Breaking a Most Difficult Addiction

addiction 4

Just one week into my much-needed sabbatical, one thing is abundantly clear: I find it extremely hard to fully relax without feeling guilty and unproductive. As an addict to the world of deadlines and to-do lists, “productivity detox” is a difficult and painful process.

Perhaps you’re a performance addict too. But you’ll never know for sure until you take time to break free from your dependence on activities and accomplishments—the “drugs” that enable you to feel good about yourself.

For years, friends have assured me that God’s love for me is not based on anything I can DO for Him. But I’ve been so busy trying to do His will that I’ve never really been able to test their theory.

If you’re a performance addict, you live in fear of what would happen if you suddenly stopped performing. Having carried the world on your shoulders for so long, you’re terrified that a moment’s rest might cause everything around you to come crashing down.

And what would people think if we no longer were performing and producing? It turns out we’re not only addicted to our accomplishments, we’re also addicted to the quest to look good in the eyes of our peers.

Amazing Benefits

My sabbatical has brought me face to face with my need to WAIT for God’s empowerment and direction when they don’t come immediately. I’ve discovered that resting and waiting often go hand in hand, as King David described: Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7).

I’m not sure which is more difficult for me, resting or waiting. I’m poor at both of them. Why? Because nothing productive seems to be accomplished while I’m resting or waiting.

Yet the Bible gives some magnificent promises to those who learn to wait on God. Those who take time to wait on Him will be…

  • Free from shame (Psalm 25:3, Isaiah 49:23).
  • Strengthened and encouraged (Psalm 27:14).
  • Enabled to expand into new territory (Psalm 37:34).
  • Assured of His provision (Psalm 104:27).
  • Able to receive divine guidance and counsel (Psalm 106:13).
  • Recipients of supernatural blessings and breakthroughs (Proverbs 8:34, Isaiah 64:4).
  • Strengthened to mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).
  • Blessed with a revelation of God’s goodness (Lamentations 3:25).
  • Recipients of fresh vision from the Lord (Habakkuk 2:3).

This is just a small sample of the amazing promises given to those who wait on the Lord. So why is this so difficult for many of us?

God’s Waiting Room

Lately I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of Jesus’ disciples when they were told not to DO anything after His ascension, but rather “to WAIT for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). The whole world needed to be saved, yet they were instructed to wait in Jerusalem.

It turned out that these faithful believers only had to wait 10 days before the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. But while they were waiting they didn’t know  this would be the timetable. When God puts us in His “Waiting Room,” we’re seldom told how long the wait will be. We just have to trust Him that the resulting blessings will be worth the wait.

So are you willing to join me in the difficult process of breaking our addiction to activity and accomplishments? Are you ready to enter into God’s rest and patiently wait for a fresh breakthrough of His power and guidance?

Like a heroin addict who goes cold turkey, breaking our performance addiction is never easy. Our self-image is at stake, after all. And when we fully rest and patiently wait, we’re likely to make a horrifying discovery: Our self-image has been based more on our accomplishments than on recognizing God’s unconditional love for us.

But imagine the joy and freedom you’ll experience when you realize your Heavenly Father loves you even on the days when you haven’t accomplished a thing. Yes, He loves you more than you’ll ever know, and your performance has absolutely nothing to do with it.

So go ahead and thank Him. And breathe a huge sigh of relief.

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Confessions of a To-Do List Addict

I’m embarrassed to tell you how I responded when someone recently asked me what I like to do for fun…

“Well,” I stammered, “I like to cross things off my To-Do List.”

I could tell she wasn’t impressed.

“Yeah, right,” she said, thinking maybe I was just joking. “But what do you do for FUN?!”

I offered a few lame remarks about watching football games and eating out with friends, but the conversation pretty much went downhill after that.

Hey, I was just being honest. The truth of the matter is, I really do take pleasure in productivity—“getting things done.” What’s wrong with that?

I would love to hear your comments and observations about this addiction, for I’m still trying to break free from its destructive clutches.

Have you ever found yourself addicted to crossing off things on your To-Do List? Or maybe you’re living with someone else who struggles with this insidious problem.

