02 Feb 2023
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
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).
15 Dec 2022
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.
This guest blog was written by Tara Hallman, former Harvest USA women’s ministry staff member.
Christmas can be difficult for a betrayed wife. This Christmas may be the first since discovering her husband has been using pornography or had an affair. For others who’ve known about their husband’s struggle for years, the holidays mark another year of suffering without seeing hoped-for changes.
The Christmas season is a time to be around family and friends as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But when a marriage is broken, the holidays can be excruciating. Wives usually feel disconnected as many relatives and friends have no idea about the secret pain they carry. They put on a smile, trying to be ‘merry and bright,’ while inside, they’re hurting. A husband’s sexual brokenness can make once-safe things, like time with family and friends, feel unsafe.
What can a woman do when fear, loss, shame, and disappointment follow her into the Christmas season? How can she find longed-for hope, peace, and rest?
Mary’s Life, Redirected
This Christmas season, we will again encounter Mary in the nativity story. I hope that a hurting wife can see Mary as an example of a woman of faith who faced unexpected trials in life with strength and dignity. As we focus on the birth of our Savior this year, I want to encourage women who have been betrayed to notice Mary and watch how she responded when her life did not go the way she planned.
In Luke 1, we find Mary headed in one direction. A young Jewish woman, she had faith in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. She knew the Scriptures, as evidenced by her song, the Magnificat, which contains at least 14 Old Testament references (Luke 1:46–55). Mary was likely just a teenager planning her life, wedding, and future when the angel Gabriel showed up. He told her she was favored, perplexing her. He said she would bear a child to reign over the house of Israel forever. Since she was a virgin, she asked how this would happen. He told her the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she was to name her little boy, the Son of God, Jesus. The angel delivered a message that would take Mary’s life and turn it in a different direction, and she chose to respond in three significant ways.
- Mary chose to believe God.
Her first response was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary took God at his Word, which is no little thing. All through Scripture, from the story of Abraham (see Gen. 15:6) through the New Testament, God calls his people to trust him—to believe his Word and act on it.
Mary’s story fits right in with the many biblical examples of people trusting God with dependent faith. Centuries before, Abraham believed God’s promise that one day the Savior would come through his offspring. Here, young Mary believed God’s Word that she would give birth to the promised One. Now all who believe in Jesus belong to him and are truly Abraham’s seed, heirs of the promise.
To wives who are in pain and betrayal, wondering how to make it through this Christmas season: I want to encourage you to take the first step to trust the Lord. Like Abraham, who trusted when it seemed impossible, and Mary, who trusted when it was not what she would have chosen, believe God. He is bigger than your circumstances. It is no little thing to believe Him. Betrayed wives report feeling unsure of what is real in their life. They say it can feel like walking in quicksand, and it would feel so good to find solid ground. Jesus is that solid ground; those who are in him can stand firm.
Consider this: If we have lost everything dear to us in this life (God forbid it) but maintain our faith in Jesus, then truly—truly—we have lost nothing of eternal significance.
We learn from Mary that the Lord may set us on a path we prefer not to walk. Mary faced shame, being misunderstood, fear, and the unknown. Many wives who come to Harvest USA find themselves in circumstances they did not choose. We cannot change their circumstances, make their husband change, or save their marriage, but we can help them know the Lord truly, love him deeply, and trust him with their lives.
Consider this: If we have lost everything dear to us in this life (God forbid it) but maintain our faith in Jesus, then truly—truly—we have lost nothing of eternal significance.
- Mary chose to seek community.
Mary’s second response to God was to seek community when she went to Elizabeth. Wives will be blessed to move toward safe, wise women who will provide them truth and comfort. Today, we are being taught by everything around us. If you’re a wife facing betrayal, be mindful of who or what is teaching you in this vulnerable time when you’re hurt, angry, and fragile. I love that God put Mary and Elizabeth together at a time when they both faced serious changes in their lives and were potentially misunderstood by those around them.
- Mary chose to worship her Savior.
