where I unashamedly just use Glen's material again =)
Good Morning. Well since I’m not a trained counselor or therapist, I guess the reason I was asked to speak about the topic of addictions is either because I have a highly addictive personality, which I would like to think so, but more likely that I have the most number of addictions in my life as compared to the rest of our very holy preaching team.
So what is an addiciton? The word addiction is currently defined as “a primary, chronic disease or a dysfunction of the brain circuitry. This is reflected in the individual pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. It is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can involve cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
Wow, sounds pretty serious doesn’t it? Well actually it is – it is very serious.
What does God have to say? As far as I know, the Samaritan woman in John 4 is the closest thing in Scripture to a story of someone dealing with what we today may label an addiction. Indeed this woman at the well has her life mastered by her compulsive behavior – as we read in verse 18, she has had 6 serious relationships with men thus far. It seems that she had a deep longing for intimacy with men – that never seems to be fulfilled. And this pattern of behavior has forced her to reorganize her entire life to continue feeding her addition – especially when it was socially unacceptable. Thus she went out in the heat of the noon-day sun to collect water, because she was ashamed to go out during the cool of the day with the other village women. One could say that her entire life is now wrapped around her addiction. The object of the desires of her heart, the thing that she thirsts after, has become her master, and master of course means her lord.
Here I think we see a better Biblical definition of addiction, addiction is an expression of our natural desires or perhaps we could use the phrase our deep longings or thirsts, that leads us into an enslaving pattern of behaviour centered on the object of our desires, which has now become our master. Historically, the word addiction comes from a Latin word which essentially means to yield, or to give over, to surrender yourself to something. In short, biblical terminology, addiction is idolatry – we have a new lord and master over our lives. Thus addiction is sin.
So then, from your Christian viewpoint, who do you think should be put under the category of being an addict? What kind of person should we say – has an enslaving habit? Could I invite you to secretly hide your bulletin away from your neighbor to allow yourself to answer these questions as honestly as you can – no one will look at them except yourself. Now the question is do you yourself have something that could possibly be classified as an addiction? Think of it this way - when you are tired or stressed or anxious – what do usually do? Here’s a list of some possible candidates. Now we’re going to do a simple test. They are Yes/No questions. Take your candidate and then put it into the blanks. Then total up your positive answers, and then we’ll see the results.
The 10 question test:
a. Do you have a pattern of failing to resist the impulse to ______?
b. Do you find that each time you __________ you need to do so to a greater extent?
c. Have you tried to stop, reduce or control ____ but been unsuccessful?
d. Do you spend a large amount of your free time _____________
e. Are you preoccupied with thinking about __________
f. Do you find yourself wanting to ____________ even when you are at the workplace, school, home or during other social commitments?
g. Do you find yourself still ___________ even when it is causing a lack of sleep or getting in the way of work?
h. Even if you know you have a social, emotional, financial, mental or physical problem caused by ________ do you continue to do it?
i. Do you find yourself quitting or reducing your social, professional or recreational activities because of __________?
j. Do you find yourself upset, distressed, anxious, restless, or even violent if you cannot ___________ ?
How many of these questions do you think you have to answer positively to be diagnosed as a certified addict by a trained psychologist? The answer from some surveys that I’ve looked at seems to be that 2 or 3 positive answers are enough to that you have a legitimate addiction. Now I think if we are honest with ourselves, most, if not all of us will have something that we are addicted to, something that is our idol. And theologically of course this is true – we are all sinners, meaning we are all enslaved to the natural desires of our flesh. Every natural human being is naturally an idolater – a sinner – and therefore an addict, having our entire pattern of life altered – by the object or many objects that we are longing after.
The only things that could be different amongst all of us addicts, is the expression of our addiction – that is to say the object of our affections. Some addictions maybe culturally less tolerated – like gambling, alcoholism or drugs, while others seem to be upgraded to a more civilized status – like food, shopping, gaming, exercise, or even certain unhealthy social relationships – but they are still idols in the eyes of the Living God. For example - with regards to food –“their god is their belly” (Phil 3:19). Or what about this one: Colossians 3:5 “covetousness, which is idolatry”.
Yet what is the cause of our addictions? Is there something wrong with our physiology? Is it that we view pornography because we have a high sex drive, or that we are food-addicts because we have a high metabolic rate? No in fact as we will see, addictions rarely have this kind of correlation. Is it because we have made bad decisions in our life, we weren’t educated enough therefore didn’t learn how to ‘just say no’? Yes possibly. But even when we are educated and we know something is not good for us, or something should not be done in that particular context, or it should be done in moderation – we still do it, don’t we? So it can’t be just that. Is it then because we just don’t have the will power to make those tough decisions in life? Well yes of course – but if that was the only problem, then the solution would be to just go up to every addict and tell them – well you are in this situation because it’s your fault, and you just need to buck up and try harder, wake up your idea. Anyone dealing with serious addicts will know how temporary that solution is!
