Rose Mary Dougherty draws on bullfighting as a metaphor for the spiritual life. In a head on fight between a human (roughly 170 lbs) and a fighting bull (roughly 1 ton), it is no contest. The bull always wins. So, the matador has to rely on tactics of craftiness and subtle deception to defeat the bull. The basic tactic is to keep the bull off-balance, agitated, out of his “querencia.” When the bull is in his querencia, that physical posture and attitude of having all four feet on the ground, ready to charge, pawing the ground, the matador is in real trouble. The bull is much faster and stronger. So, the only hope for winning is to keep the beast off-center and confused. What a description of spiritual attacks! The evil one works in subtle, deceptive ways to keep people off-center, agitated, and confused. The effective response is not to fight back directly, but rather, to return to your querencia, that place of groundedness and centeredness in God. “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If you abide in Me, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me, you can do nothing.” John 15: 5
We’re all supposed to believe that God forgives us. And, sure, intellectually, we do. But, for a lot of us, that just isn’t how we feel.
Truth is, we don’t feel forgiven. We don’t feel “free”. No, for a lot of us, we feel dirty, used-up, and out of second chances. We might know that isn’t true, but that knowledge doesn’t change the feeling.
If you feel that way, this is for you.
There’s an amazing moment in the Bible where Jesus comes face-to-face with a woman caught in the act of sinning. And, I’m talking about big old embarrassing sexual sin, the kind you hope nobody ever finds out about.
Jesus says two things to this woman. First, he says, “I do not condemn you.” Second, he says, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (You can read the whole story in John chapter 8.)
Now, the first one - I don’t condemn you - that sounds about right. I mean, Jesus is supposed to forgive people, so, that makes sense.
But let’s look at that second one. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
If you asked most people what it means to leave a “life of sin”, they’d say, “Simple! Stop doing bad stuff!” But I’m not sure that’s exactly it.
See, sin, at its core, is about selfishness. It’s a focus on me, and what I think might satisfy me at any given moment, regardless of anybody else. By contrast, a life driven by God’s Spirit is a life focused on God, what God wants, and what God is doing. (For more on this, check out the book of Galatians, and especially chapter 5.)
So, then, if our hearts and thoughts are consumed with beating up on ourselves for past sins, and trying to grit our teeth and whip ourselves to resist present temptations, sin is still the thing at the center of our lives. We’re focused on our jacked-up mess, and what the heck is wrong with us, and how terrible we are.
Here’s what the Bible says about that:
"Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored." (Romans 8:8, MSG)
Whoa. That does not sound good. Ok. So, what do we do instead?
We recognize that leaving a life of sin is about, well, leaving a life of sin. It’s about putting something else at the center of our thoughts and energies. It’s about having a life driven by something other than the draw and repulsion of sin.
If you want to leave your life of sin, I’ve got two suggestions for you.
First, don’t wait around for your emotions to agree with what God is telling you. He says you stand forgiven, and you do. Waiting for 100% buy-in from your feelings…that’s a very long wait.
Second, take the focus off of yourself, and put it onto loving other people.
It sounds funny to say it out loud, but, people who are hurting, people who are going through a rough time, they don’t care what you’ve done in your past. The lonely kid in class who cuts himself? If you’re willing to talk to him and be a friend, he’s not going to double check the last time you looked at porn before accepting your company. The homeless guy at the soup kitchen who hasn’t eaten in three days? He couldn’t care less if you went too far physically with your last boyfriend. It just doesn’t matter.
And when you start to focus on loving other people, instead of obsessing over your sins, you’ll begin to realize, for yourself, that the sins don’t matter in the way you thought they did. Sure, they were wrong. Yes, we want to work on not doing them. But they don’t define you. They don’t tell you who you are. And they don’t tell you what your life is about.
Beloved, leave your life of sin. Leave your life of guilt and shame and introspection and obsession. Jesus has a real life he wants to give you – a life following Him, a life serving others – and, I promise, it’s absolutely amazing.
