by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Why don’t we trust God? Is it because we struggle to entirely believe?
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.” Faith comes from hope being realized in substance according to the evidence. We don’t see gravity but we experience gravity all the time. We know the truth about gravity and come to trust it even though we do not see it. It could be said that we have a relationship with gravity. Our lives are touched by gravity everyday.
The truth is that freedom is achieved through a revolutionary event. ‘Revolutionary’ means a sudden, radical, or complete change; a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something; a change in paradigm (belief, world view), meaning your standard for living. A sudden revelation of faith having encountered the Savior, Jesus Christ, will speak life into how you experience revolutionary transformative recovery in how you live everyday—a new standard of thinking and living, with healthy hopeful expectations. It is in relationship with Jesus that you will come to know God to be real and living. It is in relationship with Christ that you enter into the new age of grace that will usher you into the experience of new life.
Dean, a 135 pound man in his mid-thirties, has been dependent on alcohol for the better part of twenty years. Beer was his drug of choice and until recently, he was drinking 15-20 beers alone each night in a period of 4-6 hours until about 10:30 or so at night before he would make his way to bed and crash until his alarm went off early the next morning.Each beer contains one ounce of alcohol, so Dean was consuming 15-20 ounces of alcohol each evening after he arrived home from work. The body metabolizes about one ounce of alcohol per hour. Since he may have metabolized 4-5 ounces of alcohol in the hours he was drinking, Dean had 10-15 beers in his system when he fell asleep, resulting in dangerous blood alcohol levels.
This occurred everyday for a number of years. It should be said too that Dean, having metabolized between six to eight beers from the time he passed out until the time he left for work, likely had between four and as many as eight beers still in his system when he left for work, meaning his blood alcohol level could still be as much or more than twice the legal limit as he drove into work. Dean reported to me there were times when he saw yellow in his eyes, which could have been the result of some liver damage. Eventually, he would have severe alcohol-related physical problems if he continued using alcohol while increasing his use.
Dean was a functioning alcoholic, meaning that he never missed work, got to work on time, babysat grandchildren, and so on. He knows now that his alcoholism would have escalated and that he would have an increase in severity of his problems related to alcohol use had he continued to use. Dean realized it was a matter of time before he would not be able to consume enough beer in his allotted time to drink, and he would likely drink more often during daytime hours. He also recognized the likelihood that he would not be able to consume enough beer needed to achieve the feeling he was after, and would need to include harder liquor with much heavier alcohol content, perhaps mixed with his beer to achieve desired results. Dean sure enjoyed his beer.
Dean had already lost one marriage due mostly to alcohol and drug-related problems and had been estranged from his teenage daughter for a couple of years, due in large part from his own shame and feeling like he was unworthy to be her dad. When his current wife of five years finally told him to choose between their marriage and his love for beer, Dean decided to get help. His wife contacted me at Heritage Counseling Center because we believe recovery from alcohol and drug dependence centers on a life-changing relationship with God.
A consideration for Dean coming to Heritage was that he had very little church background and had very little understanding about God. One might say that convincing Dean that Jesus was real, alive, and involved in his life, would be the equivalent of suggesting that Santa Claus was real, alive, and involved in his life—that Dean should pray to Santa and trust Santa for transformative power. Dean agreed to come to Heritage because we were in his insurance network through his Employee Assistance Program. One thing that Dean did understand was that he was spiritually bankrupt in his addiction to alcohol. Dean needed hospitalization in a detox unit to help him endure the symptoms of acute withdrawal.
I had the opportunity to share with Dean why Jesus Christ was the One—the only One—capable and willing to empower him to a life of recovery from an insurmountable addiction to alcohol. Dean would have to transition from disbelief to belief. He would have to agree that Jesus not only lived but suffered and died for his selfishness and weakness, and that Jesus arose from the dead. Dean would have to find the account of the empty tomb to be compelling enough that it is possible that this story of an event some two thousand years ago might just be true.
