09 Jul 2020
Our childhood experiences impact how we all think, desire, believe, and act as adults. But is there any value in reflecting upon those past experiences for the sake of repentance and transformation in the present? Believe it or not, this is a highly debated question among counselors, ministers, and anyone seeking to help those who are struggling in life.
At Harvest USA, we believe that understanding where we’ve come from, what has influenced and shaped us, and how to apply the gospel to those experiences is absolutely vital. Here are two ways that a growing understanding of the shaping influences in your life can help you battle sin and temptation today.
Healing Is an Aspect of Repentance
In Sexual Sanity for Men, Dave White writes, “You are not merely the sum total of all the individual decisions you make. The aspects of life outside your control are extremely significant and impact you as an individual.”¹
Repentance involves choosing to turn from sin to God. Notice this: We don’t repent of our sufferings; we repent of our sin. In order to effectively turn from our sin, we are helped by understanding why we sin. One major motivation behind sin is an autonomous desire to deal with suffering on own terms. A son whose parents neglect him and show him no comfort easily finds himself turning to masturbation for self-soothing, a pleasurable alternative to crying himself to sleep. A girl who is rejected by her peers and degraded by her father behaves with increasing promiscuity to find validation and worth. A young boy who is sexually abused by an older man is thrown into a world of fear, confusion, shame, and even awakened desire, which he has no ability to process; further, his family culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” keeps him from sharing with anyone about this traumatic experience.
So many men and women who struggle with sexual sin see Jesus only as their judge. They are all too aware that he sees their sin, but they have no concept of him seeing their suffering, especially suffering that happened decades ago, though it continues to deeply impact their lives today. Jesus came to be their Healer, Warrior, Advocate, and Comforter. Once people begin to experience Jesus as one who is for them, who has not forgotten their wounds, who came to heal them, he becomes a refuge for them in times of temptation and guilt. Most sexual strugglers have been hiding not just their sin from Jesus, but their suffering and shame as well.
God designed us to be fundamentally relational, as well as vulnerable to external influences. This is not a result of Adam’s fall into sin. Children are meant to be shaped by their parents, family, and larger covenant community, which should all be saturated with his Word. We are so moldable as children because God wants Scripture to inform our hearts, minds, and desires, both as it is formally taught and as it is lived out in everyday interactions and relationships. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Though God intended for us to flourish, man’s fall into sin has made our vulnerability to external influences a heavy liability. We all grow up in a world and culture that rebels against God and his Word. From very young ages, boys and girls are bombarded with unbiblical messages about what is desirable, what it means to be successful, what is means to be a man or a woman. Throughout our lives, we breathe in these messages every day so that none of us are immune to their shaping influence. So many of the men to whom I minister have never given thought to the fact that their beliefs and desires were, on certain levels, taught to them.
But this actually is the beginning of some very good news because, if our beliefs and desires are moldable, we have the opportunity to have them refashioned after God’s own heart. While decades of belief and wrong desire are not easily reformed, our hope for transformation rests in the reality that our union with Christ guarantees this kind of change—albeit with slow, gradual steps—as we daily abide in Christ and his Word.
A Word of Caution
As with every shaping influence in our lives, both good and bad, none of these external influences are ultimately determinative. A child may grow up in a godly, strong, safe, Christian environment and still choose to live a life of rebellion against God. Conversely, a child who grows up in a toxic, painful, ungodly environment is not without hope for gospel transformation that leads to a life of increasing sanctification.
This means that we can’t blame our sin on external circumstances. The Bible always locates sin in our hearts. God will not excuse our sin because of our circumstances. But neither does God discount our circumstances. He takes into account every nuance of our lives, from the biggest moments of trauma to the smallest offense imaginable. He remembers them, cares for us in them, and ultimately uses them to serve our worship of Jesus. Jesus came as a suffering servant: “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). A greater understanding of the way we’ve suffered leads us to a greater understanding of the love of Jesus, the One who willingly bore our shame, suffering, sin, and guilt, to reconcile us to God.
¹ David White, Sexual Sanity for Men (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012), 51.
You can also watch the video, “You Are Always Being Influenced,” which corresponds to this blog.
07 Nov 2019
God’s pruning isn’t an indication that he is rejecting or abandoning us. Instead, his pruning indicates that he is near. And in his nearness, he is working to sanctify us. In this video, Ellen Dykas reminds us that God’s pruning is always purposeful.
To learn more, read Shalee Lehning’s accompanying blog, The Pain of Refining Squeezes.
