25 May 2023
Resource Highlight: Women’s Ministry
This month, Harvest USA Director of Women’s Ministry Caitlin McCaffrey highlights two resources for women. Sexual Faithfulness: Gospel-Infused, Practical Discipleship for Women is available as a free digital download, and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness is now on sale!
We pray these resources are a blessing to you and your church.
18 May 2023
How Do I Break Free from Patterns of Unbelief?
How can I believe that my heavenly Father truly loves me when he won’t take away my insomnia or chronic pain? How can I trust God with my future when my whole world has exploded at the revelation of my spouse’s infidelity? How can I possibly believe that God knows what’s best for me when he calls me to turn from desires that feel completely natural? How can I entrust my child to the Lord when they’re about to inflict irreversible damage on their body?
Living by faith is difficult. We all struggle every day to remember, believe, and make choices based on God’s Word and his promises to us in Christ. Words on a page can feel meaningless when painful circumstances don’t change. What helps us nurture belief in these hard moments, days, and years?
Unbelief Is a Matter of the Heart
Our flesh looks at these situations and says that God hasn’t given us sufficient evidence that he’s worthy of our trust. But faith is not a matter of evidence. Scripture gives us testimony after testimony of people who had abundant evidence to trust God but still chose unbelief. The Israelites saw God perform over a dozen miracles rescuing them from Egypt, culminating in the parting of the Red Sea. And yet, in a matter of days, they doubted God’s ability or desire to keep them alive in the wilderness. Jesus fed over 5,000 men with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. But later, the crowd refused to believe his explanation of the miracle. His followers drastically decreased after this incredible display of his power and sustaining kindness.
Faith is a matter of the heart, not the eyes. Apart from God’s grace, all of us are born with dead hearts that cannot believe what is evident in all creation (Rom. 1:19–20). But in the new birth, God makes our hearts alive, and we believe. This is saving faith. And yet, this heart transplant does not guarantee an easy road of faith. We still struggle, and so much of our struggle with sexual sin comes down to unbelief.
Every time we give way to temptation, we’re believing those deceitful arguments and choosing to live in a world that’s fundamentally untrue.
Lies about God, ourselves, and others become powerful arguments for giving in to sin. After all, our heart says, God doesn’t care, God won’t deliver me, God can’t meet me in this moment—but sex can. Sex always delivers, sex has never let me down, and unlike God, sex doesn’t ask me to believe, just feel. Every time we give way to temptation, we’re believing those deceitful arguments and choosing to live in a world that’s fundamentally untrue.
Where Does Unbelief Grow?
I’m convinced there’s one primary behavior that keeps us stuck in patterns of unbelief: isolation. A man in one of our biblical support groups worked in the mold remediation business, and he compared sexual sin with mold. It grows in the dark, in hidden places, where nobody sees it, and before you know it, it’s infected the entire house.
Why does sin love darkness? Because in the darkness, no one can challenge your unbelief. Over time, that unbelief has a compounding effect. You don’t only believe all the lies that keep you going back to your sin, you also believe the lies that keep you from confessing your sin to others: My sin is too heinous, too dirty to tell others. I won’t survive the consequences of my actions. I can live a double life without anyone ever knowing.
Where Does Faith Grow?
At Harvest USA, I’ve asked dozens of men what the most helpful thing about their experience with us was. They almost always say the same thing: “Having other brothers to walk with me in this battle.” The most helpful thing wasn’t our staff’s expertise or our profound materials, but other group members, week-in and week-out, hearing their struggles and reminding them of the truths of the gospel.
I just finished a 20-month group with 12 men. At the end, I gave them one specific warning: Don’t go back to hiding. Don’t isolate yourself after this group finishes. That is the fastest way to guarantee going right back to old patterns of unbelief and sin. Hebrews 3:12–13 says,
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Notice the two words accompanying “evil” and “sin”: “unbelieving” and “deceitfulness.” Sin deceives us, leading to unbelief, which causes us to turn away from God—his precepts and his promises.
Isolation is the soil in which unbelief grows. But the body of Christ is the good soil through which our Father causes our faith to go from strength to strength.
One of the most powerful weapons to guard against unbelief is genuine fellowship with the body of Christ. This is where we’re known, exhorted, comforted, and pointed back to the truth over and over again. This passage assumes that even going one day without other Christians reminding us of the truth leaves us vulnerable to sin’s hardening effects on our hearts. Do we give other Christians that level of importance in our lives? You will if you remember that this life is a spiritual battle, and lone rangers are the first to get picked off.
Ultimately, Jesus is your closest friend. He’s the one who never stops praying for you that your faith may not fail (Luke 22:32). He sympathizes with how excruciatingly difficult it is to trust in our heavenly Father (Luke 22:44, Heb. 12:4). And he uses his people as his mouthpiece to remind you of his love, care, goodness, and power over your life. Isolation is the soil in which unbelief grows. But the body of Christ is not only an effective spiritual weed killer, it’s also the good soil through which our Father causes our faith to go from strength to strength (Ps. 84:5–7).
This post was written by Harvest USA Women’s Ministry intern YaPing Li.
