What Did You Expect the Christian Walk Would Feel Like?Wednesday, September 07, 2011
I was walking with a young man in some discipleship last night. He was frustrated that as a young man the temptations to immorality were so strong, and that the consequential guilt was so profound. He expressed a great deal of disallusionment with the struggle, and had been manifestly plagued with confusion as to why this was happening...and how it could happen. After all, he did have the new life of the Spirit working within him. So why did he struggle so much with this stuff?
I can totally relate. For two decades I felt like a slave to certain things that I desperately hated...things that stole away my passions and desires for Jesus, His kingdom, and His righteousness. Self-pleasure, in all its varieties (sex, sleep, food), seemed to be an almost unbelievable struggle that I grew to struggle more with struggling itself, than with the actual thing I was struggling with...if that make sense.
Let me put it another way. As I grew older I grew more irritated and frustrated that this struggle would not simply just go away. This evolved into infrequent episodes of growing angry with God that He would not just heal me of this brokenness inside so that I could go on to be conformed to Jesus. I mean, this stuff was awful and treasonous toward my Savior. He knew of my desire to be faithful to Him. He knew I hated my sin and the constant struggle with it. Why then wouldn't He come to my rescue and just simply conquer these things once-and-for-all?
It's been twenty-seven years since I started following Jesus. And it was around that same time, oddly enough, that I also hit puberty and discovered certain things about the facts of life. It totally escapes me as to why my Christian walk paralleled my pubescent struggle. I always wondered why God didn't just save me before so that His grace was working in me previous the onset of the struggle. Only God knows. And whom am I to question His wisdom. I do know however, how much more irritated and frustrated I would have been if God had waited to do His saving work in my life after I had fallen into much sin. Surely, His saving grace in my life at that time came at just the right time!
If you're a young man who is trying to follow Jesus while also trying to conquer sexual sins and its vast array of temptations, I'd like to offer in the posts that follow some wise counsel. I'm a seasoned veteran in this area, particularly as it relates to the struggle with masturbation. Yep, I said it...out loud...publicly...on the internet...for the whole wide world to see. But keeping those things covered up is about dumb as keeping the color of my eyes hidden. You an only keep up appearances for so long. I've been sharing this openly with various men for years, and I do so for two reasons.
First, they need to see leaders being real, transparent, open, and honest about their struggles when they were younger. Admitting struggles builds integrity, which disintegrates beneath your feet when you live a life trying hide stuff all the time.
Second, young men need to see what I'm becoming as a leader. Admission of struggle at their age gives them a context in which to interpret my life. I didn't just wake up one day and become victorious over sexual temptation, disciple men out of it, and lead churches. It's been a life-long process so far...and I'd be pretty accurate if I said it will continue to be.
For most men the struggle with masturbation goes hand-in-hand with the struggle against pornography. In fact, it's rare for the two to be separated. I'm one of those rare cases, I think. I've seen a porn magazine just once in my entire life! Can you believe it? That's almost incredibly impossible in this day and age. But that one time contained enough porn to fill my brain for life. I can still remember certain images to this very day. I studied every page of it that magazine at twelve or thirteen years old...after I dug it out from beneath the crawl space of a deacon's home at the church I attended, while helping him move one day. He had to be in his sixties, as best I recall. It was then I learned lesson number one: it doesn't matter how old you are, you'll probably struggle with sexual temptation until you die.
I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to porn sites on the internet. For some strange reason God has just decided to prevent this in my life from becoming an additional stronghold, adding further insult to my injuries. And as best I can recall, with a clear conscience before God, I've seen a total of about fifteen to twenty minutes of porn videos in my entire life. One of those times, ashamedly, was in a hotel at a pastor's conference. From Steve Farrar's book Finishing Strong comes this statement, which was a total shock for me when I learned it.
A number of years ago a national conference for church youth directors was held at a major hotel in a city in the mid-west. Youth pastors by the hundreds flooded into that hotel and took nearly every room. At the conclusion of the conference, the hotel manager told the conference administrator that the number of guests who tuned into the adult movie channel broke the previous record, far and away outdoing any other convention in the history of the hotel. Justin Holcomb, over at the Resurgence, wrote in an email to a friend who was inquiring into this phenomenon.
I interviewed hotel managers about this when I was teaching in the sociology department at Univ of Virginia. All managers said that porn rates increase during conferences in general. That's normal because they have more guests. A few admitted that it seems to be the same or a bit more when Christian conferences come to town. One manager was a Christian and he said a line I'll never forget: "Unfortunately, 'they know you are Christians by your...porn consumption' is more truthful than 'love' when it comes to this." I was one of those pastors many years ago. And to make matters worse, even though that pay-per-view channel said the title wouldn't show up on my bill, it did anyway. And as my friend paid that bill, and I sat in the car sheepishly waiting for him, he stood at the counter and argued with the desk clerk rather vehemently that no one in our room watched a porn flick for thirteen minutes and so he was not going to pay for that movie. He told me the story. I did what was natural, and sat quietly, my silence a witness to the guilt of my sins of immorality and lying. And after being dropped off at the airport, the guilt was more than I could bear. So I did what was supernatural. I called my friend, cried, and confessed what a loser pastor I was.
Yet on the one hand, while I was a loser pastor, on the other hand I have a pattern of being victorious over the temptation to watch porn in a hotel room, or really anywhere for that matter. Saying "NO!" to the temptation to look at porn comes as easily to me as saying "NO!" to my wife's request to offer brussel sprouts with the next evening's meal. Yet saying "NO!" to masturbation was not so easy. So I looked like a hero in one area, but a loser in the other.
While the failures have vastly decreased over the last fourteen years or so, the temptations are still as loud and clear as ever. I have become something of an expert on recognizing the the many voices and tones that sexual temptation will take in an effort to lure me back into a cave of cyclical madness. Let me offer this second lesson I've learned thus far: sexual temptation is almost always demonic, and when you mess with it you're inviting an invisible world of conflict into your life that you can't possibly imagine. I've been there. I've literally felt their presence. They've invaded my dreams and severely oppressed me at various seasons in my life. If Paul is right, that sinful anger opens a foothold for the devil in your life (Eph. 4:27), then sinful sex opens the garage door. He seems to intimate as much in 1 Corinthians 6 and 2 Corinthians 6.
Join me in the following posts on this issue for men of all ages, as we find the obvious answers to the question, "So What Did You Expect the Christian Walk Would Feel Like?" My aim is to tell more of my story in order to tell you what you probably already knew. But it's always funny how hearing it from a different source seems to make stuff click or sink in deeper in our heads and hearts. Maybe this blog and my story will be that source. Regardless, thanks for taking your struggle seriously enough even to just read this one post. Perhaps the posts that follow will be a resource to you to help disciple other men into maturity in this area.