The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Temporary Deliverance: How to Interpret the Return of Old Struggles

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For thirty years, John has been owned by his addiction to alcohol.  He just can’t stop getting plastered, and his addiction has ruined his life.  One day John is sobbing alone on the floor of his ratty apartment and feeling totally overwhelmed by his own worthlessness.  He cries out to Jesus in desperation and asks Him to have His way with what’s left of John’s shattered existence.  Much to John’s shock, a miraculous feeling sweeps through his body and suddenly the constant craving for alcohol is gone.  Not only that, but the horrible depression that’s always hanging over him also vanishes.  John feels like a crushing boulder has been lifted off of him.  He’s a new man, and for two whole years life is glorious.  But then John’s circumstances take a turn for the worst and he finds himself greatly stressed.  Much to his horror, that old craving starts rearing its ugly head again and soon John finds himself in a bar getting drunk.  What happened?  Has Jesus rejected him?

Then there is Ben.  Ben is an out of control pedophile.  When Ben had kids, he molested them frequently.  Now his kids are adults and they’ve totally cut ties with him.  Ben is totally stuck on child porn, and after decades of choking on self-loathing, Ben can’t take it anymore.  He’s already convinced that God despises him, so he decides his only option is to kill himself.  He gets a gun, and locks himself into his bedroom.  He’s certain that once he shoots himself, he’ll wake up in Hell.  Just before he does the deed, he makes one desperate attempt to reduce God’s hatred of him by owning what a despicable worm he is and saying that he knows better than to think God would ever accept him.  Ben fully expects God to either respond with icy silence or hearty agreement.  But much to his shock, Jesus suddenly appears in front of him, and before Ben knows what is happening, Jesus is pulling him into a tight embrace and is telling him how much He loves him.  Ben forgets all about the gun as he sobs all over Jesus and says how much he wishes he could be good enough for God to want.  By the end of that intense exchange, Ben’s mind is reeling with a new understanding that he has been accepted by God, and that his terrible actions have never been the huge hang-up for God that he’s always assumed.  For ten years after that incredible moment with Jesus, Ben is a new man.  His sexual attraction to kids has been flipped into a normal attraction to women.  Ben even gets married—something he never thought would happen again—and in this marriage, he’s actually enjoying normal relations with his wife.  His adult step-kids have welcomed him into their lives, and Ben is working hard to forget the past.  He prefers to think that this new Ben is the only Ben who ever was, and that illusion is proving pretty easy to maintain until one day Ben comes across a news article about a father being arrested for molesting his kid.  The article is filled with grisly details, and as Ben reads it, a sudden rush of those old, terrible lusts starts welling up within.  Panicked, he tries to distract himself and hopes those old feelings will disappear.  But they don’t.  Suddenly he’s looking at the neighbor’s kids in a different, awful way and he’s just sick about it.  How should Ben be interpreting this apparent reversal of his healing miracle?  Has it all just been some awful trick?

Miraculous healings are identity changing events.  We go from feeling hopelessly oppressed to feeling joyfully inspired.  It’s one thing to already be a Christian when you come down with the tumor that God suddenly delivers you from.  But when your first experience of miraculous healing coincides with your salvation, things get even more challenging.  When we come crawling to God under a brick load of addictions or perversity, we naturally assume that God is as disgusted by our issues as other humans are.  Often we are so caught up in self-loathing and shame that we can’t grasp how God could really want us in our current state.  So He heals us. He temporarily removes overwhelming distractions so that we will be freed up to receive some core truths that He wants to teach us.

When he first came to Jesus, John viewed himself as a worthless loser. Ben viewed himself as despicable scum.  Neither of these men had the first clue about how God viewed them, nor did they understand that God’s love has nothing to do with behaviors.  Because they’d always lived in a prison of problems, they’d never considered the possibility that there could be life beyond the bars of their cells.  By healing them from the issues that they were obsessing over, God got them to temporarily set aside many of the conclusions that they were attaching to those issues—things like “I’m worthless” and “I’m unlovable.”  Once John was freed up from his addiction, he suddenly had the chance to view himself as something other than just an addict.  He got a much needed glimpse of his own potential and a broader perspective of himself.  It was the same with Ben.  Ben isn’t just some gross child molester.  That’s what he had reduced himself to in his own mind, and since he was assuming that God shared his assessment of himself, he was convinced that God would never accept him.  But God has never defined Ben by that one struggle, and by giving Ben a break from pedophilia, God gave Ben a chance to take a breath and absorb some critical truths about God’s love and God’s involvement in Ben’s life.