I told Dean that ancient historical manuscripts of literature confirm the life and death of Jesus. I told Dean about the historical accuracy of the movement (perceived by political and religious leaders as a rebellion) Jesus led against the oppressive religious hierarchy that was supported by the Roman government. I told Dean about the claims by Jesus to be the Son of God with claims of resurrection from the dead three days after his execution—claims uncontested by historical accounts. I told him that historical literature documents that the tomb was heavily guarded with some two dozen trained and skilled Roman soldiers so as to not allow any room or opportunity for sabotage concerning the body of Jesus lying in the tomb. I told him that a massive stone weighing one and a half to two tons was used to seal a large hole dug into the side of a cave. I told Dean that the most ancient of historical manuscripts are in agreement that the tomb was in fact empty by the third day since the crucifixion of Jesus. I told him that there are historical accounts of Jewish witnesses of resurrected Jesus who sacrificed everything—their birthrights, marriages and families, inheritances, etc.—to do nothing more than speak the truth about there experience. Many of those eyewitnesses were executed in martyrdom for speaking the truth of what they experienced first hand.
Dean accepted that I would not deliberately deceive or misguide him, but what if I was misguided by some religious hoax? What then? How would this God or this Jesus empower him to recovery from his marriage and family killing disease that was also destined to destroy him, body, mind, and spirit?
While in his first week of treatment, Dean was on his way home from his IOP session when he was overcome by his urge to drink. He felt that on a scale of ten his compulsion to drink was at least 20. He was determined to stop at the gas station to buy his cigarettes and beer. At the same time, he became very afraid that doing so would cost him his marriage…again. This was an excruciating dilemma for Dean as he wrestled with ambivalent feelings of immense proportion and consequence. If he did not consume alcohol, he would go insane, literally; yet if he did drink, he would not be able to stop and he’d lose his wife, whom he loved dearly. Dean cried out, “Jesus, I don’t know if you’re real, but Steve sure believes you are,” as he prayed out loud to the God of Steve. Little did Dean know, but he was praying to the God of Dean.
“Jesus, let me do the impossible”
Dean said to Jesus, “If you’re real, come into my life and take away my need to drink.” Then suddenly, something happened to him. He said it was like a “whoosh” hit him that he could not explain. He said he felt different in some way. It was like letting air out of the balloon of his enormous urge to drink. Dean knew right then and there that the same Jesus that arose from the dead changed his mind as he cried out to him. Jesus Christ empowered Dean to do what was not possible in his own ability.
Pastor Fran Leeman (LifeSpring Community Church, Plainfield, IL) preached a sermon about Peter walking on water. Peter and the disciples were sailing in the midst of a terrible storm when he saw Jesus, apparently standing out on the water. How was this possible? How could a man stand on the water? Peter shouted out, “Jesus, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes come,” Jesus said (Matthew 14:28-29, NLT). Pastor Leeman pointed out that he would have yelled out in a panic, “Jesus, if it’s you, calm the storm!” He said he would have wanted to see the evidence that it was Jesus, but that Peter took a much different approach. Rather than ask Jesus to prove himself real by doing the impossible, Peter asked Jesus to empower him, Peter, to do the impossible by the authority and power given him by Jesus. What profound truth.
My client Dean did this. He didn’t have anymore faith than to ask Jesus, “Is it really you?” “Are you real?” “Will you help me?” Jesus answered, “Yes, come.” Then Jesus, who spoke creation into existence with complete authority, blessed Dean with the power and the authority to do the impossible by the power given him. Dean did not have faith, really. What did he know? What Dean had was hope that Jesus was real and that he’d show up. When we know that we have no other choice but to trust God for the impossible, even when our faith is lacking and unsure, when we need a miracle, he will grant us the power to do the impossible; to move a mountain. Dean moved a mountain that night. Praise God!
Dean was giddy with assurance as he recounted the story of his miraculous drive home from treatment the night before. He reported having a genuine sense of enthusiasm and anticipation for his treatment and a life free of alcohol. For Dean, that was already a departure from his “normal” way of thinking. In an instant, Jesus Christ changed Dean’s mind. Dean had no doubt that Jesus is real. His attitude about sobriety was completely changed.
