12 Nov 2020
In our culture, the norm is that men don’t open up to each other. Our conversations typically revolve around safe topics, like sports, work, and home projects. But this is not the scriptural norm for men in the Church. Men need other men in their lives in real ways—to fight a real battle that has eternal consequence!
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White or Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “How Christian Fellowship Makes a Difference in Overcoming Sexual Sin,” which corresponds to this video.
Greg, a member of one of our biblical support groups, recently described the history of his fight with sexual sin. “It was a never-ending cycle of shame, embarrassment, and hiding. I had tried confiding in a friend, seeking advice from an elder, meeting with a pastor, going to individual and couples counseling, even attending a men’s weekend dealing with men’s issues. They all led to a series of temporary fixes. I would be fine for a season and then fall back into my old patterns.”
Many churches struggle to foster meaningful fellowship among men. Even with weekly opportunities to gather for mutual encouragement, those gatherings rarely meet men where they are really struggling. Why is this? Is it a church culture issue? Is the problem individual pride? Should we blame the busyness of our lives? There are many reasons why Christian men lack genuine relationships that foster vulnerability and trust, but the fact remains that countless men struggle secretly with sin, guilt, shame, and despair.
The following testimonies from men who have attended Harvest USA’s biblical support groups highlight what is possible when three things are present among a fellowship of Christian men:
- A genuine desire and commitment to grow in Christlikeness
- A confidential, supportive space for men to share truthfully about secret struggles that have imprisoned them in shame
- A gospel-centered, Bible-saturated approach to discipleship that keeps Christ at the center of every meeting
Greg’s Story Continues
The rest of Greg’s story shows how these elements, as part of the work of God’s Spirit in his life and heart, have finally helped him turn a corner:
“Looking back now, the problem wasn’t with previous forms of intervention; the problem was with me. I still fundamentally thought I could handle things on my own. That deep-seeded pride, along with fears of what people would think about me if they truly knew me, led me to hold back from truly opening up to these people who sought to love me.
But then, two years ago, I had a major fall. It led to an in-house separation from my wife when we slept in separate bedrooms. I was broken! Where could I go? How many people had I hurt? Then my pastor accompanied me to my first meeting at Harvest USA.
I had to wait a couple of months before Harvest USA’s introductory group would start. It was suggested that I attend their open group. I did. I went the first night, scared to death. What would people think of me?
When I arrived, I saw a room filled with at least 20 other guys. That night, I discovered that I was not the only one with this struggle, which deeply encouraged me.
On the first night of the introductory group, over 15 men were there. I went in thinking that this must be the program for me. But I still thought that I had to do everything in my own strength. Over time, I realized it was Christ in me that would ultimately change my heart.
The staff and volunteers of Harvest USA are trained to facilitate this program by pointing you to Christ and to the Scriptures that reveal him. They come alongside and support you by giving you the opportunity to be transparent, to deal with your shame, to deal with your pain with a group of guys who, although coming from diverse backgrounds, all shared so much in common (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I leaned into the process; I trusted Christ to change my heart. Our group dwindled down as time went on. But the men who stayed…have been blessed, and trust is being built in our marriages. We pray for one another. We encourage one another. We confess to one another.”
Christian Fellowship Impacts Another Man
Another group member describes the same experience of God’s power working through a group of men centered on Christ and committed to honesty about sin:
“Prior to Harvest, I was attending church. However, I was still struggling with old habits that were deeply engrained in my life. I knew that I needed help.
Being in a group setting with a Christ-centered format where you were expected to be honest and transparent about your struggles in the presence of others was foreign to me. What made it more palatable was the fact that, surprisingly, I wasn’t alone.
During the group sessions, I felt supported through the groups’ prayers and the effect of those prayers. I also had accountability from both the facilitators and other group members. Because of the transparency and the level of accountability, it set the bar higher for change.
Also, from the curriculum and the facilitators, I learned new truths in the Bible that I’d never understood previously, which opened my understanding of God’s true plan for every believer. Through prayer, I watched my life change gradually.