I’ve been struggling with lust lately. I thought I had given it up to God but lately I’ve been desiring the same thing again. I made a mistake once, and I felt really horrible because I knew I hurt Him. So I asked for forgiveness but now I did it again and this time I didn’t feel guilty. I pray about this but it doesn’t go away. I still have strong desires. I feel like this isn’t going to go away and I know its hindering my walk with Christ.
Jed Brewer replied:
I’m really sorry you’re going through a rough time. And there have been times in my life where I was in the exact place you’re describing.
As I read your question, I think you may be coming at this struggle with a few bad ideas. That’s not your fault – a lot of people have them, and they’re taught in a lot of churches. But, if we want to move forward, we’ll need to change them. So, let’s take a look.
First, you sound surprised that God isn’t taking this struggle away from you. You said that you pray, but it doesn’t go away. Of course it doesn’t! The goal of testing in your life is to make you stronger. If we hit a hard time, prayed, and God took the hard time away, we’d all be spiritual wimps! By contrast, when we face a trial and learn how to stand firm against it, God uses that to develop patience, perseverance, and joy within us.
As Christians, our prayer should be, “God, give me the strength to stand firm in the midst of this temptation.” To that end, it’s far better to face a temptation, slip and slide on it, but ultimately learn how to stand strong against it, than it is to never be tempted.
Here’s what the Bible says: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, NIV)
The second thing we should look at is the guilt and shame. You did the thing and felt bad. And then you did the thing and didn’t feel bad, and it sounds like that’s scaring you. Here’s the thing: guilt cannot motivate, guide, or safeguard your walk with God. It doesn’t have the power to do any of those things. In fact, in the long run, guilt can only drive you from God.
In the end, the only thing that truly changes any of us is love. That’s the gas in the tank to make hard choices we really don’t want to make. (Everybody likes naked bodies. And not looking at them? That’s a hard choice.)
You said that lust is hindering your walk with Jesus. If you’ll allow me to say so, I think your attitude about lust is what’s hindering your walk. You know that lust is wrong, and you’re trying to fight it. And that’s good! You’re doing an imperfect job of it, and that is to be expected.
But what isn’t good is that it sounds like you’re not sure whether God can be cool with you in the midst of your struggle. Like you’re not sure that he can love, accept, and like you, even when you’re doing an imperfect job of facing a temptation.
Paul had the exact same attitude problem, and here’s what God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9, NIV)
Keep your head up, sis. God loves you, he likes you, he accepts and desires you, even in the midst of this struggle. Embracing the love that God has for you is the absolute best thing you can do for overcoming this temptation. We’re praying for you.
Tomorrow, the odds are, you will show up for church. And when you do, I bet there’s part of you that looks around at all the neat, tidy, squared-away people in that sanctuary and thinks: “What am I doing here? They all have this Christian thing figured out so much better than me. I’m barely pulling it off. And I don’t belong here.”
If you’re feeling that way, for what it’s worth, I understand. And so does God. But, he doesn’t agree.
The Bible says that “all have sinned”, and that means that, tomorrow, when you walk into church, there’s nothing but sinners. There aren’t some really holy folks and some really terrible evil people. There’s just sinners. Which means you fit right in.
The truth is, church is a place for people who have made mistakes. Church is a place for people who regret things they’ve done in the past week. Church is where you go when you’re barely holding on.
But here’s the thing about feeling like you’re barely holding on, like you’re barely pulling it off…that isn’t something to be ashamed of. In a boxing match, when they ring the bell to end one round and boxer dude gets a break, he staggers over to his coaching people, to his corner, with blood all over him, barely able to see straight. He’s barely holding on, and his people aren’t looking down on him for it. They understand: he just got the crap beat out of him. That’s what boxing is.
Well, see, when you show up for church, that’s your break from the boxing match of your life. That’s your corner, where your coaches are waiting to give you rest, encouragement, strategy, and everything you need to go another round. You might feel like you’re hanging by a thread, but, baby, you’re there. Sure, you took some blows to the face. And we’ll figure out how to keep our guard up a little better for next week. But you made it through the round, and that’s the victory.
