2: Facing Reality, on God’s Terms
Written by David Partington and Friends
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
There are two fundamental questions which most, if not all, those with a life controlling problem will eventually ask. The first is “How did I get into this state?” The second is “Where is God?” It may be that you’re not asking questions like these yet. If that’s the case you’re probably in the early stages of your life controlling problem. You’re still in the place where there are enough ‘positives’ to enable you to believe that it’s not as bad as you fear it is.
But these are two questions which you will ask, and maybe sooner than you think. They are questions which will come when the reality of your situation breaks through the thin veneer of rationalisation and justification for your behaviour. For the drug addict they often come in the middle of a particularly bad period of withdrawal. For the drunk it’s maybe waking up from a stupor in a cold, damp room they can’t remember entering, covered in their own vomit. Maybe for a porn addict it’s when they find themselves seeking a level of thrill which they swore they would never seek. For the gambler it’s when they lose so much money the very security of their family home is threatened. For the anorexic or the bulimic it’s when they find themselves for the first time in the A & E department.
There are as many scenarios as there are people with addiction and life- controlling problems, but the questions remain the same. When you’re ready to ask the questions, you’re more likely to begin to address the answers.
Quit the pity party routine
Stop the rationalisation and the justification for the situation you’re in. It’s not important ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’ you ended up in this situation. What’s important is that you can change. Stop looking for a scapegoat, and stop making excuses. The truth is that it’s not someone else’s fault you went beyond a certain line or boundary; you made the wrong choices. Accepting that and choosing to look to the future is the way to freedom. A significant part of moving into a brighter future is:
To do otherwise is to stay trapped where you are. Accepting your own responsibility for what went wrong frees you to get lots of issues into perspective. Even if you didn’t know where it was going to lead when you took that first drink or that first click on the mouse, you knew what you were doing early enough to stop. Face reality - you did it because you liked doing it, and you made a choice to have more. To pretend otherwise is to continue to live in the fantasy world you created for yourself. Accepting responsibility is painful, desperately uncomfortable; but so was staying in the pigsty for the Prodigal Son.
The second thing we need to do to begin on the road to real liberty is to clear the decks – forgive others.
Yes, there were others who made mistakes which made you more open to getting involved in questionable things. Maybe for you there was abuse – physical, mental, emotional or violence. This sort of pain and hurt can never be fully erased, but it can be forgiven. The fact is that those who mistreated you don’t even know the full extent of the problems or pain they caused you – just as you and I don’t fully comprehend the pain we’ve caused others. The problem is not how you deal with what they did wrong but how you deal with the pain you feel. It’s also about getting rid of the fuel rods that provide the energy for your excuse-making and the justification for your habits, hurts and hangups; the fuel of resentment, bitterness, anger and shame.
Real freedom from all of these things involves acknowledging them before God. Then it means giving them to God to deal with, on His terms. Only after this does it mean asking God to forgive anyone involved, and choosing, from then on, to remember that you are choosing to forgive them.
Remember God loves you
It is vitally important to always remember that God loves you. But, if you’re anything like me, you have to get something sorted out first before you can fully enjoy the wonder and blessing of that love.
The reason I say this is because, whenever I was told about God’s love or reminded myself about it, a voice in my head would say something like, “But where was God when it was all going wrong?” I’ve met and counselled and mentored enough Christians with problems over the years to know that other believers have the same fundamental problem. They know that God exists, that God loves them enough to send Jesus to die for them, and therefore they have a relationship with Him. But, where was God when they needed Him the most? Some, like me, went one stage further and used the question mark about God to justify getting into sin and staying there.
What I did (as a Christian) was the same as the Prodigal Son. I said to God, I want life on my terms – you’re not enough. So I wandered around in the wilderness of my own making for four or five years. It didn’t seem like a wilderness to begin with. It was an exciting place, different, more fulfilling, more immediate. But, like all things where God’s Spirit is boxed out, I eventually realised it lacked real love, real depth and real hope. I began to see it for what it was, a self-satisfied place where thrills were transitory, and where waking up brought with it dirty washing and the same deep-down lack of real meaning and love. Slowly but surely the real answer about God began to dawn. Over the years since becoming a Christian I had adapted my thinking about God to fit in with my needs, my demands.
