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Pastoral

As church leaders we often find ourselves confronted with any of a wide range of pastoral issues where we feel we lack expertise.  The features in this section will give you many suggestions for what you might do (at least until the experts arrive!)

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Addiction - Garbage, Grace or Glory? Section 3

[Your Name Here]

3: Decision Time
Written by David Partington and Friends

You can download the PDF of this resource here. 

Sadly, to many Christians, it will seem almost bizarre to say that brokenness is the gateway to grace and freedom. But that’s the tragedy of the age in which we live in many churches. I’d go further and say, primarily because of the undeserved grace of God, that blessing can actually flow out of failure and sin. That blessing however is released only with acknowledgement of that failure and sin. Why? Because until that acknowledgement takes place, we live trapped by innumerable layers of excuses, rationalisation and justification. We remain trapped by the limitations of our worldview, that we are the centre of our own miniscule universe. The acknowledgement to God of that failure, sin and the brokenness is not only realistic and honest but opens us to the forgiveness of God and the immensity of His redeeming revolution in our lives. It’s a place where, having come to the end of ourselves, there is the amazing reality of a new beginning, and not only a place in heaven but the reality (this side of heaven) of a divine destiny that God has been waiting for us to move into.

This new beginning accords with the spirit of the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous – an acknowledgement of powerlessness. It’s worth saying at this point that AA (and its cousins Narcotics Anonymous, Al Anon etc) have been used and are being used to bring a level of freedom which would be the envy of many churches, if they did but know it. I, along with many others, am not surprised by that, bearing in mind three things:- 

Primarily though, each person who chooses to attend AA to help them, has to begin at a place of powerlessness. Centuries before AA began, Paul reminded us that Jesus said it is through weakness that God’s power was made perfect (2 Cor 12:9). Such a statement makes little or no sense to most people, and, sadly, little sense to many Christians, especially in the West. We live in a Godless, individualistic and even elitist age, when even our demand for equality is worn with pride and arrogance. We who have struggles with personal weakness and sin at a very basic level so often feel even more broken and condemned in churches by our failure to be ‘strong’. Yet there is something profoundly liberating and affirming in recognising that Jesus told us weakness is the route by which God’s power is most powerfully manifested, and even ‘made perfect’ in and through our imperfect and broken lives. How? Through His ‘all-sufficient grace.’ In other words, grace is all about God entering into our weakness with His creative energy and dynamism. From powerlessness to partnership in a divine source of energy, which brings new hope like never before. Why would it not be true? The very life and death of Jesus validates this truth: 

Handing over the reins

What is the primary, fundamental condition for knowing God’s all sufficient grace? The simple willingness to acknowledge to God our own weakness and powerlessness to deal with the problems (life-dominating or otherwise) in our own strength. It doesn’t get any better. We don’t deal with our biggest weaknesses or problems by being super-spiritually strong, but by throwing ourselves upon God’s mercy and grace – He then moves. This truth is even more profound. When we choose powerlessness, then the resurrection power that breaks through not only touches our lives but the lives of others. Surrender, powerlessness, on God’s terms, will always upstage gritted-teeth determination; Jesus proved that, hands down. When we look around life is full of this basic principle, as reinforced in this story:

‘When I was young my dad had a team of horses. One day he said to me, “Son would you like to drive?” So I took the reins. I was in control. I was driving. But the plodding bothered me, it was too slow. So I clucked the horses along and they began to trot. Then Babe and Blue came up with a better idea. They decided that if they ran we would get home faster. Soon they were running as fast as I’ve ever seen horses run. As the prairie-dog holes whizzed by I concluded that we were in a dangerous situation, so I tried my best to slow down the runaway team. I tugged on the reins until my hands cramped. I cried and pleaded, but nothing worked. Old Babe and Blue just kept running. I glanced over at my dad and he was just sitting there, watching the world go by. By now I was frantic. My hands were cut from the reins, tears streaming down my face, frozen from the winter cold. Finally in desperation I turned to my dad and said, “Here, take the reins, I don’t want to drive any more”. Now that I’m older and people call me grandpa, I re-enact that scene at least once a day.’ (Cliff Schimmels, Word for Today.)

Regardless of how old we get, or how capable we think we are, there’s always that moment when the only way out is to turn to our Heavenly Father and say, ‘Here, take the reins, I don’t want to drive anymore.’ And He will; but you’ve got to give them to Him!

Decision time

If you’ve got this far then you must be serious about the issues that have been raised. It may well be that your motivation is about helping someone specific, or, like me, you know that there are going to be many, many more Christians with life controlling problems. If you’re still reading because you are concerned about aspects of your behaviour, or potential behaviour, then it doesn’t get any better. Welcome to the club. The club in which Christian men and women have stopped pretending and, however tentatively, want God’s best.

