What about relying on God’s power to help you heal from addiction?

addiction and lightMany of the talks I give are in settings with evangelical Christians, and there is sometimes an unwritten expectation that the solutions offered in these settings should fit a specific schema. If the steps suggested for healing and recovery don’t sound “spiritual” enough, people get nervous. I recently gave a talk, and got the question “What about the power of God? Where is the power of Christ to bring healing in all this?”

I had emphasized the need for people to get into recovery groups with other guys, to get honest, and establish boundaries around sexual behavior (among other things). But to people used to hearing messages where the solution to every problem boils down to more prayer / Bible study / evangelism, this probably sounded a little spiritually weak.

I have great respect for people who are devout, and who seek growth and healing in life from habits that arise out of their faith. But too many Christians make the mistake of seeing God’s work only in the mysterious and subjective. In an email response to the organizers of the event, here is what I said about this issue:

I’ve been thinking about our talk, after I spoke at your event, and the question that came up about whether there had been enough emphasis on God’s power to help us change. I appreciate that concern, and will make sure I emphasize this point more in future presentations … the key issue for Christian men to find healing from ongoing sexual sin (especially if it’s compulsive or addictive behavior) is to end their isolation and access the power of God through genuine community with other Christian men.

My experience has been that most of the men I work with have genuinely sought God’s help to overcome their sexual addiction, but they have expected this healing to somehow magically come into their lives in answer to their prayers. Instead, God extends his grace into our lives through people (I Peter 4:10-11).

So if one asks, “Where is the power of Christ fit into the plan of healing that I describe in my talks?” The answer is that Christ’s power comes into our lives as we get honest with other Christian men, and allow other people to be part of our lives in a genuine way (as opposed to living in isolation with our secret lives).

If anything, I emphasize the human side of this equation because the men I work with have heard many sermons urging them to trust God more, seek God more, pray more, memorize more scripture … but they do those things and still find themselves fighting a losing battle with sexual temptation.

It should come as no surprise that genuine friendships are the missing link — and a very biblical solution — when you look again at how essential community was to Jesus (how he spent all his time with the disciples), and Paul and the other NT leaders (they were always doing stuff in teams, and spending time in peoples’ homes). Think of the passage, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Prov 27:17). This can be applied in all kinds of ways, but part of its power is in the way that genuine friendships can help us overcome our insecurities and selfishness, and help us stay consistent with the limits we establish with the things we do.

8 thoughts on “What about relying on God’s power to help you heal from addiction?”

  1. Mark, I appreciate this post. I come from a family and a culture where this attitude is prevalent. I have thought about it a lot during my recovery. Here are some thoughts:

    Can God miraculously deliver someone from sexual addiction rapidly and with little or no interaction or intervention from other people? Answer: Of course — God can do anything.

    Has God actually done this for people? Answer: Most likely.

    Is this the way God normally brings healing from sexual addiction into someone’s life? Answer: No. God’s normal course of healing from addictive sin is through the support, counsel and love of other Christian brothers and sisters who come alongside us and help us through the process of sanctification. This is one of the purposes of the Church. We can always pray for miraculous, instantaneous deliverance, but we should never assume that this is the way God will work. We must seek help and fellowship from other Christians and trust absolutely in God that he can and will bring healing through these means.

  2. Bravo Mark. Relationship, relationship, relationship. I harp on it endlessly in our LIFE group. If it were as easy
    as pray hard enough, study enough to show yourself approved, work on enough things at church, read mo bible, I would
    have been sexually sober and relationally pure decades ago. The power of our healing is the Spirit of God, but the
    place of our healing is in healthy relationships.

    People who try to heal alone, by just ” relying on God”, are just setting up God to be the one to blame when they fail.
    We heal in fellowship, we stay sick in isolation. It s really just that simple.

  3. Thanks so much Stephen and Doug, for sharing your thoughts and experiences on this important topic. I hope more people read this post, and your comments, and that it motivates them to break the pattern of isolation, and get the support they need. I think that the longer I am in recovery, and the more addicts that I work with, the more committed I am to the idea that recovery from sex addiction can only happen when a person opens himself up to more, deeper, and more honest relationships with other (safe) men and women.

  4. I started in recovery almost two years ago. I’ve not gotten very far at all until recently. As with most of my life, I”ve only done stuff in response to crisis. So I did that same with sexual addiction recovery. My addiction has destroyed my marriage and my family. I have sought to get recovery done by myself as I was too ashamed to even talk to another man about it. I lived in shame and remorse all my life.