Remember, Mary didn’t know what Joseph, or her community, would say about this shocking news. But in the uncertainty of her future, she chose to praise God. In the Magnificat, we see the joyful faith of a young woman who has been set on a path that would include joy intermingled with suffering. May we, like Mary, worship our God even during our unfinished story.
The very last place we see Mary in the New Testament is in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14). Not surprisingly, we find her doing these same three things: believing God, seeking godly community, and worshiping her Lord. By this time, she was a believer in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She had seen him live, die, and be resurrected. Her Son lives! May we also fix our eyes on the One whom Mary undoubtedly could not take her eyes off. Jon Bloom writes, “Mary’s greatest blessing was not being the mother of The Child. Her greatest blessing was that her Child would save her from her sins. And this blessing is given to everyone who believes in him.”
May we, like Mary, worship our God even during our unfinished story.
If you are a wife whose marriage has not turned out the way you dreamed it would, and your husband has hurt you deeply, know that your heart and your losses matter. This new path you find yourself on, though you’d never have chosen it, is not plan B in God’s eyes. He can and will do good things in and through you. And the things you’ve lost, precious as they are, pale in comparison to what you have in Christ through faith.
May your response to your unchosen circumstances of your life mirror Mary’s response. May you choose to respond in faith and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you’re facing the fallout of sexual sin in your marriage or know someone who is, consider downloading Harvest USA’s newest resource. Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal is a 10-session discipleship workbook available at no charge.
17 Nov 2022
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.
06 Oct 2022
Anyone who’s experienced being enslaved by a life-dominating sin knows how easy it is to let that struggle become the lens through which you see all of life. You know how deadly the sin is. You know the power it possesses, and how powerless you feel to resist it.
Many people wrestling with addiction see their entire moral responsibility resting on a single prohibition: Thou shalt not. . .
They start to measure the strength of their relationship with God based on whether they looked at pornography that day. It doesn’t matter what else happened, good or bad—refraining from sexual sin becomes the sole gauge of spiritual health.
Living with Blinders
There are two pitfalls with this type of thinking. First, you become uninterested in any other area of sanctification in your life. Lying, stealing, idolatry, and unrighteous anger don’t even register as areas of needed growth because sexual sin has given you tunnel vision to any other problems. Your day may have been filled with selfish and self-indulgent pursuits, but, in your mind, it was a great day because you didn’t look at porn.
The second pitfall is just as soul-damaging. Letting your entire day rest upon your ability to perfectly resist sexual temptation also blinds you to the good work God may be doing in your life in other areas. Sexual sin is usually the fruition of many other, deeper heart issues that God is slowly and surgically redeeming. There may be much groundwork being done in your life even while you continue to lose many battles against temptation. Blindness to this good work that God is doing can co-opt a trajectory of growth through discouragement and despair.
Take off the Blinders
It’s time to take off the blinders. It’s time to embrace the full panorama of God’s redemptive purposes for your life. On the day of judgment, God is not only interested in what sins you refrained from. He’s equally interested in what good fruit your life produced. This is why theologians have developed two categories for sin: sins of commission and sins of omission. Sins of commission are the sins we commit. We lust, we steal, we lie, we covet. We focus most of our repentant energy on sins of commission. And that’s understandable. The Ten Commandments are largely addressing sins we commit. That is why eight out of the ten are stated in the negative: Thou shalt not. . .
But it was paradigm-shifting for me to read the Westminster Larger Catechism and realize that with every prohibitive commandment is an implied command to do its opposite instead. Not taking the Lord’s name in vain implies the command to revere his name in honor. Not killing implies the command to actively preserve and promote life in others. Not lying implies the command to speak the truth in love to build up your neighbor. Failure to do the opposite of these prohibitions is also sin. Sins of omission are the failure to do the good which God commands. Sin is not just what we have done, but also what we have left undone.
