Often in our ministry, we help people who are a mess. Their lives have been totally ensnared and virtually destroyed by sin and Satan. Helping these people overcome lifelong struggles with drugs, alcohol, immorality, pornography, and other issues is challenging and filled with discouragement. It is also wonderfully exciting as we see God bring victory into these sin-scarred lives.
Here are some thoughts to help in dealing with such people (a more complete treatment of this subject is in my book, The Pulling Down of Strongholds).
There Must Be Honesty
Most of us tend to compare ourselves with others and decide we’re not “that bad.” When my dad ran the Detroit City Rescue Mission, he found that there was a hierarchy of drunks. One man would say, “Well, I may drink, but I don’t get drunk.” The next might say, “Well, I get drunk, but I’m not mean when I’m drunk.” Another would say, “Well, I may get drunk and be mean, but I don’t beat my wife.” And yet another would say, “Well, I may beat my wife, but I sure don’t cheat on her.” Each drunk found a way to judge himself better than the others. In fact, if all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in God’s eyes, imagine how awful our sin must be.
Many years ago, I visited a lady and her husband who had begun attending our church. They wanted me to understand their background. The lady told me that her parents were Satan-worshippers who masqueraded as a Baptist preacher with his wife for the purpose of destroying churches.
She shared some of the struggles she had had when she was a child and then asked me my opinion of psychologists. I said, “All truth comes from the Word of God. To the extent that one is consistent with the Scriptures, he can help you. To the extent that he is not consistent with Scripture, he cannot help you.” She gave me some tapes and asked if I would listen to them. When I did, I was shocked. The psychologist dealing with this group of people facing great difficulties began by saying, “You’re worse than you think you are.” I’d never heard a psychologist say such a thing in my life!
I later learned that this man had first studied the Bible and later psychology. His entire frame of reference was Scriptural. No one can be delivered from sin if they will not be honest about what they have done, what God says about it, and what harm it has done to them and others. We must see ourselves as God sees us, and we must see God for who He is.
There Must Be Hope
This psychologist went on to say, “God loves you anyway—just because.” Sinners need to know that God loves them. Sinners need to know that God knew their sin before He sent His Son to die for them.
People struggling with a problem need to know that others have had similar problems and found victory through the Word of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This psychologist proceeded to say, “You can’t fix it but God can, so let’s get started.”
There Must Be Help
In addition to giving people particular Scripture to deal with their specific problems, having them memorize those Scriptures and quote them when temptation comes, and being sure that they have a regular, consistent relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, I have found a few other factors to be helpful:
They must be accountable. They need to know that I will be checking to see if they memorized the Scriptures I assigned them, looking at their journals, seeing if they read their Bible, and asking if they have gone back to the old way of life.
They must be encouraged to allow God to be thorough with them. Jeremiah 6:14 says, “They have healed also the hurt of my people slightly….” Most of us are satisfied to stop the bleeding, put a Band-aid over the wound and leave some slivers intact. It seems too painful for us to allow God to do a complete work and remove all the garbage. I challenge people that they will want to stop before God is done and that they will be tempted to accept partial success in place of complete success.
They must be encouraged through relapses. While I will not tell a person at the beginning that it is likely that they will fall again, it is likely they will fall again! A person who is convicted about cursing seldom makes the decision to not curse and then never says another swear word. A person who gets burdened about the bad and sinful habit of smoking may go for two or three weeks and then sneak another cigarette.
Most of our greatest successes in Transformed through God’s Word (the ministry we operate to house those coming off addictions) have had one or more significant falls on their way to victory. I often draw a graph. I show one line that angles straight from the bottom to the top. I say, “This is what we would like to have in our Christian life.” Then I draw another graph that has its peaks and valleys but still continues to make progress. I say, “this is how we live.” But I point out that after awhile, our valleys are higher than our previous mountain peaks.
They must understand what victory is. How many times I’ve had a person discouraged because they continue to have a struggle with the wrong thoughts, continue to be drawn aside to the old behavior, continue to have a wish or desire to do wrong. I explain to these people that victory is not the absence of struggle; victory is a successful struggle.
The fact that the devil tempts us does not mean that we have sinned. The fact that we have fleshly desire does not mean that we are not growing spiritually. We will always be frail creatures of flesh, indwelt and enabled by the Holy Spirit of God to overcome the struggles of life.