For all my self-centred desire to ignore, reject and rebel against God, I found that I was unable to fully escape Him. It wasn’t so much guilt that kept imposing itself on me but love. God’s love, primarily through my wife, as well as through friends who kept loving me. God’s love, revealed through circumstances which were too real to be able to rationalise as coincidences.
I was surprised too that I also began to find ‘holiness’ attractive. The realisation slowly dawned that, whilst I wanted a God who made me feel better, there was also something amazingly different in knowing a God of holy fire. One god, made in my own image, had demeaned me; the other God, of glory and majesty, promised not only a hope but an identity which I was saved and created for. In other words the holiness of God meant He was right to be angry with my behaviour. His justice says there are consequences (that I still live with today) for my wilful disobedience. But, maybe for the first time, I also began to realise that the anger was also about the love that surges in the heart of God. A love which hurts in seeing me doing things which spoil the deep, intimate relationship that the divine Creator longed for with me.
As I began to acknowledge the holiness of God as well as the love of God, I began to have hope. In fact I began to see God’s love in a new light. Here was a divine love, deep beyond words, which was not content with second best. ‘The kind of love that cannot rest until the object of that love is as the initiating love’ (Every Day with Jesus, Selwyn Hughes).
Again hope began to rise, as I recognised that real love is love because it's intent, not upon meeting its needs, but on the well being of another or others. I recognised that the emptiness in the centre of my life was there because I had not realised that someone loved me for myself, not for what I could do for them. The effect was profound as I realised the whole purpose of the cross was not just to forgive me but to connect me to a divine loving relationship where I was the object of that love. Without that realisation I had been living a driven existence where earning love was the defining focus: a focus which was self-defeating, because I could never love someone enough to satisfy them or to earn enough human love which is imperfect anyway. However here was the love which could compel me (as in 2 Cor 5:14) – a selfless love from Christ which could not only fill me but energise my Christian life.
The work of Christ began to make more sense, and the validity and necessity of a new start became vital and real. Along with an increasing sense of God’s holy love came the knowledge that repentance was not only necessary but essential. That, whilst trusting in the finished work of Christ was valid, so too was the need to ask for forgiveness for those things, too many to number, that I had willingly done. It wasn’t just about being sorry but there was a longing to be radically different. It wasn’t about striving in my own strength but in ‘putting on my new identity – created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Eph 4:24).
Jumping into space
Looking back I realised that the problem that had haunted me whilst I was rebelling against God was that, deep down, I knew I had been created and saved for something better. Repentance brought with it an even richer sense of God’s love and my position as His dearly beloved child. It’s that relationship that has grown with the years and is summed up in this story by Max Lucado:
“I stand six steps from the bed’s edge. My arms extended. Hands open. On the bed Sara – all four years of her – crouches, posed like a playful kitten. She’s going to jump. But she’s not ready. I’m too close.
‘Back more, Daddy,’ she stands and dares.
I dramatically comply, confessing admiration for her courage. After two giant steps I stop. ‘More?’ I ask.
‘Yes!’ Sara squeals hopping on the bed.
With each step she laughs and claps and motions for more. When I’m on the other side of the canyon, when I’m beyond reach of mortal man, when I am but a tiny figure on the horizon, she stops me. ‘There, stop there.’
‘Are you sure?’
`I’m sure,’ she shouts. I extend my arms. Once again she crouches, then springs. Superman without a cape. Skydiver without a chute. Only her heart flies higher than her body. In that airborne instant her only hope is her father. If he proves weak, she’ll fall. If he proves cruel, she’ll crash. If he proves forgetful, she’ll tumble to the hard floor.
But such fear she does not know, for her father she does. She trusts him, Four years under the same roof have convinced her he is reliable. He is not superhuman, but he is strong. He is not holy, but he is good. He’s not brilliant, but he doesn’t have to be to remember to catch his child when she jumps.
And so she flies.
And so she soars.
And so he catches her and the two rejoice at the wedding of her trust and his faithfulness.”