The single life has brought challenges for me—maybe you too. Suffering and being misunderstood can take different forms for those of us who aren’t married, whether we’ve never been married or are single again due to death or divorce. I planned to be single, but long-term singleness is still a learning curve. I’m lucky because I don’t burn with desire, yet neither am I cold to the beauty of marital fellowship. I can’t explain why, but singleness is God’s plan; he has chosen it for me.
Sometimes, suffering comes through lost opportunities. I feel this sting when I think about something on my bucket list (if heaven doesn’t come first): standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and taking in the spectacular view of God’s designed colors and majesty. I don’t have a lifelong companion to share this joy with—to say, “Do you see it?! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is amazing!” I probably won’t have children to share stories like this with, either. At times, this causes my tears to fall.
I know my sorrow will transform into praise. No earthly wonder can compare to Christ’s own face, presence, and loving kindness. Still, life in this world—single or married—has its sorrows. This feeling of loss keeps me asking a question that can only be answered through the Scriptures: Where is my confidence?
God’s Word makes me want to know and pursue God’s goal for my singleness: that I would embrace Jesus and find my confidence in him.
I believe in the all-sufficiency of God’s Word, which enables me to walk through sorrow when it comes, looking to my hope in Jesus. God’s Word makes me want to know and pursue God’s goal for my singleness: that I would embrace Jesus and find my confidence in him.
Jesus really loves us—all of us. God’s ultimate goal for me isn’t that I paint a picture of a single woman living a perfectly holy and happy life, but that I would delight ever more in Christ. While I’m learning daily that his presence is sufficient, my life is not here to prove that living well single is better than a good marriage. Life is not a competition. It’s not about who can glorify and enjoy God most. In Christ, our fruitfulness comes from being faithful to God in the life he gives us, not personal triumph.
In God’s kingdom, the least is most satisfied. How we measure ourselves and others, including the least among us, says a lot about how we live as Christians.
God’s kingdom requires child-like admiration. We’ve all been children. When infants are separated from their parents, they cry, searching for the attentive gaze of their mother or father. They want to see their parents’ faces and be picked up in their loving arms. Their security and joy come from their parents. And when they’re with their parents, they want to stay in their embrace. That’s joy! Like infants desperate for their parents, all believers need the loving presence of God. As infants receive their parents, single men and women receive our Lord Jesus Christ in this world and the world to come. Our heavenly father is never far, and he will embrace us all the way home. Singles are not measured by their unmarried status, their gifts, or their ministry contributions. All are measured by the loving gaze of our Maker, Redeemer, and Advocate.
While I’m learning daily that his presence is sufficient, my life is not here to prove that living well single is better than a good marriage.
I may never travel to the Grand Canyon. But I can still be so overwhelmed by God’s abundant, loving kindness that a thousand Grand Canyons will not compare. And I can still be brought low. Single or married, we will be undone by Jesus Christ and be made into creatures who admire his goodness, kindness, beauty, gentleness, and compassion. All that he is and has will totally undo our worthless pursuits, competition, and ideas of worldly status.
I wonder if the more we embrace Christ, the more fulfilled our lives will be. Hence, the more content we can grow in our sexuality, relationships, and future hopes. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need” (Phil. 4:12).
I have been brought low. I’ve been unfairly denied jobs. I’ve become more comfortable with the “Joy of Missing Out,” learning that many people, though they have good intentions, are busy and forgetful of a single woman. I’ve had chronic migraine headaches, leading others to think I’m antisocial, and have been unable to think about the future while waiting for two biopsy results. I’ve been misunderstood when requesting a third person in the car if a brother gave me a ride and hurt when people I cared for only wanted me as their counselor, not their friend. When Christmas approaches, I dread being asked about my plans—deciding who needs me most, where I will be blessed, and which family to celebrate with to glorify God. Some of these circumstances feel awful, while some are just inconveniences and opportunities to grow in Christ-like wisdom. In all these lowly circumstances, Christ is sufficient to receive my honest lament.
Encouragement When You’re Brought Low in Your Singleness
Maybe your struggles are more secret and difficult to share. Maybe you’ve thought about seeking help in your suffering or have received counsel that didn’t build you up, leaving you wounded. Maybe your suffering is tangled with big or small enchantments with sin and the flesh. I don’t know all your struggles, but Jesus does. And he publicly proclaims you to be his friend; he calls you his own. Christ’s love defends your honor; who dares to despise you when nothing can separate you from his love (Rom. 8:38–39)?
The time is now. Don’t just gaze at Christ from afar—go to him. Draw close to the God who loves you inside and out. Whether single or married, Christ alone is our confidence. Embracing him is our joy.
06 Apr 2023
The Power of Gratitude in Fighting Sin
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:16–18)
Our heavenly Father uses all things for his children’s good (Rom. 8:28). Even hard things from God are better than anything we might wish for. But he’s generous with his feel-good gifts, too. Loving relationships, delicious food, even the glimmer of gifts as simple as birdsong and budding trees point to the unchanging goodness of our “Father of lights.”
I’ve noticed a common attribute in some of my most spiritually mature friends: they pursue joy. One dear friend has been watching her only sister, a mother of two young children, fight recurring stage-four cancer. My friend’s gutsy determination to enjoy the good things that still exist even while her heart aches with sorrow is strikingly beautiful. It’s a resistance against evil, an active rebellion against the forces of darkness that feel so mighty here and now. It’s gratitude, armed and fighting.