Not every soul experiences this kind of deliverance.  Among those who do, not all deliverance is temporary. God is obsessed with variety, and He did not make us clones of each other.  A helpful analogy here is that of musical instruments.  The common mentality among humans is to pretend that we’re all the same to God.  You might picture a room full of flutes.  Jack’s a flute.  Jane’s a flute.  Rick is a flute.  Once we buy into this concept of monotony, we then spin off into all sorts of wrong conclusions based on how God is treating us.  Why is He giving Jane the flute solo and not Rick?  What makes her so special?  Why does she get to be the star of God’s assembly?  This kind of thinking is all wrong.  Jane isn’t the star, and we’re not all the same kind of instrument to God.

The more accurate analogy here is to view each human as a unique kind of instrument.  While Jane is a flute, Jack is a piano, and Rick is a trombone.  God assigned Jane the flute solo because she’s a flute.  God doesn’t think flutes are better than pianos or trombones.  God composes special assignments for all of His instruments.  Soon He’ll be calling on Jack to do what only a piano can do.  Then He’ll call on Rick to do a trombone piece.  God loves variety and He delights in drawing out the beautiful music that He has designed each of us to play.  It’s not a competition.  When God is working with Jane, He’s working with her to be the best flute she can be—He’s not trying to get her to sound more like a piano or a trombone.  Jane needs to forget about the instruments around her and just focus on what God is telling her to do.  The same goes for Rick and Jack.  When God sits down to coach Rick, He’s going to be talking about principles that are relevant to trombones.  He’s not going to be giving Rick piano lessons because Rick’s not a piano, and God has no interest in having Rick start acting like a piano.  God is going to teach Rick to see the great value of trombones, and He’s going to be helping Rick understand how much God delights in trombone music.  God wants Rick to get into a place where he is fully embracing who God made him to be without viewing who he is as inferior.

This instrument analogy teaches us two critical principles: God loves variety and He has designed us all for different purposes.  Not every man gets chained to the bottle, but John sure did.  Should John view himself as inferior to other men because he’s an alcoholic?  No.  John needs to look to God to help him understand who God designed John to be.  Instead of trying to compete with other men, John needs to focus on becoming all that God wants him to be.  In John’s case, the addiction to alcohol is going to play a big role in helping him thrive in his personal walk with God.  It’s the same for Ben.  Ben isn’t a loser because he’s weighed down with pedophilia.  Ben didn’t get to choose which targets sexually arouse his earthsuit. God choose those targets for Ben, and God has a purpose for walking Ben through this particular struggle.  It’s very intentional that Ben and John are struggling with different issues.  God has different, positive purposes for each of these men.  To help them reach their full potential as different souls with different purposes, God is giving them different challenges to work through.

To understand how God uses trials to help us grow closer to Him, let’s use another analogy.  Suppose you want to plant a fruit garden.  You buy a bunch of seeds for various types of fruiting plants—trees, bushes, vines, etc..  Pushing the seeds into the soil is simple enough, but if the soil has no nutrients, those seeds aren’t going to grow very well.  If you want healthy, vigorous, highly productive plants, you need to give those seeds something to work with.  You need well fertilized soil.  Well, what is good fertilizer made of? Nasty things, like animal manure and rotting organic material. In the same way, when God wants to prep you to gain a harvest of spiritual fruits, He starts stirring a lot of nasty things into your life.  There’s nothing fun about a drug addiction.  There’s nothing pretty about sexual perversion.  These things repulse us.  So does a large pile of pungent soil fertilizer.  But when nasty things are stirred into the soil by someone who knows what he’s doing, that soil’s potential to produce wonderful things becomes exponentially greater.

When God first began to assemble you in the womb, you were like a patch of unfertilized soil.  There’s nothing wrong with unfertilized soil.  It can be used for a lot of very useful things.  But if you want to plant a garden, then that soil would benefit from being fertilized.  What kind of fertilizer is best depends on the kinds of plants you want to grow in it.  Because we’re all designed for different purposes, we’re not all supposed to produce the same kinds of crops.  Some of us are going to be fruit orchards.  Others of us will be vegetable gardens.  Others are meant to grow tropical plants, and others are meant to grow succulents.  Whatever our purposes, none of us are fully equipped when we’re born.  We all need God to prep our soil—to stir in some new elements that will help us create a receptive environment for the seeds He wants to plant.