The discipleship I received allowed me to share things I had been holding inside for 40 years. I bonded with my brothers, and we are still in contact and supporting one another even after the program ended.
After attending Harvest, there has been a positive change in my relationship with God. Sin that entangled me has been greatly diminished. Although I will continue to be tempted, the grip that my sinful behavior had is not the same, and I can now resist. My life truly has been changed. My worldview and my confidence and trust in God’s power to keep me are much stronger, and I continue to grow in my life to this day.”
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
The famous line, “A long obedience in the same direction,” captures well the hope of every Christian. We know in this life that a fierce battle between the Spirit and the flesh will always rage. But what I have seen in these two men is indicative of so many men who walk through Harvest USA’s doors. Before coming to Harvest, at best, they experienced short obediences and scattered lives that took them in multiple directions, in opposition to the saying above. They were committed deacons who also solicited prostitutes. They were successful CEOs who didn’t know any other way to handle stress besides pornography.
What is more staggering is that the majority of the men to whom we minister are in faithful, gospel-preaching churches. We aren’t telling them a lot of things they don’t already know. What was missing?
Christian men need a context for slow growth in obedience, but most churches don’t have that context when it comes to struggles with sexual sin. They don’t have a band of brothers who will stick with them for the long haul. But this is possible for your church. The Men’s Ministry at Harvest USA seeks to set the table for men who want to repent. I am convinced that your church is full of these men. How will you set the table for them and invite them into the brotherhood?
You can also watch the video, “Men, Don’t Engage in Warfare Alone,” which corresponds to this blog.
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14, ESV).
This verse gives us two clear and connected steps to take in finding growth and change from debilitating sexual struggles. The first step is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Having acknowledged your sin before God and a trusted person (see previous blog post), now Jesus commands and enables you to “stand up and walk” by faith. What does it mean to “put on Christ?” It means three things:
- Seek consistent fellowship with God through his word and in prayer. This seems so basic that often we overlook it. Nothing, however, can replace cultivating our relationship with Jesus. When sexual sin has been a secret, shame-provoking part of a person’s life, often the heart has been dulled in devotion to Christ. Living water and fresh nourishment must be feasted upon regularly to fill and satisfy a hungry heart.
- Cultivate authentic relationships with Christians. Have you noticed that a good part of the Bible’s commands cannot be obeyed unless we are in relationship with other Christians? (See 1 John 1:7, which connects one’s walk with God to one’s walk with other believers.) God has designed our faith to be personal and intimate with him, but not apart from rich involvement in the life of other believers in the church. Do you have at least two people in your life with whom you can allow yourself to be fully known and prayed for? To be encouraged and discipled by? If you don’t, begin asking the Lord for such friends as these. It’s that important!
- Seek opportunities to love and serve others. There is grace, comfort, and joy to be poured into us and through us. We were not designed by God to be receptacles but conduits of his love and mercy. Look for opportunities to reach out to someone and show them love and care. For this you were made:“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Did you notice that I’ve said nothing regarding sexual sin in the advice I’ve given? That’s intentional! Most women who have struggled sexually have spent so much time focusing on “sin management” or battling against temptation, that they have neglected cultivating their relationships—with Jesus and with other sisters in the Lord.
Jesus, not the sin itself, must be the one upon whom you fix your gaze as you seek to walk away from sin!
The second step is to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” While cultivating and building up relationships is crucial, especially as a first step, you still need to know how to fight the battle! Overcoming sin patterns, including sexual sin, is never something we “happen upon” or coast into. No, sin must be intentionally fought as we flee temptations and deal directly with the heart issues from which they are triggered.
- Identify and then avoid and flee triggers and temptations. What are the situations, influences, people, and emotions which seem to weaken your resolve to obey God? Is it being alone? Watching certain types of entertainment? Anger, hunger, loneliness, boredom, and fear can push us to crumble in the face of temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 instructs believers to flee temptation as we receive the escape path he provides. To run on that path of escape increasingly means we must learn to discern when we are creeping near to sin. Ask yourself, “What helps me to sin, and how can I avoid these influences?”