The Opposite of Sexual Sin
If I’m honest, I used to think that all God cared about was that I didn’t lust after other people. If that’s God’s standard, then my tactic was simply to avoid others. If I didn’t have to interact with them, then I was honoring God. But I failed to see that the opposite of lust is not avoidance, but love. There may still be people you need to avoid, especially if they’ve been a snare to you. That is wisdom. But what I’m addressing is a much broader issue of seeing other people not as objects of temptation, but as image-bearers to love.
We fail our brothers and sisters who struggle with sexual sin if we don’t help them to humanize others. God wants so much more than avoidance of sin. He wants the love of Christ to shine forth from our lives.
So what does a life of repentance from sexual sin look like?
Putting off Coveting and Putting on Christ-Centered Contentment
God gives a husband and wife to each other so that, in body and soul, they belong to one another. There’s a sense of co-ownership in marriage. Adultery is so damaging because it’s an outsider stealing what does not belong to them. God has designed sexual desire to be expressed and satisfied solely within the confines of biblical marriage.
This means true repentance for a married man and woman will lead to increasing contentment and delight in their spouse. The positive command we are to obey is to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Prov. 5:18). It’s not enough to only guard your heart against coveting your neighbor’s wife, you are also commanded by God to actively cultivate a growing love and desire for your spouse. How many Christian husbands believe their apathy toward pursuing their wives romantically is a sin of omission? Contentment must never be confused with complacency. Contentment is proactive; complacency is passive.
For my single brothers and sisters, contentment does not mean it’s wrong to desire marriage. Contentment means that, while you pursue this good thing, your heart is guarded against despair, bitterness, or anger toward the Lord when his timing seems delayed. Your contentment is grounded in what is best: belonging to Christ.
Spirit-gifted contentment flows from the same source for both married and singles. It is not found in any other person than Jesus Christ.
Putting off Idolatry and Putting on True Worship
Idolatry is always at the root of sexual sin. Sex is seen as the means of providing something that feels like life itself. That idol may be pleasure, comfort, control, security, or affirmation. But all of these desires are vanity of vanities when they are separated from the Giver of all true life.
True repentance from sexual sin is not a stoic experience. It’s a life of increasing joy and zeal for God’s glory. It’s a life of growing anticipation and expectation to see your Savior face to face. It’s a life of worshipping our triune God in spirit and in truth.
I’m always amazed by our Savior’s words in John 4:23 when he says, “the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” We were created for this very purpose. Our Father longs to find such people! Sexual sin is not only idolatry, but a failure to do the most fundamental thing we were created for—it’s a failure to delight in the Lord.
Putting off Lust and Putting on Love
We see very clearly in 1 Corinthians 13 that any attempt at repentance not grounded in love is pointless. Repentant love must be directed both vertically and horizontally. This means that God is not pleased with us swapping out sexual sin for some other, less damaging pleasure. Many people try to simply replace lust with social media, video games, exercise, or food, all the while continuing to neglect spiritual nourishment. Paul would tell you, if you’re doing this, you gain nothing.
But even if your rejection of lust is the result of deeper fellowship with Christ, it must not stop there. For John warns us that you cannot love God and hate your brother. True love for God will lead to true love for your neighbor.
It’s a frightening thing to see husbands who are turning from pornography but still abusing their wives. This is a false repentance that brings no pleasure to God.
God is not only calling you to turn from lustful thoughts, he’s calling you to see and treat others as his image-bearers in all purity, dignity, and honor. Lust selfishly steals from others. Love selflessly serves others. Lust devotes our thoughts to sexual fantasy. Love devotes our thoughts to prayerful intercession.
God is after so much more than removing sin from your life. He is committed to making you more like Christ, who not only turned from sin, but actively loved his Father and his neighbor perfectly.
22 Sep 2022
Several years ago, a ‘worship’ song went viral with two million hits. With a beautiful melody and poetic words, it caught the hearts of many.
You’re the first thing I know I can believe in,
You’re holy, holy, holy, holy, I’m high on loving you
You’re the healing hands where it used to hurt,
You’re my saving grace, you’re my kind of church,
This, however, is not a song about the Lord Jesus Christ, but a romantic relationship. H.O.L.Y., the song’s title, refers to someone being “high on loving you.” The words of devotion and ecstasy are about a person providing healing and saving grace. This person is even described as a “church” within which to worship.