Drug addictions and struggles with perversion are some very potent fertilizers which have the capability of supporting abundant plant life.  But the more potent the fertilizer, the more pungent it can be, and the more you want to get away from it.  The lives of John and Ben are like two fields which are super rich in nutrients.  God’s been dumping the fertilizer into these men’s fields in preparation for a fabulous harvest.  But being so loaded with potential is also wiping these men out.  As God keeps hauling in new truck loads of nasty fertilizer, they’re feeling repulsed and overwhelmed.  They get so desperate to get away from the nastiness of it all, that they’re not able to focus when God wants to talk about all of the fabulous plans He has for their fields.  When God gives these men a season of miraculous healing, it’s like He whisks them away from the fields that they are so grossed out by and takes them to a totally different environment where they can get a mental break.  Sitting by some nice bubbling brook with God gives these two men a chance to take a breath without smelling fertilizer.  They have a chance to bring the panic levels down and relax in God’s Presence.  But while relaxing is great, God isn’t going to abandon His plans for these men.  While He’s been sitting with John and Ben by the stream, He’s also been sewing a bunch of seeds into their perfectly prepared fields.  Now He wants to take them back there and start working with them to cultivate those seeds and experience the harvest coming up.  When John and Ben start experiencing their old issues coming back, that’s God bringing them back to their fields.  It’s not at all a case of God rejecting them—on the contrary, He’s eager to start showing them all of the fabulous plans He has for their fields.  He wants to walk with them all over that smelly dirt and start showing them the little green shoots that are starting to come up from the ground.  Because these men are listening to God, He’s causing their soil to start producing a whole bunch of good things.  There is an ocean of positive truths to be learned, and God is eager to get started.  Breaks are great, and sometimes breaks are very needed, but life isn’t about coasting in the same place.

If you plant a baby tree and the thing never grows taller or sprouts new leaves, you’ll conclude that something was wrong with it.  A thriving tree is one that keeps changing and sprouting new additions to itself: new branches, leaves, and layers of bark.  In the same way, we humans were designed to thrive through continuous growth.  God loves variety and change—He’s really not a fan of keeping things the same year after year.  If you’re moving forward with God, you’re learning new things, gaining new insights, and changing your perspective of life.  The changes might be happening very slowly and they might feel very small, but the point is that they’re there.

We’re supposed to be in a constant state of flux, always learning and changing. When we’re rebelling against God, those changes are negative.  But when we’re listening to God as Ben and John are doing, those changes are very positive.  John is gaining a ton of compassion for other drug addicts—something he didn’t have the time to think about when he was obsessed with his own problems.  Ben is learning to embrace his absolute dependency on God as he battles with a bunch of perverse fantasies in his mind.  Because both men are listening to God, they are clinging to the core truths that God introduced them to during their break period: they are loved by God, and He is not judging their value by their external actions or their ability to control their earthsuits.  It is their soul choices that God cares about, and as  they keep saying yes to Him on a core level, their fields are evolving into beautiful scenes of lush, new life.  When all they saw was a bunch of nasty fertilizer dumped all over the place, both men were so repulsed that they could barely stand their own company.  But now that God’s seeds are sprouting all over, there are new, attractive things to focus on and feel encouraged by.  It was their rest period which enabled them to return to their fields receptive to learning the things that God wants to teach them.  The healing wasn’t as complete or permanent as they wanted it to be, but it’s been a critical phase of their development.  God used that healing to transition them out of frustrated despair into a position where they would be receptive to growth.  The period of relief was like a good coach benching a player who he can see is hitting burnout on the field.  But when the coach benches his player, he does so with the goal of equipping the player to get back in the game—not to take him out of the game entirely.

Are you starting to slide back into struggles which you thought God had permanently put behind you?  There’s no need to panic that God is turning away from you, or that you’re being punished.  There’s no need to think you’re losing ground because you’re not.  This shift is God saying you’re ready to get back into the game.  When He starts resurrecting old giants, He’s not just setting you up to get trampled on again. You aren’t who you were before.  That rest period has changed you in positive ways, and you’re now positioned to benefit from the old struggles in a way that you couldn’t before.

God is for you. Before you were even aware of His existence, He was preparing your empty field to be transformed into a field of abundant life.  Don’t let what He’s doing in other lives distract you from the exciting things He’s doing with you.  God treats us all differently because we were made for different purposes.  Ask Him to help you fully embrace His purposes for you and He will take you to a fabulous place.

FURTHER READING:
The Purpose of Dysfunction: Understanding Why God Messed You Up
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them
Why God Isn’t Fixing You (The Jungle Metaphor)
Overcoming Shame
Understanding Refinement: Why God is Brutalizing You

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