“Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6
Having navigated through (not around) one of the roughest stretches of the road to recovery by completing a thorough inventory and sharing it with our sponsor, we now move forward to Principle five, “Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects.” Yet it’s Step 6 that’ll be the focus of this chapter: “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” Of course, the defects in question are the ones you dragged from the cobwebbed corners of your cluttered attic and exposed to the light during your inventory. Compared to the arduous chore of excavating all aspects of your sinful nature and seeing them for the despicable flaws they are, readying yourself to have God remove them is a piece of cake. Most of us at some point have rolled up our sleeves and done a “spring cleaning” of our abode, throwing away a mass of worthless items taking up space. We then made a pile out by the street and awaited the arrival of the garbage men to haul it away. Watching the truck disappear down the block afterward was a lot easier than dragging all that trash to the curb by a long shot. I realize my analogy is an over-simplification but I present it to indicate that your journey on the highway to health includes moments of victory when you’ll be able to savor triumphs and this is one of them. However, you must guard against picturing your shortcomings in an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of way and copping an attitude that your recovery’s a done deal. Before God removes our character defects we must lock our stubborn pride in the dungeon, give up control and surrender to His will. As many discover, it’s easier said than done. Remember, recovery is a one-day-at-a-time sojourn, not a destination to be reached this side of heaven. It is, indeed, a process, but the rewards are more gratifying and fulfilling than anything you’ve ever experienced in this life.
As Jesus’ magnificent parable of the prodigal son teaches, God can’t wait for us to come home. He’s got his Air Jordans on, ready to sprint down the road and meet us halfway. But notice the father in the story didn’t go and pull his son out of the pig sty and force him to come to his senses. No, it was up to the starving ingrate to humble himself, swallow his pride and become willing to do whatever it took to gain forgiveness and redemption in the eyes of his loving, merciful father. Like David, he knew he had to reach up. Psalm 143:10 reads, “Help me to do your will, for you are my God. Lead me in good paths, for your Spirit is good.” The key to recovery is releasing control of your life’s navigation and handing the steering wheel over to God. Madeline L’Engle wrote, “If we are to be aware of life while we are living it, we must have the courage to relinquish our hard-earned control of ourselves.” It’ll become increasingly obvious that our stiff-necked insistence on being in charge is what got us into trouble in the first place. Yet giving up the reins remains a challenge. Ann Landers said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” I found what Steve Maraboli wrote helpful: “You must learn to let go. You were never in control anyway.” If you need a visual example, just look around at God’s magnificent creation. Jeffrey McDaniel said, “There’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” Alas, human instinct isn’t as compliant. We fight for control because we fear that if we let God run our lives pain and hardships may be on the agenda. As usual, it comes down to trust. Jerry Bridges said, “That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.” What many don’t savvy is that driving our own bus comes with a price. Larry Crabb wrote, “The illusion of control brings requirement, requirement creates pressure, and pressure leads to slavery, the slavery of having to figure out life to make it work. Those who hold on to the illusion of control lose the enjoyment of freedom.”
God gave you free will. You can do what you want. Therefore surrendering to Him is a choice only you can make. You’re willing or you’re not. Psalm 37:5 encourages us to “Commit your future to the Lord! Trust in him, and he will act on your behalf.” I don’t know about you, but the one I can count on to do what’s best for me is the one who created me in His image. I used to be like Job in that I thought if I could have ten private minutes with God I could show Him the error of His ways. (Yep, I was that arrogant.) Mordecai Ham preached, “One of our troubles is we’re not willing to humble ourselves. We’re not willing to give up our opinions as to how things should be done.” The day I quit trying to run things my way a pressure valve opened and all the know-it-all hot air in me escaped. Alan Redpath said, “Before we can pray, ‘Lord, thy kingdom come,’ we must be willing to pray, ‘My kingdom go.’” Fact is, God won’t make you acknowledge his sovereignty. Howard Crosby quipped, “The path that leads to heaven is trodden by willing feet. No one is ever driven to paradise.” It was alluded to earlier that too many people mistakenly think laying down their free will at the foot of the cross is a sign of weakness. But, as the Apostle Paul indicated repeatedly, when we’re weakest we’re actually at our strongest. Paul Tripp wrote, “It’s not your weakness that will get in the way of God’s working through you, but your delusions of strength. His strength is made perfect in our weakness! Point to His strength by being willing to admit your weakness.” If you’ve reached Step 6 you’ve become acutely aware of how weak you are. You’re sick of being a slave to sin. You’re ready for change. Andrew Murray said, “The greatest test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or attain in truth and life will be whether it produces an increasing humility in us. In man, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s holiness to dwell in him and shine through him. The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is lack of humility. The holiest will be the humblest.” So you need to open the door wide, invite the Lord in and let Him start healing you from the inside out. God will do all the heavy lifting. Rick Joyner wrote, “Those who allow God to build the house have taken a yoke that’s easy and a burden that’s light.” Prepare to be transformed. 1 Peter 1:13-14 states, “Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance.”