We all desire the security of feeling loved—and we’re all tempted to find that security not in God our Creator but in unhealthy relationships with people around us. Through books, songs, and movies we have stories of people craving and searching for an experience of love and security that can only truly—and in a healthy way—be met by Jesus.
Worshipping a Person or Loving Them
As H.O.L.Y. illustrates, romantic love is one way the worship of a person can displace Jesus as the worthy focus of our hearts. However, idolatry of people happens between parents and kids, in friendships and mentoring relationships. Wherever there are two hearts unanchored from worshipping and depending upon Christ, there is fertile soil for relational idols to grow.
Tim Keller describes idols as “anything more important to us than God, anything that absorbs our heart and imagination, anything we seek to give us only what God can give” (xix). When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, to have your life fixed, your heart healed, or an empty heart made whole through a person, it’s false worship. Often this is called codependency, but it’s really idolatry.
God’s word is clear that he alone is to be worshipped, rather than any created thing—including people.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3)
God is to have no rivals or replacements in our lives, hearts, and affections. Often, relationships with people can intrude upon our intimacy with God as our hearts’ devotion is easily hijacked by the human element that people, a good gift, offer to us.
“Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:11–13)
I’ve struggled over the years to keep people in their proper place in my life; I’m not alone! I’ve walked with so many women who have become consumed with a best friend, boyfriend, or mentor in their lives. What God may have provided as a gift has become ultimate, displacing God and resulting in an entangled mess of codependency. Paul says it this way: “. . . they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25).
This exchange of the created thing for our loving Creator is one of the most common sins. If you see yourself in this article, have hope! You are not alone. And let’s be clear: desires for unfailing love, to be deeply known, needed, pursued—even just to matter to someone—are beautiful aspects of being image bearers of God who loves us deeply, knows us completely, and exists Himself in a holy, relational Trinity.
The problem is that our image bearing capability has been distorted by sin. Our desires have become disordered. What is “natural” to us rises from our sinful hearts. All of us struggle in one way or another in our relationships. We crave and work at getting things from people that can truly only be found in our union with Christ.
Engage Some Diagnostic Questions
Is there a person in your life who:
- . . . you depend on for your sense of identity and value?
- . . . you obsess about in your thoughts?
- . . . you feel addicted to being in touch with throughout the day? Not having contact prompts you to feel threatened and insecure?
- . . . is needy for you to be a parent/counselor/surrogate-spouse for them, and you are happy and secure in this role of being a ‘need-meeter’ and rescuer?
- . . . has been a friend or counselee but has become someone for whom you have romantic feelings and / or have gotten involved with physically, perhaps even sexually?
Friend, did you answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions? If so, I plead with you to pause. You may be playing with fire, or you may be in the flames already. Displacing Christ with people may happen intentionally from a hard heart; it also happens when we are naïve. Regardless of how you got here, Jesus has a way out for you.
Steps to Take If You’re Entangled in a Relational Mess
- If this person is a family member, you’ll need to get help to understand what healthy boundaries are and what godly love looks and feels like. God is not calling you to abandon this relationship but to have your affections and the relational dynamics radically reoriented and transformed. Seek help from someone outside your family.
- For other relationships:
- If there has been sexual involvement, confess your sin to a trusted person, end the relationship, and commit to no contact with this person for an indefinite length of time.
- Seek Christ! You probably won’t feel like it, but fleeing to him and his Word is a must.*
- Expect a season of pain and grief that can lead you to God’s comfort. In one of his letters, John Newton said, “He wounds—in order to heal. He kills—that he may make alive. He casts down—when he designs to raise. He brings a death upon our feelings, wishes and prospects—when he is about to give us the desire of our hearts.”
- Pursue discipleship regarding the underlying heart issues that made you vulnerable to idolizing people.
