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 (Manna 53: Conquering Addictions)
Conquering Addictions
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Adapted sermon by GH Chen—Irvine, California, USA

IT’S HARDER THAN IT SEEMS

Jason was a thirty-six-year-old carpenter who had accidentally cut off four fingers on his right hand. In the emergency room, he begged the doctor to help save and reattach his fingers. His request was not outrageous, given the advancement of science and technology. In fact, doctors reattach body parts every day.

But when Jason’s doctor found out that he smoked one and a half packs of cigarettes a day, he explained how smoking causes blood clots, and that one cigarette is enough to constrict blood vessels and stop blood flow to the reattached fingers, leading to tissue death. If this happened, the reattachment surgery would be useless.

In that instant, Jason threw away the pack of cigarettes in his pocket and resolved that he would never smoke again.

For anyone with an addiction, this true story probably sounds all too familiar. After all, what addict doesn’t know that their addiction—especially an intoxicating addiction like smoking—is harmful?

The problem is, unfortunately, it may sometimes take an extreme motivation to overcome an addiction. And, if the addiction is too severe, even the most extreme motivation is not enough to stop us from doing something we clearly know will carry severe consequences. Conquering an addiction is much harder than it seems.

Fortunately for Jason, the reattachment surgery turned out to be a success, and he was discharged from the hospital five days later and sent home. But unexpectedly, his fingers turned cold and black and Jason was rushed back to the emergency the next day. Despite knowing what would happen if he smoked after the surgery, he could not resist.

Over the next ten days, Jason went in and out of the surgical room three times. In the end, the doctors had no choice but to remove the dead tissues—leaving only the base of his fingers.

PREVENTION IS KEY

The surest solution to the problem of addiction is to never allow ourselves to be addicted or be given over to anything. An addiction is like a weed. If the land is carefully taken care of, weeds cannot take root and grow. But once they take root, they will grow quickly even without any tending.

There are some areas we can pay attention to and good habits we can develop if we are serious about preventing addictions.

Think of the consequences

Frequently remind ourselves of the consequences of an addiction. We need to learn to see beyond the present and be able to foresee where a path will lead us (Prov 23:26-35). And the Bible tells us that the path of addiction leads to destruction.

Because addictions consume energy and focus, they can destroy a person’s future, good name, marriage, and family. Furthermore, addiction can damage other interpersonal relationships and bury a person in guilt. Even a person who has a good life can lose everything if he is enmeshed in an addiction.

Take a look at Tom’s story. Tom was a pharmacist. But after he became addicted to poker, he would often close his pharmacy clinic and hit the casinos. It wasn’t until he didn’t have enough money to make ends meet for several months and began asking his wife for support that she knew he had a gambling problem.

Tom decided to stop gambling—making promises to his wife and resolving to change his life around—swearing that he would never gamble again. But as good as his intentions were, he couldn’t stop.

In the end, he lost his clinic and was greatly in debt—these were the immediate things he gambled away. But even more devastating than these, he gambled away the good life he had built up, he lost his dignity, and he hurt his family.

It is important to remember that we are the light of the world (Mt 5:14), and that God calls us to a higher purpose while we are in this world. When we lose sight of that higher purpose and lose ourselves in the temptations of this world, we dishonor the Lord Jesus’ name. One day, He will hold us accountable for our actions.

Never compromise

How do we get into an addiction in the first place? It often starts with a small compromise.

When we compromise, we let our guard down to do something we know is wrong. While our guard is down and Satan’s temptation comes, we are in no position to defend ourselves. Slowly, our addictions build up from small to great, from shallow to deep. Satan will continue to tempt us and control us through our addictions.

From the outside, people may not see the beginnings of our addiction, but Satan knows. Satan is cunning, and he will not waste any opportunity (Eph 6:16). In fact, we ourselves may not notice or acknowledge that we may have a potential problem, but the addiction is already born.

