19 Dec 2019
Regardless of our marital status, all of us are sexual beings. The Bible has more to say about single sexuality than “Just say no!” Despite its challenges, the Bible suggests singleness is a “gift” for some (see 1 Corinthians 7:7–9). While many singles struggle without a spouse and long for marriage, others may not resonate with the feelings of loneliness discussed below. Many single Christians live joyful, content, and especially fruitful lives for the kingdom, specifically because of their unmarried state. I know the challenge of being an older single. After twelve years of marriage, I suddenly lost my first wife to complications from breast cancer. I was thirty-nine years old (with twin eight-year-old girls). After her death, I was single for almost three years. Though my personal experience with singleness is limited, I write with a keen awareness of the difficulties singles face. Every person’s story is different, but I hope that what follows is helpful to single readers as they seek to faithfully embrace their sexuality.
The Bible has more to say about single sexuality than “Just say no!”
Single and Waiting (on the Lord)
The creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 suggests that waiting on the Lord was built into the world from the beginning. After Adam’s creation, God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18), then proceeds to create the animal kingdom ahead of Eve. But we see the eventual blessing as Adam meets Eve and erupts in poetic exultation. However, waiting is more pronounced and painful after Genesis 3. There is a reason why there are multiple complaints of “How long, oh Lord?” in the Psalms. Now life is filled with disappointments and unfulfilled dreams. As Proverbs 13:12 expresses, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Many of us are living with the deep heartache of hope deferred.
If this is your experience, I want to share a perspective on waiting. It is an active place. I used to think waiting meant trying to be patient, like waiting for the bus with nothing to do. Not so. Waiting on the Lord is active. In fact, it is a place of warfare. Years ago, reading through the Psalms, I was struck by the conclusion of Psalm 27, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (v. 14). Do you hear what David is saying? Waiting on the Lord is a terrifying place to be.
It is not for the faint of heart, but requires incredible, Spirit-given strength. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is moving forward despite your terror. This is true for any waiting God calls us to, but especially the waiting that stretches on for years and decades. If you are wrestling with your singleness, I encourage you to see this as a battle that takes courage, and a place where God wants to meet you.
In the Old Testament, marriage is assumed to be the normative mode of life, with childbearing as a critical component. This is partly due to the creation mandate “to be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), as well as the building anticipation that a deliverer would come from Abraham’s seed, a son of David, to free Israel from her oppressors. But the focus on physical generation begins to shift as Isaiah prophesies about this coming deliverer.
Isaiah 53 is one of the most wondrous passages pointing to Jesus’s sacrificial death. Written hundreds of years before his earthly life, it describes his crucifixion and even the manner of his burial. After describing Jesus’s death and the reality that he was “cut off” from his generation and the land of the living (v. 8), the passage turns and makes a shocking pronouncement: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (v. 10). There is an anticipation of life after death—resurrection!—and the production of offspring. Although Jesus lived his perfect human life as a single man and was literally childless, Scripture regards Jesus’s single life as having produced a family in the community of his followers. This was a striking claim in the ancient world, in which married life and the production of physical children was the assumed norm.
Isaiah went on to describe the drastic change that is coming with the advent of the Messiah:
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:3–5, ESV)
This was an incredible statement! The Old Testament law declared that no one with damaged or removed genitalia could even enter God’s assembly (Deuteronomy 23:1). Such people were second-class citizens, at least as far as worship in the temple was concerned. In this context, Isaiah’s pronouncement was a strong affirmation that God saw those who, through their physical and relational status, were excluded from a central aspect of Israel’s religious life. Isaiah envisioned a new day when, in a transformation of the creation mandate, physical generation is no longer the name of the game. Laying out this history highlights the extraordinary redirection that results from Jesus establishing the kingdom of God. Isaiah thus offers singles something “better than sons and daughters”—an everlasting legacy based solely on the work of God through his people who bring about a spiritual generation that carries into the world to come.
Approaching the New Testament, this change is even more pronounced. When questioned about the practice of divorce, Jesus brought his listeners back to God’s original intent at creation. But he concluded his teaching about the permanence of marriage with a profound declaration: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:11–12, ESV).
Instead of insisting on the importance of marriage and the production of children to fulfill the creation mandate, Jesus proclaimed some people will choose singleness for the sake of God’s kingdom. This is the first time in the Bible that singleness is depicted as a desirable and even exalted state! As we’ll see below, this is because of the heightened focus on the kingdom that corresponds with the coming of Christ.