- Hope! One day, the pain of this costly obedience will subside. Jesus is with you and he will never stop loving you.
- Believe! God Himself does battle with our idols as he transforms us into Christlikeness.
God has brought me a long way in my journey into relational wholeness and holiness. What was once a pattern in my life isn’t anymore. What felt necessary, life-giving, and beautiful (but was none of these), has faded from my heart and been replaced with a desire for Christ that fuels godly love rather than grasping relational lust. God wants to delight you with healthy, rich relationships, and my prayer for you as I post this article is that today you will have hope and courage to take the steps you need to be free.
*You might consider working through my 31-day devotional book, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ.
18 Aug 2022
One of the sentences I often hear at Harvest USA is, “I’m really messed up—am I truly saved?” It usually accompanies a cry of despair amid the destructive and painful reality of sexual sins. Life’s meaning and purpose turn to ashes as many heartbreaking and grievous situations unfold, damaging lives, families, and bodies. The throat feels dry even as you drink water. Food is distasteful, and your anger and pride take control of your spirit as you feel alone, uncared for, hopeless, and destitute, repeatedly pondering, “Am I really saved?”
The anguish this question expresses is familiar to many when life-dominating sexual sins take hold. The sorrowful assumption that there is no way out—and therefore no salvation—when entangled with sexual sins is understandable, because our human hearts are not inclined to see the light. I remember when my darkness was so engulfing that the mere thought of drawing near to God for forgiveness hindered my assurance of salvation. I simply reasoned that my sins were greater than God’s forgiveness.
Beloved, I want you to know that I grieve with you over your sins and suffering and hear your heart; your burdens have not been light. I wish to speak with you as a broken brother who has been given the comfort of Christ—as a prodigal son whose stubbornness learned forgiveness by crawling back to the foot of the cross. Yes, dear brother and sister, there is hope and peace in Jesus despite our constant wrestling with sexual sin. For “by a single offering he [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). Such work of Christ is undoubtedly the magisterial foundation of the assurance of our salvation.
Jesus Is the Way
Let’s look first at 1 John 5:18: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”
Who is protecting believers from evil? This verse points us to Jesus: “he who was born of God.” After all, Jesus is referred to in John’s Gospel as the only begotten Son born of God (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). If we are to form a strong foundation in thinking about our assurance, we must start with Jesus.
We can’t find assurance in our vain attempts to achieve perfection as Christians. Rather, assurance is the byproduct of faith that relies on the insurmountable grace of Christ’s work, which alone protects us from evil. It’s difficult to comprehend God’s infinite grace while limited by our finiteness. But throughout his letter, John wants to keep our gaze in the right place. He reminds us of the future glory that awaits believers, and that Christ keeps us safe from beginning to end in life. John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Remarkably, God’s Word teaches that Christ has worked salvation with eternal consequences even now; our identity as believers rests, affirmed in him, at this moment. And when Christ returns, we will be like him in holiness and sin shall be no more. We can expect complete freedom from our human depravity at the precise moment of his return. Oh, how joyful this message is to those who believe! It is in fact this joyful confidence and expectation that motivates our efforts to obey, as John adds, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
If you’re wondering where your confidence or help comes from, remember that your “help comes from the Lord” (Ps. 121). That’s why we must begin with Christ. God loved you so profoundly that he gave his one and only Son, whose propitiatory¹ death (1 John 2:2; 4:10; Rom. 3:25) has ignited your fellowship with him. This sacrifice brings about our union with Christ, whereby our identity as children of God is never forsaken, never lost. He is the one keeping us from evil until that very day.
Do you believe this, dear brothers and sisters? Such is the fountain of living water we drink from, through faith, that the work of Christ rules over life-dominating sexual brokenness.
Jesus Is the Truth
Make no mistake, the war we fight against the flesh highlights the reality that sin remains present. That’s why John reminds us of the ever-constant presence of sin and our ever-constant need for forgiveness as we wrestle to believe in the work of Christ (1 John 1:6; 2:4, 6, 9; 1 Cor. 15:3–4).
