Thoughts on Courage in Recovery

Mark Verkler

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.” –G.K. Chesterton

 “Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it.” –Mark Twain

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” –Sir Winston Churchill

It takes courage to face the real me. Those dark parts of my heart. The places I’ve tried to ignore or deny or cover up. I find it much easier to focus on the darkness of other hearts, or the passing pleasure of sin, or escape’anything but look at the darkness of my flesh. In Psalm 32 from the translation entitled The Message, we read of the freedom that comes from facing the darkness inside and letting it out into the light:

Psalm 32: 1Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be–you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean. 2Count yourself lucky–God holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him. 3When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. 4The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up. 5Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.” Suddenly the pressure was gone–my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared.

We try to do it our way; we try to ‘fix ourselves’–anything to avoid the dreadful exposure of our darkness to another.

In C.S. Lewis’ ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader,’ the young man Eustace describes how he changed from a dragon back to a boy, but only after unsuccessfully trying to peel the dragon skin off of himself three times before. After these failed attempts, Aslan, the story’s Christ figure, removed the dragon skin for him. In Lewis’ story, Eustace retells the event like this: The very first tear he [Aslan] made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off’.Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off’just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt’and there it was lying on the grass; only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been.

Jesus said to find life we would have to lose it for his sake (Matthew 16:25). It may seem a perilous thing for us to say, “search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). How can we have the courage to let God in? To let others in? To look at ourselves?

First John chapter one teaches that this begins with the honest admission of sin. If we say we have no sin or have not sinned, we are lying to ourselves and to God, the apostle tells us. But he also tells us that if we have the courage to confess our sins, the cleansing comes. A simple definition of confession is to agree with God. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, and we must agree with God about it. Sin is there; sin is evil; and sin deserves punishment. When we honestly confess the blackness of our sin before God, we can then thank God for the cleansing blood of Jesus that was shed on our account.

Do you have the courage to consecrate yourself to him, or will you hold back? Do you have the courage to face the depth, the breadth, and the blackness of you sin, or the pain that it has caused you, others, and even God himself? Have you become so accustomed to denial, excuses, and self-justifications as to be content to stay in that neighborhood? Do you have the courage to move into the unknown–the unknown territory of confession, surrender and consecration?

We find exhortations in Scripture to take courage! The Lord wants us to face the unknown, knowing that he is ahead of us and with us. “Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because GOD, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). “Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. GOD, your God, is with you every step you take” (Joshua 1:9). Friends, we can know, with anything God is asking us to confront–in ourselves or otherwise–he will be with us. So, in the words of John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.’

Elements of Building Strong Male Friendships

Kent Ernsting

What are some of the elements of building strong male friendships?

Authentic. Male friendships that go the distance are authentic. Be yourself and be real. Allow the real you to emerge. Take down masks that hide your true self from others. Strong friendships grow where the roots go deep, down to the depths of our heart. Don’t allow yourself to hide behind surface comments, such as answering the question ‘How are you doing?’ with the response ‘OK,’ ‘Good,’ or ‘Fine.’ A relationship that is real includes both your strengths and weaknesses. Be open, real, vulnerable, honest and sincere. Share your struggles with your friend. Risk exposing yourself as you really are. When we risk sharing our struggles with grace-giving others, we find that they accept us regardless of our faults, and we experience the joy of acceptance. ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.’ (James 5:16)

Friendships must be cultivated; they’re not automatic. I have lost touch with former friends by neglecting to stay in touch with them. Spending time together is required. Stay in touch with each other periodically. Make the phone call to initiate getting together with your friend. Friendships require commitment and devotion to one another.

Laugh and enjoy some fun activities with your friends. Do something different with your friend such a getting together at a park and taking a walk while you talk. Enjoy a game of golf or tennis together. Go camping together. Some of my most cherished memories of high fidelity moments with my friends have occurred when we take our annual backpacking trip. This has become a much-anticipated weekend with just the guys. We get away to a remote area, explore, challenge each other and ourselves and stretch beyond our normal comfort zone. We serve each other and tell stories. Around the campfire we talk honestly about our lives, our loves, our disappointments, our failures, our hopes and dreams. There is tremendous camaraderie that is built during such weekends. It is fun to read their annual Christmas letter in which they inevitably mention the ‘Scratch and Spit’ weekend as one of the highlights of the year. ‘[There is] a time to ‘laugh, a time to’dance.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Avoid isolation. It is our natural tendency to withdraw from others and it can often become unhealthy. Solitude is fine but isolation is deadly. Why do you think that ‘solitary confinement’ is one of the worst punishments devised by men?

Friends are essential; they’re not optional. There is no substitute for a friend. A friendship provides someone to care, listen, comfort, and even reprove. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’ (Proverbs 27:17) We are not self-sufficient.