Alive and dead!
Having made the leap into the waiting arms of God I began to find that God’s love, on His terms and not mine, was big enough. But, wonderful though it was, living in that new relationship was not easy.
Difficult choices had to be made and human relationships restored, not least through asking for forgiveness. Slowly but very, very surely, as right choices were made, the reality of a new life (largely free of life-controlling habits, attitudes and sin) began to take shape. More of that later; but I want to reinforce something important about the promises of God which enable you to look with some confidence to the future.
It’s about knowing that we can break free of a life-controlling problem because God has promised us something far more profound than ‘gritted teeth obedience Christianity’. It’s summed up in the truth that He has made it possible to ‘participate in the divine nature and ESCAPE the corruption in the world caused by evil desires’ (2 Peter 1: 3-4). In other words it’s not about striving but living in the reality of what God has already done, rather than what we can do in our own strength. The Bible tells us that ‘God made you ALIVE with Christ’ (Colossians 2:13).
All this is maybe exciting and dynamic, but is it a reality for YOU? If you want it to be real it’s important to understand not only where this divine life comes from, but what is it for, and how do we use it.
Please note something vital here. The primary reason you can live in the context of being alive with Christ is not because of your decision but because of what God has done. It’s because He ‘forgave all our sins……cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away, nailing it to the cross’ (Col 2:13-14). YOU can live a life free from your life-controlling problem because God has done something about your sin. You don’t have to live in permanent repentance and a sense of failure. He, God, wants you to live free of the past and living a new life, alive with Christ. It wasn’t something you initiated but something the Lord of Creation decided. All you and I did was respond to God’s prompting, leading. And you can still go on doing it, today and every other day of your life.
There’s more! Your old life was actually ‘crucified with Christ’ (Gal 2:20). In other words if you want to live in the ‘old life’ you’re going to have to give it mouth to mouth resuscitation because, as far as God is concerned, it’s dead. But it is SO much more than the old life being dead, He’s done more than that: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.’ Whose life are you going to choose to live in today and the next day and the next day? The old corrupt, messed up, stinking and decaying past life or the new resurrection life of Jesus that God has placed within you? Dead means dead! Alive means alive! You can either keep raking over the past or live in the resurrection life of Jesus. The choice is yours.
You are no longer an ordinary human being (much as sometimes you would like to be) – YOU have the divine life of Jesus living in you. You are not just ‘Fred’, you are ‘Fred who has the very life of Christ, the Son of God, living in Him’. You are not just ‘Elaine’ – someone’s daughter, wife, mother - you are ‘Elaine who has within you the promised divine life of God’. You are not ‘John’ – you have in your life, your very being the divine life that lived in Jesus.
What is this divine life for?
There are clues all over the Word of God but for the moment let’s be content with:
With all this going on, with all that God has done through Christ, why is this divine life sometimes limited within us? Well, it’s the same reason the Dead Sea is the Dead Sea. Water flows into the Dead Sea but nothing flows out. You can have all the good things in life impacting on you but if your behaviour doesn’t change then you’re going to be less than God intends you to be. God is working overtime, using all the resources of heaven, to fill us with Himself, but if we’re not living it out in the way that Jesus did something dies and we come to a full stop.
It can happen but it does not need to happen. We can go on, day by day, moment by moment, choosing to let the life of Christ rule in us especially when we want to make the wrong choice. That’s how Jesus lived. His priority was not living on his terms but allowing the will of God to be His primary focus: `the Son can do nothing by Himself, He can only do what He sees His Father doing’ (John 5:19). Jesus submitted His life totally to His Father’s will – His only interest was to be so right with God that He was able to recognise what God was doing and then simply respond to what God wanted Him to do. That’s why the miracles happened, that’s why demons fled. Someone once wrote “Look for God and where you see Him working, work with Him”. When you allow the life of Christ to have supremacy, God will use you to bring His life to others.