Certainly, we want to be free from our sexual brokenness even when we know this shall persist until Christ returns. Yet, know that such yearning for freedom is precisely where we can boldly proclaim our hatred for sin as those born of God. As we long for newness of life in Christ, we grow in holiness because of our union with him whose work on the cross grants us the assurance that, despite our torn apart, messed up, wretched life, we are saved (Rom. 7:24–25). This does not mean “go on sinning and doubting God because all is guaranteed.” It means that true fellowship with Jesus leads to greater holiness as you abide in him.
Your love for Jesus should command your hatred for sin. The message of the cross may sound like folly to the world, but it is, nevertheless, the message of salvation and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18–31; Rom. 1:16). We can’t reason through this but only seek to be “blessed [as] those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29b). That is the essence of faith as you are convicted of things not seen (Heb. 11:1) and hear the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17b).
Jesus Is the Life
The foundation of the assurance of our salvation is the work of Christ. Without God’s initiative to first love us, we cannot have faith in Jesus. But since “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), we can have confidence in Jesus.
In this, we are not alone. The Helper, the Holy Spirit sent by the Father to teach us all things and bring to remembrance all Christ said, is with us (John 14:15–31). Through him we “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13b), obey God’s commandments, and are enabled to proclaim the gospel. Through him we trust in the promises of God, walk in the light as he is in the light (1 John 1:7a), and confess our sins (1 John 1:9a). Through him we take hold of the eternal life at hand as we believe in Jesus (1 John 2:25, 5:13); and believe our protection is certain as Christ is the one keeping us from all evil (1 John 5:18).
Beloved, if these truths are in your heart and you believe that Jesus Christ works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), then your assurance stands with a sound foundation and, therefore, direction.² You’re headed to glory. And as you move toward this narrow gate (Matt. 7:14), you are to be sanctified in truth as you are sent into the world just like Christ (John 17:17–19).
This doesn’t mean you’ll no longer struggle with sexual sin but that, until Christ returns, the joy set before you will be more and more found in him rather than in your flesh. Jesus suffered in agony to the point of shedding blood, asking the Father to remove this cup from him (Luke 22:42–44). And yet he died on the cross, having that as a joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). Wouldn’t this be enough reason for you to confront your sexual sins and rehearse your assurance in Christ?
If your sins imprison you in such a way that you cannot possibly imagine or live as one who abides in Christ, then may I exhort you to genuinely reconsider the cost God paid to forgive you? May I challenge you to leave your standards behind, ALL OF THEM, and wholly trust in the words of Christ? Remember his promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Beloved, do not be dismayed. It is never too late to start from the beginning and gaze long and hard at the cross of Christ. May your assurance of salvation be clearer and clearer as you realize, each day, that such assurance is being realized by the glorious work of Christ in your life.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:14–17)
¹See Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 183.
²See David Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work? (Crossway: Wheaton, Illinois, 2017).
03 Jun 2021
Name: Mark Sanders
Position: Director of Discipleship
Hometown: Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
Describe your work at Harvest USA.
As the Director of Discipleship at our main office in Dresher, PA, I oversee the Men’s, Women’s, and Parents and Family Ministries, but the majority of my work is focused on the Men’s Ministry. I am in charge of shaping and directing what we offer to men who come to us for help with a variety sexual struggles. I also recruit, train, and provide support for interns and volunteers who serve in our biblical support groups. While I provide a large amount of oversight, I spend a fair amount of time doing individual discipleship and facilitating our in-house biblical support groups each week. Alongside of my responsibilities in our direct ministry, I am also a part of our equipping team at Harvest USA. In seeking to equip the Church to faithfully disciple her members in matters of sexuality, I am involved in resource development, teaching and training events, and writing articles for our blogs and magazines. Lastly, I also film, edit, and produce the majority of our video content at Harvest USA, including our 15-lesson Sunday school DVD series, God’s Design for Sexually in a Changing Culture.
How did you get to Harvest?