Encourage one another. Many of us grew up in families where affirmation was withheld. All of us need encouragement in facing life’s demands, worries and defeats. Cheer one another on, lift their spirit by exhibiting a spirit of grace. Look them in the eye and tell them what you see when they have demonstrated a character quality which you admire. Commit to praying for them by name every day of the coming week. Put an arm around them and let them know that you believe in them.

Friendships impact our lives for good or ill; they’re not neutral. If you connect with good people you become a better person. ‘He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.’ (Proverbs 13:20). If you connect with bad people, you become like them. ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ (1 Corinthians 15:33). Choose your friends carefully, prayerfully and wisely.

Be confidential. Hold confidential information that is shared with you close to your heart. You will damage the friendship and possibly harm your friend if you share this information with others, even as a prayer concern. Trust is built on a foundation of confidence that what I share with you will stay with you.

Allow him to be himself, don’t try to change him. Give him the freedom to be himself without pressuring him to become someone else. Allow him to make mistakes, to be human, loyally maintaining the relationship regardless of his ups and downs. ‘Love is patient, love is kind’it keeps no record of wrongs.’ (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

Protect him. Look out for things that may harm your friend, help to protect him from danger. Watch each other’s back.

Maintaining Vibrancy in our Devotional Life

David Mackey

Growing up in the church, a constant theme was the importance of a daily devotional life. As I recall this came in one basic outline: Read the Bible daily every morning and pray. There seemed to be little variation in this edict, only a variation in how much of the Bible one read. Reading more was always better. Basically this was the quest and I failed miserably. For many years I rarely succeeded for more than a few days in a row following this type outline. And when I did read, many times, it was just reading’ there was nothing vibrant about it.

Good news!! Vibrancy can be experienced. I finally did discover that vibrancy could be found in one’s devotional life. What hindered me for so many years? Perhaps several things but I believe a primary hindrance can be found in one’s heart. Consider the heart. The heart is that part of our being in which we find our beliefs and values residing. In the church you often hear phrases like ” invite Jesus into our heart,’ and ”believe with all your heart,’ etc.

When it comes to our devotional life, what do we believe, or what value does a devotional life have? Consider just one belief that might hinder vibrancy. It might go like this, ‘God demands I have a devotional life in obedience to Him and in order for Him to keep me from relapse.’ Variations of this belief might be, ‘It is my duty to maintain a disciplined devotional life.’ Or ”without a disciplined devotional life I will not please God so he will not keep me from falling.’ There are many such beliefs that could hinder vibrancy. What would happen in one’s life if we believed that God does not REQUIRE a devotional life?! Rather God INVITES us to have a devotional life. What would a devotional life be like if we believed that the purpose of this invitation is deep intimate relationship with Him rather then a tool to prevent relapse? How would ones vibrancy change?

God, the almighty creator of all things, invites us to know Him as ‘Abba,” Aramaic for ‘Daddy’ (Romans 8:15-16). Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords calls us brother and friend (Mark 3:35 & John 15:14). If we believed we are invited into this kind of relationship, our devotional pattern might be different and lead to a great degree of vibrancy. Our devotional life may be more akin to pursuing friendship, brotherhood, and sonship. Vibrancy in these earthly relationships is not found in obedient, disciplined habits. Rather it is found as we pursue those relationships regularly and in many different ways. When we desire relationship with our friends, brothers, and Daddy we find unique ways to be in close contact. We don’t allow our busy schedule to hinder us. If we made this belief change, there will also be a change in how we pursue intimate relationship. Rather than one disciplined daily habit we likely will add many creative and changing ways to stay in touch, throughout each day. Consider some ideas listed below:

Read small amounts of scripture several times a day.
Write and pray your own Psalms.
Pray Psalms from scripture that express your heart’s joy and sorrows.
Include worship and praise music in your listening habits.
Read the worshipful writings of early church fathers.
Schedule a weekly 2 to 4 hour time to just meditate, listen, and pray.
Schedule personal weekend retreats.
Find a church whose emphasis is worship and relationship.
Read a different translation of the Bible.
Listen to the Bible on CD as you drive throughout the day.

All of the above are tools and activities that can be used to know and hear God. Vibrancy will be found when done with the purpose of intimate relationship with God. Don’t miss the point. Disciplined and daily devotions should be developed in a believer’s life. This seems to be especially true as we continue to win the battle. If this discipline is rooted in obedience and approval from God, the disciplined devotional life can easily become a routine of our mind. If, however, our purpose is toward a brother and friend relationship with Jesus, a son relationship with the Father then our devotional life will be quite different. It can be vibrant and it will likely grow as we discover creative ways to pursue God through out each of our days.

For more help on this topic see Being Christian: Exploring Where You God and Life Connect.