07 Nov 2019
Have you felt maxed out beyond your capacity to handle, stretched beyond what you feel able to endure any longer? Me too! Like the women I’m discipling who need help overcoming sexual sin, it’s easy to blame my behavior and my heart’s responses on the tough circumstances I find myself in.
But Jesus reveals the source of our distress. It’s not our circumstances; it’s our heart; it’s the way we respond to our circumstances. Jesus diagnosed all of us when he confronted the Pharisees (see Matthew 12:34-35). Like toothpaste squeezed out of a tube when we press it, our hearts reveal their true nature when pressed upon or squeezed by trials and situations that threaten to undo us.
Our hearts reveal their true nature when pressed upon or squeezed by trials and situations that threaten to undo us.
I am going through a lot of transition in my life. I’ve moved to the east coast to begin full-time ministry at Harvest USA, so most everything familiar has changed: living situation, church family, and my social network. I’ve felt pressed and squeezed in this season of change!
What came out of my heart? Insecurity in certain friendships, anxiety as I engage the reality of being a support-raising missionary, and doubts about whether God will provide for me.
Oh, and that’s not all! I’ve also felt frustration because if I’m honest, I flat out desire an easier road to walk than the one God has chosen for me. At times, all of this squeezing has led to feeling completely overwhelmed.
Although my circumstances may be different than yours, when we get down to heart issues, we are more alike than different. I’ve recently been facing my own unbelief, and that’s the same thing that happens in the heart of a woman who keeps going back to porn to numb her pain or that guy that insists he’s just wired to have sex all the time and can’t stop.
On a heart level, we question if God will actually do what he promises. We doubt his goodness; unbelief creeps in, and fear paralyzes us as we grapple for control of our lives.
Life presses in on all of us!
How is life pressing in on you today? Did you wake up with one of the following thoughts?
I can’t kick this pornography addiction.
I can’t overcome my attraction to the same sex.
I can’t get over my fear of being single forever.
I’ll never trust my spouse again.
I can’t keep fighting my sexual temptations on top of everything else. I just can’t.
Or maybe, if you’re in ministry like me, you feel squeezed with fearful thoughts threatening to paralyze you: I don’t want to engage this cultural issue; it is too risky. I don’t want to get caught in the weeds of someone else’s sexual sin struggles; I don’t know how to help them.
Maybe you’re feeling like Moses in Exodus 4:13 when he asked God to please send someone else to do the job. Or perhaps you’re like Jonah, and you want to run away from what God’s called you to do.
These things can be painful beyond words, but the truth is, being squeezed by life can actually humble us in him. In the midst of struggles, God builds a redemptive bridge into the lives of others from our challenging circumstances. God allows these hard circumstances to tether our attention back on our need of him.
You need to hear this: being squeezed isn’t an indication that God is rejecting or abandoning you. In his sovereignty and love, God allows our character and lives to be refined. And the beauty is that in the midst of this refining squeeze, God is tender and gentle to us, even though it may not feel like it. Isaiah 42:3 says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” He loves us enough to allow hard circumstances to sanctify us and make us more like Jesus. But as he does so, he brings comfort and encouragement to our weak and oppressed hearts.
God loves us enough to allow hard circumstances to sanctify us and make us more like Jesus.
Aside from living with a heart that is surrendered to Jesus, we do have some responsibility in all this. It matters what we allow “in” to our minds and heart. I recently heard a pastor say, “Where our minds labor, our hearts will follow.” The reality is, our minds are always dwelling on and being filled with something, and what you allow in will directly impact what comes out.
So, what are you filling yourself with in your free time? What is your thought life really like? What voices have the most influence in your life? It is time we stop being so surprised and not allow ourselves to play the victim when sinful and destructive responses come out of us.
Many things in life are out of our control, but being mindful and intentional about what we fill our tube of toothpaste with is up to you. Filling yourself with anything other than the things of God will leave you cleaning up messes. If you choose to fill your mind and heart with God through obedience to his Word, meditating on his majesty, and communicating with him through prayer—then when life squeezes, you will see things coming out of you like the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
So, next time life presses in on all sides, pay attention to your responses and trace them back to the root of what you’re believing about God in those moments. Then replace any lies with truth found in God’s word (2 Corinthians 10:5). Do this over and over, and you will see your responses begin to change. This process can feel daunting, but as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11:30, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. As you feel hard-pressed on every side, he will give you rest for your weary and burdened heart and the strength you need to persevere.
To learn more, watch Ellen Dykas’ accompanying video, God’s Pruning Is Always Purposeful.