“Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. He said, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!’” – Mark 1:14-15
Up to this juncture my explanation of the tried-and-true Celebrate Recovery process has concentrated on ‘fessin’ up. The first and second steps and principles are all about coming clean concerning our denial and powerlessness and then admitting that the only hope we have for being blessed with spiritual sanity is Jesus Christ. If you haven’t crossed those bridges yet you still have some big decisions to make. You can’t leave things like whom you’ll pledge allegiance to unresolved. As Bob Dylan sang, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody!” I advise you to think hard about that choice and not make it nonchalantly because the consequences are eternal. However, I’d venture to say the vast majority of folks who come to CR are ready to try following Jesus because they’re sick and tired of the life they’re leading. It’s brought them only disappointment. Nothing they’ve tried has brought them fulfillment so they’re willing to finally let God have a go at it. That’s why the third principle makes sense to them: “Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.” They’ve wanted to turn around and go the other direction for a long time. They just didn’t know how. Jesus’ words from the Beatitudes comfort and inform at the same time: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” The earth? I used to wonder why He offers this fallen planet that constantly attempts to destroy our souls until I learned that, in the minds of the people Jesus was addressing, the earth meant everything. In other words, Christ said that if you humble yourself before God He’ll give you access to all that He created! That includes all his healing power, all his support and all His divine enrichment. Since that sounds too good to be true a skeptic might ask, “Where’s the catch?” Well, the catch, if you want to label it such, is that you must do a turnabout. By that we mean what the dictionary describes as “the act of facing the other way, a shift or reversal of alliance and/or opinion.” Yet the reality is that the act of turning is much easier said than done. We at Celebrate Recovery know all about it. Therefore we provide practical suggestions.
It starts with trust. Trust, simply stated, is a firm belief in the honesty and reliability of something or someone. God is real but He’s also invisible. Therefore trusting Him requires a leap of faith. Now, if all we had in the form of reassurance was a strong feeling we’d be up a creek without a paddle. However, the great I AM has given us His Holy Word as collateral to back up His promises. “Your loyal followers trust in you, for you, Lord, do not abandon those who seek your help.” (Psalms 9:10) “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion; it cannot be upended and will endure forever.” (Psalms 125:1) “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” (Isaiah 26:4) And God Himself said, “My blessing is on those people who trust in me, who put their confidence in me.” (Isaiah 17:7) I could fill this page with assurances but you get the picture. God wants us to trust Him. Yet, because important people in our lives have let us down and hurt us deeply, we hesitate. There’s nothing weird about that. The Bible is full of folks who struggled with doubts. I dare say every believer has to deal with doubt at some point. In the 9th chapter of Mark the story is told of a man who approached Jesus, begging Him to rescue his son who was possessed by a sadistic demon. After describing the horrors his family had endured the man said, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” The Lord told him without skipping a beat, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” The man replied, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Most of us can identify with the man’s inner conflict. But notice that Jesus didn’t rebuke him. Rather, he helped him quell his unbelief by mercifully exorcising the demon from the boy and restoring him to health. Christ won’t hold your tentative faith against you, either. He’ll help you overcome it by healing you.
It’s said that doubt is the skeleton in the closet of faith. Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in these times can be real at all if it is not grounded on the experience of unbelief.” Doubt always coexists with faith, for in the presence of certainty who’d need faith at all? The fact is that faith must be backed up with courage. It means moving ahead when there’s no clear end in sight and, perhaps, not even a clear view of the next step. To say it’s a challenge is an understatement. Even the disciples had trust issues. Philip Yancey wrote, “Jesus’s listeners found themselves simultaneously attracted and repelled by Him, like a compass needle brought close to a magnet. As His words sank in, one by one the crowd of onlookers and followers slouched away, leaving only the twelve. ‘You do not want to go away too, do you?’ Jesus asked them in a tone somewhere between sadness and resignation. As usual, Simon Peter spoke up. ‘Lord, to whom would we go?’” In the movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” the protagonist is driven relentlessly by his drill sergeant who urges him (much like Satan does to us) to give up. Exasperated, he yells down at him, “Why don’t you just quit?” to which the soldier replies through tears, “Because I have nowhere else to go!” That, for what it’s worth, is what kept me coming back to CR. When I hit rock bottom trusting God was my only option. I had nowhere else to go with my filthy addiction. Yancey again: “The only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.” Surrender doesn’t come easy and that can be a good thing because it’s a built-in survival instinct designed to keep us alive in this dog-eat-dog world. But surrendering to the will of our merciful Creator isn’t weak capitulation. On the contrary, it’s the most intelligent thing we can possibly do. Referencing unconditional faith William Booth wrote, “The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.”