So hold your head high. Walk through those doors knowing that you fit right in, and that this time is there to equip you, strengthen you, and give you what you need to go another round trading blows with the devil and the world. You might walk through those doors bloody and bruised, but if you’re walking through them, you’re a champion all the same.
jesusandalex asked you:
Hi Jed! What does it really mean when God say he will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand? I’ve watch video of artists who seem to have a relationship with Christ falls short of His glory and never return back. Why did God allow them to be tempted to the point of despair and death? Thank you!
Jed Brewer replied:
It sucks to see that happen. It really does.
The truth is that we each make our own choices. And sometimes, we make really, really bad ones.
God gave us free will because you can’t have love without it. Love has to be chosen. But with the ability to choose comes the ability to choose wrong.
The big problem is that sin has a momentum to it. Once we start making really bad choices, we tend to keep on making more and more of them. There are reasons for that, of course. Pride is one – nobody wants to admit they were wrong. Despair is another – if you get in a deep enough hole, you start to think you could never get out anyway. Cowardice is a third. Sometimes we’re just terrified to look things full in the face.
But you’re wondering where God is in the midst of all that. The answer is that he’s standing right by that person, the whole time, pleading desperately for them to just turn around.
There is no sin that God’s grace can’t cover. And there is no sin that God’s love can’t bear. And that means that when people fall off and don’t ever turn it around, it’s because they choose it. And they do so little bit by little bit.
But, now, why would God allow people to be tempted in the first place? Part of the answer is that going through trials and struggles and tests gives us the opportunity to become stronger. And we need to be strong in order to fully take a hold of the amazing life that God created us to live. (c.f. Colossians 1:9-12, MSG)
A smart man once said that anything with a potential for great good has with it – in a fallen world – a potential for great evil. And we can readily see that as we look around. Marriage, for example, can be a beautiful thing. It can also be a vicious and abusive enslavement. The potential for both good and evil is very large.
Well, so it is here. Free will carries the possibility of grave consequences. We can choose the love of God and be transformed. And we can also wreck our lives.
You asked what that verse (1 Corinthians 10:13) means. It means that God wants you and him to be a team. That God gives you free will, and then you and He must work out together where to go with it – how to make good, Godly decisions. It means that you have a role to play in living the life God designed for you, but that God will be prepared to give you everything you need to live that role out.
One time, Peter and Jesus were talking, and Peter looked at one of the other disciples and said, “Jesus – what about him?!” And Jesus replied, “What do you care? You must follow me.”
I mention that, Alex, to say that, in your life with Jesus, you’re going to see people slip, stumble, and fall. That will happen. But, when it does, your life still comes down to you and Jesus, working things out together, as a team, moment by moment. Your life still comes down to making the right and Godly choice with what God has before you today. Keep seeking the Lord, day by day, and you will get where you’re going. And God will take care of everybody else.
I feel absolutely terrible. This morning I masturbated after six months of not doing it. I don’t know what came over me, it just happened. Now I feel so incredibly dirty. I feel bad going before the Lord, and I’ve asked for forgiveness and heard His answer, but I can’t get over how gross I am. I just want to fall apart. What do you suggest I do to get over this? :(
Jed Brewer replied:
My friend, I’ll have a more full reply for you down the road, but here are a few quick and very important points.
You are not dirty.
You are not gross.
You do not need to feel bad about going before the Lord.
Here’s what you are: a young person with feelings, desires, and urges, and trying (imperfectly, yes) to submit those to The Lord. But you are trying nonetheless! That’s amazing! Six months without masturbating? My friend, that’s awesome! You live in a hypersexual culture, and are at a hypersexual age, and yet are trying with everything you’ve got to give your sex life to God. I think that’s amazing, and I’m proud of you.
In the days that come, we can and should take a look at what led up to today – were we stressed out, discouraged, overworked, etc. We’ll want to do that so we can take away a point of attack from the enemy.
But for today? We’re claiming who we are: a child of God in whom the Lord delights, who made it a full six months in resisting a temptation that, if we’re honest, is going on all day, every day, 24-7.
