Lessons from the Desert

Ed Grant

Recently I escaped with a number of other pastors to the Cafa Franciscan Spiritual Retreat Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. We were there to learn how to be quiet with God. You might think this an easy task for those committed and trained to care for God’s people. Truth be told, those who speak for God need to better learn how to listen to Him. I came away from the experience with a greater determination to make time to hear from God through more relaxed times of prayer and by taking smaller bites of His Word, allowing time to meditate instead of rushing through it.

One of our assignments was to take a walk in solitude around the arid property, wonderfully landscaped with many varieties of cactus. These thrive in arid environments that receive minimal amounts of rainfall and survive by storing it in their thick branches. I took some time to contemplate the cacti, some looking like green pancakes connected at the edge, some looking as though they were victims of a stick-up as they held their hands up, and others resembling elongated bulbs protruding from the ground. I noticed that each was naturally protected with prickly needles or spikes protruding from the branches. These intimidating spikes threatened harm to any creature that dared to take a bite.

Mixed in with the desert flora were lovely palms and other varieties of trees.

There was also a “Healing Garden” on the border of the property where winding paths were shaded by leafy citrus trees: grapefruit, orange, lemon, tangelo, and tangerine. Obviously these trees didn’t belong here. They flourished only because an intricate irrigation system had been built throughout the garden. It was here that the Holy Spirit began to open my eyes to some important truths.

The unbelieving world is like the prickly cactus plants that have adapted to arid conditions, living on the minimal amounts of water. Their limited resources have to be protected from those who would steal them. They have no spiritual resources to share with others. As people perennially thirst they try to find something that will truly satisfy their longing. St. Augustine said it well: ‘O God, You have created us for Yourself and our souls are restless and searching until they find their rest in You.’

Those who have received the Savior into their lives are like the citrus trees and palms planted in the healing garden. They are not native to the desert climate and cannot long survive without regular care and watering. St. Peter refers to us as “aliens and sojourners.” As the author of Hebrews describes the difficult experiences of members of his “Hall of Faith” he calls them ‘aliens and strangers.’ He writes, ‘People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own’ (Hebrews 11:14). We also long for the place Jesus prepared for us when He went to the cross! But for now, the life we have must be sustained through regular times spent with Jesus, the One Who comes to us as Living Water. Faithful, unhurried prayer and a patient meditation on God’s Word are the means through which our love relationship with Him is sustained.

Unlike the desert flora that diligently guard their meager resources and have nothing but their beauty to share with others, God’s Spirit intends something more than beauty and survival for us. He delights to produce a variety of fruit through us for others to enjoy. The fruit miraculously grown in the arid world gives ample evidence to a source the thirsty world longs to experience.

As the high priest led the procession into the temple carrying a golden pitcher of water, he halted, looked to heaven and was about to pour its contents onto the ground. His action would be accompanied by a prayer for the rains to water the earth anew the following year. Suddenly Jesus’ voice pierced the reverent silence of the gathered congregation like a trumpet blast. He shouted in a loud voice, ‘If a man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him’ (John 7:37b-38). Those streams, a clear reference to the Holy Spirit, are the source of the life giving fruit Paul has in mind in his letter the congregation in Galatia, called ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22ff.).

May we be like the psalmist who recognized his thirst and went to the One he knew could satisfy it: ‘O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ (Psalm 63:1)

Need a taste of God’s living water, a mini-retreat?  Please join us for a New Life Weekend.

Who Are Safe People?

Jonathan Daugherty

Those who choose to face their bad habits or addictive patterns are brave folks. It takes courage to admit you are not in control and need help. One of the bits of advice that I often give to individuals seeking to overcome their sexual addictions is to surround themselves with “safe” people. I want to take this short article to expand on this idea and attempt to define what makes certain people “safe.”

Sometimes to define something it helps to describe its opposite. Many of us can recognize who unsafe people are before we could recognize the safe ones. Unsafe people are those individuals who draw us toward those thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy or dangerous. For example, an unsafe person for a male sex addict might be a “loose” female co-worker who dresses provocatively and is always attempting to sexualize conversations. While it may be easy (or easier) to spot unsafe people, how do you find safe people?

The following are 7 key characteristics present in safe people:

1. Safe people are non-judgmental.

When you get serious about dealing with your secret addiction(s) you need people who are not spending their time judging you for your mistakes. You struggle enough with self-condemnation, you don’t need someone else telling you what a mess-up you are. Safe people don’t judge you.

2. Safe people listen.

When you reach out for help you need people who will really listen to your struggles. Safe people let you share your story and all the difficulty you have faced in carrying your secret sin alone. There is a sort of empathy with safe people. While they may not have traveled the exact same road, they listen with their heart and want to truly help.