    So at age 48, I’m looking backwards and seeing that God’s power does work in my life, but in regards to getting healthy and becoming a man of God, I’ve not built healthy relationships with other men. But over the last 5 months, I’ve had an accountablilty partner to connect with on a daily basis. This is the first significant relationship with another man at such an emotionally and spiritual level like this. We know each others story. We share with each other from our hearts. And we are also part of a Celebrate Recovery group weekly where we are connecting with other men with similar issues and backgrounds.

    I’m learning and experiencing something new so at times I don’t do it good at all. What this relationship has done is to start to pull me out of isolation. I’ve isolated myself from my wife which has caused an already hurt relationship to start to die. I don’t want that. I’m attempting to move outside my comfort zone to learn what relationship really is, man to man, and if with God’s help, husband to wife.

    Mark, you are right in saying “the key issue for Christian men to find healing from ongoing sexual sin (especially if it’s compulsive or addictive behavior) is to end their isolation and access the power of God through genuine community with other Christian men”. I’m endeavoring to live it, I am experiencing it. Wish I’d understood this two years ago.

  5. Thanks for your comment Dean, and I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through the pain it sounds like you’ve gone through to learn this lesson. At this point in my life and recovery journey, I am deeply committed to going through life in honest and genuine community with other people … not isolated, like I was for so long. But I still see how easy it is to stay isolated, and challenging it is to make relationships a priority, and ruthless honesty a habit. I hope that you’re able to expand your circle beyond just having an accountability partner. I always tell the guys who come to our workshops and/or who get coaching from me, “You need accountability partners (plural), not a partner.” We need a band of brothers — ideally in a support group — but possibly scattered in different spheres of relations. I hope you’re able to find them. Blessings to you.

    – Mark

  6. I personally don’t think it’s an either/or situation when it comes to the gospel vs. community. Here’s my quick response: the gospel is how God rescues us and transforms us into His image within loving community.

    1. We all experience a lack of love and a loss of purpose for a variety of reasons. We are all wounded by life.

    2. This results in a low sense of worth (I’m defining worth as different from self-esteem, which I think is a fake substitute).

    3. A low self-worth results in pain and restlessness.

    4. We attempt to fix our pain and restlessness by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure.

    5. We escape to addictions, relationships, work, church, etc. in order to make ourselves feel better (through the affirmation of others or by finding a pleasure that will numb our pain/restlessness)

    6. Instead of feeling a sense of worth, we experience shame and a feeling of emptiness.

    7. We attempt to fill this hunger by further escaping into our addiction of choice.

    The answer I believe is to (a) find and give genuine love; and (b) experience a sense of purpose.

    1. God loved us enough to create us and to place us in community. I am infinitely valuable.

    a. When community was broken (through sin), God reached out in further love and restored community through infinite self-sacrifice (Christ).

    b. God heals my own brokenness with love and releases me from my shame and guilt.

    c. As we experience God’s love in creation and redemption, we find our own sense of worth increasing.

    d. However, I will not fully believe in God’s love until it is modeled to me by a community of believers that genuinely cares and that embraces me in my weakness.

    e. This love gives me the power to experience the second part of the gospel.

    2. God also has a plan for our loves that stretches into infinity. He showed what we were meant to be through the life of Jesus.

    a. As I spend time meditating on Jesus’ life, I find myself wanting to live more like Him and to serve others compassionately by the power of the Spirit.

    b. This leads me back into loving community with others, not just as a receiver, but now as a giver of love.

    c. Jesus pointed to love as the new commandment and as I live my life by this new principle I find new purpose and meaning.

    3. My restless craving for pleasure is now replaced with a genuine love and care for others and even a willingness (like Jesus) to embrace pain and suffering.

    a. The gospel rather than being a sinner’s prayer is an ongoing struggle to live out genuine community in such a way that God is glorified.

    b. My hunger is finally satisfied as I drink from the waters of life (love) and discover real meaning and purpose in life.

    Jeremiah 2:13 describes the two paths. It says that Israel have committed two sins: they have forsaken God, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out broken cisterns that can hold no water.

    Addictions are powerful because they meet an inner hunger, but they also never satisfy because they never meet our deepest needs. I believe that God is calling us to drink from him and that this is the antidote to our desperate hunger.

    Random thoughts for a Monday, but I think you can get a feel for where I’m at.

    Thanks again for sharing your expertise in this area – it’s critical!

    – Alan

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