Dean learned to make sense of the ABCs of recovery from a life filled with alcohol and drug addiction with all of its disappointment and conflict. Dean would tell you himself that as he admitted to God that he was not in control of his life and powerless to do anything about it except pray for help to do the impossible, that God was faithful. He confessed to Jesus Christ that he was lost in his addictive sin, like the wayward son of the Bible (Luke 15), and that he believed that Jesus could help him and give him the ability to turn away from alcohol. He experienced the loving embrace of Jesus Christ that night. Relationship with Christ became real in one whoosh. Hope was realized and faith emerged and began to grow into something real. Dean, then, told God, and also declared it to me, that he committed his life to doing the will of God as really the only way to get right with God, with his wife, and live one day at a time sober.
When I taught Dean the principle of offering his body to God as a living sacrifice by the function and activity of his life in support of his recovery, he clearly understood. Remember, Dean does not come from a “churched-up” background. He is not someone that prayed or believed much more about God than maybe what he imagined God to be. When I talked to him about God wanting to transform his entire character into something new by the renewing of his mind, Dean grinned wide and said emphatically, “God’s already doing that.” He went on to say he thinks differently and that he “feels it.”
Dean was walking on water. When talking about how his priorities have changed, Dean talked about his relationship with God as his top priority. When talking about the benefits of a lifestyle of recovery, Dean talked about having the “love of God” in his life as the most meaningful benefit. One doesn’t typically talk about the love of God unless he has experienced the love of God changing his life.
I told Dean that with our commitment and faithfulness to working a disciplined program of recovery, according to the ABC model of transformative recovery demonstrated by Jesus himself, he would not only get well but experience the abundant blessing promised to anyone committed to living out the will of God. Dean now has the upper hand in winning the battle for his mind.
Trusting God in the details
Dean totally believed me and believed the Word of God because of the resurrection from the death in his own life he was already experiencing. Dean told me a testimony of God doing something special to affirm his faith. Dean’s is a team leader at his current position where he leads a team that maintains production machinery in a plant outside of Chicago. On a Saturday, a member of his team was working to repair a machine and having quite a bit of difficulty. It was hot in the plant (over 100 degrees), working Saturday was overtime, and nerves were getting frayed the longer it took, and the more complicated the repair seemed to become as Dean and this team member worked together to repair this machine. The longer it took to fix the thing the more behind they were in production. When it felt like the day was getting away from them going on 1:00 in the afternoon, Dean and the other guy were really at a loss for what to do. They tried everything they knew and nothing worked.
Dean thought to pray. He even thought of his ABCs of recovery and admitted to God that his way of handling the situation was not working. He felt powerless and told God that he believed that he could help somehow. He then committed to trusting God. It might have seemed to be a bit of a stretch to expect divine intervention for a machine, but… Then, just before 1:00, only minutes after Dean prayed for God’s help, the phone rang. It was an engineer who works for the company calling Dean just to ask how he was doing. The guy was calling from Ohio on a Saturday when Dean is rarely working at the plant, which seems a bit unusual to me. Dean told this engineer he was doing alright but that he was really having difficulty with a machine, and proceeded to explain the problem. The man on the phone made a few suggestions on what to do with the machine and in less than ten minutes after following the instructions of the engineer, they completed the repair and the machine worked wonderfully. Dean thanked the engineer, and then thanked God, who he believes directed this man to call him on Saturday.
Dean has admitted to me over the past year that he has had occasion to slip in his journey of recovery from alcohol addiction. Even Peter, while walking with Jesus, had occasion to slip and sink like a rock, but then he cried out again, “Jesus save me (again).” And Jesus took his hand, back up to where he is, to continue walking on water, doing the impossible by the power given by Christ.
The difference these days for Dean is that slipping back into addictive behaviors is a deft reminder that he is only as strong as his relationship with God. Dean now recognizes that falling does not have to mean failure. Rather than succumb to the death grip of shame, which could drag him back into that addictive lifestyle, Dean resumes the discipline of recovery, beginning and continuing in prayer. The transforming power of a renewed mind has empowered Dean to get up and do the right thing when he gets knocked down from time to time. He does not experience the “whoosh” like he did that first time he encountered God but he doesn’t need that anymore. Now he knows what the evidence of the unseen looks like. Each time he goes his own way and sinks, like Peter, Dean understands that it is when he extends his hand to Jesus, again and again, that he resumes walking on the water that is recovery.