- Fast from good gifts which are not good for you. One common struggle we all have is taking good things from God and then worshipping them—allowing them to mean more to your heart than God himself. Are there things that you use or have that, while either enjoyable or useful, are increasingly pulling you into temptation and sin? Your smartphone? Your laptop? Places you are visiting or people you are hanging around with? Will fasting from these things be difficult or inconvenient? Sure. I challenge you to try this. Hard as it might be, this may be a necessary step in order to focus your time and attention on Christ and recapture your thought life.
- Refuse to isolate or hide. It’s been said that the power of secret sin is in the secret. To “walk in the light” (1 John 1: 1-9) and to “renounce secret and shameful ways” (2 Corinthians 4:1-6) will mean sharing your life and struggles with others. This path of obedience (and grace!) flows from what I said above about cultivating authentic relationships.
These initial steps, walked out day by day, little by little, over a lifetime, will lead you increasingly into the spacious freedom which is ours through Jesus Christ. All of this is waiting for you. May you find in Jesus the humility to run to him—or be carried to him by others who know you—in order to discover the life you really want.
17 Jul 2012
Along with the sense of guilt, long-term sinful habits and hidden desires create a deep sense of shame. Shame is what happens when we begin to identify directly with our sin—when we view our sin as what we are, rather than something we do. In the face of mounting guilt and an inability to change, our sinful behaviors or desires become a source of personal identity.
One brother recounted the shame of being called a “jerk off” as a teen because masturbation had been a central part of his life since early childhood. Since he was secretly enslaved to this behavior and lived with profound guilt for years, he believed he was a “jerk off” in a very deep sense
The power of shame lies in the “hiddenness” of our behavior or desires. Shame grows and overwhelms us when we keep things hidden in the dark. We were created by God for intimacy, to be known by others. But in our shame, we are too scared to let others see who we really are, to know the worst things about us. As a result, we live with the nagging sense that if others truly knew us, they would reject us. We become committed to hiding behind a mask and living a life that is a lie. We begin to project an illusion for others to see, but this just intensifies the problem. As our hypocrisy increases, so does our shame. As shame deepens, we become more committed to the façade. We enter a relational cycle as destructive and ensnaring as our struggle with sexual sin.
Why is shame so destructive? It always results in estrangement from others. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are a social outcast. Many people wrestling with deep shame are the “life of the party.” Everybody knows and loves them, but inwardly they are living a life of hiding, desperately afraid of others finding out. They live with a constant fear of exposure. Although they know they are well-liked, shame makes them think, “Would people really like me if they knew____?” It may appear that they have many rich friendships, but inwardly they are deeply alone because no one truly knows them. The pressure of living a lie is a crushing burden that often leads to depression, seemingly unrelated anxieties, other destructive behaviors like self harm or substance abuse, etc.
For others, their sense of shame leads to both inward and outward isolation. Instead of living a public life that is a sham, they increasingly withdraw from relationships, both because of their fear of being “found out” and the increasing pain of living with others without being truly “known” by them. There is a cost to our souls when we live an illusion before others, never known for who we truly are.
The only way to find freedom from this cycle is to risk exposure. Listen to the promise of 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (ESV). Did you hear the double promise? If we humble ourselves and risk exposure by “walking in the light,” instead of hiding in the dark in our shame, God promises we will have fellowship—genuine intimacy—with each other, and we’ll get what we’ve been longing for: cleansing from our sin. The only way out of the cycle of sinful behavior and relational estrangement is to be truly known. Only honesty and vulnerability with others in the body can deliver us from both shame and slavery to sin.
How is shame manifested in your life? Are you outgoing but hiding, withdrawn, or in between? In which relationships are you most “hidden?”
This excerpt is taken from Harvest USA’s workbook for men, Sexual Sanity for Men, Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture, published by New Growth Press. This workbook is excellent for small groups and one-on-one mentoring. You can check out this workbook and other resources in the Harvest USA bookstore at www.harvest-usa-store.com.