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.
13 Aug 2020
The story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness is an oft-used example for illustrating unbelief. Even after God rescued them from the Egyptians, the Israelites complained, rebelled, lacked faith, and committed some serious idolatry. If you’re like me, you can easily shake your head in disapproval over their glaring sins. But why do we so easily judge them? Is it just because we’re so proud and arrogant and think we could do better? On some level, yes. But in a positive sense, I believe, as observers, we rightly and readily see the folly of their unbelief. The reason we perceive their sin so clearly is because we see the bigger picture. On the front end, we see how miraculously God saved them from Egypt. But even more powerfully, we already know how their wilderness journey ends. We know that God will bring them safely into the Promised Land, and that he will deliver their enemies into their hands. This is why it’s so distressing to read the account of the spies returning from Canaan. We agonize over the passage, wishing the people of Israel could hear us when we cry out, “Listen to Joshua and Caleb! The land is yours; God will fight for you!”
This kind of strong confidence in God’s ability to accomplish his purposes for his people is a desired result of reading God’s Word. We should read the story of the Old Testament and come away from it lamenting the people’s sin and praising God for his grace and faithfulness.
But the problem we run into is that we don’t understand how similar Israel’s story is to our own. This is why Hebrews is such a necessary book for every Christian, especially Christians who are struggling. Hebrews tells us that the Church in this age is marked by a people traveling through the wilderness. Just like the Israelites, we’ve experienced a miraculous salvation out of slavery. We are now a free people in Christ, and God dwells in our midst through the Holy Spirit. But we are also a people who haven’t yet made it home. Hebrews is written to warn the Church to not give up in the wilderness. As the author of Hebrews describes our situation, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
What does the wilderness mean for God’s people? It involves suffering, groaning, longing, danger, discouragement. What does the wilderness require for God’s people? It requires faith, hope, endurance, patience, remembering what God has done, and calling to mind what God has promised.
Giving into sexual sin is essentially telling God, “I’m tired of the wilderness. I’m tired of this manna. I’m tired of waiting for you to bring me home. Look, right over there is a great plot of land, with ample water, and a home custom-built for me. I’m not following you anymore; I’m going to settle right here.”
Brothers and sisters, just like we want to shout at the spies in Numbers 13, Hebrews 12 tells us that there is a great cloud of witnesses, made up of all of God’s people who have finished their wilderness wanderings, who have made it home. They are pleading with us, “Don’t settle there; don’t give up! Keep going, keep trusting, keep your eyes fixed on Christ. He will bring you safely home!”
As you know, love, and care for people who are struggling with sexual sin in the wilderness, here are a few ways you can pray for them, based on the book of Hebrews. You could also pray these prayers for yourself:
“Father, protect my brother from an evil unbelieving heart. Help me to speak the truth in love. Take my exhortations and use them to guard his heart against the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12–13)
“Jesus, usher my friend gently into your throne room of grace. Bring to her mind all of the ways you have suffered through temptation, yet have not sinned, so that she finds grace in her time of need from you, her sympathetic high priest.” (Hebrews 4:14–16)
“Lord, I see how easily he loses heart in the midst of suffering. He struggles to trust in your promises when sin offers tangible relief right now. Point him to Jesus, our forerunner, who has already entered into the highest heaven, becoming a high priest forever interceding for him, so that he might no longer be tossed to and fro but have a steadfast anchor for his soul.” (Hebrews 6:19–20)
“Merciful Father, when she is tempted, help her to believe that in this very moment, Jesus is praying for her.” (Hebrews 7:25)
“Gracious Lord Jesus, help me to know how to stir him up to love and good works. Give me strength and wisdom to encourage him, because the day of your coming is drawing near, and we want to be found doing our Father’s will.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
“O Lord, my sister sees what so many other people have in this world, and she struggles to understand why you would keep that from her. Guard her heart from despair and selfishness. Instead, may a deepening anticipation and knowledge of her better and abiding possession in the heavenly places move her towards compassion and love for those in need.” (Hebrews 10:34)
“Heavenly Father, my brother has trained his mind for years to live only for what he can see with his eyes. He struggles to see any reward by drawing near to you in faith. Protect him from throwing away his eternal inheritance for a single meal.” (Hebrews 11:6, 12:16)
“Our great shepherd and forerunner, give me spiritual sight to see a better country from afar. Give me the grace to embrace my pilgrim identity. Grant me a holy longing for a heavenly homeland, and remind me that you are preparing a city for me to dwell in forever.” (Hebrews 11:13–16)
You can also watch the video, “Doubting God’s Help in Our Time of Need,” which corresponds to this blog.