This sturdy gratitude—the dogged decision to enjoy what’s good in life—is itself a gift of God’s grace. And it’s a key weapon in the fight against sin, including sexual sins. Behaviors like viewing pornography, sex outside marriage, or fantasizing about someone are all fed by discontentment.
Gratitude and Joy
Gratitude, on the other hand, nurtures joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).
James doesn’t say “snap out of it, guys—feel happy!” but “count it all joy.” It’s a reasoned response grounded in God’s power. Trials test faith and, for one who is united to Christ, tested faith gets stronger. We can count trials as joy because God’s Spirit is refining us through them (vv. 3–4).
Believer, God is at work in your life. Gratitude involves mining for the jewels of his work.
Believer, God is at work in your life. Gratitude involves mining for the jewels of his work. Did God’s promises comfort you today? Did you respond to sorrow or stress by crying out to the Lord instead of turning to pornography? Did you repent immediately instead of waiting to confess sin? May the Lord give us eyes to see his work in us and grateful hearts to celebrate it.
Gratitude and Temptation
Our Father’s gifts compared to sin are like a blazing campfire next to a weak flashlight. God’s gifts bring us warmth, joy, and light where sin leads us into a dark forest—cold, lost, tripping over roots, stumbling off cliffs. Yet temptation would have us grip the flashlight instead of resting in the campfire’s comforting glow.
It’s striking to me that when James talks about trials, he includes temptation (1:12–15). Temptation is tied to deception and feeds on discontent. “Do not be deceived,” James says (v. 16). Our wandering hearts believe the lie that we don’t have what we need in Christ. But sin is a dim imitation of joy and ultimately leads to death. Remaining steadfast under trial has to do with remembering God’s character: “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (v. 17). He is essentially, eternally good; he is goodness.
However we feel in the moment of temptation, if we have him, we have everything. Noticing his good gifts reminds us of God’s character. It feeds gratitude and exposes sin’s emptiness. Only God lavishes goodness upon us; he alone satisfies.
This is true at every level. Consider the wholesome, mundane gifts God gives: biting into a perfect apple. Late afternoon light slanting through a window. Hugging a loved one, laughing with a friend, watching daffodils opening like concentrated sunshine. These are merely common grace good things! Believers get special grace, too—the honey of God’s Word, fellowship with believers in the bond of the Spirit, prayer. We get communion with our Savior. In union with Christ, we get God himself.
Gratitude and Jesus
When fighting temptation, we can make too much of the thing we’re fighting. It looms over everything, casting the shadow of condemnation. Our struggle with sin can appear bigger than our Savior’s victory.
Noticing his good gifts reminds us of God’s character. It feeds gratitude and exposes sin’s emptiness.
It’s right to grieve sin; godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:8–11). But repentance means looking away from ourselves to Jesus, trusting that his death is enough. In Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). He is the pure sacrifice who atones for our sin—the obedient son who clothes us in his righteousness. He gives us his Spirit to empower our fight and helps us in our need (Heb. 4:14–16). It’s particularly in our sin that we have cause for gratitude!
Still, I forget God’s mercy and miss many opportunities to rejoice over the things that punctuate life with beauty, warmth, or humor. You, too? But our hope is in Christ, who always delights in his Father.
We can run freely to Christ in daily repentance because he never needed to repent. And through him, the Father lavishes his unfailing love upon us in small and large ways, every day. What better motivation to thankfulness can there be than the unmerited mercy that’s ours in Christ?
The greatest of earthly good gifts, though, are only little tastes of our Father’s goodness. Even our experience of spiritual blessings is limited by our sin—we see in a glass dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). The greatest gifts now are small bites, just big enough to whet our appetite for the coming feast. Praise God—in Christ, we have an eternity of sinless, satisfying joy to anticipate.
09 Feb 2023
Will God Really Comfort Me?
In one of our women’s biblical support groups recently, we were discussing the role of faith as it relates to receiving God’s comfort. The group members and I all confessed that we don’t always walk by faith and believe that God will comfort us in the manner and timing we want. A question emerged: Are we willing to forsake our false comforts to receive by faith what God promises to give? Could God’s promise to comfort really be true?
At the heart level, these women’s questions revealed deeper questions about the character of God himself. It’s a worthy endeavor to pursue questions that press us into what we truly believe about God’s commitment to be Father, Comforter and Home to us.
False Comfort or God’s Comfort
Have you ever felt the tension between what God says about himself and your daily, lived experience? Have you wondered if the comfort God provides will truly be enough for you in your temptation and pain?
In Psalm 116 we find the psalmist in dire circumstances: being confronted with death and hell itself (v. 3). What words might you use for your circumstances—do they feel like death? Or hell? Perhaps you’re losing your marriage, your health, or facing the pain of past sexual abuse. Maybe you’re suffering the loss of a loved one, a child walking away from the faith, or your decades of unmet longings for love and relationship. At Harvest USA, discipleship for sexual strugglers takes shape as we learn to allow the grace of God to train us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions in order to embrace self-controlled, upright, and godly lives (Titus 2:11–12). Part of that grace of God is undoubtedly his comfort and mercy.
How do we go from being people who regularly pursue sinful ways of escape or reward to those who seek and receive God’s help when our hearts long for comfort in the pain of this life? Or another way one ministry recipient put it: “Does God’s comfort actually work?”
