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Posts tagged ‘intimacy’

Building Intimacy in Marriage

SOURCE:  Dan Allender

What I want to offer you is a simple thought.

To the degree you hide and blame, you will ruin the very thing that you most deeply desire. To the degree that you open your heart and give to the other, particularly in the context of some of your hardest moments, you will have the opportunity to develop true and lasting intimacy.

What is intimacy?

It is the delectable pleasure that promises, through heart and body, that love conquers death. In most worlds, we’re looking at a 52-percent probability of divorce in a first marriage. Seventy percent in a second. Ninety percent in a third. We live in a world of marital death. And given that, what will not only keep the two of you together, but actually bring you pleasure—the pleasure that is, indeed, a promise that death does not win, that love conquers death? That’s what our hearts most deeply desire.

To do that kind of work, we’ve got to walk into the depths of what seems counterintuitive: we must enter the suffering of the other. To stand with that person, share in whatever way we can with them in their suffering, and to have a heart to bless them rather than to flee from them or blame them.

The Curse

I believe that every one of us struggles with what Genesis 3:16-19 points us to. This is reality for every man and every woman. As daughters of Eve, as sons of Adam, we all struggle with what came as a consequence of intimacy being broken with God and one another:

Then [God] said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

That’s not happy news. The reality to be a woman in this world is that you suffer what your mother Eve suffered. And to be a man in this world means you suffer what your father Adam suffered. What did they suffer? Two things for each.

First, for women, you will have pain in childbearing. Does that mean that if you do not have children you have been released from the curse? Absolutely not. This literally means you will have pain in childbearing. But even more, what I believe the passage is inviting us to consider is that a woman’s heart is relational. A woman’s heart gives birth to relationships. A woman’s heart is to expand and to grow and to see fruitfulness in the way that she lives. And what’s the byproduct of the fall? Every woman will have pain in relationships. There will be a certain loneliness and agony that will be there in all her relationships.

Second, we see that there will be tension in her marriage. That her desire will be powerful and his response to her desire will be to try and control her. We see the word translated “desire” again in the same form in Genesis 4:7, where God tells Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you” (NIV). The word desire there seems to imply something empty, craving, desperate. In the heart of every woman is a desperation, a craving, a loneliness that desires to be assuaged by something that will deeply satisfy her heart. And a man’s response to a woman who’s hungry is that he feels out of control and desires to make sure that she is silenced, so that he is not unnerved by her desire. He’ll try to master, to control her through intimidation, through fear, through shame, through withdrawal to make her pay. We’ve got two themes—hide, blame. Hide. Blame. He doesn’t want to deal with her emptiness. He hides. It comes to him and exposes him; he blames.

In summary, the core issue for every woman from this passage is this question: Am I too much? Am I too much for my father, for my boyfriend, for my husband? Because I have more energy, more passion, more desire, more hurt, more anger than it seems the men in my world have the capacity to address. Far more often, men want women to turn down that pain, that heartache, that desire, and the Scriptures call that ruling, controlling. That is not good. That tension is a result of the Fall.

What’s the reality for men? Two things again. There is no such category as low-hanging fruit. Every day you will go out into the world and you will scrape to make a living. Irrespective of how well off you are, how large your bank account is, there will always be enough uncertainty in our world that you cannot escape, and all labor is fraught with sweat and blood. Nothing comes easy for a man.

Second, whatever a man achieves will eventually turn to dust. Nothing lasts. Nothing will be yours for eternity. And so for a man the core question is this: Am I enough? Do I have enough intelligence? Do I have enough strength? Do I have enough wisdom? Do I have enough ability to make it in a world like ours?

Can you see the tension between men and women? Whether married or not: I’m too much. I’m not enough. And in that interplay, with the tension of loneliness and the issues of my failure and futility, the natural response for every single one of us is to step away, hide, cover, and eventually turn and blame.

Hiding and Blaming

As a therapist, no one calls me with good news. I don’t like the phone. So in the years before caller ID, when the phone would ring, I could be three feet away and my wife could be fifteen feet away. I would look at my wife with that very plaintive male look. And my wife, who struggles like any other woman with the fear of loneliness, would hear that Please do this for me, and she would go answer the phone. I would feel relieved because at least I’d have 15 to 20 seconds to figure out what to do with the phone call.

When she’d answer the phone and say, “Oh, hi, Fred,” I’d hear Fred’s voice or I’d hear his name, and I would gesture to her. She would respond and say to Fred, “Oh, I’m sorry. Dan’s not available.” Or at times, sadly, she would say, “I’m sorry. He’s not here.” I think she meant psychologically, but nonetheless, she deceived on my behalf to allow me to escape that sense of being caught in something I didn’t want to have to handle.

I remember this day so very well. The phone rang. I did that same little thing. She came over, answered it, and said, “Oh, hi, Fred.” And I began that gesture. She said to Fred, “I’m sorry. Dan is shaking so violently before me that I’m not sure what he would like to do with the phone call. So I’m going to put it down and let him decide.” She walked away, and as she did I tracked her. I knew exactly where she was going.

I picked up the phone. “Hey, Fred. How are you?” We had a little conversation, quite pleasant. After we hung up I tracked her. I followed her. I sort of opened the door she was behind. I didn’t throw it open, but I opened it with force, and I stepped in. One foot in, one out, just a nice, safe position. I said, “What were you thinking?” My tone made clear that I was blaming her. I had already begun the violence against her.

She was reading a book. And she held up the book’s spine so I could see. The title was Bold Love, a book that I wrote. And she said, “I was reading something that I find to be quite brilliant and helpful and yet something that I see you seldom attempt to live.” At that point I was furious. I was befuddled and furious, and all I could do was fume for a moment or two and then storm away.