Once you’ve accepted that God is going to do a top-to-bottom spiritual renovation inside your heart and mind it’ll be understandable if you start expecting Him (since He’s God and all) to have the entire project done in a few days. Don’t go there or you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment. Your reconstruction will proceed on His timetable, not yours. In other words, you’ll need patience and lots of it. While God is putting the broken pieces of your life back together according to His perfect design, molding you into the person He envisioned all along, He’ll use you to further His kingdom in ways you never imagined. You must trust that He knows exactly what He’s doing even when you can’t fathom His methods. Henri Nouwen said, “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” God has a master plan and nothing and nobody can thwart it. So relax already. Victor Hugo wrote, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” You might respond with “But I wasn’t born a naturally patient person! I want to see results now!” Most of us can sympathize with that attitude because we live in an age where things happen “on demand” but great things take time. 2 Peter 3:8 informs us, “Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day.” By that reckoning Jesus hasn’t even been gone two days yet! (Something I like to point out to those who think the rapture is imminent.) The next verse reads, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promises, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” We should be as patient with God as He is with us. If your lack of patience drives you nuts take comfort in what John Calvin confessed: “I have not so great a struggle with my vices, great and numerous as they are, as I have with my impatience. My efforts are not absolutely useless; yet I have never been able to conquer this ferocious wild beast.” Ralph Waldo Emerson put it succinctly. “Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.”
You may inquire, “What am I supposed to do while I wait for God to perform His makeover miracle on His temple?” I asked the same question. I’d spent decades filling my brain’s hard drive with pornography and to expect those images to be wiped away in short order would’ve been wishful thinking on my part. No matter what your hurt, hang-up or habit may’ve been its absence will create a void that must be filled. If you don’t do it the devil will. Christ explained to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:43-45; “When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’ When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first.” The message is clear. As God removes the compulsive behaviors that were ruining your life and the obsessions that prevented a closer relationship with your Savior it’s up to you to replace them with wholesome, healthy and constructive thoughts and activities. Be a faithful attendee at each Celebrate Recovery meeting. Become active in your church by volunteering in every capacity you can manage. Instead of spending three or four hours per day in front of the television or posting inane junk on Facebook, spend quality time with the scriptures and read books written by inspiring Christian authors who provide insightful perspectives on what the Holy Word contains. The Bible is not only fascinating, it has unlimited power you can tap into every time you dive into its ocean of knowledge and truth. In doing so you’ll develop a hunger and thirst for righteous living that, rather than frustrating you, will incrementally satisfy you and make you eager to know more about Jesus Christ, the one who suffered and died in your place.
Thomas Aquinas said, “There is within every soul a thirst for happiness and meaning.” F.F. Bruce wrote, “The soul’s deepest thirst is for God himself, who has made us so that we can never be satisfied without Him” and Saint Augustine opined, “God thirsts to be thirsted after.” We all enter this world with a spiritually empty stomach and parched throat. If we don’t accommodate those pressing needs by accepting what the Holy Spirit offers, we’ll inevitably attempt to mollify them with inferior things. The majority of us who crawled to a CR meeting in desperation did so because we’d finally realized that nothing we imbibed, ate or indulged in took away the gnawing ache of alienation that never abated. A big danger lies in training ourselves to grit our teeth and “live with it.” John Piper preached, “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestations of the glory of God, it is not because we’ve drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world.” God’s not playing keep-away with us. He longs for us to know deep contentment and he’s made it available to all. Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:14; “…Whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” Sam Storms wrote, “You weren’t created for boredom or burnout or bondage to sexual lust or greed or ambition but for the incomparable pleasure and matchless joy that knowing Jesus alone can bring. Only then, in Him, will you encounter the life-changing, thirst-quenching, soul-satisfying delight that God, for His glory, created you to experience.” The great I AM is not withholding his peace from us, it’s we who won’t embrace His gift. I quote Frederick Buechner: “Martin Luther said once, ‘If I were God I’d kick the world to pieces.’ But Martin Luther wasn’t God. God is God, and God has never kicked the world to pieces. He keeps re-entering the world. He keeps offering himself to the world by grace, keeps somehow blessing the world, making possible a kind of life which we all, in our deepest being, hunger for.”
Be wary of becoming self-critical while you wait for the change to come. Succumb daily to the slow, steady growth the Holy Spirit is nurturing in your heart and mind. The “old you” will try to reenter your consciousness and instill doubts and low self-esteem by whispering the lie that, since you’re still tempted to do bad things, you’re not worthy of sanctification. Helen Keller wrote, “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” Realize there’s a war going on for your soul that Satan continues to think he can win so you’ll surely come to know temptation as a frequent companion on the recovery trail. T.D. Jakes said, “Faith must always pass the test of discouragement.” Never fall into the trap of thinking that, because you’ve made the supreme choice of being a disciple of Jesus, your life is supposed to be a lot less complicated, considerably less confounding and far less stressful. Billy Graham openly admitted, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’” Expect the Lord to put you in uncomfortable situations to test your faith because He will. But the heavenly reward for enduring hard times for His sake is an eternity of indescribable wonders and revelations. We have to put all our trust in the Lord and, as Dietrich Bonhoffer said, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” Our response to everything we encounter in this life should always be to love. Mother Teresa wrote, “There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.” That should always be our fallback position; Letting God’s love flow through us into others.