The disciples learned (sometimes the hard way) to do the same thing. The life of Peter is a classic example of someone who thought he had it all worked out, that it all came through power and authority. That was until he found that his understanding of Jesus was based on what he wanted Jesus to be. The result was betrayal of the one person that loved him for himself. As ever, Jesus came back into his life, and having confirmed that Peter knew who He really was, He not only took him back but gave him a job to do. With the relationship more than fully restored, Peter went out determined to live on His Lord’s terms. So convinced of the presence and power of Jesus in his life was Peter that he could simply say to a man in desperate need, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6). The result was that Peter brought healing to others - and that’s the call on your life.
Rick Warren said it this way, “God takes us, he breaks us, he blesses us and then he uses us.” Only when we allow the divine life of Christ to rule over us and to flow from us do we really begin to know the full scale of what God has achieved through the cross and the release of the resurrection life of Jesus. Pray that you will grasp a better understanding of what God has done for you. That you will recognise, through divine revelation, what you have been given, and be willing to be bold enough to use it in your home, in your church, at school and at work. This is divine life we’re talking about here – not our pious or even our triumphant Christianity. It’s the very life of Jesus, and it’s best used when we serve others at the expense of our own needs and reputation. What’s the result? Well people will come face to face with Jesus, through you. How they respond is between them and God. Our call is to be channels of His divine life and power.
Questions and Answers
What would you describe as your life-controlling problem or addiction?
My name is Penny and I am an alcoholic. Alcohol controlled my life for a long time and I didn’t know it; and once I did know it, I practised denying it for as long as I could. I didn’t have the tools to overcome.
Stories of ways in which God helped you both during and after your problem?
Now that I am in recovery I look back over my life and see that God was always there, and he had a plan to deliver me from this slavery, just as surely as he had a plan to deliver his people from their slavery in Egypt, and just as he had a plan to deliver the children of Adam from their slavery to sin.
I discovered alcohol could remove my feelings temporarily in my teens. I loved the feeling of escape from that which I didn’t know how to process. The more I used alcohol to remove feelings, the less likely I was to learn how to process feelings any other way. So I quickly learnt the powerful message: have feelings, remove them with substance.
By the time I left high school, having achieved in the top 10% of our state, I knew I was in trouble. I went to a church and sat quietly amongst the wooden pews and begged God for relief. I didn’t hear his answer. I didn’t have the tools to listen. So I took up smoking as a way of slowing down my drinking. Bad idea: I then had two addictions. I found I was capable at Uni and in the workplace and found some relief from achievement. So I went on to achieve in life at all costs – another addiction.
All these behaviours made relating to others difficult. Yet God in his kindness brought me friends and a husband. I can see in hindsight that God planned for me to marry this man, although in my will I spent the first ten years trying to leave him, but each time found myself pregnant! What a joy to know that 20 years later, God holds our marriage together because it is HIS will.
How did your ‘problem’ begin?
It all seemed manageable at first. After the birth of my first baby I bought a case of champagne for the baptism. By the time the baptism came around I had found I’d drunk the case. It was so subtle. After my second child I found it increasingly difficult to cope emotionally with the demands of motherhood. My own mother dismissed these feelings and, with a drink in my hand, I found I could also dismiss them. After my third child, who was not an easy sleeper, I found the feelings of being overwhelmed were almost unbearable except when drinking. Increasingly I drank till I passed out each night. My husband worked long hours building up his career, and I was lonely with three little children. I lost the ability to relate to other adults. I drank to function as an adult.
When and how did you realise your ‘problem’ was out of control?
There were signposts along the way; but as the kids got older and more manageable and the youngest one went to school, I found if I started drinking at lunchtime I was rarely able to stop. I went to church to find solace again as I’d done at 19 and discovered the Bible. I had a little plaque as a little girl that said `Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tell me so’ – I read the Bible asking the question ‘How do I know Jesus loves me’. I discovered the cross – that on that cross Jesus had died in my place, so that I would not die but have eternal life with him – but there was also the warning against drunkenness, and there was much evidence in my life of drunkenness.
I was now passing out most nights to get to sleep. It was 2001. I was able to stop for a period, but once I started again at the end of that year, I could not stop again. I spent every day in 2002 saying I wouldn’t do that again, and every night I passed out. I drank against my will until I passed out. I was terrified of what was happening to me. It did not make sense. My external life was the best it had ever been. My internal life was suicidal. The gap widened at an exponential rate.