Paul took Jesus’s exhortation further, encouraging the believers at Corinth to seriously consider lifelong singleness because spouses created divided loyalties, wanting to serve the kingdom but also wanting to bless their spouses (1 Corinthians 7:6–9, 25–40). The call to serve in Jesus’s kingdom reorients the focus and is prioritized above the creational calling to “be fruitful and multiply”. To this end, he encouraged lifelong celibacy, although he freely acknowledged that it is not sinful to marry. (Also see Paul’s clear refutation in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 of those who forbid marriage.)
I suspect this 1 Corinthians 7 passage is rarely preached in American churches. The suburban church typically portrays marriage and family as the normative ideal. The goal of a singles ministry is to get everyone paired off and participating in the rest of the life of the church: coming to potlucks with casseroles (instead of a bag of Doritos), producing offspring to populate the children’s ministry, and so on. For many churches, children are still their best church-growth strategy. Although churches acknowledge that in Christ things are different than the Old Testament, they still operate as though what matters most is getting married and having children. I preached at a church in Philadelphia and met a single guy in his thirties. As we chatted, he shared about his move to the city. Even though he continued to work in the distant suburbs, he opted for a long commute, changing churches and moving into the city because in that context he is not the bizarre anomaly he’d been in his former, suburban church. There has been little affirmation—at least in many American suburban churches—of the New Testament’s high calling of singleness.
Working through the Pain
I realize for many unmarried Christians this vision may not offer much comfort. I once preached on Malachi 2:10–16. In this section, the ancient tribe of Judah is rebuked for divorcing their wives from among their own people in order to marry foreign women who worship idols. Malachi raged, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (v. 15, emphasis added). As I discussed this passage, I shared some of this vision of singleness—that singles have opportunities to nurture spiritually-generated “offspring.” Some single folks in the church were encouraged by this, but others felt it wasn’t enough. Many singles—and not only women—want actual physical offspring. They want to be parents and hold their own children. What can we say to such a widespread and understandable human desire? With such unique disappointments in the lives of many single people, along with God’s special design of marriage at the creation, we may be forced to conclude that singleness, with its challenges, is one aspect of the brokenness of the world due to the Fall. If this is an accurate assessment, it means singleness may always come with an ache on some level. For some it is a “gift,” and presumably, they have “self-control” and do not “burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:7, 9). But the fact is that many face singleness for a host of reasons while not experiencing a sense of having been designed for it.
If God is truly God, there is no getting around that he is behind everything in existence. His sovereignty is behind your singleness. If you’re not happy about it and you’re not talking to him, you need to start. Because, I guarantee you this—whether you are speaking directly about this issue or not, it affects your relationship with him. Perhaps you are ignoring him in your pain, shutting him out (sadly, this is one of my personal tactics). And, of course, if you’re shutting him out, you’re turning somewhere else to medicate your pain. Maybe you’re losing yourself by searching Christian Mingle, Netflix binging, or trying to assuage your desire with porn or romance novels. Or perhaps it’s alcohol, work, exercise, or food. Or a combination—eating ice cream doused in chocolate liqueur, while doing work on your laptop, sitting in front of Netflix on your smart TV, while occasionally swiping through potential dates on your tablet . . . twenty-first-century idolatry can certainly multitask.
Embracing Promises Amid Pain
While the truth of God’s sovereignty sometimes sounds cold and distant, I urge you to see it in light of his amazingly particular love for you. David, considering God’s close attention to the details of his life, declared, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). He went on to describe God’s thoughts toward him as innumerable as the grains of sand. God’s thoughts toward you are vast and particular and fine-tuned to your unique life. We must think of his sovereignty over the details of our lives in the context of this particular love.
Consider the amazing declaration of Isaiah: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. . . You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. . . everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’” (Isaiah 43:1, 4, 7,). Not only did God create and form you to be a unique image bearer, but he calls you by name as his very own. Because you are incredibly precious and loved, his eyes are on you and he wants to honor you. The ultimate Bridegroom does not leave you alone; he gives you his name. And, finally, did you catch why he created you? For his glory! Alongside these incredible statements, the New Testament teaches that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14, emphasis added). Do you hear the bridegroom language? He wants to possess you as his very own, and that’s why Jesus came—to win his bride.
If you are single, I long for you to hear these words as deeply true, rather than spiritual platitudes. Jesus wants to meet you in your pain, disappointment, and unsatisfied desires, and give you comfort—this is a profound spiritual reality. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18). He knows our deep need for him, and he longs to be intimately united to us.
Despite its challenges, I want to encourage you that singleness has a place of honor in the kingdom of God.