No one purposely seeks addiction, but temptation is all around us. So we need to carefully and painstakingly address anything that could cause an addiction. If temptations come, we must put up our shield. For if we “resist the devil…he will flee from [us]” (Jas 4:7).

The moment we start to see ourselves forming a bad habit, stop it while it is still in its infancy. Otherwise, it will be hard to change once it has snowballed and become a full-fledged addiction.

It is important that we know our own weaknesses better than our enemy. We need constant spiritual closeness with God for Him to show us those hidden compromises that we make every day. In order to be victorious over Satan’s schemes, we have to be wiser and sharper than our enemy. We need to know ourselves better than he knows us—only then will we call out to the Lord to help us.

Pay attention to our surroundings

Nobody willingly walks into an active battlefield because they know they will get hurt. Every bodily instinct tells us to find the quickest route out of that danger zone. We need to treat our addictions the same way.

The problem with a lot of places that encourage sinful behavior or addictions is that there is no sign on the door that says, “Danger!” In fact, if there are signs, the signs would say “enjoyment,” “entertainment,” or “the best time of your life.” When we read these signs, part of us believe it, too.

If we have certain habits that we have noticed to be problematic, distance ourselves from the place where that habit thrives. If we like a hand of poker more than a “healthy” dose, then don’t agree to go to the Thursday BBQ-chicken-wing poker night after work. If we are drawn to certain unclean images on some magazines, don’t go to a magazine store, and vary our route so we avoid passing it.

Don’t let ourselves step into an environment where we are not in control of our own actions and where our weaknesses become extremely sensitive and vulnerable. Fighting addictions require much work on our part; no one said it will be easy. And walking away may just be the hardest thing to do.

So pay attention to your surroundings, and get out of the battlefield as quickly as possible when you see it. The closer we are to God, the more sensitive we are to the danger level of every place and environment we put ourselves in. Recognizing the danger zone has everything to do with our spirituality.

Build and maintain a regulated life

Cultivate a habit of reading the Bible, kneeling in prayer, and attending church services.

This cannot be emphasized enough, so I will say it again: Read the Bible. Pray. Go to church.

Have the same attitude as Jeremiah when he said to God, “Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer 15:16).

God’s words nourish our spirit. But we must make the effort to feed our spirit, and enjoy the time we spend doing so.

It is also essential to live a life of prayer and always be filled by the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). When we are filled with wine, we are easily controlled by its intoxication. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we can easily overcome our addiction (Rom 8:13).

The more we pray the more we are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14, 2:4, 4:31). We must pursue joy in the Holy Spirit through prayer (Rom 14:17).

Attending church services regularly is paramount to growing a mature spirituality. When we go to church, we need to spend time with others in fellowship and build each other up in love (Eph 4:16).

By filling our life with the word and spirit of God, we will be able to resist temptations and prevent bad habits. We need a relationship with God that is so close that there is no room left for our desires to turn elsewhere.

WALK BACK INTO THE LIGHT

What should we do when an addiction has already taken root?

In this case, it is necessary to spend enough time and energy to conquer it. If an addiction is not fully removed, it will overcome us. And it would be easy for an addiction to destroy us because, by this point, we would have also become spiritually weak. There is no such thing as enjoying the things of the world and being very close to God.

We cannot forget that we have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, and we have the abidance of the Holy Spirit. We must remember that we are a special people called out by God Himself to walk out of darkness and come into His light (1 Pet 2:9). Therefore, no matter how our grim our situation may be, we must be determined to conquer the addiction and walk back into the light.

Examine ourselves

The road to healing is to deeply examine ourselves before the Lord. The presence of the devil coupled with our own sinful nature creates the perfect recipe for temptations and sin. We need to ask God to search our minds and identify those things that are wicked within us (Ps 139:23, 24).

Examining ourselves is not for God’s sake. God tells us to do this because it is for our own good. The one who is blind is not God, and it’s not Satan—both of them see us clearly for all our weaknesses and our strengths.

