Monday, September 26, 2005

X Marks the Spot

I just wanted to share a little something that came to me a fortnight ago and which has proven a blessing and help the past week or so.

No shame here, its immediate and most obvious application is towards those who struggle with lust, however, I believe the principle can be applied beyond that to any area of assiduous struggle.

It has been said that the first step in overcoming a problem with a certain sin is to realise that it is sin and so to hate it. This is true. If there is no conviction of sin, then there is no motive or reason for change. What, though, if you have already identified sin and still struggle?

I've struggled with a number of things in my life, and one of the strongest most difficult has been lust, in its various forms. I've read a number of books, talked with people, prayed, and tried every mental trick I could find. Some have helped immensely, others I don't even remember. Let me take a minute to put forward one thing that I consider absolutely vital for every Christian.

Having a mentor, a godly confidant, with whom you can talk openly and seriously is a tremendous blessing and help. Preferably they should be someone older than you, mature in the Lord and of good standing. When it comes to overcoming problems, sharing them is often half the battle. There is a lot of truth tied up in that mystery of James which speaks of confessing our sins to one another before finding healing. I believe it is God's established pattern.

I do a weekly radio show with two heads of drug rehabilitation centers and both advocate, and speak strongly, about the need for and benefit of 'support networks'. This isn't something only for 'addicts' but is something which is simply human. We need others to encourage us, to help us grow, and to help us out. Friendship is vital and if you don't have such a relationship now I'd really like to encourage you to start developing one as soon as possible. Ask the Lord to provide someone and then take those brave step forward into what is at first an awkward situation. Persevere past the awkwardness though, for it is very, very much worth it.

Here are a few main ways such a relationship offers help:

1 - It offers a place of open confession. This does two things. First I believe it honours God and the pattern He established - that we should be under authority and that we should confess to one another. Second, secrecy is a breeding ground for sin. Those things we do not share eat at us from the inside. A friend once said, shame is the darkroom where our negatives our developed! Weaknesses in character and those weaknesses in our life opened up by sin will only be overcome and strength restored is they are confronted - not hidden.

2 - It allows for extra prayer. This is one of those Christian staples everyone talks about but there are many who do not seem to believe in it. Yet the truth is - prayer is effective. It was a regular and aggressive habit of Jesus Himself, and all throughout Scripture we are encouraged and challenged to pray. This isn't for nothing or just to give us something to do! Prayer is a mystery but it is a powerful thing. I encourage you again to seek out the truth of the mystery of prayer. Make a habit of it even if you don't understand it and seek God for wisdom and understanding. Whatever you do pray and seek prayer!

3 - It allows for input. Plain and simple, other people can very often give us a perspective on things which we haven't got ourselves. They can see things we easily miss and they can help to brain-storm practical ideas to solve whatever problem, as well as dig into the reasons behind something.

4 - It can keep you accountable. This is why I strongly suggest someone older than you or at the very least, in a position of authority. Peer 'accountability groups' can sometimes just become apathetic story groups with each person sharing their struggles but having no change come. That's because there is no actual accountability there - what are they holding you accountable to? In fact, some of these can do more harm that good. What's worse than not sharing and confessing? Sharing and confessing in a context which only removes the shame and lets you become comfortable in your behaviour. Confession must be accompanied by the challenge for change which comes first internally and second externally - by a person and or the 'atmosphere'. Proper accountability is wonderful and helpful - though often a challenge and awkward.

I refer you here to Lewis' 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' -

"Then the lion said- but I don't know if it spoke- You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat on my back to let him do it.

"The very first tears he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know-if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off- just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt- and there it was laying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me- I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on- and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again.

(For a fuller version - Hope In The Claws

And so it is with having a mentor - particularly when you have some particular recurring issue to deal with. It can be a pain, awkward and you'll want to squirm out of it if you can, but in the end, you need to muster the strength to sit still, endure it, and you'll come out feeling amazing. :)

Anyway, back then to my original point. What to do if you see the sin but can't shake it. Well, here's my revelation which I pass on to you.