I Love the Lord
In the opening two verses, we see the psalmist reflecting on what God has already done (past tense) and how it has impacted his present manner of life:
I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live. (Ps. 116:1–2, my emphasis)
Why does the psalmist love the Lord? Because when it really counted, he banked everything on God’s promise, and God did indeed hear his voice and pleas for mercy. Furthermore, how did the psalmist learn to live as a result of this experience of God’s help? The Psalmist has come to believe something about God’s character—that God inclines his ear to him.
Have you ever had a safe relationship where someone has inclined their ear toward you—maybe a parent, friend, pastor, or spouse? You can be certain they’ll listen and care when you bring a concern to them. This is the very heart of God toward all his children! As a result of exercising his muscles of faith by calling out to God in desperation and seeing God provide real help, the psalmist has learned a new way of living his life: calling on God as long as he lives (v. 2).
Make Room for God’s Help
To whom or to what do you currently call out when you suffer distress and anguish? Has a #1 friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend become your source of salvation from distress? What about escapes like pornography, building a fantasy life, or solo sex? Have these become your help in anguish, boredom, or stress?
Friend, you can bank on God being who he says he will be. He promises to comfort you, and he will. His character—his everlasting goodness—will never change. When was the last time you risked giving up false comfort, with your only hope being God’s character and promises? In the Church today, I fear we don’t often see the power of God displayed in our lives partly because we don’t take risks resting on God’s promises. We have our plans, programs, and safe ways of living, but these come at the expense of seeing how the Lord will provide as we live by faith in real time—with our real desires, longings, and expectations.
Has your conception of God and his loving power toward you become miniature and domesticated? Andrew Murray says it this way:
Oh that God would by his grace show you what a God you have, and to what a God you have entrusted yourself—an omnipotent God, willing with his whole omnipotence to place himself at the disposal of every child of his!
Are we willing to forsake false comforts in order to receive the comfort offered in Christ? The sober reality is this: if we’ve never sought God for help and comfort, and when we lay down familiar ways of coping to bank on God’s promises, we are stepping into a loss of control and a realm of relative unknown. Some call this a “leap of faith.” Compared to the known euphoria of sin, God’s comfort can feel like a letdown.
Yet God’s Word shows that the process of godly sorrow and repentance from our sinful ways of coping leads to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10). God’s comfort is like gold—precious and everlasting—compared to the flimsy shine of dollar store tinsel. The pursuit of God’s promises, by faith, leads to reward (Heb. 11:6). Dear Christian brother or sister, will you, by faith, seek the true comfort God provides? As our Savior promises, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).
Are you a woman seeking freedom from sinful comfort-seeking? Harvest USA’s women’s ministry wants to serve you! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. This process is confidential.
02 Feb 2023
“Sexual Sanity for Women” Is Ten Years Old!
When our first discipleship workbook, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, was published in January 2013, I was thankful and expectant. Thankful because producing this resource had been a long, somewhat challenging process and finally, after more than three years of book “pregnancy,” the workbook had been birthed. I waited expectantly to see the response and impact on women’s lives.
One message came in on publishing day from a woman: “You do know, right, that 99% of women in the church will never engage [with] this? Most churches won’t even consider this!”
I admit my response wasn’t, initially, fueled by one drop of compassion. I didn’t wonder what sort of backstory would lead someone to express this. No. Instead, I felt frustrated and angry. I didn’t want balloons and accolades—but perhaps a little encouragement and thankfulness!
Yes, but God rescued me from myself and I sensed his gentle, truthful wisdom. “Ellen, are the one percent worth it? Maybe she’s right. But that still leaves many hurting, gospel-desperate women who have expressed the need for this resource.” My heart changed in that moment.
God’s Stories from God’s Daughters
Praise be to God that the Spirit of comfort and counsel radically flipped my anger and frustration into tears of not just joy, but also tenderness. I’d had so many discipleship conversations with beautiful women who were the humble, needy, one percent.
Now, ten years later, I’ve had the priceless gift of hearing stories from all over the country and world of how God has used Sexual Sanity for Women to help women grow into Christlikeness as they pursued sexual and relational integrity.
From a biblical counselor:
Sexual Sanity for Women has been the most helpful, profound, and influential book I have ever used in women’s programs. For the past four years I have been using it regularly to walk with women of all ages in discipleship, as a chaplain teaching life skills in a shelter, and to my surprise to heal from my own history with sexual brokenness that I never realized permeated into every thought and behavioral pattern of my life. With the grace of the Lord, I have seen this study transform hearts and minds to grasp the beautiful rest, shalom, and freedom that only King Jesus can give. I am deeply appreciative to the Harvest USA Tree Model and the SSFW study for taking a sensitive and incredibly complex topic such as this and making it relatable, reliable, and redemptive. Thank you, Ellen Dykas & Harvest USA for such a wonderful and accessible study!