Despite its challenges, I want to encourage you that singleness has a place of honor in the kingdom of God. According to the Bible, you are in a position to do far more for the kingdom than those who are married. But there is something else incredibly important: your life, lived well, is a revolutionary challenge to the principalities and powers of this dark world as your obedience educates the spiritual forces of the manifold wisdom of God (see Ephesians 3:10; 6:12). Our culture is seduced by sexuality and daily sells us the lie that a life without sex is not worth living. Your commitment to live chastely as a single Christian proclaims to a watching world that there is another King, whose own willingness to embrace suffering disarmed the lies of the enemy (see Colossians 2:15). You testify to the truth that sex is not necessary to have a rich, powerful life. It is an ongoing challenge to grow in learning that God’s “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3), but far from something to be pitied, your life is a countercultural battle cry that the world (and the church!) needs to see!
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.
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?
07 Nov 2019
God’s pruning isn’t an indication that he is rejecting or abandoning us. Instead, his pruning indicates that he is near. And in his nearness, he is working to sanctify us. In this video, Ellen Dykas reminds us that God’s pruning is always purposeful.
To learn more, read Shalee Lehning’s accompanying blog, The Pain of Refining Squeezes.
07 Nov 2019
Have you felt maxed out beyond your capacity to handle, stretched beyond what you feel able to endure any longer? Me too! Like the women I’m discipling who need help overcoming sexual sin, it’s easy to blame my behavior and my heart’s responses on the tough circumstances I find myself in.
But Jesus reveals the source of our distress. It’s not our circumstances; it’s our heart; it’s the way we respond to our circumstances. Jesus diagnosed all of us when he confronted the Pharisees (see Matthew 12:34-35). Like toothpaste squeezed out of a tube when we press it, our hearts reveal their true nature when pressed upon or squeezed by trials and situations that threaten to undo us.
Our hearts reveal their true nature when pressed upon or squeezed by trials and situations that threaten to undo us.
I am going through a lot of transition in my life. I’ve moved to the east coast to begin full-time ministry at Harvest USA, so most everything familiar has changed: living situation, church family, and my social network. I’ve felt pressed and squeezed in this season of change!
What came out of my heart? Insecurity in certain friendships, anxiety as I engage the reality of being a support-raising missionary, and doubts about whether God will provide for me.
Oh, and that’s not all! I’ve also felt frustration because if I’m honest, I flat out desire an easier road to walk than the one God has chosen for me. At times, all of this squeezing has led to feeling completely overwhelmed.
Although my circumstances may be different than yours, when we get down to heart issues, we are more alike than different. I’ve recently been facing my own unbelief, and that’s the same thing that happens in the heart of a woman who keeps going back to porn to numb her pain or that guy that insists he’s just wired to have sex all the time and can’t stop.
On a heart level, we question if God will actually do what he promises. We doubt his goodness; unbelief creeps in, and fear paralyzes us as we grapple for control of our lives.
Life presses in on all of us!
How is life pressing in on you today? Did you wake up with one of the following thoughts?
I can’t kick this pornography addiction.
I can’t overcome my attraction to the same sex.
I can’t get over my fear of being single forever.
I’ll never trust my spouse again.
I can’t keep fighting my sexual temptations on top of everything else. I just can’t.
Or maybe, if you’re in ministry like me, you feel squeezed with fearful thoughts threatening to paralyze you: I don’t want to engage this cultural issue; it is too risky. I don’t want to get caught in the weeds of someone else’s sexual sin struggles; I don’t know how to help them.
Maybe you’re feeling like Moses in Exodus 4:13 when he asked God to please send someone else to do the job. Or perhaps you’re like Jonah, and you want to run away from what God’s called you to do.
These things can be painful beyond words, but the truth is, being squeezed by life can actually humble us in him. In the midst of struggles, God builds a redemptive bridge into the lives of others from our challenging circumstances. God allows these hard circumstances to tether our attention back on our need of him.
You need to hear this: being squeezed isn’t an indication that God is rejecting or abandoning you. In his sovereignty and love, God allows our character and lives to be refined. And the beauty is that in the midst of this refining squeeze, God is tender and gentle to us, even though it may not feel like it. Isaiah 42:3 says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” He loves us enough to allow hard circumstances to sanctify us and make us more like Jesus. But as he does so, he brings comfort and encouragement to our weak and oppressed hearts.
God loves us enough to allow hard circumstances to sanctify us and make us more like Jesus.
Aside from living with a heart that is surrendered to Jesus, we do have some responsibility in all this. It matters what we allow “in” to our minds and heart. I recently heard a pastor say, “Where our minds labor, our hearts will follow.” The reality is, our minds are always dwelling on and being filled with something, and what you allow in will directly impact what comes out.
So, what are you filling yourself with in your free time? What is your thought life really like? What voices have the most influence in your life? It is time we stop being so surprised and not allow ourselves to play the victim when sinful and destructive responses come out of us.