Like most people involved in ministries like Harvest USA, my heart longs to see men experience deep repentance, transformation, healing, and change in the area of sexual brokenness because this is my own story. My generation was the first to grow up with entire adult bookstores readily available within the confines of your own bedroom. I spent many years, first as a Christian adolescent and then as a young adult, fighting and wrestling to break free of the chains of sexual sin. Through the ordinary means of grace that God provides for his people, the Holy Spirit did a decisive and powerful work of redemption in my life, and, as I considered potential vocational ministry, Harvest USA was always in the back of my mind as one way that God could turn for good what Satan and my own heart meant for evil. While going through my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary, I had the privilege of volunteering and interning with both Harvest USA and CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation). My internship with Harvest was both challenging and rewarding, and it eventually led to me joining the staff in June of 2015.
What is your favorite Scripture?
As my colleague, Jim, has said, different seasons tend to highlight different Scriptures. Right now, I continue to come back to Colossians 3:1–4 for a few reasons.
First, my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary whetted my appetite to go further into the insights of my school’s theological forerunners. In particular, the writings of Geerhardus Vos as expounded on by Richard Gaffin have deeply shaped me. Gaffin’s work on union with Christ and his explanation of the centrality of the resurrection in the writings of Paul have greatly enriched my understanding of the gospel and salvation. Colossians 3 and Romans 6 have become so important to me when I think about the practical implications of being presently raised with Christ.
Second, this passage has given me great comfort as I watch my mother’s decline with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Apart from occasional smiles, precious-but-momentary eye contact, and squeezing my hand, my mother has lost virtually all of her ability to communicate with us. I have so many difficult questions about her experience, with few answers, but what God has made clear to me is that my mother’s life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). This idea of hiding has so many precious implications for my mom. First, who she truly is in Christ is hidden from us right now. We don’t yet see her in her glorified state, but, in Christ, she has already been raised with and united to the firstfruits of one resurrection harvest. Second, being hidden with Christ means that she is safe in his arms. Nothing, not even Alzheimer’s disease can steal her away from her permanent home in the heavenly places. Third, Christ hides what is most precious to him. There is not one second of my mother’s suffering when Christ is not actively caring for her and providing for all of her needs.
To end this brief reflection, verse 4 is incredibly hope-giving. Right now, my mother is not who she once was. She used to be strong, filled with life and vigor. Her laugh lit up a room. Now, looking at her, it is impossible to escape the ravages of the curse that mark her present experience. But as this disease slowly steals every earthly thing from her, even her life one day, I am reminded that, ultimately, Christ is her life. In almost every chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he is our life. My mom’s entire life is wrapped up in Christ. Her hope is fully tethered to him and him alone. One day, not only will I see her as she was before Alzheimer’s, but I will also see her as she will be when Christ appears in glory. It will be the extreme opposite of her current state. She will be radiant, glorious, and fully fit for eternal communion with our triune God.
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia?
For anyone who is local, it’s important that I clarify that I don’t live in Philadelphia proper, but in Montgomery County, which is part of the greater metropolitan area. It’s hard to have an objective perspective because I’ve spent the majority of my life here. Philly is home. Most people I know and love live here. And while I must admit I’d rather live in a state with more natural wonder and beauty, I think this is wonderful area to live in. There is so much diversity in Philadelphia, and, as a self-proclaimed foodie, I have much of the best cuisine from around the world within driving distance of my home. Lastly, growing up in Philly afforded me the privilege of not having to move away in order to attend seminary.
What is an interesting fact about yourself?
I lived in South Korea from 2007–2012. It was in Korea where God did some deep spiritual work in my heart, and he gave me a wealth of opportunities to share the gospel. I met my wife there and still have my in-laws and many friends there whom we love going to visit on a biennial basis. Before working at Harvest USA, I had a vision in seminary of doing similar work in South Korea. South Korea is like my second home, and my wife and I are fairly content not seeing much of the world as long as we can make frequent trips back to Korea! I’ve grown to feel strangely comforted every time we get on a plane and hear the captain speaking in Korean. It’s like I’m going back home. While the Lord clearly has called us to Philadelphia for this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually flew a U-Haul back to Korea one day.
