“So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls. But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.” – James 1:21-22
I find these verses to be particularly pertinent to Step 10 that says, “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” The key word here is “continued.” I recall that early on in my recovery journey I started listening to Christian music radio for the first time in my life. One popular song stuck out immediately. Matthew West’s poignant “The Motions.” Every single lyric in that tune could’ve been written for me but the hook is what brought me to tears. He sings, “I don’t want to spend my whole life asking/’What if I had given everything/instead of going through the motions?’” I’d been acting like a follower of Christ my entire life but that’s exactly what I’d been doing. Pretending. My wife’s discovery of my secret addiction to porn was my rock bottom because it exposed me for the deceptive, insecure and selfish individual I was and it forced me to come face to face with my false, vapid “spirituality.” It took the very real possibility that I could forfeit my marriage (if I didn’t change my heart and mind pronto) to make me seek help for my lack of sexual integrity. That Sunday I went to a local church. I knew nary a soul there. (No particular reason. It’d been my precinct’s polling location years earlier.) After the service I asked the pastor for a counseling session. The next night he met with me for about half an hour, then stood up and said “come on.” He led me to the upstairs mezzanine where about 30 folks I didn’t know had gathered and he told me to take a seat. Then he left me there! I panicked for a second and scoped out the nearest exit but then relaxed somewhat when I heard the leader say that just by being there my recovery had already begun. I was at my first Celebrate Recovery meeting and it’s precisely where I needed to be. I relate this so you’ll know I’ve been where you’re at. I was so sick and tired of the person I’d let myself become I was more than ready to undergo a complete, drastic makeover. I didn’t want to “go through the motions” one more day. The old voice inside me was indignant, shouting that changing was going to be a thousand times harder than I could possibly imagine because it would require me to dedicate myself to being a true Christian every morning and become one of “those people.” But God’s pull was stronger than that skeptical voice and I made the conscious decision to adopt the 8 Principles and 12 Steps into my lifestyle come what may. I was determined to hold myself accountable 24/7 from that day forward.
Step 10 is all about one’s individual accountability. I.E., constantly holding yourself responsible for how you react to every circumstance, every stimulus and every event that unfolds before you. It compels you to ask yourself whether you’re going to represent Christ or your own best interests in your responses. We can’t escape cause and effect. They come with the territory. As Zig Ziglar said, “Every choice you make has an end result.” What that outcome will be depends heavily on what the overriding attitude toward God and others is that you opt to carry throughout your waking hours. Before you got born again the choices you made on a daily basis were simpler. They were primarily based on what would benefit you most. If your loved ones were included, all the better. But now that you’re a redeemed child of God every decision is a fork in the road. It’s His will be done or yours and sometimes they aren’t one and the same. When that happens it’s advantageous to remember the messed up person that Christ’s atoning sacrifice saved you from being. Don’t take the miracle that transpired in you for granted. Sam Storms wrote, “This is the glory and miracle of grace, that God, through the Holy Spirit, is able to transform a stubborn, rebellious and unbelieving will into a passionate, obedient, believing will without violating the integrity of the individual or diminishing the voluntary nature of one’s decision to trust Christ for salvation.” In other words, your transformation didn’t turn you into a robot with no ability to make choices. On the contrary, you were changed into a man or woman who’s still confronted with some kind of option in almost every breath you take! The magnificent Creator of the universe may own believers lock, stock and barrel yet He goes on telling each one of His children in every situation, “It’s up to you.” Amazingly, and some might say foolishly, He trusts us to do the right thing. William Law preached, “Nothing harms or destroys us but the wrong use of that liberty of choice which God has entrusted to us.” In Romans 12:3 Paul announces, “For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith.” In my case I know my Lord and Savior is disappointed and let down frequently by what I wind up doing because, despite my efforts to the contrary, I’m still influenced mightily by my trigger-happy pride and ego. Both of those entities contrarily leap to the front and block my judgment before I have a chance to entertain second thoughts and that’s why I have to “continue to take personal inventory” of my actions. Unfortunately, it’s usually in arrears. I find the words of Jerry Bridges to be quite convicting. He said, “Before we had no choice; now we have one. When we sin as Christians, we do not sin as slaves, but as individuals with the freedom of choice. We sin because we choose to sin.” Ouch! The truth hurts.
When we made the decision to surrender our lives to Christ it affected every decision we made and are to make from that moment on. The impact is profound. Think of what the implications were for the remaining eleven associates of Jesus to do exactly as their Master had commanded. Chuck Colson wrote, “The disciples’ decision to obey Jesus after the Ascension proved to be a pivotal point in history. The world was never the same again.” I dare say that your little corner of the cosmos hasn’t been the same, either. While your peace of mind can’t be taken away everything else in your life may appear to be teetering on the brink of disaster. You must accept that those difficulties often stem from your belief in Jesus. Tests of faith are inevitable. Walter Chantry said, “At each stage of growth, more self-denial is required, more painful blows to self, more reckless decision to serve the Lord Christ with consequent abandonment of one’s own life.” The Messiah wasn’t bluffing when He taught in Matthew 10:38-39; “And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.” If things in your life haven’t been altered one way or another as you’ve travelled the road to recovery then you have to question whether you’ve truly made the big decision. D.L. Moody quipped, “I believe in my soul that there are more at this day being lost for want of decision than for any other thing.” Evaluate your situation. Have you completely renovated your outlook? Have your relationships improved, at least on your side of them? Do you enjoy a closer walk with your Heavenly Father? Have you figuratively climbed on board the humility train or do you continue to feel entitled to certain privileges and blessings? Only an honest self-examination can provide you with forthright answers. Now, not for a nanosecond would I intimate that your conversion was insincere. That’s between you and God. What I am saying is that without a concentrated effort to be diligent in following the seventh principle of the Celebrate Recovery program (wherein we learn to “reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will”) we’re prone to backsliding into sinful hang-ups and habits. Greg Ogden wrote, “There is a vast difference between being a Christian and being a disciple. The difference is commitment.”