Don’t let that guilt lie to you. I know who you really are - a child of the King. I’m not confused about that, and neither is God.
This is good stuff.
thathipster-texas asked: This might be a weird question.. But I’ve gotta ask! My best friends want to all go swimming on Labor day - 3 are boys, 3 are girls (including myself). What kind of swim suit is appropriate to wear in the company of my God-fearing brothers? And is it okay to ask…
How do I ask God for help when I feel helpless?
Jed Brewer replied:
Helpless can mean a lot of different things, but, I’m guessing that you’re referring to temptation. As in, “How do I ask God for help when I feel like I know I’m gonna do this wrong thing, even though I know I shouldn’t?”
Here’s my next guess – you aren’t wondering so much about asking for help, as receiving help. I mean, the asking part is pretty easy: “God! Help!” (God doesn’t have any problem with a prayer just like that…)
But receiving that help requires a couple of things.
First, you have to want it. See, for me, when I’m doing something I know I shouldn’t, maybe I don’t want to be helped out of it. ‘Cause I like whatever that thing is. So, I think step one is being honest about where we’re at. So, for example, “God, I like this sin. I want to do this sin. I don’t want to stop doing this sin. I know that’s wrong. And, deep down, I want you more than I want any sin. But I need you to show me how to move forward, ‘cause, Lord, I really, really like this sin.” God can roll with that, and honesty is where we start.
Second, receiving God’s help requires you to believe that he can help you. A lot of guys I work with feel like when temptation comes a-callin’, they have no choice. Seriously. It’s just, the devil says, “Do this”, and now I gotta.
Well, you don’t gotta, but I bet you can feel the same way. (I know I can.) The old routine of, “I’ve done this a thousand times before, so, probably, I’m doomed to keep doing this sin forever, and nothing will ever change. Probably God can’t do anything about it.” I bet you know that feeling. And I bet you can see pretty much immediately what’s wrong it.
God can change things in your life. No matter what you’re stuck on, and no matter how long you’ve been stuck on it, God can set you free. I know this to be true; I have tried it for myself.
Part of how God frees us from things, though, is through understanding. If you asked the Lord to set you free from a sin that was really messing you up, part of what he would likely want to do is to give you some understanding about why you’re drawn to that sin in the first place. What is it that you like about it? What is it you’re getting out of it? I’ll give you an example.
Everyone everywhere struggles or has struggled with internet pornography. And we all know it’s bad, yes. But, if you asked the Lord, “What’s the deal with me and porno? I need understanding on this issue,” here’s part of what the Lord might show you.
- You looking at porno functions as a stress reliever
- You looking at porno alleviates boredom
- You tend to look at porno when you’re feeling lonely
Ok, well, all of a sudden, it’s a whole different ballgame. We know that, if we want to deal with pornography, then we, at the very least, need to find healthy stress relieving activities, and maybe figure out a way to have a lower stress-level to begin with. We need to find some new interests and pursuits that engage our passions and imaginations. (Y’all are incredibly cool, creative people – none of you need to be bored.) And, if we’re feeling lonely, then we need to build some newer and deeper relationships with other people.
And that leads to the last thing about receiving God’s help. There’s what a theologian might call a “participatory” roll for you to play. In other words, there’s something God wants you to do as a part of him helping you.
So, say you’re there, thinking about doing whatever that thing is, and you say, “God! Help!” Well, maybe all of a sudden it occurs to you, “Prolly, I should call my friend Bob and go hang out. I can’t really be cutting when I’m with Bob at Taco Hut.”
See, God’s showing you a way out in that moment – just like he promised he would (1 Cor 10:13). But that way out involves you choosing it. Picking up the phone, dialing Bob’s number, and saying, “What’s up, Bobby, it’s hang time.”
Make no mistake, God wants to help you. Always, no matter what. And if we’ll cultivate a relationship with him based on honesty, remembering that God is able, if we’ll seek understanding from the Lord, and then choose to live out steps based on that understanding, we’ll find ourselves receiving God’s help in unlimited supply.