Here are some preliminary conclusions I’ve come up with:

  1. It’s great to get things done if they are the RIGHT things. However, PEOPLE are God’s greatest priority, and many of the things on our To-Do List have nothing whatsoever to do with impacting people in a meaningful way. Our priorities need to be brought in alignment with His priorities (Mark 12:28-34).
  2. Addiction to our To-Do List is often a symptom of performance-based spirituality. In other words, we think God or people will somehow LOVE us more if we stay busy and accomplish a lot. Yet the Bible’s doctrine of GRACE teaches just the opposite: God loves us just because He loves us, not because of anything we do or don’t do.
  3. Although there are things God wants us to DO, He first wants us to BE. He created us primarily as human BE-ings, not human DO-ings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized our IDENTITY before our WORKS. Before engaging in efforts to “please God,” we’re told to recognize who we ARE: salt, light, and His beloved children (Matthew 5:13-16).
  4. Deep rest is impossible as long as we remain addicted to our To-Do List. Have you noticed that your To-Do List is never really completed? No matter how many items you cross off, there are always more to add. Recognizing our tendency to get stuck on this endless treadmill of striving and workaholism, God COMMANDS us to enter His rest (Exodus 20:8-11, Matthew 11:28-30, Hebrews 4:1-10, etc.).
  5. Addiction to our To-Do List is devastating to our social life. Here’s a very practical example: If you’re a single person who struggles with this, your dating life is going to suck until you get delivered.

Now I feel better after sharing my heart with you. I can cross “Writing a Blog Post” off today’s To-Do List…

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Unchaining Your Lost Melody

Have you ever found yourself humming a song from the distant past—a song that illuminated a timely issue in your life? That happened a few days ago, when God dropped the old Righteous Brothers song “Unchained Melody” into my heart.

I think this was sparked when a friend texted me to ask if I could help him write a book on how to be set free from addictions. I told him we could discuss this in a few days, but I was inclined to turn him down. After all, there already are countless books about how people can overcome drugs, pornography, smoking, alcoholism, codependence, and all sorts of other forms of addiction. I couldn’t see how one more book would do much good.

A few hours later, however, I found myself thinking about Unchained Melody, and it entirely changed my perspective.

Here’s why…

God has put a unique song (i.e., a melody) in the heart of each one of His children. But let’s be honest: Very FEW people seem to actually be singing the special, God-giving tune they’ve been given. Most seem to be living lives of drudgery, singing someone else’s song instead of their own.

What’s the problem here? If God has given us a special song to sing, why is it so rare to meet people who are truly “living out” that song?

I’m glad you asked…

A good starting place to answer the question is Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. You probably know the story of the wealthy man who had two sons. He greatly loved both of them, but each son had something blocking his ability to experience the father’s love.

The younger son took his share of the inheritance and quickly squandered it in wild living. Not until his money ran out and he spent time in a pigpen did the young man come to his senses and return home.

The amazing part of the story is that instead of scolding and punishing his wayward son, the father threw him a huge party. Do you see how ironic this is?

The son probably would have returned home a lot sooner if he knew the love, acceptance, and blessings that awaited him. He spent all his money on PARTYING that could never satisfy, when all along, his father had been ready to throw him a PARTY that would change his life forever.

You see, once upon a time, the younger son had a Melody in his heart. But because of his sinful, addictive, wanton lifestyle, the Melody had become chained. Eventually the bondage became so oppressive that he totally forgot there had ever had been a grand Melody and purpose to his life.

When the young man witnessed the joyous music and dancing coming from his father’s house, something resonated in his heart. His song came back to life, and he finally experienced the joy of the Unchained Melody he had always been destined to sing.

Sadly, the older brother didn’t experience such a happy ending. While the Melody in his young brother’s heart was chained because of SIN and WORLDLINESS, the older brother’s Melody was in bondage because of RELIGION and SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS—often much more difficult chains to break.

Do you see how this applies to you and me? God wants each of us to sing our Unchained Melody—unhindered by sin and uninhibited by the stubborn pride of self-righteousness and religion.

So if I decide to help my friend on his book project, I hope the book can do more than just focus on addiction. The truth is, addiction feels good on some level (Hebrews 11:24-25), so we have to point people to something BETTER—the joyous Unchained Melody that God desires for them to sing.

And one more point…

Notice that the song is about Unchained MELODY, not Unchained HARMONY. While it’s a wonderful thing to harmoniously support other people’s dreams and visions, don’t forget about your own dream and vision. Although there’s a time to sing in the “choir,” perhaps this is the season to sing your own Unchained Melody.