Intimacy and Pain

In those moments, most of us have conflict. We have hurt. We have misunderstanding. We shut down. We escape. Maybe we blame for a season. But because we love each other, eventually it sort of dissipates. We get back together and say, “I love you. I’m sorry. Shouldn’t have said that.” It’s not resolved. We’ve really not addressed much of anything at all. Over months, years, decades, those kinds of small nicks and wounds begin to create a kind of dissipation of energy and heart.

How do divorces occur? Seldom did somebody just wake up one morning going, “I don’t love you and I don’t want to be married to you.” It is over that slow tectonic movement where all of a sudden one day you wake up. You’ve been drifting for so very long that in many ways you’re sleeping with an enemy. And yet you love each other. Yet you’re friends. And yet there is nothing really left in your life of true intimacy.

How do we keep that from happening in our marriages? It is not that complex. And yet, indeed, it is not easy. We must stand in one another’s pain. I have to invite my wife into the world in which, no matter what successes or failures I’ve known, there’s not a single day of my life where I feel like I can do well. There’s always a doubt, always a question, always the thought that I really am a poser. What am I going to do with those questions? Well, I’ve got enough confidence and bravado, at least externally, that I can sort of bluff my way through the world. But nobody knows as clearly and deeply as my wife that below that bravado is a whole lot of hurt and shame and pain. What does it mean for me to invite my wife into my struggle with confidence, my struggle with performance, my fear of failure and futility?

Equally, my wife must invite me into her loneliness. The problem is, many times I’m the cause of her loneliness. She was lonely before I married her, and I’ve increased it. Do you see the possibility for tension? Blame. Shift of blame. Backing away. Our task is so very, very important that we have to have the courage to enter the suffering of the other. We’re called to stand with each other in humbling, humiliating, hard moments. Ones in which we naturally run, hide, and then turn and blame.

The Curse Lifter

Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.” Jesus has entered into all the loneliness that a woman will ever suffer. How else do you understand this phrase, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” (Matthew 27:46)? And Jesus knows the sense of futility and failure that every man feels. He allowed himself to become a public spectacle of failure and shame, knows what it is to be mocked before the world. His whole creation turned against him in blame and contempt.

In the midst of our own struggles with one another, our hearts open when we bring in Jesus and his presence, when we say I am alone and I feel curses, and yet he had all of my curse. To know that freedom—I will never bear the curse that he, indeed, has borne on my behalf—opens my heart to at least a new stance with my wife. I can begin to say, “I don’t know what to say, what to do, how to rebuild. But I do know this, I must deal with my heart first.” As I begin to name where I have fled and where I have blamed, I begin to call forth in you the blessing that I have harmed you and I want to enter your hurt. I don’t know how to do it well, and I’ll fail even as I do so. But I will not quit and I will not walk away, and we will come to know one another more richly and deeply than we have before.

The world is looking at our marriages. In many ways it has already come to the judgment that we are no different from our so-called secular counterparts, not only in terms of the rate of divorce but the rate of emptiness in our lives. It is our unique gift and call to be witnesses that the humility of desire and the commitment to move toward one another will bring a goodness that we could never have created on our own by doing kind things for one another. Christ has borne all that we will ever suffer, and we have the privilege of entering the heart of suffering of the other in order to bring blessing.

Together, may you have a taste in the midst of very hard moments of what it means to move, to stand, to speak, and to bless rather than to hide and blame.

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Excerpted from a sermon by Dan Allender, delivered at Willow Creek Community Church, February 5-6, 2011.

Pornography: Q & A — Should I Marry A Man With Porn Struggles?

SOURCE:  Russell Moore

Should I Marry a Man with Pornography Struggles?

A couple of months ago, I posted a question about an ethical dilemma a recently engaged woman is facing. She just found out that her spouse to-be has had “ongoing struggles with pornography.” She isn’t sure what to do, or how to make sure the issue is sufficiently addressed. You gave your thoughts on the issue, and here are mine.

Dear Engaged and Confused,

Far too many women are watching “The Notebook” or “Twilight” for indicators on what kind of man they should marry. Instead, you probably should watch “The Wolf Man.”

Have you ever seen any of those old werewolf movies? You know, those in which the terrified man, dripping with sweat, chains himself in the basement and says to his friends, “Whatever you do, no matter what I say or how I beg, don’t let me out of there.” He sees the full-moon coming and he’s taking action to protect everyone against himself.

In a very real sense, that’s what the Christian life is about. We all have points of vulnerability, areas of susceptibility to sin and self-destruction. There are beings afoot in the universe who watch these points and who know how to collaborate with our biology and our environment to slaughter us.

Wisdom means knowing where those weak points are, recognizing deception for what it is, and warring against ourselves in order to maintain fidelity to Christ and to those God has given us.

What worries me about your situation is not that your potential husband has a weakness for pornography, but that you are just now finding out about it. That tells me he either doesn’t see it as the marriage-engulfing horror that it is, or that he has been too paralyzed with shame.

What you need is not a sinless man. You need a man deeply aware of his sin and of his potential for further sin. You need a man who can see just how capable he is of destroying himself and your family. And you need a man with the wisdom to, as Jesus put it, gouge out whatever is dragging him under to self-destruction.

This means a man who knows how to subvert himself. I’d want to know who in his life knows about the porn and how they, with him, are working to see to it that he can’t transgress without exposure. I’d want to know from him how he plans to see to it that he can’t hide this temptation from you, after the marriage.

It may mean that the nature of his temptation means that you two shouldn’t have computer in the house. It might mean that you have immediate transcription of all his Internet activity. It might be all sorts of obstacles that he’s placing in his way. The point is that, in order to love you,  he must fight (Eph. 5:25; Jn. 10), and part of that fight will be against himself.