Jesus, in Matthew 6:21, said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Some time ago I came to associate that verse with one from Proverbs 4:23,
"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

Your heart is a spring out of which comes your life. It is that which motivates you and drives you. It is your will, your emotions, your thoughts, your desires etc. Basically, where your heart goes there goes your life. However, your heart must be guarded. Why? Because such a powerful driving force can be influenced, it can be directed, steered. This where Jesus' words come in. For where your treasure is there will be your heart - or - that which you treasure provides direction for your heart. And so we have - What you treasure draws your heart and what draws your heart, draws your life.

I don't remember quite where I was or what I was doing but it occurred to me that whilst I had come to hate the sin of my thoughts and behaviour and was often disgusted with them, there was a flip side - I still enjoyed the pleasure and the thrill - I treasured them. The mystifying beauty and allure of the female body, a physical sensation, a thrill or an excitement those were things I treasured, things that I let retain a special place in my heart. The fear or hatred of sin might keep me away from them for a while, but sooner or later there would come a time where I would be drawn back to those things which amazed and attracted me. I hated the sinfulness of it but treasured the object or what it gave me.

Call it the appeal of things shiny, Gollum's 'Precioussssssss', or some pirates' hidden trove, it is amazing the strength 'treasure' has to keep us coming back and even to influence us to do all kinds of things to possess them. Your heart is a powerful force, yet it is easily swayed. T treasure something is not wrong, it is a system designed by God, however, we have to be very careful what we allow ourselves to come to cherish - and that is the verb. 'To cherish' is to make something a treasure. Sometimes it is an instantaneous thing, many other times we must work at cherishing something, but what we cherish, becomes our treasure and it inspires our heart to drive us to pursue it.

With regards to lust, there are elements, like the female body, that are designed to be attractive and to leads us to cherish - yet there is a time and a place for everything. Single gentlemen like myself must work hard - and let us not shy away from it - to ensure that we do not let our natural fascination and appreciation of the female body gain more presence in our thoughts and desires than is proper. A married man has the wonderful opportunity to treasure his wife's body and to enjoy it, however, it occurs to me that even there he must be careful. Though it is harder for the bachelor, both the single man and the husband must work to ensure that the treasure of the female body does not outstep its bounds. Even the husband can become too obsessed with his wife's body (ignoring the obvious sin of treasuring others' bodies) leading him to desire and therefore pursue sex beyond limits. Here opens the doorway to abuse.

The counter to this is, I think, the effort to cherish instead the whole female. To cherish all that she is and to treasure her as the complete female person that she is. If this is true, then I think we have a very useful truth in our battle against sin. We must learn not only to hate the sinfulness of a thing, but to check our 'treasures'. To identify all that we cherish and then to work hard at refusing to treasure those things which should not have our hearts, and with that, to redirect our affections to those things which we should be cherishing.

The very romantic sounding but actually awful song 'To All The Girls I've Loved Before' says, "The winds of change are always blowing, and every time I try to stay, the winds of change continue blowing, and they just carry me away." What carries you away Mr. Iglesias is not the wind, but your heart, and it carries you so freely because you place no guard upon it.

The wonderful truth is that we are not simple slaves to our heart. You can influence who you are and become. We have control over our hearts, are able to guard them, to steer them - and so we should. We have the ability to choose what we treasure and to dictate who we will be - whether by negligence and cowardice we choose to become addicts or perverts or by facing careful selection and courageous confrontation we choose to be overcomers and healthy, joyful human beings.

I have found it can be tricky at times, but when thoughts and sights come to mind, I have made an effort to remind myself that such things I shall not treasure, for some of it is wrong and some of it is out of place - all of it leading to a place I do not want to go. Additionally, I have focused my efforts on finding those things I should treasure and sought to appreciate those things. Slowly I have found the practise to be of use, especially in combination with prayer, and I'm happy to say it's been a wonderful two weeks since! So it is that I am happy to share this little thought with you, and I hope it is of use to you in some arena or other.

If I may, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank my friend and mentor Steve for his continued prayer, efforts, and accessibility - and his endurance! I'd also like to petition the ladies to remember to consider what they wear. As men, we naturally and almost immediately 'appreciate' what is put before our eyes. When thus our attentions have been grabbed we must work to redirect our thoughts onto other things. Choosing to wear things which do not accentuate or display those particularly attractive areas of your bodies is a great help to me, and to others, and I and we appreciate it - especially in this society where sex sells and beauty is how much you show.

God bless.