24 Sep 2020
“How in the world is she still standing?! Still functioning as a sane, responsible, adult woman?”
More often than I wish, I am left stunned, with these questions swirling through my head, as I hang up the phone or Zoom call or escort a woman to the door of our office. Why? I’ve just heard a story of such horrific suffering, of traumatic pain, that I’m left brokenhearted and in awe. I can only praise God through my tears for his supernatural strength that has enabled so many women to grow forward after suffering circumstances that could have crushed them—and, in fact, have crushed others.
Why is it that some people come through the horrors of this world still standing, even flourishing, while others’ lives are utterly wrecked in the aftermath of trauma? Military veterans, survivors of abuse, abandoned children, and betrayed spouses often experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a “mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”¹
Many of the wives who come into my office have experienced symptoms of PTSD because the husband and the marriage that they assumed and believed they had do not exist. The trauma of betrayal results in sleeplessness, depression, anger, outbursts, and paralyzing grief. They are responding to the demolition of the safety and security, life plans, and stable relationships they thought they had. Yet I’ve witnessed so many of these women shine for Christ! Faith, resiliency, and courage are fired up, and they plant their roots down deep into the Lord and his Word. How?
Post-Traumatic Growth: Psychological Category and Biblical Concept
The American Psychological Association gives one answer for my response of wonder and awe for the resiliency that I witness week after week in suffering women. It’s called Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), which I learned about when I researched the impact of sexual abuse. “(PTG) is a theory that explains [healthy]…transformation following trauma. It was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s, and holds that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.”²
While the APA provides one helpful perspective from which to consider PTG, Scripture addresses trauma and its impact differently from the APA. Repeatedly, God makes it clear that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), and, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).
The Bible is honest about the ugliness of sin and how people commit evil against one another. In the pages of the Old and New Testaments, stories of traumatic losses, abuse, manipulation, and suffering cause us to cringe. However, the Bible includes something to which the APA is blind: Into this sin-broken world has come our Lord and Healer, Jesus Christ. He offers comfort in the face of terrifying events, hope that these events do not define us, and a trustworthy promise that he can use pain to promote growth rather than distress.
Jesus Enters Our Pain and Transforms Our Responses
Friend, if you’ve suffered trauma, Jesus knows. He sees, hears, and understands. He was treated horrifically through the crucifixion, suffered alienation from the Father, and experienced death. The distress he endured the night before these events was so traumatic that his blood vessels burst, leading to a literal ”sweating” of blood.
Here’s where the gospel brings life and the possibility of true post-trauma healing and growth in a way that the secular theorists can’t! Christ responded to the most horrific pain with honest grief, faith, and love—love for his Father and for us. Christ’s response to traumatic events can become our example and our way of responding, our faith-fueled path of resiliency; this is one of the amazing applications of John 15’s teaching about our union with Jesus.
Post-traumatic growth could be relabeled as “with-Jesus transformation.” As we grow in both knowing who Jesus really is and understanding that we are spiritually joined to him, our pain becomes his, and his resilience, faith, and love become ours in a process that promotes wholeness and healing, displaces our distress, and changes our desires for sinful, false comforts. Christ is in us, the hope of glory, and his power allows us to choose a different path!
Choose Jesus and the Promises of the Gospel
The men and women who come to Harvest USA have a backstory to their sin struggles, just like you do. They may define themselves initially as a sex addict, a traumatized wife, or a person messed up beyond repair. They have been sinned against and suffered much in a sinful world, and they in turn have responded to it with their own sinful choices. However, the gospel of new life in Christ gives us the capability to respond to sin done against us, as well as horrific circumstances, by turning to God for comfort, strength, and wisdom to obey and trust him. This is true post-traumatic growth!
You can also watch the video, “Why a Christ-Centered Lens Is Important,” which corresponds to this blog.