That’s what happened to me. Having been a Christian for seventeen years and walked away from God and my family, I came to the end of my own resources. Thirty years after coming back to God I know I look back on a life full of love, grace, and fulfilled potential. Of course there are regrets. Looking back I realise that I wasted so much time getting to the point where I began to allow God to show me His perspective about my life. As I said earlier, what I came across was not ‘You’re a sinner, Dave’; the main message, through my wife and other believers, was ‘I love you so much’. It still took months to get to the point where I was ready to take the final step; but what was important was to be working towards that point. Most important of all it was about acknowledging that: 

Realising I was wrong was only part of the issues I had to face. Recognising that I was powerless to deal with the situation wasn’t enough either. What was most important was recognising who God was, in life generally but especially in my life. So I began to ask God to reveal Himself to me on His terms rather than demanding He meet me on my terms. I knew God as Saviour – that was irrefutable to me. What had happened to me all those years ago was a fact of life; I had asked for forgiveness and invited Jesus into my life, I had immediately felt different, knew at the time I was saved and going to heaven. But here I was, ten years later, a backslidden Christian who needed to acknowledge God in a new way. He was not only Saviour but a Holy God that I needed to accept as Lord of my life. The moment I did that I felt a totally fresh sense of peace – a burden lifted off me and I began a new journey. Was it an easy journey?  No, but I knew I wasn’t alone on this journey.

I don’t know what decision you need to make. I don’t need to know, but I do know that it’s important for you to recognise that your future is directly related to how much you want to know God. I don’t care how messed up you are, what chaos and confusion you’ve caused or are causing. God loves you just as you are. He’s not going to love you any more when you’ve sorted your life out. Accepting that fact and telling Him you want to enjoy His love is another important step on the journey. Holy love just loves. It’s not conditional on your performance, neither is it sloppy enough to be dished out according to your needs.

Letting go and letting God

So what decision do you need to make? I’m not asking you when you’re going to make it, but have you asked God what His perspective on your life is? If you have you’ll be on the way to learning what He wants you to do about it. At the risk of over-stating the point let me remind you why God wants you to change. Because He loves you, delights in you, cherishes you, He doesn’t like what your habit, your lifestyle, your behaviour is doing to you. He saved you so you could become like Jesus. If you still don’t know what that means then ask Him to give you a better perspective. Some words from one of my spiritual heroes may help as well:

“Salvation does not mean merely deliverance from sin or the experience of personal holiness. The salvation which comes from God means being completely delivered from myself, and being placed into perfect union with Him. When I think of my salvation experience, I think of being delivered from sin and gaining personal holiness. But salvation is so much more! It means that the Spirit of God has brought me into intimate contact with the true Person of God Himself. As I am caught up into total surrender to God, I become thrilled with something infinitely greater than myself.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.)

Is this your decision time? If it is maybe you can say this prayer?

‘Father, I want to thank you that your love accepts me as your beloved child, and your Holy love not only longs for my highest wellbeing but wants to energise and empower me to move in my eternal destiny. Please forgive me, especially for living my life independently of you. I acknowledge my powerlessness to win the victory, but rejoice in your provision of your all-sufficient grace to bring about your perfect power in my weakness.

Name………………………………….Place…………………………..Date…………………………

Pride in the wounds

As you begin your journey into a new future, carrying with you the pain and regret of what’s gone before, just take time to reflect on this story.

‘Some years ago on a hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went. He flew into the water, not realising that, as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore. His mother in the house was looking out the window and saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In utter fear she ran toward the water, yelling to her son as loudly as she could. Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his mother.

It was too late. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him. From the dock, the mother grabbed her little boy by the arms, just as the alligator snatched his legs. That began an incredible tug-of-war between the two. The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was much too passionate to let go. A farmer happened to drive by, heard the screams, raced from his truck, took aim and shot the alligator.

Remarkably, after three weeks in hospital, the little boy survived. His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the animal. And on his arms were deep scratches where his mother’s fingernails dug into his flesh in her effort to hang on to the son she loved. The newspaper reporter who interviewed the boy after the trauma asked if he would show him his scars. The boy lifted his pant legs. And then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. I have then because my Mom wouldn’t let go.”’

So there you are - you’ve made the decision to start afresh, but you’ve got scars to prove:

Let both types of wounds be a reminder that, whilst living on God’s terms will on occasions be tough, you can win – on God’s terms. The following chapters look at some very practical and spiritual ways of living in victory.

Questions and Answers

How did your problem begin?

It all started whilst I was growing up. The root problem behind my addiction was lack of love from my father; this left me feeling totally rejected and very unloved, which affected my self-worth, confidence etc. My father was never a really good father even before he had his accident. He was a very quiet man who went to work, then went to the pub, then came home and went to bed.