Valentine Curiel (MA), Counseling Director, Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley, CA
From a former ministry recipient of Harvest USA:
Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness (SSFW) has been a life changing resource for me. I learned what I knew about sexuality through my own experience of sexual abuse, as well as being exposed to my father’s pornography from a young age. On top of that, I attended church and even pursued a Bible and seminary degree with little to no training or discipleship in the area of sexuality from those experiences, nor did I have any meaningful teaching or discipleship on these topics in the church. This ought not to be! By my 20’s I was confused, ashamed, and stuck in deep patterns of relational brokenness, as well as dabbling in my own pornography use. As a woman, I was confronted by silence from the church on these street-level issues that I was facing to an increasing degree. I reached out to Harvest USA as a broken and hopeless woman. I remember saying, “I don’t feel like I am in control of my own life anymore.” When I bought a copy of SSFW, I kept it hidden under my bed, and only read it in secret. Through God’s kindness, this resource was a significant part of how the Lord set me free. Topics like how our past informs our present struggles, temptation, and how to embrace God as our true Father, comforter, and home set me on a totally new trajectory in my Christian life. The Lord has shown his kindness to me in many ways, and I can’t speak of his work in my life without mentioning this life-changing resource.
An Exciting Future for Women’s Ministry
And the woman who sent that message to me on publishing day in 2013? After the Lord comforted and corrected me, I reached out to her to find out why she thought the way she did. It turned out that this dear sister in Christ had shame and painful experiences with the church in her background. She had felt missed, silenced, and utterly un-helped.
Wow. She was herself in the 1% but didn’t know where to find caring, Christ-centered help. Our interchange began a relationship that continues today. In fact, this very dear woman became a faithful financial supporter to me. She became an advocate for Harvest USA to women’s ministry leaders, pastors, and churches—several joined my support team!
Harvest USA is committed to a vision for ministry that includes robust, Christ-centered, gospel-driven discipleship for women. Thank you to every woman who has entrusted your story to our team. Thank you to every woman who has journeyed through SSFW with college students, singles, married women, women in prison, and hurting women forced into shelters. Thank you to every male church leader who has trained others up for this essential work.
Truly—as Jesus regularly and boldly sought, loved, touched, forgave, healed, and set free so many women during his earthly ministry, may the church continue to grow in extending this vital kingdom work to women of all ages.
19 Jan 2023
Help! My Sin Has Caused Severe Suffering
Shame-filled tears streamed down my face as I said to a friend, “I can’t go to God again! This is my own fault.” I described a scene that, in my mind, perfectly captured my relationship with Christ. It’s now infamously known as “the sledgehammer illustration.”
It went like this: God is the owner of a luxury car, and each morning I’d wake up and take a sledgehammer to the windshield of God’s car. Then, at the end of the day, I’d go to him crying for forgiveness. God would forgive my sins and comfort me. And the very next day, I’d walk right back up to his car, sledgehammer in hand, and smash his windshield again.
Could God have compassion on me, I thought, when I just kept smashing his windshield and asking for forgiveness? The pain and ruin I was experiencing were undoubtedly my own fault. My friend looked at me and said, “Caitlin, God is a Savior. That’s just what you need—a saving, rescuing God.”
Could God have compassion on me, I thought, when I just kept smashing his windshield and asking for forgiveness?
Have you ever felt like I did? Have you ever felt as though God didn’t want to hear from you again? Have you imagined that God is withholding his help and care because your suffering is a direct result of your sins, failures, and choices?
Perhaps you’ve taken a costly step of obedience and confessed your infidelity to your spouse, and now you’re engulfed in the destructive consequences. Or maybe you’re in a season of loneliness and grief because you walked away from an unholy relationship you never should have pursued in the first place.
Does God Care When We Have No One to Blame But Ourselves?
In Psalm 107 we’re introduced to four vignettes, each describing someone in a dire situation who cries out to the Lord for help. I recommend you read the entire psalm, but for our purposes we’ll focus on the third vignette found in vv. 17–22:
Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
We’re introduced to a fool who, because of his iniquities, suffered distress and needed deliverance from his own destruction. Does that sound familiar?
But this is truly good news for the ruined sinner. Can you see why? God gives the same healing and deliverance to the foolish sinner (vv. 19–20) as he gives to the other case studies presented in Psalm 107—he doesn’t measure out his help based on our merit.
This Psalm puts the character of our Savior on beautiful display. Is God a compassionate Savior? Psalm 107 gives a resounding YES!
The hymn Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy beautifully summarizes this idea:
Let not conscience make you linger,
nor of fitness fondly dream;
all the fitness he requireth
is to feel your need of him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
lost and ruined by the fall;
if you tarry till you’re better,
you will never come at all.
What Am I Really Believing?
Do you find yourself mired in the anguish of your sin’s fallout? Below are some diagnostic questions for you. Perhaps you can talk through these questions with a pastor, counselor, or trusted friend.
- Is there a part of you that wants to bring a work to your repentance (a changed attitude, a new resolve, a step in the right direction) to merit God’s compassion?
- If you believe God is against you because of your sin, what, in your mind, would cause him to be for you in the future?
- What are you believing about God that’s keeping you from going to him in confession and repentance today?
- Do you believe God warms or cools his compassion toward you based on your behavior? Why or why not?
Jesus: The Rescuer
Do you feel your need for Jesus amid the consequences of your sin? Are you weary and heavy-laden from your own destructive decisions? Do you need comfort in the firestorm created by your own failure? Oh ruined sinner, look to Christ! Cry out to him in every trouble, even if the trouble is your own doing—look to Jesus.