Pornography is a universal temptation precisely because it does exactly what the satanic powers wish to do. It lashes out at the Trinitarian nature of reality, a loving communion of persons, replacing it with a masturbatory Unitarianism.

And pornography strikes out against the picture of Christ and his church by disrupting the one-flesh union, leaving couples like our prehistoric ancestors, hiding from one another and from God in the darkness of shame.

And pornography rages, as Satan always does, against Incarnation (1 Jn. 4:2-3), replacing flesh-to-flesh intimacy with the illusion of fleshless intimacy.

There’s not a guarantee that you can keep your marriage from infidelity, either digital or carnal, but you can make sure the man you’re following into it knows the stakes, knows how to repent, and knows the meaning of fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil all the way to a cross.

In short, find a man who knows what his “full moon” is, what it is that drives him to vulnerability to his beastly self. Find a man who knows how to subvert himself, and how to ask others to help.

You won’t find a silver bullet for all of this, but you just might find a gospel-clinging wolf man.

(Image Credit)

Learning To Love The Person I Married

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

How do I revive a wilting marriage?

Question: My marriage isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. I often think I married the wrong person and that I would be happier with someone different. How do I learn to love the person I married instead of always dreaming of what might have been?

Answer: Believe it or not, your situation is not all that uncommon. I’ve talked with many women who do not have a bad marriage but are unhappy with the person they are married to. The love they once felt toward their husband, they no longer feel. Or, as they look back, they realize that they married their husband for the wrong reason like wanting to get out of their parent’s home or to have children.

That said, you are married, so what do you do? You have a couple of choices, none of which may feel very appealing to you right now. One is you can continue to regret your choice, live in “what if” and be unhappy. Sadly, if you continue to do that, your marriage will get worse. You cannot change the past. You cannot relive your decision. Living in regret is a waste of time and energy. You did it, it’s done. Move on.

That brings you to your next two choices. One is to give up. You can choose to end your marriage. I don’t say that lightly nor do I believe that is the best choice, but it is a choice. God allows us free will even if we choose poorly. But divorce is not an easy decision and is not without serious consequences relationally, spiritually, emotionally and financially.

I’m glad your question is really about the third choice. How might you learn to love the person you married? I have some friends who are in an arranged marriage. When they married, they were virtually strangers. But they have learned to love each other. It is probably not the Hollywood, romantic version of Valentine love, but a deep trust, a safe harbor type of love which endures over the ups and downs of family life.

Here are some things you can do which will help you come to better love the man you’re married to. I call them the five A’s of relationship revival: Acceptance, Attention, Affirmation, Admiration and Affection.

1. Acceptance: No one has a perfect marriage or perfect spouse. Learn to be content with the person you married instead of trying to remake him into the person you think he should be.

You said that it is not a bad marriage. What’s good about it? Is your husband faithful? Good with the children? Does he provide for your well-being financially? Is he handy with house repairs? No one gets all 52 cards in the deck when they marry. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and the things that bug us the most after marriage are often the things that we loved the most while dating. For example, I love that my husband enjoys doing things with me and talking, however he’s not crazy about tackling work around the house. I can focus on what he doesn’t do, but when I do that I feel more and more upset, lose sight, and forget to give thanks for all the good things he does do.

2. Attention: In all of life, what you don’t maintain deteriorates. This is true with your nails, your body, your home, your car, and it’s true with your marriage. Make time for your husband and marriage. Take the time to talk, to play, and to have romance together. Even if you’re not always in the mood, being intentional about giving attention puts the structure in place to build on the other things in your marriage. When you were dating, you probably spent lots of quality time together. That’s what helped bond you together. When you don’t invest the time, don’t expect to get the results.

3. Affirmation: Think about the things that drew you to him in the first place. Was he a strong leader? Perhaps he was very kind and generous, funny, or a good money manager. Let your mind remember his good qualities. When he gets home, tell him how much you like or appreciate those qualities in him.

4. Admiration: Affirmation is more external, it is something we do. Admiration is more internal. It is something that we feel towards another person. But our feelings are linked to our thoughts, and so we must train our mind to give thanks and dwell on our husband’s good points, not his weaknesses. The apostle Paul tells us to think on the positive things in life, not the negative things (Philippians 4:8). In this passage, Paul’s not pretending that there aren’t negative things, but if we dwell on them we will make ourselves unhappy.

5. Affection: Every human being needs touch. Put your arm through your husband’s arm during a movie or church service. Hold hands. Rub his back. If you’re wary that you’ll be giving your husband the message you want sex, (and do not) then do it in a more public place or at a time when more romance is not possible. However, good sex is a way to improve marital intimacy. Remember, talk and touch are the primary ways we build intimacy.

How Is Your Love Life?

SOURCE:  Mark and Grace Driscoll

The couple were devout Christians and virgins when they first met. Forty years later, the pain of their marriage showed on their faces. As they spoke to me of their troubles, they each hung their head in loneliness and grief.

There had been no adultery. There had been no divorce. But there had also been no friendship. Although they did a lot of work together, they hadn’t had much fun. With their children grown and home empty, the glue that once held them together was gone, and they were reduced to life as nearly sexless roommates.

What about you? How is your love life?

Maybe you’re newly married and still filled with wedded bliss, or a married couple so exhausted from the constant demands of work and parenting that your marriage is slipping. You may be reeling from a devastating sin in your marriage. Or the two of you are still in love and doing pretty well, but you want to avoid ending up like other couples you know who are not getting along and possibly even getting divorced.

All the talk about spending time and doing life together, making memories, being a good listener, being honest, having the long view of things, repenting and forgiving can be summed up in one word: friendship. Friendship is an integral part of a truly Christian marriage.