Many things in life are out of our control, but being mindful and intentional about what we fill our tube of toothpaste with is up to you. Filling yourself with anything other than the things of God will leave you cleaning up messes. If you choose to fill your mind and heart with God through obedience to his Word, meditating on his majesty, and communicating with him through prayer—then when life squeezes, you will see things coming out of you like the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
So, next time life presses in on all sides, pay attention to your responses and trace them back to the root of what you’re believing about God in those moments. Then replace any lies with truth found in God’s word (2 Corinthians 10:5). Do this over and over, and you will see your responses begin to change. This process can feel daunting, but as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11:30, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. As you feel hard-pressed on every side, he will give you rest for your weary and burdened heart and the strength you need to persevere.
To learn more, watch Ellen Dykas’ accompanying video, God’s Pruning Is Always Purposeful.
31 Oct 2019
All of us face the difficult task of discerning what to say yes and no to. In our ministry at Harvest USA, I have daily opportunities to engage people who need help with their sexuality or gender struggles, or to write, or to encourage a staff member, or to reach out to one of my donors.
When I was in my twenties, Numbers 9:22 popped off the page into my heart and became a guiding verse from Scripture for me.
“Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it lifted, they set out.” (NASB)
This Old Testament version of a spiritual GPS came about in the wilderness wanderings of God’s people. God promised to guide them through manifestations of his presence hovering over the tabernacle as a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (see Numbers 9:15-23 and Psalm 78:14).
Wow, seems so great, right?! Today, this might look like praying about something from the following list, glancing outside to see where the cloud is, and following it wherever it goes.
Lord, that woman seems to need a friend; should I reach out and call her—offer to meet up for coffee, or not? Lord, should I…
- Start a blog?
- Make this purchase?
- Be a small group leader at church?
- Look for a job that pays more but will be more time-consuming?
- Talk to my pastor about a concern I have about leadership, or “just” pray?
How do we discern what to say yes to and when we need to say no? In a world of thousands of choices, how do you decide what is the best way to spend your precious, limited resources of time, emotional energy, relational capacity, finances, and physical strength? Consider how the use of your time also factors into becoming a man or woman of sexual integrity.
Our Daily Yes
Thirty years later, the principle of Numbers 9:22 continues to keep my heart oriented to the big picture of being a Christian, and this is what we need to remember when it comes to stewarding our sexuality. Our lives belong to Christ and this gives us the most foundational YES we live out: Lord, wherever you lead, however you lead, I will follow you and do what you ask of me, keeping my eyes on you and throwing off distractions (see Hebrews 12:1-3).
Christ clearly and lovingly commands his followers to a life characterized by heart commitments: to die to self, take up our cross and follow him, love him and his commands, teach the gospel to others, be holy, set our hearts on things above, throw off sin and distractions, enter into and receive his rest (Luke 9:23; John 15:1-10; Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-3; 4:9-10; 1 Peter 1:13). And that’s just for starters!
Simply put, our daily yes to these things is lived out through loving obedience and submission to our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever promotes, encourages, helps, and nurtures that obedience, we say YES to. Whatever distracts, tempts, or weakens us from living a Christ-centered life, we say NO to. The gospel’s trajectory of transformation in our lives is a process of increasing yeses to obedience and decreasing noes to disobedience.
Wisdom for Gray Areas
But, you ask: OK, that sounds great, but what do I do about practical decisions where the Bible doesn’t give a clear-cut answer? The last time I checked, there weren’t any pillars of fire hovering over my home!
Let me unpack some biblical guidelines that help me.
- What’s the motive of your heart in the issue at hand? Will it help you resist temptation or will it lead you to give in? (Proverbs 3:5-6)
- As best you can discern, what will you reap from this decision? (Romans 8:5-8, Galatians 6:7-9)
- Consider the trajectory of God’s work in your life. Does this decision seem to be in sync with him or not? (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13)
- What do the mature and wise-in-Christ people in your life say about it? (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22; Titus 2:1-15)
God continues to use Numbers 9:22 to orient my heart and vocational decisions as I’ve committed to going where he wants me to go, do what he wants me to do, and to leave where/when/who he calls me to leave. In a beautifully intimate way, all believers have the Spirit to guide and protect us in our desire to live faithful lives as relational and sexual beings.
The life of faith has not always been easy or comfortable, but I’m deeply thankful for God’s kindness in leading me, year after year, and for the wisdom he’s given me in decision making. My Christian life is imperfect, but the more I taste the spacious freedom of obedience and faith, the less I’m tempted to give way to an unholy or foolish YES or NO!