No the cause of addiction goes well beyond our actions, well beyond even our mind, straight into our hearts. The cause of addictions is the fact that our human hearts desire satisfaction, we desire deep relationships in the way that the woman in the well was so desperately looking for in the 6 men. We need, we desire a type of deep fulfillment that most of us can barely articulate, but we all feel it. We were purposefully made In Jesus’ image with hearts that long to be loved, with an everlasting, ever-new love, a love that can only be satisfied by perhaps something like a Fountain of constantly flowing fresh love. And so to quote Augustine, our hearts became restless as they were wrenched from the very thing they were made to be united to and chucked into a barren wasteland, a desert, a dry wilderness devoid of any source of this type of ever-fresh, thirst quenching love.
And as we are slowly exposed to friends, families or entire societies which feed us temporary, conditional love – that love us only on the basis of who they want us to be; that thirst grows deeper, our throat or soul gets ever-drier. Then our longings then begin to manifest itself in action. In the void, we turn to whatever we can find to try and quench that insatiable thirst – even if it is a tiny drop of water to cool our burning tongue, our anguished souls: money, work, exercise, food, pornography, sex, video games, shopping, social activities, religious activities – yet they never do. It is like digging a well in the desert of dissatisfaction which is our world – each time we dig a little water comes up, and we go for it – but it was only a mirage, a mist or a vapour. So we dig again, and again a little water – but this time harder to reach; so we put more energy into our well-digging and go deeper – and before we know it we have fallen in and we cannot get out. We are helpless victims of our own actions, coaxed by a promise never fulfilled, spoken by a voice unseen, which seems to simultaneously laugh at us at each failure – as each time we end up with nothing but a mouthful of mud - yet it urges us to go further still. It is the same voice that whispered in the first man’s ears so many millennia ago – and yet we have not learned our corporate lesson. We are still little children playing on the edge of a bottomless pit, even dancing happily around it. Little children, let us keep ourselves from idols.
That is why the expression of our addiction is almost arbitrary. According to professional counselors, it depends almost completely on these 4 As –accessibility, anonymity, affordability and aggressiveness. Therefore it is not surprising that the internet now becomes the source of many addictions for today’s generation. Our hearts will cling on to whatever they happen to latch on first.
Addiction also has its consequences. It distorts God’s good creation made for our enjoyment, such as sex or food. It distorts our relationship with others – like in pornography – its effects on our relationships with women. It destroys whole families & societies. It makes you into a slave – it brings your life into a pattern that is governed by your compulsive behavior – no matter how subtle or culturally acceptable that pattern is. It wastes your time, energy & money. It erodes your relationship with God because it often robs you of assurance of salvation, it blinds you to how God wants to work in your life as a whole – it usually is the filter in how we read our Bibles or listen to any sermon – that is the only thing we can hear. It makes you ashamed of to serve God or makes your service as an expression of your guilt – that you serve to pay for your own sins. And it gets worse - the more we give ourselves over to an addiction, the more it controls us and the more we need – it has a law of diminishing returns. To quote a Christian doctor, “Addictions are like ‘greedy dogs, never satisfied,’ ‘with an appetite as large as the grave, and as insatiable as death”.
So then how can we deal with these addictions, this bondage to the slavery of sin? Well let’s have a look at Jesus shall we? It is fascinating how Jesus deals with this woman whom He knows has such a deep problem. It seems that from the get-go His sole desire is to get her to come to terms with her own problems, and set her free from that deep thirst by pointing her to His Living Water. We almost marvel as we watch Him do it.
He says to her, “Give me a drink”. He knows, that she is thirsty, she is the one with the deep longing, but He says can you give me a drink? I don’t think He’s being sarcastic, but rather I think what is at the heart of His question is that He wants to identify with her – that He knows what it means to be weary from a doubting world, and how she feels in her burning thirst for something that satisfies better this behavior which is slowly becoming more and more futile. The fountain of living water asks for a drink! In fact there is only one time Jesus ever says He is thirsty – and that is on the cross, when the burdens or sins of the world lay heavily upon them, and His tongue sticks to the roof of His mouth as He is parched with the barrenness of sin – the dust of the broken human spirit that is so devoid of the love-filled Spirit of God that it becomes like chaff which the wind simply blows away (action). Jesus says – I know what you feel, I will feel it soon, much more than you ever will. I will come into your darkness. It is when Jesus was struck when those Living Waters flowed out.