Perhaps even more difficult than putting all your trust in an unseen God is voluntarily relinquishing everything the world has taught you about getting through this life intact. Especially when you’re the street-smart, savvy kind who graduated magna cum laude from the school of hard knocks. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.” Relying on my own wits is what got me in trouble in the first place but it was still a battle for me to give in and admit that I knew zip about why my Heavenly Father had made me. I often accused my kids of thinking they “knew everything” when I was guilty of the very same offense! One day a few years before I rededicated my life to Christ I opened the Bible at random and dared God to “blow my mind.” My finger landed on 1 Corinthians 1:18. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I recall chuckling to myself that it was illogical nonsense. But that sentence stuck in my subconscious, nonetheless, and when my tidy little world crashed down on me I realized I’d been perishing due to my intellect getting in the way of my hearing the truth. Luke 24:45 says that the resurrected Jesus stood before His eleven remaining disciples and “opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” That’s what gradually happens to all of us after we give our lives over to Christ. In my case that particular verse suddenly made perfect sense and, yes, my mind was blown. I’d read through most of the Bible in my youth and even took Old and New Testament courses in college but I never did “get it.” My mind was closed.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him,” and I know of what he speaks. I took the scriptures for granted. Deep down, I didn’t want to admit that my parents’ beliefs were right on the money! Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Nothing, to the modern man, is so utterly ridiculous as the suggestion that all he needs today is something that has been offered to mankind continuously for nearly two thousand years.” The irony is that becoming a Christian doesn’t require that we turn off our reasoning faculties. It means opening your mind up to perceive a level of comprehension you never thought available. It’s like comparing a first-grader’s textbook to the library of congress. There is such a wealth of knowledge in the Holy Word we can hardly scratch the surface of what it contains in the span of a lifetime. But someday the veil will be lifted. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.” Yet the greatest joy comes from getting to know more about the great I AM. Joni Eareckson Tada said, “Real satisfaction comes not in understanding God’s motives, but in understanding His character, in trusting in His promises, and in leaning on Him and resting in Him as the Sovereign who knows what His is doing and does all things well.”
To turn means to change direction or, as the Bible says, repent. J.I. Packer said it’s “the vital inner change whereby we turn, or rather are turned (for conversion is God’s work in us), so that we live with, in, through and for God henceforth.” Billy Graham called it “recognition of what we are, and a willingness to change our minds toward sin, self and God.” Repentance is essential to our salvation. Thus it’s dangerous to put it off. Jesus made it crystal clear in Mark 13:5; “But unless you repent you will all perish!” To quote Thomas Fuller, “You can’t repent too soon, because you don’t know how soon it may be too late.” According to Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” If the concept of repentance is still hazy you’d best consult the Holy Word for clarification. In Acts 3:19 Peter preached to a crowd saying, “Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out.” When Christ appeared before Paul on the road to Damascus He said, “I am sending you to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17-18) Jesus was assigning him the task of getting people to repent. In Romans 12:2 Paul told us how to do it: “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.” In other words, the Lord won’t hang you out to dry in the devil’s backyard. He’ll grant you the wisdom you need to spiritually discern the Father’s will. Thomas Watson wrote, “Make it your earnest request to God, that He will give you a heart to love Him. This is an acceptable request; surely God will not deny it.” I quote Dr. Graham again, “If we had to repent without God’s help, then we would be almost helpless.”
What’s in it for us? Only what everyone who struggles with hurts, hang-ups and habits yearns for. When we turn away from sin and turn toward God we get nothing less than a new life! A clean slate! A soul makeover! We are, as it says in Romans 3:24, “justified freely by his (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” How many times have we thought to ourselves, “If only I could start again…?” Well, that’s the great news of the gospel. You can! There are millions of individuals worldwide who’ll gladly testify to the authenticity of their becoming a new creature. They were born again. It happens every day and it can happen to you. You want to have a positive impact on this funky orb we call Terra Firma? Let God transform you. Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself.” It starts with you. Open your Bible and let God speak directly to you the same way He spoke to me. Don’t think a book can do that? Cassandra Clare said, “One must be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” Yet the only thing we have to be careful about when it comes to the Bible is misinterpreting scripture or taking its teachings out of context. That’s where the body of Christ comes in along with trustworthy ministers who’ll share what they’ve gleaned from its pages with honest humility. By participating in Bible study groups the truth of God’s Holy Word, like cream in a butter churn, will rise to the top. Maybe you’re one of those folks who “don’t do church” because of a bad experience in the past. My advice is to give it a fresh try. Visit different denominations or congregations until you find one that welcomes you with Christ-like love. There is a church for you and when you find it you’ll discover you were mistaken about what it has to offer. You’ll develop warm friendships with people just like yourself and years from now you’ll wonder why you didn’t get on board earlier.
A word of caution: Once you’ve made your “Turnabout Two-step” (one foot forward, pivot 180 degrees, pull the other foot even) you’ll need to acknowledge your need for patience. Lots of it. No one recovers overnight. In fact, if God would’ve told me on my initial visit to CR that it’d take five years of diligent work for me to be victorious over my porn addiction and to regain my wife’s trust I would’ve taken that deal in a heartbeat. I was that desperate. Thankfully I was able to see concrete signs of progress within a few months as my obsession became less and less of an obstacle in my spiritual growth. I tell you this so you’ll know what to expect in your recovery. It takes time and effort. A favorite songwriter of mine is John Hiatt and one of his most memorable tunes features a chorus of “It’s a slow turning/from the inside out/A slow turning/but you come about.” In today’s world where the word instant is included in the name of so many products we’ve come to expect that nothing should take very long to happen. But we didn’t get to be alcoholics or druggies in an hour. We didn’t develop food issues or codependent leanings in a single day. We didn’t build up our tendency to explode in anger or to retreat into dark caves of isolation in a week’s time. In my case I spent decades filling my head with obscene images so it’s only reasonable that it’ll take years of prayer and dedication to Christ to replace them with more wholesome thoughts. We can blame Satan all we want but we have to take responsibility for most of what we got ourselves caught up in. But there are thousands of folks involved in the CR ministry who’ll assure you that repentance is possible because they themselves turned and were changed. Maya Angelou wrote, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Make the turn and resolve to start your recovery today. Your new life awaits.