Three kinds of marriage

In our teaching and counseling, we have seen people respond well to a simple explanation of three kinds of marriages: back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder, and face-to-face.

back-to-back marriage is one in which the couple has turned their backs on each other. As a result, they live separately and do not work together (shoulder-to-shoulder) or draw each other out in friendship (face-to-face). In such marriages the partners range from strangers to enemies, but are not friends.

shoulder-to-shoulder marriage is one in which the couple works together on tasks and projects, such as keeping the home, raising the kids, growing the business, and serving the church.

face-to-face marriage is one in which, in addition to the shoulder-to-shoulder work, the couple gets a lot of face-to-face time for conversation, friendship, and intimacy.

As a general rule, women have more friendships than men. And their friendships tend to be more face-to-face. This is because men commonly have shoulder-to-shoulder friendships around shared activity. If they take the time to reflect on whom they have considered friends in different seasons of their life, most men recall boys they played with on a sports team and guys they worked with on a job. But they often know very little about these guys they called friends, because their tasks consumed their time and conversation, as they talked about the task in front of them rather than the emotion between them.

Conversely, women’s friendships tend to be face-to-face and built around intimate conversation. This explains why women do the sorts of things with other women that men do not do with other men, such as going out to lunch or coffee just to talk, sharing deep intimate feelings while looking each other in the face without a task bringing them together.

A word to husbands and wives

Wives, to be a good friend, learn to spend some time with your husband in shared activity. If he’s watching a sporting event, sit down and share it with him. If he’s working on a project, hang out nearby to help or at least ask questions and be a companion if nothing else. If he’s going fishing, ask if you can come sit in the boat with him just to be in his world. For a wife to build a friendship with her husband requires shoulder-to-shoulder time alongside him.

Husbands, to be a good friend to your wife, learn to have deeper and more intimate conversations. Open up, telling your wife how you’re doing and ask­ing her how she is doing. Listen without being distracted by technology or a task (put your cell phone away), but instead focus on her, looking her in the eye for extended periods of time. Draw her out emotionally, and allow her to draw you out emotionally. Keep your advice to a minimum and learn to listen, empathize, comfort, encourage, and in so doing resist the constant male urge to find a problem and try and fix it. No wife likes feeling like a problem to be fixed rather than a person who wants to be intimate. For her, intimacy means “into-me-see,” which means she wants to know her husband and be known by him. For a husband to build a friendship with his wife requires him growing in face-to-face skills.

Intimacy is ultimately about conversing. As an old proverb says, “The road to the heart is the ear.”

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Mark and Grace Driscoll founded Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, in 1996, and it has now grown to more than 6,000 members. This article is taken  from their new book, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together©2012 by On Mission, LLC. Thomas Nelson Publishers.


Letting Go of Lust

Why willpower alone is not enough

SOURCE:   Adam R. Holz/Discipleship Journal

The young man looks at the pile of work on his desk and takes a deep breath. With dread, he thinks about the deadline that looms on Friday. The pressing tyranny of so many things to do day after day has begun to wear on him.

As he heads to the kitchenette for another cup of coffee, a coworker steps out of her cubicle in front of him. He notices her clothes, or more specifically, how they fit her. In an instant, his thoughts race into forbidden territory as his glance sweeps over Marcia’s body.

“Morning, Sam,” Marcia says with a friendly smile.

“Morning, Marcia,” Sam replies according to script, unable to look her in the eyes.

Sam and Marcia discuss the morning’s non-news, the mundane stuff of casual conversations between coworkers. Almost unconsciously he watches her as she turns to leave the kitchenette.

As soon as she disappears around the corner, Sam realizes he’s fallen again. Despite his pleas to God and his vows to try harder, to do better, still his eyes wander. Like Peter after the cock crowed, Sam is filled with remorse. Back at his desk, he quietly pleads, “Forgive me, Lord.” But he neither feels forgiven nor has much time to think about it as he picks up the next invoice to record in the ledger.

Anatomy of Lust

Many sincere followers of Christ struggle with lust. What, exactly, is lust? Webster’s defines it as an “unusually intense or unbridled sexual desire.” In Ephesians, Paul says that lust characterizes those without Christ:

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.—Eph. 4:18–19

Paul also wrote, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:3).

These passages paint a dark picture of the person trapped in lust. Though Paul was talking about unbelievers, when believers give in to lust regularly, our souls are similarly darkened. We grow insensitive to sin and increasingly pursue fleshly gratification. Lust promises satisfaction but never delivers. Instead, we’re left with a driving hunger for more.

People who struggle with lust may be tempted to wonder, Is obedience in this area of my life really possible? This has been a pressing question for me. I’ve had seasons of consistent obedience as well as failure. I wish I could say that I have “arrived” when it comes to defeating this demon. But I have not discovered the silver bullet that will permanently vanquish lust from my heart, mind, and eyes.

However, I have begun to see that dealing with lust demands a deeper examination of the core beliefs from which our sinful choices spring. We can make important behavioral changes—such as memorizing Scripture and seeking accountability—but still fail to look carefully at what’s really going on in our hearts. To experience lasting change, we must recognize that sexual sin springs from wrong beliefs about God, about others, and about what will ultimately satisfy our longing.

Unmasking Unbelief

What drives us to choose something that so consistently fails to satisfy, something that heaps debilitating shame upon our lives? God has created us with a natural desire to experience intimacy. Lust is a debased form of this desire to connect with others. We want other people to understand what’s going on inside us. Lust, however, mistakenly elevates the sexual component of intimacy. It twists and warps our hearts into the tragic belief that sexuality—and fantasy—is the chief means to that end.