Jesus then continues to draw her closer, he excites her deepest desires – he knows that she is searching, thirsting and promises her that there is something better – Living Water. And best of all – it’s free – it is the gift of God.
She’s hooked – she is beginning to be more attracted to Jesus than any of those other men. He has begun to pull her out of that dark well. She starts, are you sure? What is it? How can be done? Isn’t what I’m doing good enough? Jesus responds: My water satisfies, in a way that what you are doing or what you even think you should be doing will never do. I offer life-giving water in abundance, that you can drink, and drink, and drink again, for all eternity – you will never thirst again, because it is freely given to you without limit.
Where can I get your water? Give it to me! Can you hear our own voices saying that like a desperate drug addict? In the midst of our unfulfilling life-experiences in our work, our families, our relations, our hobbies, our addictions? Give it to me! She’s like fish breaking the water-line - we see her head lifting.
Now she takes the first brave step into the Light, and the first effect is that suddenly she feels exposed. The Light of the World has laid her sins bare. “Go and call your husband”. She has had 5 husbands, and now she is living out of wed-lock. Jesus knows she has to truly come to the point that she herself believes that her own actions and her own well-digging have not satisfied her, and in fact are the cause of her shame, her dryness, she needs a radical heart change! It is too much for her, she changes topic, let’s discuss ‘religion’, quick run back to the darkness – get my defenses back up. Jesus pursues, lovingly, gently, still drawing her in – watch the Master Fisher-of Men reel in His catch, no matter which way she turns, He knows when to loosen the line, or to keep it taught – He will not let her go.
Come into the light, yes your darkness will be exposed, but let it – let the Living Word of God expose you for who you really are – a sinner, an addict, not someone who occasionally looks at porn – no an adulterer, not someone who believes in retail therapy – no a covetous idolater, not someone who likes the finer things in life – but a slave of Mammon. Let Him expose us. How painful the first touch of cool water to a frozen hand. Yet it seeks to thaw, to loosen the withered limb that it may be set free.
Jesus continues, the Father is seeking true worshippers – don’t pretend you’re interested in seeking Him – no, He is seeking you. He has sent me to come and get you – that is the proof. He wants to make you into someone who can know Him deeply. He is seeking you to set you free from your thirst. No surface religion here – but deep intimate knowledge that is what the Father offers. She gets more excited, takes another step – I know this to be true, and I also know it will be through the Chosen One, the Messiah – He will give lead me to the Father. Jesus has got her right where He wants her, in His net – acknowledging that her current state of affairs is rubbish, and that she needs something more that only Jesus provides.
He only has to scoop her up: I am He. I’m the One Whom the Father sent to offer this ever quenching water. I am He. I am the Fountain of life in abundance, I am the one from whom the love of God through His Spirit will flow into your dry-dust and remake you, mould the now wet clay into what it was made to be. I am He. This is the beloved Son – in whom the Spirit of the Life-giving God dwells and rests – listen to Him. Trust Him.
The result, the woman, is overwhelmed and returns to town – with an empty clay jar but a full heart - ready to overflow as a stream into her dry village.
Did you see what Jesus did? He understood her so deeply, and drew her into Himself – and by doing so exposed the dark deeds of her life, her addictions. As she desired Him, she was confronted by them, but as she desired Him more, she now believed that He indeed could satisfy more than they ever did. Something in her heart was fundamentally changed.
In our own treatment of people with addictions, we first must be able to identify with them. It has been said that ex-drug addicts are far better in dealing with current drug addicts, because they know what it is like to be under the hand of that cruel master. Jesus knew exactly how the woman felt because He was tempted much more than any of us, and He in fact became sin itself – therefore He knew how to approach in her darkness, in her poverty, in her weakness, wounded by her own deliberate actions – and so softly, slowly, lovingly He draws her out, that He may draw her in to Himself.
We can do the same, because we are all sinners, we are all idolaters, we do not approach addicts as those who stand on a moral pedestal, because Jesus didn’t. Very often this is our common response to those whom we can see are in a lousy situation. We simply point out their moral faults, the current depravity of their lives, yet it ultimately does them no good. Because very often either our analysis of their situation is found wanting – we don’t even diagnose correctly, since only the Spirit of God truly knows the heart – we can’t understand them without Him. And more than that, very often the addict already knows that what he is doing is wrong, he knows it’s destroying himself, his family, his career – he may even know the terrible judgment of Jesus staring Him in the face. And all these moral warnings do is further confuse him, send him reeling into further darkness – all he may say is: “I guess I can’t be a Christian – there is no grace for me”. All the motivating talks of – “you can do it, just try harder” – just lead him to further despair, as he relapses again and again and again. How many of you know that horrible drowning feeling – people tell you there is water all around – but you can’t seem to taste a single thirst-quenching drop.
