Every Thursday we’ll post something to do with emotional issues or relational issues. Hope it helps
I’m Fine. No, Really. So Back Off.
The year was 1971, the church was Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, and the speaker was Chuck Smith, who is regarded today as the father of the Jesus Movement and one of the world’s finest Bible teachers. I was there as a definitely unsaved 16 year old heathen who enjoyed porn and promiscuity, and had no intention of ever abandoning either. But that night, listening to Chuck’s clear presentation of the gospel as being the only remedy for the human condition, a tug on my heart began. It would pursue me for three months until, exhausted from conviction and my resistance to God’s grace, I found a quiet spot in a park across the street from my school during my lunch hour, prayed, received Christ and was born again.
Those were heady days, those wonderful times in the early part of the Jesus Movement. I sat under Chuck’s teaching five nights a week, devouring Bible studies, loving my new life. Of course, I stopped all sexual activity and the use of porn. My life turned the proverbial 180 degrees, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Until, a few months after my conversion, I noticed sexual feelings and temptations re-emerging. I chalked it up to lack of prayer, and spent even more time in private devotion, begging God to remove the fantasies and memories that kept intruding. And to my horror, prayer alone didn’t do it. Fasting was the next step, then marathons of Bible study and more prayer. And still, my eyes would wander where they shouldn’t; my thoughts would go back to sexual encounters that seemed a hundred years in the past. So I concluded there was something fundamentally wrong with me; so wrong, in fact, it made me one of the worst, most perverted Christians in the church. I had an unspeakable secret: I was a Christian who harbored very un-Christian sexual fantasies and attractions. And I was the only one.
Wrong as that thinking was, it made sense to me at the time because no one – believe me, no one! – talked about having sexual struggles in those days. Which is remarkable, because many spoke freely about their struggles with drugs, alcohol, or violent tendencies. We’d routinely hear testimonials of people who’d been delivered from Satanic practices or life-dominating habits, and we’d rejoice. We’d hear prayer requests for people still wrestling with cravings for illegal substances, and we’d sympathize. But no one, it seemed, ever struggled with, sexual temptations.
Well, I wasn’t about to admit I was the exception. So I guarded my secret, even when I eventually entered the ministry full time, serving God with a zeal that to this day amazes me. A new, independent church had formed in my city. When its young pastor invited me to join its leadership team, I eagerly accepted, becoming involved in the development of this new work. Much of what drove me was love for God, certainly. But much of my zeal, I know now, was a fear of being exposed. I reasoned that the more I served God, the more I could atone for the wretched and (from my perspective) extraordinary sexual temptations I had on a daily basis. It never occurred to me that God didn’t require me to rid myself of temptation; that my obedience was what He wanted and, in fact, was what He was getting. I never considered using pornography or bedding anyone outside of marriage, but that, I was sure, wasn’t enough. I craved reaching a point where I’d no longer be attracted to anyone. I would, I swore to myself, become completely clean and whole, freed of any kind of lust. And a rigid combination of spiritual discipline and ongoing ministerial service would be my method.
Is it really surprising that my relationships with other believers tended to be shallow? I was scared to be known in my “warts and all” state, preferring keeping people at bay by never talking about myself, my feelings, my struggles. I was a great listener, of course, but whenever anyone would sense my isolation and ask me how I was really doing, they’d get nothing more from me than “I’m fine. Really. Now back off.”
You can only sustain that sort of isolation for so long before something cracks. For me, the crack came in 1978 when I angrily told myself, “Well, God never took my sexual desires away, so I’m gonna quit denying them! Either He failed or I did, but either way, I give up.”
I was playing the fool, certainly, because God never required me to be rid of temptations. They are, in fact, Biblically guaranteed, and to be tempted is no sign of failure. Yet over the years I’ve seen countless men make the same mistake I did. They pray for deliverance from temptation, and when temptation remains, they decide they have no choice but to yield to it. Yet in this life, much of what defines our love for God is what we resist, and what we invest in. Paul himself, in I Corinthians 9:27,said “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection.” There’d be no reason to do that unless he realized his body would, at times, want things that were forbidden. And if Paul himself admitted the need to deal with temptation, who are we to think any differently of ourselves?
I hope I’ve learned my lesson. I hope I realize that humbling myself by admitting my struggles doesn’t make me a loser, and that the price I’d pay for keeping those struggles to myself is just too high. And I hope, when asked how I’m really doing, I’ll think twice before saying “Fine”, and welcome the opportunity for true friendship and body ministry.