When and how did you realise that God was there and wanted to help you?
I could hear God’s voice in my life. I was taken to AA at the beginning of 2003 and begged God not to keep me there, but I could clearly hear him say, This is where I`m planting you. I have a mission for you here.
I realized addiction was a disease and you either had it or you didn’t – I either was a ‘real’ alcoholic or I was a problem drinker. I identified as a ‘real alcoholic’. I asked God for a sign. I got very drunk one afternoon and drove to pick up a child from his piano lesson; driving home I took a short cut and narrowly missed a row of parked cars. My first thought was, God give me another sign. The verse from Luke came into my heart, ‘You have Moses and the Prophets; even if someone comes back from the dead, you won’t believe’. The frightening thought was that I did honestly believe Jesus had come back from the dead, and here I was faced with the truth that I was an alcoholic. From that point on I had a choice – to continue drinking and die a drunk, or to get help.
God provided the way out for me through AA and the 12 steps. 1 Corinthians 10:13 was my guide to the 12 Steps, the way out that God has provided for millions of alcoholics since 1935.
In what way(s) did you respond to God?
My response to God was much like a caught crocodile – he had a rope around my giant mouth and the more I struggled and snapped, the tighter the rope. I was yoked with Christ, and the more I struggled the more the yoke rubbed my neck. Eventually I surrendered to God’s will and learnt his goodness to me from his yoke. It is a daily surrender that I now live knowing that God’s will is always the best for me. I pray daily for my daily bread of dependence on the Lord. My life depends on it. It is not an optional extra as I see for many Christians. I depend on God to continue to lift the scales from my eyes.
What have been the three most important spiritual lessons that you have learned in relation to your ‘problem’?
There are consequences to our sin. My brain patterns are now altered to serve myself and I have to consciously surrender my will to serve others in God’s name. I don’t default to this. It is a daily dependence on God’s grace.
If I bring my suffering to the Lord as an offering, he brings good from it as I serve others – the deepening of my faith and the peace in my heart and the self-value I know are gifts that God has given to me as I’ve offered to him my suffering.
Resentments and unforgiveness in my heart will block me from God’s power. Blocked from God’s power I will die in the darkness. Cut off from the vine there can be no fruit.
What has been the most important method that you have found to fight temptation?
Group therapy. The power of the spirit in the group reminds me that isolated I struggle. There is strength in the gathering. The fundamental spiritual principles which make recovery possible are social disciplines. I learned how to be the way I am in relationships and I learn to be a new and different kind of person, in new and healthier relationships.
I have to invest in relationships – this is after all God’s will for us. The principles the 12 Steps encourage us to apply to healthy relationships are confession, testimony and making amends. These are not activities that can be done in isolation. Recovery has to take place in community, in relationships
Treating the disease on all three levels is crucial – spiritually through prayer and the power of God’s word, mentally through connecting with others in groups, and physically through eating, sleeping and exercising in balance.
Who was the person who helped you most and in what way?
Jesus Christ my brother, friend and Lord who is risen indeed! Christian sponsors who taught me the steps from the Big Book with biblical insight. Ministers and Christians friends who loved me with the love of Christ and who didn’t judge me as I grew and changed. Those who held the faith that I would recover and serve God from my brokenness, no matter how disastrously I behaved in the early days.
Is reading the Bible and praying helpful and, if so, in what way?
Helpful! It’s absolutely crucial. It is the foundation of the steps. Without the Bible’s sure promises, what foundation would I have had to climb out of the pit of darkness addiction locks us into? Knowing God was faithful meant I could rely on HIM when all else failed. I trusted His promise that I would not be given more than I could bear, and that there was a way out.
Still to this day, seven years later, it is the promise of the Scriptures’ message of eternal life that encourages me to serve others – by carrying the message of the 12 steps – so that others in addiction have a chance of hearing Jesus’ voice and spending eternity with us. Doing it just for this life is too hard!
© David Partington and Friends