To learn more, watch Ellen’s accompanying video, The Importance of Saying Yes to Jesus.
27 Sep 2019
One of the lies that culture tells singles is that a life without sexual expression is a tragedy. Single Christian, your life is not a tragedy without sexual expression. You testify that there is something greater to live for than the fleeting bodily pleasures of life in this world.
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.
I confessed my struggle with pornography in late 2004. I had struggled for 5 years after being exposed at age 13. My “hobby” use quickly spiraled into what I would consider an addiction (though experts argue if that’s even a real thing. I say yes.)
By the time I was 17 and away at college, I was viewing pornography on a school computer with my roommate asleep less than 10 feet behind me, within view of our behemoth 2003 desktop. I was sleeping through my morning Chemistry class and sex chatting with men and women online, from my dorm room, at a Christian college. Eventually I sent nude photos of myself to a man.
I got caught there in college. My internet was being tracked. But when the dean confronted me with my internet history report and alleged porn problem that was “disgusting and one of the worst cases they had ever seen” she told me “We know this wasn’t you. Women just don’t have this problem.” That was Fall 2003.
A year later, I outed myself, and told someone I struggled with pornography and needed help. I found help, and it took me almost two years to feel like I was “free” from pornography. While I’ve been “free” for over a decade, I’ve never stopped battling it. Those ten years of freedom have included moments of temptation and many times of relapse. Still, I would call it freedom, and there’s much I have learned in the process.
Freedom from Pornography is Possible
There were days I thought, “There’s no way I can beat this.” In the morning, I would wake up and say, “Not today” but it’s like my feet had autopilot and just walked me to the computer desk. Hours would slip by online and I felt powerless to stop any of it. I tried changing passwords (doesn’t help when you know them!). I tried self-harm. I tried finding other hobbies. Nothing seemed to help.
You can’t begin to fathom a life without pornography, so you’re just desperate to survive in spite of it. But there’s a better option that “surviving in spite of pornography.” Freedom is possible. It’s hard, but it’s real.
That bit of truth would have been so helpful for me in my struggle, because the days I thought, “There’s no way out of this” were always the hardest. In fact, believing there was no way out is exactly what led me into the darkest parts of my story. We need the hope that there is a way out and that freedom is available to us. It is.
Healing Goes Beyond Freedom
But there’s more to this journey than simply finding freedom from pornography. Too many times we make it all about “stop watching porn” and just leave it at that. We forget to answer important questions like
- What does life look like without pornography?
- What kind of damage has pornography done and has it healed?
- Do I know how to build healthy friendships?
- How do I restore a positive view of sex?
- How has this affected my view of my body?
We can get so focused on not doing a particular behavior that we forget about the healing that needs to take place. What I’ve found though is as you heal those deeper wounds, if you will, the temptation and draw toward pornography essentially lessens.
Porn and Trauma are Connected
My friend, Lacy Bentley, author of Overcoming Love Addiction, once said during a presentation that she hasn’t worked with one woman addicted to porn who didn’t have some sort of sexual trauma that predated her porn experience.
I would add that this has likely changed with Generation Z (today’s high school and college students) as many of them consume pornography because it’s viewed as acceptable to do so. In fact, it’s encouraged. That being said, the exposure to pornography can itself be traumatic.
There’s a reason exposing children to pornography is classified as child abuse. When I give my parent presentations, I explain that little children are not drawn to the sexual aspects of pornography. Instead they are drawn like we are to footage of crashes. Exposure to sexual material is traumatizing for children.
However, it wasn’t until more recently that I realized it can be traumatic for many adults and young adults as well. It can be traumatic in the sense that you weren’t prepared for what you saw and that seeing it negatively affected how you thought or reacted to something.
We spend a lot of time talking about pornography as a bad choice, but not a lot discussing how we were led to make that bad choice. When there are lasting consequences, we have a bad tendency of just labeling those as sin and neglecting the reality of the effects of trauma.
Boundaries are OK
A common misconception is that post-porn me needs to look exactly like everyone who has never viewed it. That’s simply not the case. I have friends who are allowed to ask me awkward questions. I have controls enabled on my phone.
There are things in place in my life that help me stay on the track of freedom. Even as I prepare to be married in less than two weeks, there are boundaries my fiance and I have that other couples may not. And that’s ok. They aren’t a negative side effect of my choices. They are ways I choose freedom.
I would rather be free than fit in.
Falling isn’t a Relapse
I have been free from pornography for over a decade. That means the last time I compulsively viewed pornography was over ten years ago. But, I’ve said it many times before, pornography will be a weakness for the rest of my life. In a sense, it is my drug. My brain knows the hit it gets from porn and if I’m looking for a hit, that’s where my mind is going to go.