We bring nothing. Let that free you to bend the knee before your Rescuer. Humbly receive his comfort and help in the midst of the affliction you face from your own sinful choices.
Our hearts naturally push against the humility and dependence this requires. We bring nothing. Let that free you to bend the knee before your Rescuer. Humbly receive his comfort and help in the midst of the affliction you face from your own sinful choices—he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9), and his mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22–23).
05 Jan 2023
My Story: When Past Trauma Is Triggered
Written by a former ministry recipient of Harvest USA
Have you ever been blindsided by pain from the past erupting unexpectedly in present circumstances? It can be disconcerting and even terrifying. I’d like to share my experience of this in the hope that it will help others walking out faith and obedience regarding not only sexual sin, but also the wreckage of painful relationships.
I’m an older woman and thought I’d worked through my issues from the past, including a difficult relationship with my mom. I love the Lord, have sought to be immersed in the truth of God’s Word, and have also benefited greatly from counseling as well as Harvest USA’s discipleship for women. I experienced same-sex attraction (SSA) in my teen years and early adulthood but, by God’s grace, those desires dissipated profoundly. I’m thankful for a kind and godly husband who has journeyed with me. Amid these blessings, a few years ago an incident occurred that brought me to my knees with a sense of desperation to understand what had been triggered that I was seeking to escape.
The Trigger and the Memory
There had been a change in leadership at the job I’d held for many years. During supervision with my new boss, she didn’t want to hear a word I had to say. Things were tense. After the meeting, I found myself wanting to run out of the building. I thought, “Maybe if I go pick up coffee every couple of hours, I’ll be alright; I just need to get out of here!” This familiar sensation is what I’d come to understand as a fight or flight response, common in those who’ve experienced trauma. Memories, sensations, locations, or even ways of relating to others that are like the original traumatic experience appear in the present day, causing a physiological response from the autonomic nervous system.
After a couple of days feeling out of control, I came before my heavenly Father on my knees in prayer, crying out, “What is wrong with me?” Exhausted, I rested in his presence. I believe the Lord helped me connect a childhood occurrence with its emotion and feelings. These feelings were the same as those I felt in that office with my boss.
Memories, sensations, locations, or even ways of relating to others that are like the original traumatic experience appear in the present day, causing a physiological response from the autonomic nervous system.
When I was a very young child, I remember standing by my mother’s chair in the living room wanting and asking for her attention, but she would ignore me with a mean and callous look on her face. I felt rejected—as if my personhood was not even worth being recognized. I hadn’t felt those feelings again until I was in that office decades later, with my boss who didn’t want to hear a word I said.
Significantly, my lack of connection with my mother—something I always wanted—was a key component when it comes to my disordered desire for emotional and physical intimacy with older women. I realize now that my mother was greatly troubled and had mental illness. I’ve forgiven her. I thought I’d fully worked through this loss until this triggering event.
What should we do when past trauma is triggered?
What the enemy intends to use for evil, God desires to use for our good (Gen. 50:20). I’ve found the following action steps helpful, and I hope they help you, too. As we respond in healthy ways and adjust our perception to align with the truth of Scripture, God meets us and continues his work in us—making us resilient and spiritually mature.
- It’s important to realize something is wrong. This sounds simple, right? However, sometimes we don’t take time to slow down enough to sort through our feelings. We need to identify what is going on in our hearts to work through our problems and pain. In Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, Diane Langberg states:
Pain is the only protest in the human constitution that something is wrong. It is the only thing that raises its voice against existing abuses. If you jump to silence pain, you will fail to find the wound. Pain is the Martin Luther of the human framework; it plasters the wall of the city with the announcement that something is wrong.
- Take time to process what has happened. Like the grieving process, we need time to work through our loss. Many people find journaling helpful. This is an especially important step that must not be overlooked to work through the triggering event and how it relates to past trauma. Some will benefit from talking it out with a trusted friend or counselor to be guided through processing deep pain safely.
- Identify feelings like anxiety, anger, and fear and the “whys” behind each. Also, challenge corresponding thoughts that do not line up with what God says about you, replacing lies with the truth of God’s Word. Knowing who you are in Christ is a firm foundation on which to stand. Emotions can be powerful! When a past trauma has been triggered, it’s helpful to remind yourself that the past event is in the past and that you are safe in the here and now.
- Seek help. Your symptoms (and those strong feelings and emotions) should settle down over time. If you are continuing to struggle—having difficulty with your daily tasks, falling into old negative patterns, experiencing flashbacks or nightmares—help from a counselor may be warranted.
- Remember you’re not alone. Your heavenly Father is with you and will uphold you (Is. 43:1–3). He will never fail you! He longs to comfort you (2 Cor. 1:3). He desires that we pour out our heart to him, and yes, he will meet us in our most challenging times (Heb. 4:16). He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).
- Don’t isolate. A natural reaction to trauma is to withdraw from others. However, it’s extremely important to maintain relationships and connections to your church community. When you’re hurting and feeling delicate, allow God’s people to love you. This doesn’t mean you share your struggle in every large group setting. But choose to lean on trusted friends who are spiritually mature and have modeled a compassionate heart toward sufferers. In the hard things of life, I have never felt so loved as to be surrounded by my brothers and sisters who care for me with the love of Jesus.
