The Power to Recover That You Don’t Possess

Two guys with an identical history of abusing alcohol and wrecking their relationships walk into a recovery meeting and are exposed to the exact same material. Same speakers, same offers for assistance and accountability, same everything.

One guy has a much-needed “moment of clarity” and realizes his desperate need to turn his life over to God. Ten years later, this same guy receives his 10-Year sobriety coin and enjoys a relatively-sane and peaceful life at home with his wife and kids, has done well staying employed – perhaps for the first time in his life – and in his spare time is doing his very best to lend a hand to other men stuck in the insanity of addiction.

The other guy, by all outward appearances, also has a moment of clarity and also is able to articulate his need for God to restore him to sanity. This second guy, however, will frequently drop out of sight and stop communicating with his accountability buddies. Sure enough, cessation of contact is the reliable indicator that he has begun drinking again and is too ashamed of himself to stay in touch. So he elects instead to go underground, cut off all contact and do whatever he can to stay off the radar. Within three years, this second guy has lost another job, lost his family permanently and spiraled downward, accumulating multiple DWIs along the way. At the five-year mark, this guy can be found along our highways wearing an orange jumpsuit while picking up trash…and he doesn’t make it to the 10-year mark.

Two guys with the same problem, the same access to resources and the same group of caring family and friends. Two wildly different results.

What’s the difference?

Jesus at the Pool of BethesdaThe most obvious answer, of course, would be “God.” Something in the mysterious, unknowable mind of God was definitely happening through the stories of these two men. One chose to cooperate with the Lord to the best of his understanding, while the other briefly “flirted” with the idea of allowing God to be Master over his life. One entered in with an attitude similar to that of the Jewish Queen Esther in Esther 4:16 – “And if I perish, I perish.” – while the other held back in some way undetectable to the rest of us. Though he made a public profession of faith and trust, he continued to duck back and forth between darkness and light (John 3:19), lying to those around him and – most tragically – to himself.

Many of the answers we seek when trying to move out of the darkness are ultimately unknowable in this life, beyond the reach of even the most educated and highly-skilled recovery experts. “Why this guy, and why not that guy?” The more honest among us will stay away from providing pat answers and readily acknowledge the unsearchable complexity of the human personality. This side of eternity, we can never know for sure what the intersection of God’s will and human effort really looks like.

But I’d like to suggest that there may be something concrete that fellow strugglers can add to the mix. In a word, consistency.

The entire Bible is shot-through with the idea that we are required to bring something to God as a physical demonstration of our desire to pursue obedience. I don’t see a lot of High Priests around anymore to help us slaughter goats, and am deeply grateful that the sacrifice of Jesus put an end to all of that mess. But nonetheless, Paul makes it clear that he both worked and yet God worked through him, and that the same will be true for us (Philippians 2:12-13). In short, even though the glory should be given to God alone, Paul did bring something to the party. I would say that at least one thing he did bring was a consistent desire to serve God and not himself.

By virtue of the besetting sin he’s battling, your “typical” addict has already demonstrated an inability to offer up a daily sacrifice of sobriety, so clearly we need to start smaller and build.

While I have no intention of drifting into anything that smacks of works righteousness, I think it still makes all kinds of sense that the addict is in fact capable of doing something positive for God each and every day. Can you cry out, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner?” Great! Now…do it consistently, even if once a day is all you can muster. Maybe before every meal, whether you are sober or not. Offer up something meager to God and ask Him to bless it, knowing full well that your offering (whatever it may be) is thoroughly inadequate (Isaiah 64:6).

It’s been my experience that Jesus will, in fact, snatch up your “little boy’s lunch” and use it to feed thousands (John 6:1-14). Don’t focus on its inadequacy. Of course it’s inadequate! Just keep bringing it every day; good day, bad day, sober day or otherwise…and ask Him to bless it. Think of it as opening up a tiny window on your soul through which you are asking Christ to enter. Back in 1997, my own willingness to “start small” was made with all kinds of residual doubt and uncertainty, but I fully expected God to do something with my meager daily offering, and that expectation has made all the difference in the world.

Two Helpful Resources:

Luke 4:16-21 (ESV)
And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

John 5:6
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

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