Being that January 1st was just a few weeks ago, it would be easy for you to read this as a New-Years-Resolution idea; but its not for a couple of reasons. First, as a culture we tend to beat New Year’s Resolutions like the proverbial dead horse with articles in magazines, internet postings, and casual conversation topics. Secondly, a New Year’s Resolution connotes a change that you would like to make in terms of behavior modification (quit smoking, lose weight, participate in more civil war re-enactments). I don’t want you to associate this post with either of those things. I say, “Change your mind, change your life,” because I believe that the way you think about things plays a large role in how you act. For example, if you really care about animals, its probably important to you to volunteer at the SPCA. I want to discuss how you can change the way you see the world, in order to change the way you approach choices, big and small.
A few months ago, my wife and I were at a church conference and we heard one of the speakers, a pastor, talking about practical ways to make it “okay to not be okay” in your church community. The way he sees it, everyone struggles with an addiction to sin, and in turn he strives to teach his church that they need to be accepting of everyone, no matter what they are struggling with, just like people in a recovery program are accepting of newcomers. In fact, he advocates treating your spiritual life like a recovery program- we’ve all got problems, and the more willing we are to share about them, the healthier our church community will be. He had some great ideas along these lines, but he really got me thinking about how I could better go about my own faith walk, and have more victory over the areas of sin in my life. It took me a while to gather information and put ideas into coherent thoughts, and I’d like to share some of this journey with you. Maybe you’ll find something you can use in your own life.
When I started pursuing these thoughts, I didn’t know anything about addiction treatment (Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, etc.) other than what I’ve seen on TV. But I know a guy that knows all about it. So I talked to Terrence, a friend who has been clean and sober for over 20 years. Terrence told me that an “addiction recovery” mindset could be a good perspective to have victory over sin in my life. As a Christian I’m a sinner recovering from my sin addiction the same way that he is an addict recovering from his alcohol addiction. He says that one of the keys to recovery is to understand that it is impossible for me to make a decision to “never drink, or use drugs (or sin) again for as long as I live” and succeed. Nobody can make a choice like that last even a year, most of us probably couldn’t make it last a month. These lengths of time are too big, too daunting for us. What you, Terrence, and I can do is make the decision for a day, or maybe even just for the next six hours. And when the next day (or six hours) comes, we can make that decision again. The good news is that every time you make that decision, its a little easier to make it the next time. But its also important to note that the first of the 12 Steps is to realize that you can’t change without the help of a “higher power”. This is especially poignant for my situation, because the cure for my sin addiction is a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. I need to nurture my relationship with him, so that I come to love him more than I love my sin. The last piece of advice from Terrence that I will share here is that every alcoholic falls off the wagon, just like every Christian stumbles, and beating yourself up over it is not as productive as getting back up to try again.
So instead of a New Year’s Resolution to read my Bible every day for the rest of my life and never sin again, I just need to make the decision each morning (or each hour!). Instead of thinking I can choose to be a better person all the time forever, I need to think about how I can choose to be a better person from day to day, hour to hour. Its more bite-sized and manageable, it’s closer to the something I can handle. Most importantly, I need to remember that very often I won’t feel like spending time with Jesus, or not sinning, but I have to make the choice. Terrence still feels like a drink (from time to time), but he has learned to choose not to. I think I can choose, every day, to have the spiritual life and the relationship with Christ that I want. I think that after years of trying and falling on my face, I can succeed.
Did you make a New Year’s Resolution? Do you want to make a big life change? If you haven’t had much success before, maybe rather than deciding to change your life in a day, you need to first change how you think about what it is that you want to do differently. An interesting piece of trivia that Terrence shared with me is that an MRI shows that an addict’s brain is literally different from a non-addict’s brain, but through a successful recovery program, over time their brain will change back to be like a non-addict’s brain. So when Romans 12:1-2 talks about renewing your mind, it looks like you can literally change the way your mind works.
Alcoholics go to meetings because they know they can’t do it by themselves. Maybe if you really want to make the change, you should ask yourself if it’s really reasonable to think that you can go it alone. If you’re looking to make a change in your spiritual life, think about getting into community with people that want the same thing. Check out small groups, and when you’ve found the right one, be honest with them about what you’re struggling to change. Hang out with people that are trying to do what you want or have been successful. Spend time with people that love Jesus like you want to.
So basically, if you’re looking to change something about your life, especially your spiritual life and your relationship with Christ, try to think about it in terms of victory coming one day at a time. Don’t try to do it on your own. You need to find some people that want to make the same changes and be intentional about supporting each other with prayer and encouragement. Maybe the most important thing to remember is that God wants a relationship with you as much as you want a relationship with him (and probably even more so). And God is bigger than your sin addiction.
One last thing, Terrence wanted me to tell you that if you are struggling with addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, or whatever, he would love to talk to you about getting help. Call WestGate (408.252.3700) and ask for Terrence. Tell him Joel sent you.
Author: Joel Linscott