- Self-care. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating right, and getting enough exercise. These things are known to be helpful, increasing our ability to cope with the stressors of life. If you are not feeling very motivated, take small steps in a positive direction and build on those steps as you begin to feel better. And don’t neglect to do things you enjoy!
As we respond in healthy ways and adjust our perception to align with the truth of Scripture, God meets us and continues his work in us—making us resilient and spiritually mature.
Know that God has good plans for you (Jer. 29:11) and desires to use you in the lives of others (Eph. 2:10). Look to Jesus always (Heb. 12:2–3) and run to him when your past pain is triggered—he is our help and our eternal healing.
15 Dec 2022
A Reality Better Than a Wish List
I love Christmas. Glowing tree lights illuminate sentimental ornaments, candlelight glints on red berries—everything gauche and shiny and celebratory. Christmas books adorn the coffee table. My long-suffering family endures endless repetitions of “Carols from St. Paul’s Cathedral.” There’s meal planning, card sending, and gifts.
This—receiving gifts—is where my family’s Christmas celebration can get derailed. Anyone else? We can begin to believe we should get precisely what we want. For all its convenience, the Amazon wishlist can become a petty tyrant, serving our bullying demands. This is self-focused—greedy rather than grateful. When it comes to Christmas presents, we can spot that.
But what about how we respond to the life God gives? We all live in a reality that, in some way, is not what we wanted. I never expected my husband to face young-onset Parkinson’s Disease, yet he does. I don’t want to see him growing weaker, yet he is. You may not want to struggle against sexual sin or singleness or discontentment. And family gatherings can make the season extra difficult, highlighting estranged relationships, grief, or loneliness. In all this heartache, do we see God as the tight-fisted arbiter of our life’s wish list—holding out on the good stuff? Or will we trust our heavenly Father?
God’s plans are better than our wish list life, even when we can’t see it and don’t feel it. He is good. He’s able and willing to do us good. Whether or not we believe this truth impacts everything.
Four realities about God’s providence nourish our belief:
1. God Works for Our Good
You may be happily married or aching with loneliness, struggling to care for a gender-dysphoric child or enjoying family life, daily fighting sexual sin or living victoriously. Whether you’re facing the best or the worst things, God’s Word says, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, my emphasis).
It’s hard to think of trials as gifts in God’s hands. And it’s true that evil itself is evil. Yet God sovereignly works even evil things for good to his children. In this light, we can receive all things as gifts tailored to us from the wise hand of our good Father.
What a mystery and miracle. In his providence, God fits our life’s circumstances to purpose, for us.
“Do not mistake me,” writes Puritan Thomas Watson. “I do not say that of their own nature the worst things are good, for they are a fruit of the curse; but though they are naturally evil, yet the wise, overruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them, they are morally good” (21). Joseph answered his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20a).
What a mystery and miracle. In his providence, God fits our life’s circumstances to purpose, for us. Whatever the pain, your wise Father is using that very thing for good in your life. As William Cowper wrote,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
2. God Gives What Is Necessary
Our Father also takes the worst things and uses them as medicine to refine us. “Out of the most poisonous drugs God extracts our salvation,” writes Watson (22). This is not an optional treatment. It’s spiritual chemotherapy—a violent cure, without which we die.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6–7, my emphasis)
Our framework for this hard truth is the reality that our greatest need is spiritual. Apart from salvation in Christ, we are eternally lost. The best gifts of this world will vanish like mist in the morning sun. But Christ, and him growing ever dearer to us, is everything we need for all eternity. Truly! Anything that helps us let go of this passing world and cling to the One who lasts forever is essential medicine.
3. God Gives Abundantly
But this medicine is not only bitter. It also carries the sweetness of union with Christ and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Our Father is merciful and generous—he gives us himself.
He provides all we need each moment to walk through this vale of tears, and he is himself our eternal, undefiled, unfading inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3–5). Fernando Ortega’s song “Give Me Jesus” says, “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” What better gift can we have, for life and eternity, than fellowship with our Savior?
Our Father is merciful and generous—he gives us himself.
And believers—we have Jesus. He is ours and we are his, now and forever. Jesus walks with us; he does not leave us alone in suffering but comforts and guides us as our sympathetic High Priest. In our suffering, Lord, give us Jesus. In our painful circumstances, our lost hopes, our discouragement—give us Jesus.
4. God Gives What He Requires
God delights to answer this prayer! Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10–11). Our Shepherd Savior is our hope and rest.
In our sin and sorrow, we default to wishlist thinking, but Jesus never did. We question our Father’s character and work—but Jesus trusted his Father unto death. We are weak, but Jesus obeyed in perfect strength. And those who look to him in faith are united with him in his righteousness. This is good news! Even as we doubt, we receive Jesus’s perfect track record and Jesus himself—what can compare to this eternal reality?
God is good. See the cross of Christ and the empty tomb for proof. Whatever you face today, your good, caring Father is working good for you in all things, and you’re headed for an eternal glory more satisfying than any earthly wish list.
17 Nov 2022
Mind the Gap: The Danger of Delayed Confession
The glow of her computer screen gone, Lexi sat in the darkness of her apartment. I can’t believe I did it again, she thought, seething with self-hatred after viewing pornography. To escape the swirl of shame and condemnation, Lexi put on a movie. It would be nine long days before she would pray or acknowledge God. I’ve messed up too many times, she told herself.