Commitment is a strong word that pulls a wagon filled with responsibilities behind it. That’s why so many avoid it like the plague and run from it as fast as they can. Whether you know it or not, when you gave your life to Christ you entered into a sacred covenant with God and when you fail to honor your vow by ducking out of His circle of radiance you’ll sense it. Saint Augustine said, “Remember this. When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people withdraw from God.” We too often wonder where God wandered off to when the fact is we’re the ones who moved, not the great I AM. Sometimes we do that because trusting Him in everything we do and for everything we need is hard. It takes stamina and perseverance and sometimes we’d prefer a higher power that’s easier to believe in. I agree with Miguel de Unamuno’s quote, “Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe in the God idea, not God Himself.” It’s sad that our closeness to our Father in heaven frequently depends on how smoothly our lives are proceeding. We still harbor an insistence on being self-sufficient. Francis Chan quipped, “The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want him most of the time.” We unwittingly push Him away during the prosperous times. Ravi Zacharias wrote, “I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that’s where we’ve put Him. We’ve kept Him at a distance, and then, when we’re in need and call on Him in prayer, we wonder where He is. He’s exactly where we left Him.” Taking an inventory daily and promptly admitting to God that we sin when we put so many things and distractions between us and Him will go a long way in establishing a tighter bond with our Lord.
The clue to working Principle 7 lies in becoming willing to examine the naked motives behind everything we say and do and compare them with what the Bible instructs us to mold them into. We must scrub our soiled hands. Then and only then can we better demonstrate what Christ can do for the hopeless sinners we encounter. Proverbs 16:21-23 reads, “The one who is wise in heart is called discerning, and kind speech increases persuasiveness. Insight is like a life-giving fountain to the one who possesses it, but folly leads to the discipline of fools. A wise person’s heart makes his speech wise and it adds persuasiveness to his words.” Paul taught in Ephesians 4:29; “You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear it.” The only way for us to heed those scriptures and incorporate them into our new-and-improved personality is to pause and allow God’s love to guide us. 1 Corinthians is one of my favorite books in the Holy Word because of verses like the chapter 13 opener that says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Long after we’ve completed steps 1 through 9 our recovery will continue on its way to permanence only to the degree in which we adhere to step 10 and subject ourselves to rigorous, unflinching self-examination. Doing that requires a willingness to be stung by our own capacity for iniquity. Brene Brown wrote, “If we want a greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path” while Francois Fenelon penned, “Nothing will make us so charitable and tender to the faults of others, as, by self-examination, thoroughly to know our own.” Once again, the Bible says it best. “Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
Perhaps you have a difficult time trusting yourself to make wholesome, God-pleasing decisions. I understand. That’s why I urge you to become more and more involved with the brothers and sisters in Christ that meet weekly at Celebrate Recovery. As Steve Maraboli said, “If you hang out with chickens you’re going to cluck, and if you hang out with eagles you’re going to fly.” Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom wrote, “When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.” Never fool yourself into thinking that Satan is a make-believe monster conjured up to keep kids in line. He’s real as rain and he’ll try to affect your mental processes in ways you won’t suspect unless you specifically and intentionally train yourself to abide in Christ and to let Christ abide in you. Look, you’re going to make mistakes but the important thing is to keep trying to improve one day at a time. Ayn Rand gave sage advice on this subject: “Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic conscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know is an account of infamy growing in your soul. Make every allowance for errors of knowledge; do not forgive or accept any break of morality.” I realize that statement’s a lot to take in (Was Ms. Rand wordy? Ya think?) yet it brilliantly describes what holding ourselves accountable really entails. As Christians we must set our moral bar at the highest, most holy of standards every hour of every day.
Make it an ongoing habit to conduct an honest inventory of your behavior as well as your attitude towards others so you can see not only your errors of judgment but be inspired to make the necessary amends to those affected ASAP. Avoid the tendency to let sleeping dogs lie or to sweep your shortcomings under the rug. Non-believers rationalize it’s okay to do those things. Followers of Jesus don’t. The Bible makes it clear that we are to “fight the good fight” for righteousness’ sake, especially when we’re battling against our animal instincts. 1 Timothy 1:19 reads, “Cling tightly to your faith in Christ and always keep your conscience clear, doing what you know is right.” If we slip back into following our base nature we’re bound for trouble. Proverbs 21:2 says, “All of a person’s ways seem right in his own opinion, but the Lord evaluates the motives.” Face it; we’re fallible human beings who, left to our own devices, are capable of leaving horrible messes in our wake. Therefore we must condition ourselves to be lifelong students of and adherents to doing things God’s way. It takes patience and mule-headed persistence to be healthily introspective, to be open to what the Bible tells us about our sinful tendencies and to pray without ceasing. This quote from Sonya Withrow sums it all up concisely: “It’s up to you, not about you.”