Around the age of 13 I remember coming home and walking into the kitchen to see my mother crying, which was something I had never seen before as my mother was the dominant parent. My mother had heard that someone had been killed outside on the road, and as my dad had not been home for some time she put two and two together and realised this must have been my father. We soon found out that it was my father, but he had not died. We went to see my father in hospital, and nothing braced me for what I was about to see. I remember this skinny little man sitting on a chair and dribbling like a baby with no hair and scabs all over his face; I remember thinking, This thing in the chair is my father.  He had been hit by a car and dragged a few hundred yards down the road; this left him very brain damaged.

It was a few months before my father was allowed to come home. When he did come home he knew nothing; he did not know who I was and he did not know that I was his son.  I lived in the same house as my father but I would not see him for months; when I was up in the day he was in bed, and when I was asleep at night he was awake. This went on for years. It was this sort of rejection that led to my problems.

After about five years of living like this I remember coming home with my older brother and younger sister and looking at a book.  It was a book which told us how much money we would be getting due to my dad’s condition. In this book it said things like, 40 grand for holidays that the kids missed out on, 80 grand for clothes that the kids missed out on --- by the end of this book the money amounted to nearly two million pounds and two million pounds in those days was like ten million pounds now. Eventually the money was awarded to my father - and the minute he got the money he left us. My father left his wife and three kids on a council estate, with not even a bit of carpet on the floor.

So for me rejection was a big part of my life. I remember things like playing football and seeing my mum there watching me and thinking, where is my dad? Yet again more rejection. All this rejection left me feeling unloved, unacceptable, no good. The result was that I lacked confidence in myself and around others, and my thinking about myself was very negative.

I’ve always believed that drugs were not the problem - I was, due to my past. Then drugs came along and I thought they were the solution to my problems. It’s only after a period of time, when things get bad, that you see the solution to your problems (i.e. drugs) is really the problem. The snag is that when you stop taking drugs the problems are still there, plus you now have a lifetime of other problems due to your behaviour on drugs. Nine times out of ten these problems compound your root problem, forming a never-ending pattern of behaviour.

When did you realise your problem was out of control?

I realised my problem was out of control when I had just finished serving three years in Her Majesty’s Prison, Wormwood Scrubs. For years I was in denial about my drug problems. What I would tell myself was that, if I could get through the physical withdrawal, I would be able to stay off. I genuinely believed this.

But whilst in prison I heard through other convicts that you could score heroin at the top of the road outside the prison.  So the minute I got out I went to the top of the road (to a tyre shop) and scored some heroin. Then I got some ‘works’ (needles). I went to this house right next to the prison; it was a place where prisoners would go when they had nearly finished their sentence. I got inside, had a hit - and then the next minute I am being dragged out by two policemen and put into the back of a police car. As we drove past the prison I asked the police officer to stop and let my sister know I was off to Hammersmith Police Station. I had only been out for 20 minutes and now I am nicked again, I could not believe it. It was at this point, whilst in the police cell still with my HMP bag, that I finally realised I had a problem.

How did you realise God wanted to help you?

I realised that God wanted to help me whilst I was on a drug rehab programme for the second time. I remember going to church in Slough and there was going to be this healer called Randy Clarke. I will never forget his name. The place was packed and for some reason I got up for prayer. Even until this day I never knew what made me get up there - I just did. So there I was standing there, feeling like a right idiot in front of all these people, when all of a sudden I could feel this massive surge of energy. It nearly knocked me clean off my feet. I remember turning around and thinking what the hell was that, and all the people behind me were praying with their hands in the air and it felt like the energy was coming from their hands, it was so powerful I had never felt anything like it. I turned back around and I could feel myself starting to cry, I had not cried for many years and I said to myself I am not about to start now, not in front of all these people and especially not in front of my peers. God it seems had other plans, and I started to cry and as much as I tried not to it just kept coming. The thing I remember the most was that I could see every little tear that was falling from my eyes to the floor, and in every little tear that fell I could see every little thing that I had done wrong in my life. It was just out of this world to see and witness your sin being washed away from your body, it was amazing. After this I went outside and for the first time and properly the last time in my life I felt pure, pure as snow. It felt wonderful and that’s when I knew God wanted to help me.

I began to live my life as a Christian which meant changing my morals and my values. It also meant changing old patterns of behaviour, changing how I spoke to people and how I responded to others. I realised that what was important to me before was no longer in line with God’s word.  I was baptised at Woodley Baptist Church where I proclaimed God as my Father and personal Saviour.

This was only the beginning and God went on helping me: 

I remember going to home group and feeling totally inadequate and wondering, Why has God has put me in this group? I thought, I don’t fit in, I can’t relate to these people. But, looking back over my recovery, it was exactly what I needed to face and feel. Those feelings and thoughts that I was facing were a big part of my personal growth, and that’s why I am clean today.

John

David Partington

© David Partington and Friends

 

Continue to Section 4: Who, not How