Perhaps you struggle with pornography or have an ongoing relationship of sexual temptation and failure in your life. You think, I can’t go to God again when I keep pursuing this! Or maybe you’re a friend, counselor, or pastor trying to understand another’s pervasive shame.
How can strugglers and helpers move out of the shame-spiral and toward real gospel hope?
Words of Death and Words of Life
Psalm 32 can guide Christian confession for your own heart and be a helpful map if you’re discipling someone burdened by unconfessed sin. It immediately gives a sobering prognosis and a rich assurance:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Ps. 32:1–2)
First, the bad news; three words describe our evil hearts. “Transgression” is breaking the law. It connotes smashing or breaking ties in a relationship—always the case when we seek our own way outside of our loving relationship with our Creator. “Sin” signifies failing to meet the standard of God’s perfect law, while “iniquity” indicates the twisted, perverse nature of our hearts as we turn away from God and pursue sin.
God knows we simply cannot clean ourselves up enough to lift the weighty burden of our sin; we need help outside ourselves.
But there’s good news! The three words of life in these verses reveal what God accomplishes for us, meeting us in our sin and shame. “Forgiven” speaks of the lifting or removal of a burden that is too great—God knows we simply cannot clean ourselves up enough to lift the weighty burden of our sin; we need help outside ourselves. “Covered” indicates God removing our sin from his sight. When God “counts no iniquity” against us, he calls us his righteous children, clothed in the spotless robes of Jesus himself. Lexi is no longer identified as a “porn struggler” or as “shameful.” In Christ, she’s a new creation.
If you’re stuck wondering how to move toward God after sexual sin or what to say to help a sexual struggler, start here. By faith, Lexi can take hold of the amazing gospel truth that when we confess our sins, our God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Burden lifted! Sin covered! Righteousness declared!
The Sickness of Unconfessed Sin
Why did Lexi wait nine days to lift her eyes to God? What was happening in her heart during that painful time? Psalm 32 pictures the dangerous gap between sin and confession:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Ps. 32:3–4)
Of Psalm 32:3, Charles Spurgeon says,
When through neglect I failed to confess, or through despair dared not do so, my bones, those solid pillars of my frame, the stronger portions of my bodily constitution, waxed old, began to decay with weakness, for my grief was so intense as to sap my health and destroy my vital energy. What a killing thing is sin! It is a pestilent disease! A fire in the bones! While we smother our sin it rages within, and like a gathering wound, swells horribly and torments terribly.
Lexi is suffering spiritual anguish and shame. Psalm 32 points Christians toward humble confession of sin as the only solution to this sickness.
Acknowledge—Do Not Cover—Confess
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Ps. 32:5)
As a helper, know that there’s always a strong pull toward partial confessions. You may need to use targeted or even open-ended questions such as, “Is there anything more you’re not sharing with me?” True confession happens when Lexi stops attempting to deceive, hide, or conceal her transgressions from God and trusted helpers.
Unbelief and Satan’s lies thrive in our hearts in this dangerous gap between conviction and repentance.
Acknowledging sin before God and a trusted helper is the path to freedom. In the shame and secrecy of sexual sin, there’s a strong temptation to cover, hide, or conceal. If you find yourself, like Lexi, considering the costly step of fully coming into the light, let me encourage you—confession is the path to life! God will forgive the iniquity of your sin.
Are You Living in the Gap?
Are you holding on to unconfessed sin? The Bible never makes a case for a “probation period” or establishing sincerity before running to Christ when we see our sin. Unbelief and Satan’s lies thrive in our hearts in this dangerous gap between conviction and repentance. In this place, we turn to useless, sinful “remedies”:
- Atonement: I will double-down on serving in church and reading my Bible. I’m a changed person; I can make up for this fall.
- Penance: I will punish myself with negative self-talk and emotional self-hate because I must pay for this sin.
- Self-Pity: I am going to comfort myself with more sin because I’m sad about how this will impact me or my loved ones. I am the victim.
Oh sin-sick Christian! God invites you to receive the true comfort, joy, and counsel you need when you’ve made a shipwreck of your soul in sexual sin. Step out of the gap and run toward your gracious Savior.
Accept God’s Invitation
Psalm 32 goes on to say that God will tenderly instruct, teach, and counsel you with his eye on you (v. 8). He will surround you with steadfast love and give you times of rejoicing—even shouting for joy (vv. 10–11)! He gives these things freely, only asking that you confess before him in humility, believing his promises by faith.
Can Lexi dare to believe God will forgive her? Can you point Lexi to the glorious truth that God gives grace to the humble? Hear this rich invitation:
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isa. 55:6–7)
Do you find yourself in Lexi’s story? Are you a woman struggling with sexual or relational sin? I encourage you to seek help and discipleship in your local church. And please, reach out to Harvest USA. We offer targeted discipleship and Biblical support groups for women in a supportive, Christ-centered environment at our Dresher, Pennsylvania, office or remotely on Zoom. The women’s ministry team is here to serve you and point you to Christ, our only hope. Here is your invitation to step out of the gap and into the path of confession and repentance.
 I was helped in my word study in the original languages by Joshua P. Steele’s Exegesis of Psalm 32 as well as Derek Kidner’s Commentary on Psalms 1–72.