Lust also reveals a stunted belief in God’s goodness and His ability to meet our needs. Throughout the Bible, God has promised to fill, satisfy, and sustain us. Isaiah 51:12 says, “I, even I, am he who comforts you.” Zephaniah 3:17 describes God’s passion for us in poetic terms: “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” David spoke of God’s love for him: “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you . . . My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Ps. 63:3, 5). In Ps. 16:11, David also said, “You will fill me with joy in your presence.” Finally, Isaiah wrote about how God has designed our relationship with Him to quench our deepest thirsts. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Is. 12:3).

The New Testament echoes the Old in the ways it describes God’s promise to satisfy us. Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). Paul wrote, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19, NRSV). Paul repeatedly described believers as heirs to the inexhaustible riches of a Father God who loves us passionately. We are children of the King!

And yet we sometimes choose to live as paupers, rooting around desperately in the trash instead of dining on the rich fare He offers His children at His table. If we capitulate to the siren song of the flesh, distortions and lies creep into our thinking in subtle ways. Enticing but life-sapping alternatives to His goodness always crouch in the shadows of the soul, seeking to seduce our heart’s attention. Whether we realize it or not, we begin to rationalize our sin.

We may think, I’ve sought to serve Him with all my heart for many years, but still He hasn’t brought me a life partner. It doesn’t matter if I indulge this lustful thought a bit. God knows I’m a sexual being. I deserve a bit of comfort. Instead of recognizing our sin for what it is, we come to see it as a right. We squint at God, viewing Him as a stingy miser who has established unreasonable laws to keep us from what we think will satisfy us. Lust is born the moment we choose to meet our needs our way instead of trusting God to be true to what He’s promised.

Maybe we don’t vocalize those thoughts. But when we choose lust, our actions uncover what we believe. We have essentially said to God, “I really don’t believe You can satisfy my deepest needs, and I’m tired of waiting. I am going to have what I want, on my terms, right now, and I’m not willing to wait for You to fulfill my desires in Your time.” Lust, then, is the wicked child of unbelief.

That’s why willpower alone can never be the ultimate solution to the battles we wage against the lusts of our flesh. I may vow, “I’m never going to do that again.” But that momentary intention does not get at the root of the problem: my unbelief in God’s goodness.

Instead, I must recognize that one key to resisting lust’s lies is learning to go to the Father and praying in faith, “Lord, You have said that You delight in me, that You love me, that You want to comfort and fill me with Yourself. You have said that You alone are life and that Your love is better than anything we might experience in this life, including sex and my fantasies about it. Father, help me to trust You in this moment of temptation. I believe in Your ability to fill and satisfy me.”

Peter said that if we take God at His word, we will experience freedom from the shackles of sin and we will know Him intimately. “He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4).

Seeing Better

In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, a once proud and noble king slowly goes insane, slipping into deep paranoia about those close to him. One of Lear’s friends admonishes him, “See better, Lear.” Like the senile Lear, we, too, need to see better. Not only does lust reveal unbelief, but it also demonstrates that I see others only as objects of gratification, not as individuals whom God has lovingly created in His image.

How can we begin to see people as God sees them? By allowing Scripture to saturate our hearts. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, God’s Word will transform our perspective. As we read and meditate upon it, we see what He values and discover how He wants us to relate to others. He uses His Word to rewire our perspective on reality, giving us new eyes to “see better.”

All of Scripture pours forth God’s love for each individual. A couple of passages, however, stand out regarding the way we see people. One important thing to reflect upon is that every person has been made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27). David describes God’s craftsmanship in Ps. 139:13–16:

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful . . . My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

Every person has tremendous dignity and worth simply by virtue of being created lovingly by God. We can begin to combat lust by asking God to help us remember and believe, deep in our hearts, that each individual is a unique and wondrous creation who bears His image. When I lust after a woman, I do violence to her dignity by failing to see her as a whole person and respect her as an image bearer of our God. Over the last couple of years, this truth has significantly changed the way I see people.

Another passage is one of the most familiar commands in the Bible: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7:12). As a man, I’ve rarely been on the receiving end of lustful glances. However, one experience showed me how ugly, how selfish, how disgusting my lust is.

On a weekend trip to Santa Fe with one of my best friends and his wife, we discovered a club that featured a different kind of music every night. We enjoyed a delightful evening of jazz and returned the next night to see what else was on tap.

When we walked in, I noticed that everyone sitting at the bar was male. My friend whispered to me, “This feels weird.” He was right. Several male couples openly expressed their affection for one another on the dance floor. Recognition dawned: It was gay night.

By the time my friend and I turned to leave, three men at the bar were openly sizing us up. No veil of shame or embarrassment cloaked their hungry eyes. I remember how disgusting it felt to be seen as a steak on a platter. Almost immediately, however, a familiar voice said, “Adam, how often do you do the same thing?”

I try to remember that sense of violation. I try to remember because it’s not the way I want to be treated, nor is it the way I want to regard any woman. By God’s help and power, I am learning to see better.

Intimacy and Community

Earlier I commented that lust is a misguided attempt to meet our legitimate needs for intimacy. We may think the key to escaping lust’s tenacious grip is paying more attention to private spiritual disciplines. While this is important, I believe another crucial component is often overlooked. Those who struggle with lust must experience wholesome intimacy within the context of a loving community. We need to be with others who love us deeply, yet not sexually. We need to receive their affirmation, their affection, their love, and their touch.

Genuine community is built upon a willingness to take off our masks in front of others. Though we need to be careful to do this in appropriate settings, such as in a small group or even with one other person, it’s critically important that someone knows who we really are.

Moving toward that kind of honesty is never easy, even if someone else has taken the risk first. But often, we will have to be the one who steps forward, takes the risk, and talks openly about our sin.

Proverbs 28:13 describes the healing process that takes place when we confess our struggles to an accepting community of believing friends: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” I’ve sometimes failed to live up to the standards of purity God commands of us. Each time, I experience a tortuous descent into self-loathing, a crippling burden to bear alone.

