“Innumerable dangers surround me. My sins overtake me so I am unable to see; they outnumber the hairs of my head so my strength fails me. Please be willing, O Lord, to rescue me! O Lord, hurry and help me!” – Psalms 40:12-13
In these two verses David reveals himself as a man who’s taken a look around at his situation, deemed it more than he can possibly deal with, admitted that he’s powerless to do anything about it and has turned to the only one who can help him, God. In my last two essays I attempted to explore every facet of denial and illustrate the havoc it wreaks in our lives. The conclusion was that we must all stop lying about our hurts, hang-ups and habits and come clean about our status as sinners at the mercy of God’s abundant grace. It feels good to finally step out of denial but it only lasts for a short time. Soon afterward we run smack dab into the fact that, on our own, we don’t possess the power to defeat our addictions and afflictions that have come between us and Jesus Christ. The acknowledgement that we’ve “fallen short of the grace of God” and allowed our sins to overtake us makes us see that what feeble strength we do still have is failing us miserably. That’s why at Celebrate Recovery the first step of the twelve urges us to admit we’re powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. In many ways announcing to the world that we’re weak as newborn kittens in the presence of our adopted iniquity is as humbling an act as the confession that we’ve been covering up its very existence for far too long. Powerlessness is the door behind the curtain of denial and the key to getting through it is to let Jesus open it for us. “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8) Giving up usually carries a negative connotation but in this case it’s the wisest move we can make. As David intimated in his Psalm, when surrounded, surrender.
We expose our denial when we honestly ask ourselves, “What is my problem?” We confront our powerlessness when we ask, “Why is it a problem?” with the answer being “Because I can’t stop ____ .” Be it drinking, doping, lusting, lying, stealing, being scared of everything, coveting, losing our tempers, shopping till we drop or whatever it may be, we have no power to cease doing it. Not for long, anyway. And it may not be due to a lack of trying. At some point most of us have done our best to quit and, in some cases, what we did worked in the short run. But, like that extra five pounds in our midsection, it always came back. It’s not until we bow before our Heavenly Father and admit to Him that our own willpower and sincere attempts to conquer it by ourselves didn’t work out that we’ll see a light appear at the end of the tunnel. We must, in utter defeat, cry out as David did in Psalm 6:2, “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am frail!” However, I understand completely that to ask for help goes against everything we’ve been taught about achieving success and many of us would rather die than to confess that we can’t do something by employing our own ambition. But we Christians must toss that garbage in the dumpster where it belongs. Jesus made it clear in John 15:5 when He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. …Apart from me you can accomplish nothing.” As Alistair Begg pointed out in one of his sermons, no matter which language that final word is translated from, whether Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew, it still means the same thing. Nothing. We can’t do anything worthwhile without Jesus abiding in us, much less know victory over our hurts, hang-ups or habits.
The large number of people (believers and otherwise) in history who often came to the conclusion that they were powerless in the face of adversity reinforces what I’m going on about. Abraham Lincoln wrote, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” Novelist Katja Millay quipped, “Sometimes it’s easier to pretend nothing is wrong than to face the fact that everything is wrong, but you’re powerless to do anything about it.” 70s TV personality Chuck Barris wrote, “Being helpless is like being paralyzed.” Even the existentialism that Franz Kafka championed betrayed him. He admitted, “I do not speak as I think, I do not think as I should, and so it all goes on in helpless darkness.” For all those like Kafka who couldn’t find anything but despair there are just as many who came to understand that Christ was the only answer to their dilemma. Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom said, “When we are powerless to do a thing, it is a great joy that we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus.” Fred Rogers (Yes, that Mr. Rogers) wrote, “I’m fairly convinced that the Kingdom of God is for the broken-hearted. You write of ‘powerlessness.’ Join the club, we are not in control. God is.” Dr. Michael Youssef said, “Only in the cross of Christ will we receive power when we are powerless. We will find strength when we are weak. We will experience hope when our situation is hopeless. Only in the cross is there peace for our troubled hearts.” And evangelist A.W. Pink taught, “A consciousness of our powerlessness should cast us upon Him who has all power. Here then is where a vision and view of God’s sovereignty helps, for it reveals His sufficiency and shows us our insufficiency.” I think he got it right.
If you think I’m implying that coming to grips with one’s own powerlessness is an easy pylon to hurdle in comparison with the eleven steps that follow then I assure you that it’s not. It’s a belittling experience for it’s an all out attack on our pride. Our ego continues to insist that we can fix anything. Larry Crabb put it succinctly. “Nothing is more terrifying than staring at a problem for which we have no solutions under our direct control.” The panic that ensues can instigate an onslaught of endless what if’s that change nothing. “What if she hadn’t walked out on me?” “What if he’d seen things from my angle?” “What if I hadn’t have said what I did?” Only with fierce reluctance does the mind acquiesce to reality. Crabb added, “To realistically face what is true within us puts us in touch with a level of helplessness we don’t care to experience.” That’s putting it mildly. We often break down and start searching frantically for an excuse to stand on but there isn’t one that can hold the weight of our sin. Jesus said in Luke 12:2, “Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing is secret that will not be made known.” We’re like a roach on a white floor. There’s nowhere to hide from the truth. One rocky path folks can opt to take is the one that leads not to surrender but to energy-draining self pity, yet another escape mechanism that will only add another hang-up or habit onto your coat rack of character defects. John Garner wrote, “Self pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” We must avoid the “poor me” trap at all costs.
