need for him.
- He will teach you how to love messy sinners in the same way he has loved you.
- He will give you the desire for him to be glorified through your family situation above everything else.
- He will open the door for you to comfort other hurting people with the comfort that you have received from God.
God has promised to use your son or daughter’s situation to bring about his good purposes in your life. I encourage you to invite God to work in you, in accordance with his will, that you might more clearly see his sovereign and good plan unfolding as he cares for you.
28 Jan 2021
Today was sort of a typical day in which I bounced between hope and grief while I continue in the journey of parenting an adult daughter who is embracing a gay identity. The morning’s quiet time was especially helpful as I meditated on a passage in Mark 4. I was studying the story in which Jesus slept on the ship as it was tossed in a violent storm. The disciples, who were avid seamen, were quite adept at reading the weather on the water, but this storm evidently took them by surprise. The word used for “storm” here is something akin to hurricane winds—clearly a frightening threat. I can relate when I consider the storm that swept over us like a tidal wave as we became aware of our daughter’s assertions.
Jesus spoke out and said, “Peace! Be still!” In other places, “be still” is translated as “be muzzled,” like in Mark 1, when Jesus tells the unclean spirit in a man, “Hold thy peace.” This peace is literally an involuntary stillness. I realized that he wasn’t talking to the water but to the antagonist who brewed the distress and chaos. When Jesus commands Satan to be muzzled, Satan is involuntarily constrained in an instant.
I was reassured that there is absolutely no power that can contend with Jesus when he determines that it is time. At any moment, he can bring an end to the storm that the devil has launched in my daughter’s heart, a storm which has thrust her into deception and confusion regarding her sexual attraction and her relationship with God. While an end may not be instantaneously complete, still, his power is unlimited and uncontested.
Another account, which also takes place on the water, follows a couple of chapters later. The disciples were madly rowing their way out of a second storm. It seems that the enemy is good at bringing unexpected disasters into the lives of individuals who are seemingly prepared. In this instance, Jesus is described as walking on the water, and the Bible says that he “would have passed by them.” The expert rowers were working in their own strength to deliver themselves from their trial, and Jesus was willing to allow them to continue in their plight until they focused on him, recognized their inadequacy, and called out for rescue. He immediately comforted them and caused the storm to cease again. I was struck with gratefulness to be reminded that Jesus was so ready to answer their need when the disciples recognized their inadequacy and called out for deliverance.
The combined impact of these meditations was a reminder that I am unable to rescue my daughter from the storm that Satan has provoked, but, when Christ determines to command that the enemy release his grip, there is no question of who will be victorious. I felt hopeful and encouraged again that my sovereign Savior has complete power to still the waves, end the storm, and bring my daughter safely to harbor.
Bringing my concentrated time with the Lord to a close, I embarked on housecleaning. I had neglected it over the holidays, and there were many bedrooms in need of repair after the adult children departed. While in my daughter’s room, I longingly looked at some of the pictures of her as a toddler, a child, a teenager. I couldn’t help but feel mournful as I looked wistfully at the pictures. Certain thoughts came to my mind: “Back then, surely, she wasn’t . . . I had no idea then that she would become . . . In her childhood, I would never have believed that . . .” It’s painful and awkward to admit, but, honestly, it sometimes feels as if she’s died, though clearly it’s only the dreams that I imagined for her life that feel dead right now. I even enjoyed a vibrant conversation with her just last evening, yet there is such an immeasurable loss in which I seem to almost drown in at times.
And so, another typical day, in which I vacillated between hope and grief, has ended. Is this not the dichotomy of the Christian life? We experience turmoil and heartache in the world, and yet we live under the dynamic reality of Christ’s superseding power and compassion as our anchor and light. I need not succumb to fear of the storm because Jesus can end it with a mere word. He comforts me in my grief and promises to offer his aid as I acknowledge my insufficiency and focus on him. He understands that I have conflicting emotions, and he loves me. Dearly.
In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s name because she has requested to remain anonymous.
If you’re a parent whose child identifies as LGBTQ+ and you’re looking for additional support and help, consider downloading our free digital resource, Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity.
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.