Even after I’ve confessed my sin to God, I can only find complete freedom from my shame by confessing the whole truth about my choices to several men I trust. In doing so, I’ve never failed to experience the mercy about which the writer of Proverbs speaks.

The freedom and healing in confession come from knowing that others have glimpsed the dark places in our hearts yet accept and love us anyway. God graciously uses other believers as vessels of His mercy and grace, reminding us through them that forgiveness is real, that it is our birthright as His sons and daughters.

Hope for the Battle

When we find ourselves giving in again to lust, we need to look beyond the behavior itself to what’s going on in our hearts. Lust is a clue that something about the way we’re approaching life is not right.

If you’re wrestling with this sin, consider how you’re seeing God and others. Do you believe God is capable of meeting your needs? Are you carving out time to know Him in increasing intimacy through His Word and prayer? How are you looking at other people? Are you seeing them as image bearers of God or treating them as objects? Are you sharing your heart with others, letting them see your struggle, and receiving the gift of their prayers and willingness to listen? Or are you in hiding?

Paul’s promises about God’s work in my life give me hope for this ongoing battle. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). By His grace, I recognize His tremendous Father-love for me more each day. As I do so, His eyes become mine, and I see other people from His redemptive, life-giving perspective, instead of viewing them through the warped lenses of lust.

God Speaking To You

Source:  Jan Johnson

If the Bible is merely words on a page, you are missing out on God’s primary way of speaking to you and me.  Try taking a passage of Scripture from that viewpoint: God wants to speak it to you.  As you read it, speak those words aloud to yourself from God’s (or Jesus’) point of view.  Better yet, write them down; best yet, do both.  Paraphrase the words and pull in phrases from elsewhere in Scripture if they fit.

Here are two examples (please read these aloud and insert your name):

“_____ (your name), don’t worry.  Just keep trusting me.  I will never leave you isolated; I am your constant companion, always at your side.  You are in me and I am in you.  You really can live in union with me.  The Counselor—the Holy Spirit—is eager to teach you everything you need to know and remind you when you forget.  Doing the things I’ve told you will bond you to me even more and give you a rich life in God.  My companionship will provide you with a peace that the world cannot give, cannot experience, and cannot even understand.  You really don’t need to be troubled or afraid of anything ever again” (John 14:1, 18, 20, 23, 26-27).

And,

“___ I want you to truly know me.  I want to give you spiritual power—resurrection sort of power.  This will mean you have to let go of quite a bit, especially those things you regard as success.  But you won’t be sorry because you’ll bask in the surpassing richness of knowing me as your all in all. You’ll need to lay aside certain things that look good (and you’ll see how silly it was to hold on to them) so that you can gain more of me and make me your own.  It will gradually become clear to you and others that you are mine—not because you do good things—but because you radiate a self-forgetful unassuming goodness that can come only from me.”

“Now, _____, you aren’t there yet, but press in—don’t give up—because I’ve got a hold of you and I am doing this in you.  You’re going to have to forget, to let go of, and to lay aside the glories (and faults) of yesterday, last year and ten years ago, and then turn your attention and energy toward me and the with-God life I’m drawing you into.  Trust me more than ever before” (Philippians 3:7-14, beginning with the theme verse: 10).

You may think, I can’t do it like that.  Try it anyway.  You’ll probably do it better because the Holy Spirit knows you so well and will provide the words you need.  Try not to use churchy language.  Jesus spoke in everyday Aramaic and the New Testament was written in koine (common, not classical) Greek so today God speaks to you in everyday language.  In this way, you can hear Jesus speak these words to you today.

 

MY HEART CHRIST’S HOME

SOURCE:    Robert Boyd Munger-1954-InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

In Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, we find these words:  “That [God] would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”

Without question one of the most remarkable Christian doctrines is that Jesus Christ Himself through the presence of the Holy Spirit will actually enter a heart, settle down and be at home there.  Christ will make the human heart His abode.  Our Lord said to His disciples, “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).  It was difficult for them to understand what He was saying.  How was it possible for Him to make His abode with them in this sense?

It is interesting that our Lord used the same word here that He gave them in the first part of the fourteenth chapter of John:  “I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, ye may be also.”  Our Lord was promising His disciples that, just as He was going to heaven to prepare a place for them and would welcome them one day, now it would be possible for them to prepare a place for Him in their hearts and He would come and make His abode with them.

They could not understand this.  How could it be?

Then came Pentecost.  The Spirit of the living Christ was given to the church and they understood.  God did not dwell in Herod’s temple in Jerusalem!  God did not dwell in a temple made with hands; but now, through the miracle of the out-poured Spirit, God would dwell in human hearts.  The body of the believer would be the temple of the living God and the human heart would be the home of Jesus Christ.

It is difficult for me to think of a higher privilege than to make for Christ a home in my heart, to welcome, to serve, to please, to fellowship with Him there.  One evening that I shall never forget, I invited Him into my heart.  What an entrance He made!  It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. It was at the very center of my life.  He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light.  He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill.  He started music where there had been stillness and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship.  I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will—not into eternity!

This, of course, is the first step in making the heart Christ’s home.  He has said, “Behold I stand at the door and knock: If any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).  If you are interested in making your life an abode of the living God, let me encourage you to invite Christ into your heart and He will surely come.

After Christ entered my heart and in the joy of that new-found relationship, I said to Him, “Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours.  I want to have You settle down here and be perfectly at home.  Everything I have belongs to You.  Let me show You around and introduce You to the various features of the home that You may be more comfortable and that we may have fuller fellowship together.”  He was very glad to come, of course, and happier still to be given a place in the heart.