Dean, who had not seen his daughter for more than two years, has been restored into relationship with her. This is one dividend of his recovery. What a blessing it is to see recovery pay off in a manner as blessed as the reunion between a father and his daughter. God is paying attention to the details in our lives and is in the business of reconciliation and recovery.
Keep in mind that these stories are not about the miracles. This stuff is kids’ stuff to God. These stories are about a Savior who keeps after his followers; a Shepherd who looks after his sheep; a Father who dotes on his children. The amazing thing about Almighty God is that he chooses out of love to have a relationship with us. All you need to remember is that it’s not about the “wow!” of the miracle; it’s about the passion within the relationship. God is passionately in love and involved with us.
God is indeed awesome!
Dean’s face lit up big time when I offered him this Scripture from the book of Ephesians.
“For this reason I bow my knees to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may be alive in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in His love, may be able to comprehend with all believers what is the width, depth, length and height—to know the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge; and that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think, according to His power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”Ephesians 3:14, 16-20 (NKJV)
The Recovery Bible (NLT) reads that God will do “what we dare to ask or even hope for.” Other Bible translations say that he will do “more than we could ask or even imagine.” God does desire to bless us beyond our wildest expectation. However, we must be fully surrendered to God to allow his Spirit to dwell, or live, in our inner man, the core of our being and character, to change how we think by the renewing of our mind.
I have had a number of clients over the years that have experienced wonderful blessing as they committed to turning their lives over to the care and will of God. Dean is a client that experienced that kind of incredible blessing in his life as testimony of God’s bountiful grace. He described God’s blessing to a co-worker as three miracles:
1) “I’m not drinking.”
2) “I’m still with my wife after all the pain I’ve brought her.”
3) “I’m reunited with my daughter.”
Dean has said that he can appreciate that as he commits himself to God by how he behaves and submits himself to God from the outside in, he can sense God working in him from the inside out. As he has committed himself to living his recovery God’s way, a transformation has taken place and the overhaul of Dean’s character continues as God continues to radically change his way of thinking from the inside out. In this relationship with Christ is victory in the battleground of the mind. As distorted thought and feelings return from time to time, Dean has discovered that he longer reacts automatically to them. He’s mindful to pray and patient to trust God.
Expanding the battleground
As of this writing, it has been two years since Dean was in my program. I was able to chat with him and talk to him about his more recent journey in recovery. He stated that there have been ups and downs along the way but that God has been faithful. He said, “God still loves us, doesn’t he.”
I shared with him what I had heard from the pulpit from Pastor Leeman about Peter walking on water empowered by God’s authority. Dean agreed; that is what God does, granting Dean the power to do the impossible. Dean said it reminds him of the time not that long ago when he had opportunity to extend his knowledge—that from a renewed mind—with a co-worker who had lost his wallet for a time. Dean asked him, “Did you pray?” He then challenged his co-worker to give prayer a chance. Dean told the man of the time when he had lost his own wallet. He had looked everywhere he could think of and did not find it anywhere. It seemed that finding his wallet would be impossible. That was until Dean prayed. You see, Dean’s mind had completely changed about prayer since Christ transformed his life. Dean prays believing. When Dean prays, he expects God to respond in some way. Dean promptly found his wallet in a place he had not thought to look.
Dean’s co-worker on the other hand did not have the faith to believe. This is how the twelfth of the twelve steps works. The twelfth step is as follows: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Earlier on, Dean had prayed to the “God of Steven”. Now Dean, having confident knowledge of the will of God to recover lost lives, saw an opportunity to help a co-worker discover the faithfulness of Jesus Christ through the recovery of his wallet. The man prayed to the “God of Dean”, and after being without his wallet for weeks, had it returned to him the very next day. Everything was still in it. Even the cash in his wallet was all there.
Dean had extended the blessing given him by God to another individual in need of a blessing. The man experienced God. Not merely the God of Dean, but the God who is attentive and involved with everyone. Dean expanded the territory of battle. With the upper hand in the battleground for his own mind it was time to take the fight for freedom beyond himself. Now there is another out there considering the realities of Almighty God. That is how recovery works. God still loves us, doesn’t he?