When we slam head on into our powerlessness but resist accepting the merciful and energizing help our higher power can provide to tackle our problem we alienate ourselves from the very people who can assist and support us in our struggle. Usually that results in us seeking refuge in isolation, a move that further exacerbates our misery. Loneliness isn’t a disease, it’s a choice. A bad one. The fact that the CR ministry exists and continues to expand exponentially across the globe means that you never have to confront your personal demons alone. By surrounding yourself with Christians who’ve been where you’ve been, done what you’ve done and felt what you’re feeling you can sidestep the chasm of emptiness that so many fall into. The compassionate members of the body of Christ will remind you that not only does your future include sin-free paradise but that you’re destined to spend eternity there. Jesus is preparing a permanent home for you in heaven so you can’t say you don’t have anything to look forward to. C.S. Lewis said, “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.” Yet we don’t have to wait till tomorrow to find peace. It can be ours today. Our Lord and Savior promised us in John 10:10, “I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” Help is available. All we have to do is get on our knees and ask God for it. But that prayer must not be motivated by our selfish desire for all the bad stuff in our lives to disappear overnight. Ravi Zacharias said that our prayer should be “a conversational relationship in which God does for you what you cannot do for yourself. It’s not trying to persuade God to rethink His will but the means through which God reshapes you into a person who desires His will and is content to receive it, regardless of what it entails.”
When dealing with vices like alcohol, drugs or even smoking cigarettes the powerlessness one feels can be overwhelming due to the physical dependency involved. But when it comes to sins like holding grudges, slandering, gossiping, harboring hateful resentments, etc. our awareness of our lack of power over those trespasses can be of a more passive than aggressive nature. My long history of being fascinated with porn and the selfish delight I took in keeping it hidden from everyone who knew me wasn’t something that interfered with my day to day life as would partaking in some kind of mind-altering substance. Stretches of time would pass when I wouldn’t indulge in my ugly habit. Not because I’d repented but because I’d fallen in love with a woman who satisfied my carnal urges. (I’ve been married twice and both times I stopped “looking” for several years.) Yet tenaciously my secret world would beckon and before I knew it I’d be back in its dark recesses. What I’m saying is that sometimes powerlessness over our addiction isn’t something we’ve ever really faced because we’ve never tried to overcome it for the right reasons. That was me. I didn’t consider my sin to be that terrible until I saw what the adulterous aspect of it and my deceitfulness about it did to my wife. When I started on my road to recovery I honestly didn’t find it all that difficult to cease viewing porn. Not once have I gone to an X-rated web site or visited an adult video store since the day I got caught years ago. The powerlessness I felt came when I attempted to keep all the tens of thousands of images and fantasies I’d stored on my mental hard drive from popping up on the screen of my imagination. Without the power of Christ in me I’m helpless to prevent my past from coming for an unannounced visit or to turn it away when it does. The gist is this: powerlessness can assume many forms depending on what your particular hurt, hang-up or habit is.
So what does the Celebrate Recovery ministry recommend you do about your power shortage? We’ve already established that to stop playing God and to quit denying you have a problem with sin is imperative. The next phase is realizing that you can’t lick it on your own volition. That you’re powerless against it and, therefore, it’s become a massive obstruction to becoming a better Christian. Take heart. Jesus understands. He said in Matthew 19:26, “…this is impossible for mere humans, but for God all things are possible.” All things. Even your horrible habit. When you own up to your powerlessness it follows that you have to confess, due to your insistence on doing things your way instead of God’s, that your life has become unmanageable. As Proverbs 14:12 indicates, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way that leads to death.” There are no “small sins.” Some think that their codependency or their enabling ways are but minor infractions when measured up against something like murder yet they have the same ability to ruin your health, your relationships and your livelihood drastically and send them all spinning out of control. Jesus preached in Matthew 5:29 that “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away!” By using exaggeration He was telling us that we must strive to rid ourselves of all our shortcomings, not just the ones most evident to others. Isaiah 59:2 tells us that “your sinful acts have alienated you from your God,” so admitting that your iniquity is driving the train you’re riding on into oblivion is essential to throwing the locomotive into reverse. Job’s woeful cry underlines the level of desperation that some of us must experience before we realize how awful our situation is and that we need help. “My days have passed, my plans are shattered, even the desires of my heart.” (Job 17:11)
The important thing to remember is that even after you surrender your hurts, hang-ups and habits and give them to your Lord and Savior and allow other believers to walk beside you in your recovery there are going to be days when you’re tempted to quit and go back. Bishop Charles H. Brent wrote over a century ago, “Only he who flings himself upward, when the pull comes to drag him down, can hope to break the force of temptation. Temptation may be an invitation to hell, but much more it is an opportunity to reach heaven.” Retreating into your old attitudes and destructive behaviors is a lot easier than battling them but you must keep slugging away to make progress. Persistence pays better dividends because to give up and do nothing is a dead end street. Pauline R. Kezer said, “When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you’re working to make things better.” CR is a great place to get involved not only in your own recovery but that of other sinners wanting to be more like Christ. You don’t need a degree in theology to become an accountability partner, a sponsor or even a leader there. It is, indeed, a layman’s ministry. People who have been helped are most qualified to help other people. It says of Jesus in Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” There are many in need of the help that’ll lead them to Christ.
The power to change comes only from and due to God’s grace. Once we admit that by ourselves we can’t muster sufficient power for a penlight, much less defeat our sinful nature and heal our dysfunctional, neurotic hearts, we can finally tap into the source of all power and become the strong, resilient men and women that God created us to be. Yes, we’re powerless. Yes, we’re helpless. But we’re not hopeless. Our Heavenly Father is on our side in the war we’re fighting and as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us who can be against us?”