As the years have gone by that connection has lessened, but I think it’s always going to be there. Sure, it may grow over, and synapses may rewire, and memories and images may fade, but things are never fully erased from our minds. The track would always be there if I chose to jump back on it.
And in those ten years, there are times I have. I’m not dishonest about that. This isn’t a sex addict’s anonymous blog where I stand here and say, “My name is Jessica and it’s been ten years since I last saw porn.” It hasn’t. But never in those ten years, when a low point sucked me back into the porn vortex, did I ever feel “Oh no, I’m trapped again.” If anything, the response was,”Oh no you don’t!”and I fought even harder to make sure it didn’t happen again.
It saddens me when women feel like one bad choice can “cancel” out weeks, months, even years of freedom. If you fall, get up and fight. Free people can fight back. Don’t throw yourself back in prison, fight. Figure out what led you to make those choices. Find your triggers and deal with them.
Ladies, Your Sex Drive is a Good Thing
Perhaps that’s a “no duh” statement for you, but I come from a religious culture in which the sex drive of women isn’t exactly celebrated. In fact, it’s stifled. The moment we do anything remotely embracing our sexuality we get hurled into Proverbs 5 territory (the adulteress woman). Women aren’t supposed to want or enjoy sex, even though we were created by God with an organ specifically devoted to sexual pleasure.
So, I guess God didn’t get the memo?
A book I am currently reading is Knowing Her Intimately by Laura Brotherson, a certified sex therapist. In the first chapter, she addresses this idea that women have such negative views of their own sexuality. Many women struggle to embrace the fact they are sexual beings and struggle to see that as a good thing. Before healthy sex can happen, she says, that view needs to be transformed.
Women need to recognize that we also are made with the ability and drive to enjoy sex. Is it always on par with a man’s drive? No. Can it be? For some. Can it exceed a man’s drive? Yes. In fact, according to one author’s survey, 24% of marriages had a wife with a higher drive than her husband.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Side note: Even while writing this, I am realizing that so much about freedom is not only learning what is actually wrong and addressing that, but also, embracing that which is not wrong.
When we label things wrong that aren’t, we make ourselves feel even more trapped.
If I thought being a woman with a high sex drive was something broken that needed fixing, I’d never be “free.” Trauma in my past? That needs addressed. The fact that I desire sex? That does not.
Honesty Brings Freedom
There’s a Bible verse that talks about knowing the truth and the truth setting us free. This might not be the appropriate application of it, but it comes to mind when talking about honesty and how honesty eradicates shame.
So much of the feeling of being stuck in pornography is due to shame. Shame is what keeps women in silence. Shame is what makes us not reach out and ask for help. Shame is what keeps us from sharing our story with others.
Honesty combats shame because it opens doors for grace. I will never experience grace if I’m not first honest.
Years ago, when I shared my story, I didn’t understand the level of freedom that would bring in my life. I don’t have to hide. I can openly discuss my story. Not only does that help me experience freedom, it’s also used to help others find freedom.
In the past few months, as I’ve gotten to know my future husband, I’ve seen this truth replayed over and over. When I am honest with him, it doesn’t rip us apart, it draws us together. It makes us a team as opposed to me vs. him and a fear of him finding things out.
Fear of being known is a hallmark of shame and we deal with that by taking a risk and being honest.
Honesty is what started my journey of freedom, and every moment of growth—from dealing with trauma in my past, to understanding my own need for boundaries—has come because of honesty.
If you are looking for freedom, to step out on that journey of a life without pornography, I encourage you to start where I did—tell somebody. Find a trusted friend, mentor, counselor, parent, and share your story.
It might be the hardest thing you ever do. It was for me. But you can’t walk in freedom if you aren’t willing to open the door.
Visit Jessica Harris’s website, Beggar’s Daughter, for additional resources and articles.
02 May 2019
To say that ministry is incredibly challenging is an understatement. It’s a joy to see God work in those you minister to, but it’s really hard when God begins to expose your struggles, sins, and limits. In this video, Shalee explains that God works in us by undoing things that aren’t of him. The undoing process is often uncomfortable and painful, but if it is of God, it is worth it. You can read more about what Shalee learned in her year-long internship at Harvest USA in her blog, “Jumping in the Deep End of Ministry.”
02 May 2019
I sat, listening to women in my discipleship group share personal stories about pain and heartbreak in their lives. My emotions began to unravel. The group ended, and I felt undone. I was not sure how to process what I’d heard. Tears of empathy and anger tumbled out of me.