3. Safe people maintain strong boundaries.

One of the dangers of seeking out safe people is that you might be so amazed at their compassion and care that you begin to move too close too quickly, and possibly confuse genuine help with old patterns in your addiction. Safe people, however, also know how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries that represent appropriate interaction and assistance. For instance, a safe person will not miss their son’s baseball game just because you are having a weak moment. They will give you their time and energy when it is appropriate and falls in line with their other priorities.

4. Safe people protect confidentiality.

Trust is critical in the healing and recovery process. And trust is gained when safe people protect your confidentiality. You must know that the deep, dark secrets you are sharing will not end up in the city newspaper over the weekend. Safe people take confidentiality very seriously and will carry your pain to their grave if they must in order to secure your trust.

5. Safe people tell the truth in love.

Some people who may appear to be safe are really just looking for a way to present themselves as superior. They may tell you the truth (i.e. “If you continue lusting over porn, you will destroy your life”), but they do so in a harsh, angry fashion. Safe people know how to tell you the truth in love. They are not pointing out your weaknesses to pump themselves up, but rather to help you move toward purity and a life that truly brings satisfaction.

6. Safe people pray for wisdom (i.e. they are humble).

Anyone willing to help another person with their most vulnerable area of weakness must understand that they need wisdom. And gaining wisdom requires humility (“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”). You can often spot the safe people by how often they ask God for wisdom, knowing that apart from His leading they could lead you astray. These are the kind of people you want around when traveling the road to recovery.

7. Safe people help you get help.

Finally, safe people know their limitations and have a heart of willingness to get you the help you need. They will walk with you as you expand your network of support to include a counselor, support group, or other individuals to help you reach the goal of a godly life. When dealing with life’s difficulties you need those with a servant’s heart to lead you to the appropriate help.

As you walk through life, keep your eyes open for safe people. They will become your greatest assets in a life well lived.

For additional help locating ‘safe people’ through support groups and counselors, visit www.everymansbattle.com or call 1.800.NEW.LIFE.

Recovering Accountability

Oh no, not another accountability pep talk! I know: I can’t fight this battle alone; I’m hiding behind a mask if I don’t tell someone; it’s not surrendering my manliness; my objection is rooted in pride that says I don’t need help. But I think I’m one of the ones that can do this on my own, so let’s move on to something more important like the eschatological implications of the vicarious atonement!

Not so fast there brother. Think about this for a minute. One of our greatest problems in dealing with sexual addiction is believing that we know what is best for ourselves, and detaching from others because we do not want anyone violating our manhood by telling us what to do. So we continue blindly down the same road of destruction that brought us to where we are.

Accountability is not just a suggested weapon to have on hand in case we need it. No, it’s one of the most powerful weapons we have in the battle against sexual addiction. The use of that weapon gets us connected to others so we can fight against something that, at least for a moment is more powerful than we are. Ultimately, it provides support in a battle that simply cannot be fought alone. Do you remember reading somewhere that it is not good for man to be alone?

Let’s look at accountability in terms of connection. Connection with others is a fundamental part of our recovery process because it’s an essential part of our character growth. Whether we like it or not most of life involves people. It’s a reality that we all must face, and one that shapes and tests our character.

The deep desire of our heart is to be understood, known and connected to others, not detached. This is part of God’s created design of us. It’s true whether you’re an introvert or extrovert here. Being connected is about being mutually and emotionally invested in another person. It’s how we started in the world ‘ bonded to our mother and, hopefully to our father. Ouch! That one makes many of us wince.

The sad reality is that many of us choose to remain detached and impenetrable. In doing so we develop too much of a gap for others to bridge to our hearts. Simon and Garfunkel wrote about this in their song, I am a rock, I am an island, which includes these words:

I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty; that none may penetrate. I have no need for friendship, friendship causes pain; it’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. Hiding in my room, safe within my womb; I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island; and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.

This is not the experience of someone whose character is healthy and growing.

God’s design is that we develop deep connections throughout our lives because it gives us a context in which to grow, be secure and able to deal with life. To do this we have to move away from ourselves as the primary reference point and towards knowing and valuing others. If we were in those kinds of relationships most of us would not be in the mess we’re in right now.

So, get connected and recover accountability into your recovery plan. At its root accountability is a simple word that means “the willingness to stand up and be counted as part of a committed process.” If you see it in this way accountability is less something I’m held to, or something done to me; rather, it reflects my personal choice and willingness to contribute to an expressed outcome ‘ my sexual purity and integrity.

For help on this subject please see Every Man’s Battle.

Brad Stenberg