No, this is how we deal with it: “The fire of lust’s pleasures must be fought with the fire of God’s pleasures. If we try to fight the fire of lust with prohibitions and threats alone – even the terrible warnings of Jesus – we will fail. We must fight it with a massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction”
We can deal with addictions here in church if we know Jesus – because Jesus has helps us to understand the sinful human heart – as He shows us our own sin. The one, who knows and has experienced Jesus, can identify with his fellow addict. The only difference between him and the current addict is that he has tasted the water and he knows it is good.. We understand humanity because we know Him, and because we know Him we can point them to Him.
And this is the story of the Samaritan woman – look at what she does in town. “Here is a man that told me my whole life” – what a statement – she acknowledges that her whole life was essentially those terrible relationships; that is who she really is, or rather, who she really was. For now she has begin to drink, and already we see the spring of water welling up in her and even overflowing- in verse 30, the whole town hears about Jesus from her. As we ourselves drink from Jesus in our thirst, we can point others directly to the same Fountain - that is sole earthly purpose of the whole people of God.
As we said earlier, all our addictions are merely different expressions of the same problems – our thirsty, unsatisfied souls. Shall we confess? In the depths of our hearts we don’t actually believe that Jesus will satisfy us do we? The reason we go back to our old habits, as foolish as we may intellectually agree they are, is because we still believe deep down, that they satisfy. Those habits are seem to give real relief, they feel more tangible, more real, more present than the Lord don’t they? Yet this Lord is Spirit, He is everywhere by that same thirst-quenching Spirit, which He freely offers to all who seek Him without limit -proven and accomplished through the cross of Christ. Allow me to paraphrase an old quote:
Conceive a man to be standing on the margin of this green world; and that, when he looked towards it, he saw abundance smiling upon every field, and all the blessings which earth can afford scattered in profusion throughout every family, and the light of the sun sweetly resting upon all the pleasant habitations, and the joys of human companionship brightening many a happy circle of society - conceive this to be the general character of the scene upon one side of his contemplation; and that on the other, beyond the verge of the godly planet on which he was situated, he could descry nothing but a dark and fathomless unknown. Think you that he would bid a voluntary adieu to all the brightness and all the beauty that were before him upon earth, and commit himself to the frightful solitude away from it?
We go elsewhere because we do not believe He will satisfy. What people need is to hear real good news in Jesus, not simply moral advice. They need to be told of the beauty, the love, the desirability of the real Jesus Christ.
Currently, not all of us are dying under the weight of our addictions, some of us still function quite well, while others have their whole lives severely twisted to satisfy their destructive habits. At the less extreme end of the spectrum – many of these problems can be solved merely by having wholesome Christian community – and many counselors acknowledge this. Simply by having regular Christian fellowship with groups, like an AG, of people who read and study the Word of God together and share about how the Word is convicting, and exposing and transforming them can stop any addiction from spiraling out of control. The same is true with children who live in a Christian home where the Word of God is taught and parents are seen to honestly engage with it, as Jesus gently confronts them.
But when things are bad, when our habits have become uncontrollable convulsions of the flesh; then a more rigorous loving treatment may be needed – cold turkey, abstinence or even medication. Drastic intervention by people who love them, removing them from the problem but simultaneously bringing Jesus in to fill the void that is created as the strong man leaves the heart. I run a small temporary group for pornography addicts, and I’m sure Simon Wong would be happy to help out with any other specific issues – just let us know by sending an email or filling in a response slip.
The church of God is not a gathering of the self-righteous, but the gathering of the broken well diggers around the Fountain of Life-Giving Waters. We are a community of grace, where mistakes are understood for what they are, because we are addicts too, addicts in rehabilitation. Together we fight the battle to stand firm in the grace of Jesus Christ, in the love of God, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit – together we fight the battle against unbelief. We use every resource God has given us to proclaim the desirability, the beauty of Jesus to one another – that we may see Him, believe in Him and remain in the Light. That we may not look at ourselves, and see the hopeless captivity of our addictions, and relapse once again. Each subsequent fall is worse than last – and one day our hearts may no longer be able to believe.
Let me end with a quote from the great John Owen:
Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us;—deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, (here we may use the word addiction too) a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us? (we are out of control?) Would we have our souls recovered from these dangerous diseases? Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone,—namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Unless he fall as dew and showers on our dry and barren hearts,—unless he cause our graces to spring, thrive, and bring forth fruit,—unless he revive and increase faith, love, and holiness in our souls,—our backslidings will not be healed, nor our spiritual state be recovered.