I had moved across the country to intern with Harvest USA’s Women’s Ministry, but I didn’t realize how deep was the end of the pool I had agreed to jump into. I saw God work powerfully in the women’s lives I worked with, but what I didn’t expect was the different places in my own life where God would be doing and undoing, affecting my spiritual walk every step of the way.
My previous life revolved around athletics as both a player and a coach, so doing ministry was an entirely different transition. Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve been considering ministry to sexual strugglers, but you know that this work can be incredibly challenging and humbling.
Let me share one big takeaway that I’ve learned: ministry can be tough, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Here are four ways God did his work of doing and undoing in my life as I served this past year.
1. Wresting with Insecurity
Emotions. Life is full of them. Entering into ministry provoked new levels of fear and anxiety in me. I feared the impact on my reputation. Throughout life, I rode the coattails of my athletic success, and unbeknownst to me, I developed a deep-rooted pride in the reputation I had built. As I experienced strong reactions from people about my new life path, I was gripped with fear, fear of what people thought of me and if my beliefs would cost me relationships along the way.
I also experienced insecurity and doubts as I quickly learned how inadequate I am to help people.
I realized how easy it is to impose your experience onto someone else’s journey.
I questioned what I had to offer and what would I possibly say to someone who is suffering? Lack of confidence rapidly overtook areas of my life, making me wonder if there were people more qualified for this type of work and whether I was cut out for this.
2. Facing the Real in Life (AKA Reality)
I realized I had spent much of my life naive to the realities around me. It is far easier to live naively and deliberately choose to see what you want rather than face the reality of the pain and darkness so many followers of Jesus have been carrying alone. God put me in a situation of not only facing these hard realities, but he also invited me into them.
As God brought my head out of the sand of denial, I was overwhelmed. I was gripped by the sadness of seeing the brokenness and suffering people go through. I was met head-on with the hard reality that sin causes devastation and leaves behind unimaginable wreckage in people’s lives. As many of you already know, facing reality is necessary, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.
3. Everyone Journeys at Their Own Pace
I realized how easy it is to impose your experience onto someone else’s journey. In the battle against sin, rich biblical truths that God uses in our own journey may be applied differently. In my own life, I saw there were so many things I needed to be quick to obey and follow through on and just do it (see my blog, “Quick to Obey…”)
I tried this with a woman who was walking a similar road as me. I thought these things worked for me, so surely they will work for her, too. As I shared details about what specific obedience looked like for me, before I knew it, I had put demands, expectations, and time frames on her to make the same choices.
As time passed, it was becoming clear she wasn’t heeding my advice. As I look back, I sacrificed patience by demanding she hurry up and obey. I sacrificed humility by failing to speak the truth in love.
But there is something special about having a front row seat to God’s work of bringing transformation into the hurting and broken parts of people’s lives.
I painfully learned that imposing my faith walk on someone else was unwise and unloving. When we do this, we risk boxing others within our walls of experience, potentially blocking truths in Scripture that lead to other faithful avenues for the other person. Thankfully, God is bigger than my failed attempts to love. I’m thankful for James 4:6: “But he gives more grace.”
4. Ministry is About Faithfulness, Not Success
I learned that God doesn’t measure spiritual growth through my worldly definition of success. My athletic background wired me for a relentless pursuit of success. That distracted me from the ultimate goal of ministry—faithfulness to the glory of God.
Success is often rooted in a desire to receive glory for our own efforts while faithfulness is rooted in a desire to glorify God through your efforts. This contrast creates a tension between competing goals. I had to learn that the end goal isn’t to win the day but rather to do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Ministry at street level can be overwhelming and feel like we are in over our head. But there is something special about having a front row seat to God’s work of bringing transformation into the hurting and broken parts of people’s lives. As someone who suffered in silence and secrecy for years, it is easy to believe we are alone in this fight, but our loving Father is with us, and he has raised up people who are not afraid to enter into these painful places with us as well.
My experience at Harvest USA has shown me what a privilege it is to come alongside women needing help in their journey of faith and repentance. Because I’ve seen the power of this kind of ministry, I’ve recently decided to join the full-time staff as part of the women’s ministry team.
Do I still feel in over my head? Yes! But I have seen that I have everything I need, and you do too. All ministry, not just to those who battle patterns of sexual sin, is over our heads! When we follow Jesus into hard places, we’re going into the deep end of humanity’s worst struggle: sin. Thanks be to God that our Savior gives us everything we need to point people to him, the ultimate Lifeline we all need.