The Library

The first room was the study—the library.  Let us call it the study of the mind.  Now in my home this room of the mind is a very small room with very thick walls.  But it is an important room.  In a sense, it is the control room of the house.  He entered with me and looked around at the books in the bookcase, the magazines upon the table, the pictures on the wall.  As I followed His gaze, I became uncomfortable.  Strangely enough, I had not felt badly about this before, but now that He was there looking at these things I was embarrassed.  There were some books there that His eyes were too pure to behold.  There was a lot of trash and literature on the table that a Christian had no business reading and as for the pictures on the wall—the imaginations and thoughts of my mind—these were shameful.

I turned to Him and said, “Master, I know that this room needs a radical alteration.  Will You help me make it what it ought to be—to bring every thought into captivity to You?”

“Surely,” He said.  “Gladly will I help you.  That is one reason I am here.  First of all, take all the things that you are reading and seeing which are not helpful, pure, good and true, and throw them out!  Now put on the empty shelves the books of the Bible.  Fill the library with Scriptures and meditate on them day and night.  As for the pictures on the wall, you will have difficulty controlling these images, but here is an aid.”  He gave me a full-sized portrait of Himself.  “Hang this centrally,” He said, “on the wall of the mind.”  I did and I have discovered through the years that when my thoughts are centered upon Christ Himself, His purity and power cause impure imaginations to retreat.  So He has helped me to bring my thoughts into captivity.

May I suggest to you if you have difficulty with this little room of the mind, that you bring Christ in there.  Pack it full with the Word of God, mediate upon it and keep before it ever the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus.

The Dining Room

From the study we went into the dining room, the room of appetites and desires.  Now this was a very large room, I spent a good deal of time in the dining room and much effort in satisfying my wants.  I said to Him, “This is a very commodious room and I am quite sure You will be pleased with what we serve here.”

He seated Himself at the table with me and asked, “What is on the menu for dinner?”

“Well, “ I said, “my favorite dishes: old bones, corn husks, sour cabbage, leeks, onions and garlic right out of Egypt.?”  These were the things I liked—worldly fare.  I suppose there was nothing radically wrong in any particular item, but it was not the food that should satisfy the life of a real Christian.  When the food was placed before Him, He said nothing about it.  However, I observed that He did not eat it, and I said to Him, somewhat disturbed, “Savior, You don’t care for the food that is placed before You?  What is the trouble?”

He answered, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.  My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”  He looked at me again and said, “If you want food that really satisfies you, seek the will of the Father, not your own pleasures, not your own desires, not your own satisfaction.  Seek to please Me, and that food will satisfy you.”  And there about the table He gave me a taste of doing God’s will.  What a flavor!  There is no food like it in all the world.  It alone satisfies.  Everything else is dissatisfying in the end!!

Now if Christ is in your heart, and I trust He is, what kind of food are you serving Him and what kind of food are you eating yourself?  Are you living for the lust of the flesh and the pride of life—selfishly?  Or are you choosing God’s will for your meat and drink?

The Drawing Room

We walked next into the drawing room.  This room was rather intimate and comfortable.  I liked it.  It had a fireplace, overstuffed chairs, a bookcase, sofa, and a quiet atmosphere.

He also seemed pleased with it.  He said, “This is indeed a delightful room.  Let us come here often.  It is secluded and quiet, and we can have fellowship together.”

Well, naturally, as a young Christian I was thrilled.  I could not think of anything I would rather do than have a few minutes apart with Christ in intimate comradeship.

He promised, “I will be here every morning early.  Meet with Me here and we will start the day together.”  So, morning after morning, I would come downstairs to the drawing room and He would take a book of the Bible from the bookcase.  He would open it and then we would read together.  He would tell me of its riches and unfold to me its truths.   He would make my heart warm as He revealed His love and His grace toward me.  They were wonderful hours together.  In fact, we called the drawing room the “withdrawing room.”   It was a period when we had our quiet time together.

But, little by little, under the pressure of many responsibilities, this time began to be shortened.  Why, I don’t know, but I thought I was just too busy to spend time with Christ.  This was not intentional, you understand; it just happened that way.  Finally, not only was the time shortened, but I began to miss a day now and then.  It was examinations time at the university.  Then it was some other urgent emergency.  I would miss it two days in a row and often more.

I remember one morning when I was in a hurry, rushing down the steps, eager to be on my way.

As I passed the drawing room, the door was ajar.  Looking in I saw a fire in the fireplace and the Lord sitting there.  Suddenly in dismay, I thought to myself, “He was my guest.  I had invited Him into my heart!  He had come as Lord of my home. And yet here I am neglecting Him.”  I turned and went in.  With downcast glance I said, “Blessed Master, forgive me.  Have You been here all these mornings?”

“Yes,” He said, “I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you.”  Then I was even more ashamed.  He had been faithful in spite of my faithlessness.  I asked His forgiveness and He readily forgave me, and He does when we are truly penitent.

He said, “The trouble with you is this:  You have been thinking of the quiet time, of the Bible study and prayer time, as a factor in your own spiritual progress, but you have forgotten that this hour means something to Me also.  Remember, I love you.  I have redeemed you at a great cost.  I desire your fellowship.  Now,” He said, “do not neglect this hour if only for My sake.  Whatever else may be your desire, remember I want your fellowship!”

You know, the truth that Christ wants my fellowship, that He loves me, wants me to be with Him, wants to be with me and waits for me, has done more to transform my quiet time with God than any other single fact.  Don’t let Christ wait alone in the drawing room of your heart, but every day find some time when, with the Word of God and in prayer, you may fellowship with Him.

The Workshop

Before long He asked, “Do you have a workshop in your home?”  Down in the basement of the home of my heart I had a workbench and some equipment, but I was not doing much with it.  Once in a while I would go down and fuss around with a few little gadgets, but I wasn’t producing anything substantial or worthwhile.

I led Him down there.