02 Apr 2020
COVID-19 has the real ability to destroy lives and families, but, in Christ, our true hope rests in the God who raises the dead. Sexual sin also has the powerful ability to destroy lives. But for all who have experienced the ravages of this sin, there is hope in the God who takes what was dead and makes it alive. No matter how far your sin has taken you, you are not out of the reach of Christ’s redemption.
In this video, Mark Sanders highlights the similarities between COVID-19 and the destruction caused by sexual sin.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing How to Say No When Your Body Says Yes by Dan Wilson or Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman. When you buy these resources from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, Redeem Your Quarantine: Help for Fighting Sexual Temptations, which corresponds to this video.
05 Mar 2020
The majority of men who come to Harvest USA for help with sexual struggles are married.
In this video, Mark Sanders shares several important truths that husbands need to know about humbly, patiently, and sacrificially walking alongside their wives in the long process of reconciliation and healing.
You can also read the corresponding blog, Wives and Porn: What Not to Say After She Knows.
06 Feb 2020
The Bible discusses the reality that we all struggle in different ways–none of us are immune to sin. As a result, we need to grow in becoming people who welcome honesty from others.
In this video, Shalee considers four ways that we can invite men and women to be honest with us about their struggles with sexual sin.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, It Can Happen to Anyone: A Wife’s Fight Against Porn, which corresponds to this video.
24 Oct 2019
What makes someone act out sexually in a sinful way? What compels a believer, who wants to follow Christ, to embrace specific actions or a life that he knows to be wrong?
When I am trying to help a man discern why sexual sin has a grip on his life, I ask a lot of questions: “What were you thinking and feeling in the events and interactions leading up to your season of acting out?” There is always something that is a trigger for behavior.
Here is what I hear quite often, a common category of responses: “I was exhausted,” “I felt empty,” “I’d been working so hard; I figured I deserved this pleasure,” “I felt worn out, numb,” and “I felt like there are so many demands on me—I feel no joy.”
More often than not, these experiences do not immediately lead to sexual sin. This feeling of exhaustion, however, marks the beginning of a process. Initially, these men respond “innocently,” going to any number of “recreational” activities—watching TV, surfing the internet, checking Facebook, app surfing on the phone, and playing video games. Seems innocent enough.
Whatever the activity, what seems common is that it is, for the most part, not an actual activity; it’s passive—physically, mentally, and emotionally passive. These things represent the opposite of whatever has the men exhausted. They are tired from doing, doing, doing, and this is their way to stop, to rest. Unfortunately, these “restful” activities almost always morph into sexual sin.
There seems to be an unbroken line from seemingly harmless pastimes to the sinful habit that is destroying these men. Why? Could it be that these things are a counterfeit Sabbath?
I don’t want to focus here on arguments about what one may or may not do on Sunday; my concern is about what the heart of Sabbath means. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). It was given to give us rest, but not just rest, rest in God. Sabbath is a ceasing from our efforts, striving, and anxiety at meeting our needs and desires; it is a refreshment in and celebration of our dependence on God and his faithful provision for us.
In other words, when we are exhausted, God wants us to be refreshed in him. When we are anxious, God wants us to find peace in him. When we are weary, God wants us to find rest in him.
When we are weary, God wants us to find rest in him.
Why is this so hard for us to do? I think it is because we have given ourselves for so long to counterfeit Sabbaths—passive entertainment and easy, self-focused pleasures. Our patterns of recreation are predictable and reliable; we are in control. However, receiving refreshment from God when we are weary requires something we can’t do—God must show up.
This means Sabbath is an act of faith. It is a basic exercise of trust—trust first that God himself is faithful to forgive us and give us eternal life in Christ, but also trust that he will sustain us and meet our needs in the here and now.
In the first biblical story of Sabbath observance, in Exodus 16, God sets up a test of trust around his giving of the Manna. On each of the first five days, the Israelites were to limit their gathering to one day’s provision—any more than that spoiled. But on the sixth day, they were to gather two days’ worth, then rest completely on the seventh day, trusting that what had already been given would not spoil. This was not easy for them to learn.
If for six days the Israelites were striving in their own strength, meeting their needs on their own, dependent on their own ability to gather enough bread to sustain themselves, then resting on the seventh day was completely foreign to them. And that is, in fact, the way it went. On day seven, many just continued as if they had to meet their own needs without God’s help or direction.
“But,” you may be thinking, “what does one day of the week have to do with a sin I struggle with 24/7?” In other words, “Isn’t Sabbath a Sunday concern? How does that help me on Friday night?”