Shalee shares additional insight in the accompanying video: What Is God Undoing in My Life—and Yours? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
07 Feb 2019
The first time I skydived, I was terrified and excited to be thrown out of my comfort zone. I could see the cloudy sky and minute details of the ground below—very far below. The instructor, to whom I was attached in tandem, yelled out as the wind rushed in the open door as my comfort zone slowly slipped away, “Are you ready?!” My heart raced as I said yes and before I knew it, we were falling out of the plane into the open air. After an exhilarating free fall, the parachute cord was pulled and down we gracefully floated to the ground. As I look back, I realized that I could have missed the rush of that experience had I not taken that initial step out of the comfort zone of the plane.
Years ago, when God began a life-transforming process in my life, I struggled to “step out of the plane.” I mean, I did want to follow Jesus, and I did want to do whatever it took. But not always. As the real-deal of what it was going to look like to be free from unhealthy relationships and sinful patterns in my life, I tried everything I could to delay being obedient to what God had set before me.
What I was trying to do—stay within my comfort zone by not stepping into the freefall of obeying God, which was terrifying—is what many sexual strugglers do.
Obedience begins with a willingness to submit oneself to the will of God. John 14:15 sums it up, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Notice in this verse that love precedes the command. It is from an overflow of our love for God that makes us willing to be obedient. What often isn’t expressed in this discussion is how easy it is to waste time dancing around obedience all while trying to justify your delays.
Determine to walk in honesty and intentionality with a community of believers. It could also be referred to as living intentionally intrusive lives with one another.
In Psalm 119:60, David says, “I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.” To hasten is “to move or act quickly.” David is reminding us that out of our love for God, we are not called to just keep his commandments, we should strive to be quick to obey.
Being quick to obey can be difficult for many reasons. Decisions are usually accompanied by a host of emotions, feelings that toss you to and fro, often times confusing the matter by fogging what’s otherwise seemingly black and white. Most would agree, obedience usually costs us something. But often times, the most profound spiritual growth comes as we make commitments to walk in obedience regardless of how we feel. Lived out, we pray for Christ-enabling power to make changes, then it requires us to make up our mind to love God by just doing it, or in some cases, stop doing it.
Romans 13:14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” What it looks like to “put on” and make no provision for worldly desires will look different for each of us. There is no formula, but here are four examples of ways to hasten obedience and not delay in order to break free from sinful patterns.
- Pursue Jesus every day
Here’s the amazing truth for all of us: we don’t walk alone! Far better than being attached to a professional skydiver, we are united with Jesus. Our first obedience is to abide in his love and Word and to deepen our understanding of our identity of being in Christ. We show our love for God through our obedience, but this is never about us mustering up the courage or strength to do it. As Paul said in Phil. 2:13, “its God who is at work” in us to change our desires and give us a willingness to obey him.
- Develop Accountability in Relationships
Determine to walk in honesty and intentionality with a community of believers. It could also be referred to as living intentionally intrusive lives with one another. While it is ideal to have others take the initiative to ask questions, make a commitment to confess your sins whether asked or not.
- Avoid relational connections that tempt you towards sin
It is important to disconnect from people that have been a part of your past sinful decisions. This is painful to acknowledge, but your past selfish choices could lead to hard consequences that hurt people you love. Staying in this type of relationship isn’t really loving if it doesn’t lead to obeying God. Although a choice like this can easily be misconstrued, it is actually an act of love and helps avoid being mired in long-term messy situations. For people on both sides of this type of obedience, God can be trusted with whatever consequences may come.
- Implement Technology Restrictions
Make modifications to any form of technology that grips or controls your emotional state, especially social media. These types of limitations expose what you allow in your life and how that positively or negatively affects what comes out in thought, word and behavior. This may seem minimal, but give it a try for a week or two and see for yourself.
Maybe for you all these steps look overwhelming. The good news (because there is Good news!), is God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. His command, his calls to quick obedience, are doable things God wants to help us with. The ground may look very far below, but it is God’s promise to get us there safely.
Here’s the bottom line in learning to obey God quickly: Christ is with you. You are not jumping out of any plane without him.
So what could this look like in your life? Maybe it looks like being quick to fight against focusing on the negative but rather fight for a thankful heart (Philippians 4:6-7). Or maybe this looks like being quick to break the cycle of selfish inward thinking (2 Corinthians 10:5). Or maybe this looks like being quick to have honest conversations with God through prayer in the day in and day out battle of life.
Here’s the bottom line in learning to obey God quickly: Christ is with you. You are not jumping out of any plane without him.
He is the ultimate Instructor who is tender and compassionate towards us as we learn how to walk in ways of new life in new light. He will bind up our broken hearts, lift our drooping heads, and provide peace that surpasses understanding. All while blessing our obedience and delighting in our efforts on this long road no matter how many times we fail to hasten.