He looked over the workbench and what little talents and skills I had.  He said, “This is quite well furnished.  What are you producing with your life for the Kingdom of God?”  He looked at one or two of the little toys that I had thrown together on the bench and He held one up to me.  “Are these little toys all that you are producing in your Christian life?”

“Well” I said, “Lord,  that is the best I can do.  I know it isn’t much and I really want to do more, but after all, I have no skill or strength.”

“Would you like to do better?” He asked.  “Certainly,” I replied.

“All  right.  Let Me have your hands.  Now relax in Me and let My Spirit work through you.  I know you are unskilled and clumsy and awkward, but the Spirit is the Master-worker and if He controls your hands and your heart He will work through you.”  And so, stepping around behind me and putting His great strong hands over mine, controlling the tools with His skillful fingers, He began to work through me.

There’s much more that I must still learn and I am very far from satisfied with the product that is being turned out, but I do know that whatever has been produced for God has been through His strong hand and through the power of His Spirit in me.

Do not become discouraged because you cannot do much for God. Your ability is not the fundamental condition.  It is He who is controlling your fingers and upon whom you are relying.  Give your talents and gifts to God and He will do things with them that will surprise you.

The Rumpus Room

I remember the time He inquired about the playroom.  I was hoping He would not ask me about that.  There were certain associations and friendships, activities and amusements that I wanted to keep for myself.  I did not think Christ would enjoy them or approve of them, so I evaded the question.

But there came an evening when I was leaving to join some companions—I was in college at the time—and as I was about to cross the threshold, He stopped me with a glance.  “Are you going out?”  I answered, “Yes.”  “Good,” He said, “I would like to go with you.”

“Oh,” I replied rather awkwardly.  I don’t think, Lord, that You would really want to go with us.  Let’s go out tomorrow night.  Tomorrow night we will go to prayer meeting, but tonight I have another appointment.”

He said, “That’s all right.  Only I thought when I came into your home we were going to do everything together.  We were going to be partners.  I want you to know that I am willing to go with you.”

“Well,” I said, “we will go some place together tomorrow night.”

But that evening I spent some miserable hours. I felt wretched.  What kind of a friend was I to Christ, when I was deliberately leaving Him out of my associations, doing things and going places that I knew very well He would not enjoy?  When I returned that evening, there was a light in His room and I went up to talk it over with Him.  I said, “Lord, I have learned my lesson.  I cannot have a good time without You.  We will do everything together from now on.”

Then we went down into the rumpus room of the house and He transformed it.  He brought into life real joy, real happiness, real satisfaction, real friendship.  Laughter and music have been ringing in the house ever since.

The Hall Closet

There is just one more matter that I might share with you.  One day I found Him waiting for me at the door.  There was an arresting look in His eye.  He said to me as I entered, “There is a peculiar odor in the house.  There is something dead around here. It’s upstairs.  I think it is in the hall closet.”  As soon as He said the words, I knew what He was talking about.  Yes, there was a small hall closet up there on the landing, just a few feet square, and in that closet behind lock and key I had one or two little personal things that I did not want Christ to see.  I knew they were dead and rotting things.  And yet I loved them, and I wanted them so for myself that I was afraid to admit that they were there.  I went up the stairs with Him and as we mounted, the odor became stronger and stronger.  He pointed at the door and said, “It’s in there!  Some dead thing!”

I was angry.  That’s the only way I can put it.  I had given Him access to the library, the dining room, the drawing room, the work shop, the rumpus room, and now He was asking me about a little two-by-four closet.  I said inwardly, “This is too much.  I am not going to give Him the key.”

“Well,” He said, reading my thoughts, “If you think I am going to stay up here on the second floor with this odor, you are mistaken.  I will take My bed out on the back porch.  I’m certainly not going to put up with that.”  And I saw Him start down the stairs.

When you have come to know and love Christ, the worst think that can happen is to sense His fellowship retreating from you.  I had to surrender.  “I’ll give you the key,” I said sadly, “but You’ll have to open the closet.  You’ll have to clean it out.  I haven’t the strength to do it.”

“I know,” He said, “I know you haven’t.  Just give Me the key.  Just authorize Me to take care of that closet and I will.”  So, with trembling fingers I passed the key over to Him.  He took it from my hand, walked over to the door, opened it, entered it, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there and threw it away.  Then He cleansed the closet, painted it, fixed it up, doing is all in a moment’s time.  Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!.

Transferring The Title

Then a thought came to me.  I said to myself, “I have been trying to keep this heart of mine clear for Christ.  I start on one room and no sooner have I cleaned that than another room is dirty.  I begin on the second room and the first room becomes dusty again.  I am so tired and weary trying to maintain a clean heart and an obedient life.  I just am not up to it!”  So I ventured a question:  “Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the responsibility of the whole house and operate it for me and with me just as You did that closet?  Would you take the responsibility to keep my heart what it ought to be and my life where it ought to be?”

I could see his face light up as He replied, “Certainly, that is what I came to do.  You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength.  That is impossible. Let Me do it through you and for you.  That is the way.  But,” He added slowly, “I am not owner of this house.  I am just a guest.  I have no authority to proceed since the property is not Mine.”

I saw it in a minute and dropping to my knees, I said, “Lord, You have been a guest, and I have been the host.  From now on I am going to be the servant.  You are going to be the Lord.”  Running as fast as I could to the strong box, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, its situation and condition.  Then returning to Him, I eagerly signed it over to belong to Him alone for time and eternity.  “Here it is, all that I am and have forever.  Now You run the house.  I’ll just remain with You as houseboy and friend.”

He took my life that day and I can give you my word, there is no better way to live the Christian life.   He knows how to keep it in shape and deep peace settles down on the soul.  May Christ settle down and be at home in your heart as Lord of all.

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