Well, Sabbath is not really about one day out of seven. Consider again the Sabbath experience God designed for the Israelites in Exodus 16. Didn’t the faith exercise on day seven change the way they experienced days 1-6? Of course, the point was not just one day, but regular, daily life.
So much of our sin is the fruit of seeking refuge in false gods—activities or people—that give us an immediate payback of what feels like rest. At Harvest USA, we call that “autonomy,” the most basic sinful orientation of the heart, where you determine what you need to meet the problems you face in life, apart from God and his instruction.
So much of our sin is the fruit of seeking refuge in false gods—activities or people—that give us an immediate payback of what feels like rest.
Of course, that is a delusion. In the end, the false gods we turn to for relief eventually lead us into dark places that trap us and hold us in bondage. Before we know it, the relief we find in sexual sin brings despair and hopelessness.
But Jesus still says to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary…” (Matthew 11:28). He gives us a better way.
How do we make Jesus our refuge from our weariness? Start by making some choices to rest in specific ways on Sunday that require you to trust in him rather than in your own efforts.
The example of the Israelites is ours, too. If we don’t have this posture on Sunday, this understanding about the heart of Sabbath rest, then we won’t have it any other day. You will continue to “rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2), and in your weariness you will continue to go to your own resources, to the sin that speaks its own promise of rest.
If the Israelites rested in God on the Sabbath, it would be an act of faith in the idea that God was truly with them and committed to meeting their every need. This would change even the way they gathered bread on every other day. They would, in the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, “not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
At a heart level, where they received their rest determined how they worked.
This principle applies to the men I talk to who habitually end up using porn as they “rest” after hard labor. The goal is not adherence to a set of religious rules about one day of the week. It is a comprehensive change in posture toward both work and rest, from a posture of independent self-rule to one of grateful dependence on God.
A story from the second chapter of Mark gives a wonderful description of the challenge and glory of how women stuck in the mire of sexual sin can connect with Jesus for the help they need.
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12, ESV)
Many women are like this paralyzed man: desperate for help, but seemingly unable to draw near to Jesus. They are bound up in sin of a sexual nature and are “paralyzed,” unable to move or take action. Stuck in place and helpless. They are hurting, isolated, and terrified to consider talking to anyone in their churches about what is going on in their lives.
Chris came to Harvest USA for help, having recently left her partner of 23 years. She shared that, over the years when she would feel conviction over her homosexuality, she had sought help from pastors and other Christian leaders. Chris shared that most of the time, these leaders would respond to her confession with something like, “You do know, right, that this is a sin? That God is NOT pleased with this?” She said, “I would say back to them, ‘Yes, I do know it’s a sin. . . but do you have any words to help me? To lead me out?’” No one had been able to “pick her up and carry her to Jesus” for the discipleship she needed.
Sadly, overcoming sin of a sexual nature and understanding God’s good design for sexuality are not consistent topics of discussion, much less discipleship, in the church. Many women, like Chris, feel they are just outside the reach of Jesus and unable to draw near to him regarding their private struggles and sin. Some of these women may be ministry leaders themselves, but in terms of personal struggles with pornography, sexual fantasy, and sexual behavior with men and/or other women, they are clueless about how the gospel can help them move in the direction of sexual integrity and freedom.
How can women move from their patterns of sexual sin and the paralysis of faith that accompanies hidden struggles into the healing, forgiveness, and power of the love of Christ?
If you’re stuck on a mat . . .
Here are three initial steps of faith to take if you find yourself stuck and unable to connect the gospel to your sexual struggle.
First, acknowledge that you need help from outside of yourself. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” There is mercy for you, sister, as you turn to God in humility and ask him for help, which means reaching out to a person you can trust to share your struggle with.
Sharing your sexual sin struggle is key, as there is healing and freedom that comes in “naming” it before the Lord in the presence of someone else. The paralyzed man’s need was visible and obvious; yours is most likely secret, unknown to even your closest friends and coworkers. In confessing and asking for help, you are receiving the Lord’s help as you allow friends to carry you to Jesus.
Second, believe the words of God given to Christians: You are forgiven! Stand up! Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Will you believe in his gracious, loving words to you regarding even these areas of sin in your life? He welcomes you, always, at the throne of grace!
Third, pick up your mat and go home! In other words, now walk forward in faith and repentance. Keep fighting! Don’t give up! This is a lifelong aspect of following Jesus: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
My next blog post will unpack what that means. In the meantime, have you been paralyzed like Chris? Have any of these three steps of faith been helpful to you? Let me know.