But let me ask you…

Do you still even remember the song God placed in your heart many years ago? Or has it become a distant memory, needing the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to rekindle the fire and remind you of the lyrics once again?

My friend, your Father has scheduled a party in your honor. Don’t let anything keep you from attending.

Can you hear the sound? Then go ahead and put on your dancing shoes!

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Speeding Up Your Recovery

Although I’m grateful for all the good accomplished through the Recovery Movement over the years, I get perturbed by its tendency to assign people to long-term victimhood. The philosophy seems to be, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,” even if God has transformed your life and you’ve been sober for decades.

And things aren’t much better if you attend a recovery group for grief, divorce, overeating, codependency, or some other trauma in your life. It’s as if they hand out scarlet letters at the door, reminding you of your past.

When a friend recently attended a divorce recovery group, the leader told him that for every year of marriage, it generally takes several years to recover after a divorce. This is nonsensical, of course. My friend had been married for more than 30 years, so it would take him at least 60 years to recover based on the group leader’s formula. The leader’s prognosis was pretty disheartening to say the least.

And then the divorce group leader made another misguided statement: “There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed up your recovery. You just have to endure the pain until it subsides.”

Okay, I know what he means. You can’t take shortcuts. For every trauma in life, there will be some pain that simply must be endured. But does that mean there’s nothing we can do to speed the recovery? That’s both ludicrous and unscriptural.

We’ve all met people who are so full of unforgiveness and bitterness after a trauma like divorce that they’re prolonging their recovery. In fact, I’ve known people who will never recover in this life, because they won’t let go of their offense. Instead of the initial wound killing such people, their life is undermined by the infection they allowed to set in.

Just as we can do things to hinder our recovery, I believe we can position ourselves for faster and more complete healing.

Isaiah 58:8 describes this in a context of fasting, seeking God, repenting of wickedness, and serving the poor: “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily.” Isn’t that good news? Yes, healing is a process that may take some time. But when you take the right steps, “your healing shall spring forth speedily.”

Years ago, the Lord showed me that discipleship is basically a matter of 5 Connections: God, People, Truth, Character, and Service. Remarkably, these same five components can speed along our emotional healing and recovery from difficult situations:

Connection with GOD: In His presence is healing balm and fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). That’s the ultimate key to any kind of positive transformation we seek (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Connection with PEOPLE: Even though most emotional traumas are caused by other people, it’s also likely that God will use our relationships with people as an important component of our recovery. It’s an indisputable fact of life that positive, truth-speaking, encouraging people can help to speed our recovery, while negative, cynical people will just prolong our pain and foster more toxicity.

Connection with TRUTH: When we’ve gone through a life-altering situation, we must be careful to remain grounded in the truth of God’s Word rather than our transitory and misleading feelings. Satan uses our emotional traumas as opportunities to speak his lies, so it becomes more important than ever to cling to the truth about who God is and how much He loves us.

Connection with CHARACTER: Too often, people who are hurting try to self-medicate their pain through alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, toxic relationships, or other destructive activities. Such things are a great way to go from the frying pan into the fire. Instead, we should use any emotional trauma as a time for God to expose and heal any wicked or hurtful areas of our heart (Psalm 139:24). We also must carefully monitor our lives and take preventative action if we see some kind of bad fruit developing.

Connection with SERVICE: One of the greatest ways for us to receive healing is to reach out to heal the pain of others. Like the man who had a shriveled hand in Mark 3:1-5, our disability can be healed when we stretch out our hand in obedience to the Lord.

Those of us from a charismatic or Pentecostal background might prefer to think that all emotional healing should come from a supernatural, instantaneous touch from God. Just come to the altar for prayer, and everything will be alright.

While that kind of immediate remedy is surely possible, the Lord often prefers to take us through the process of healing. Why? Probably because the 5 connections in the healing process are the very same connections we need to become more like Christ. Just as sanctification and discipleship aren’t instantaneous propositions, emotional healing may take more than a single prayer.

If you’ve been struggling to break free from some kind of traumatic experience or relationship, don’t despair. God has a plan for your recovery—and it doesn’t have to take as long as you’ve thought.

Make a decision today to forgive and release those who have wronged you. Then engage in the 5 connections in the Lord’s unfailing process of recovery and transformation.

 

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