We dig deep inside and evaluate ourselves because we want to see what lies beneath, we need to improve our spirituality, and we need to find out what is keeping us from being that beacon of light God wants us to be.

When we see ourselves clearly for who we are, this is no cause for defeat. This is the beginning of healing. We have to acknowledge our sins and repent, and admit our wrongdoings and weaknesses.

With God’s strength we need to be determined to return to the right path—relying on His grace and mercy to do so. Ask Him to give us a right and healthy life (Rom 7:22-25).

Walk away from harmful situations

Just as it is important to prevent addictions by being aware of one’s surroundings, it is necessary for addicts to remove themselves completely from tempting places and people. Departure must happen after repentance.

Having made a resolution to turn back to the correct path, we cannot go back to the places that fed our addiction.

Think about and write down a list of places, people, and environments in your life that cause you to let your spiritual guard down. In the column next to it, write down what the consequences of those influences were. Then think about this—was it worth it to stay there, or would it have been better to have walked away?

They say hindsight is 20/20. After we go through this exercise, we need to take it one step further—we need to walk back into the light. God loves us, and He will help us when we cannot help ourselves.

Ask for God’s help

Cry to the Lord to pull us out of our addiction. If we have made the determination to stop our addiction, it will be much easier to do so with God’s help. Cry out with a contrite and sincere heart just like Peter, who cried out with all his might “Lord save me” when he was about to sink into the water (Mt 14:30).

God is all-powerful. He will help us in our struggles; all we need to do is ask. “‘[W]ith God all things are possible’” (Mt 19:26). Addiction is damaging for anyone.

Maybe we feel we don’t deserve God’s help, maybe we feel too ashamed to come before the presence of the Lord, or maybe we have already made up our mind that God won’t help us anyway—we’ve gone too far off the path to merit help. Sometimes, our sins blind us to who God truly is.

These thoughts we have actually don’t prove right our made-up theories. Neither do they accurately portray God and His attributes. What these internal dialogues show is our lack of faith.

Asking for help takes faith. If we find that we do not have enough, we can ask God for more. Therefore, search deeply in ourselves and examine our heart, walk away from the people and places that hurt us, then kneel and repent and ask God for help. But as we ask, we also need to have faith that He can do what we cannot do for ourselves.

After God saves us from our addiction, we will be profitable to ourselves and to others (Phil 1:11).

Find spiritual friends

There is one more place where we can turn to for help to walk back into the light. We need to find spiritual friends or older mentors whom we trust, and acknowledge our struggles and problems to them.

There seem to be a common phenomenon among addicts of any sort—they start to alienate themselves from people they love and people who love them. Similar to the saying, “misery loves company,” addicts also tend to gravitate towards other addicts who share the same problem. But this only causes them to walk further away from the light they’re supposed to head towards.

After we recognize our problem and start to look for help, one of the first things we can do is to reconnect with people we have distanced ourselves from—especially those who are close to God. Drawing close to them will help us draw closer to God. This is a step in the right direction.

We can ask for their prayers of intercession, as well as encouragement and guidance in our daily life. Let them check on us and remind us of our weaknesses (1 Sam 13:11; 2 Kgs 5:25).

We may wish to form a small group in our life with whom we can be honest and transparent. Have them ask us personal and intimate questions, especially if they notice anything suspicious. The daily struggles that come with overcoming an addiction will be easier to manage with spiritual friends to help us.

CONCLUSION

We can think of addiction as an unlikely boomerang: we throw it out in pleasure but it comes back to us in pain.

And it can be any addiction: smoking, drinking, gambling, cheating, pornography, video games, television, lying, cursing—it can be subtle or it can be blatant. As long as it has a hold of us and causes us to lose self-control and our spiritual integrity, it can become an addiction.

We need to wake up from our spiritual slumber and redeem the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:14-21 records so many wonderful things that are godly and spiritual and which we can addict ourselves with; that is, His words, His psalms, His hymns, His melody, His joy, and His spirit.

            Therefore [God] says:
”Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

          See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.

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