Addictions are a big problem—-especially, it seems, for men. As a man and as a pastor, I typically stay alert to thoughtful and transparent focus on this subject and I stumbled upon an article that I appreciated. It’s source is not one I frequent (menshealth.com) and is not expected to address the matter from a Christian perspective. But I appreciated the transparent and thoughtful way its author related to the battle of addiction. The closing line (used to promote the article) is what first got my attention. “Lasting pleasure, it turns out, comes when you successfully battle your obsessions, rather than submitting to them” (Tom Matlack). In principle, this is consistent with Christian perspective because authentic, joyful Christianity and complacency cannot co-exist. We are called to successfully battle obsessions in the context of a grace-based relationship with God (Romans 13:14; Ephesians 6:10-11; I Peter 2:11).
The landscape of addictions:
Explaining the landscape of male struggles with addiction, Matlack wrote: “It seems that at the very core of the American male’s predicament is obsessive behavior done with an irrational hope to produce deep and lasting pleasure. The porn industry is the biggest online business in this country; every month, Americans download 1.5 billion pornographic videos. Ten percent of adults admit to having an Internet porn addiction, and 70 percent of those are men.”
“Virtual poker is the second-biggest online business in the U.S.; by some estimates, as many as 148 million Americans—just less than half of the U.S. population—gamble regularly. Alcohol and drug addiction affects at least 23 million Americans; men are twice as likely to be affected as women. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported that 32 percent of American men are obese and five percent are morbidly obese. With this taste for excess in mind, I think it’s safe to say that the number of male addicts is large and growing”
“But I am not just talking about the category of behaviors defined as addictions; I am really talking, more broadly, about obsessive behavior. As I have looked more closely at my own problem with addiction, I have come to see booze as merely a symptom of a deeper problem in my life and in the lives of many men just like me” (The Addiction Habit http://blogs.menshealth.com/good-man/the-addiction-habit/2010/11/10/ ).
Kick your addictions: Two steps:
Another article on this site, Kick your addictions: A fool-proof way to change those bad habits offered two basic steps for successfully battling your obsessions/addictions:
Step #1: CREATE A NEW HIGH:Most people who try to quit an addiction miss the dopamine hit they’ve been getting, says Michael Levy, D.O., director of the Center for Addiction Medicine, in Nevada. Counteract this by boosting production of serotonin, a calming neuro-transmitter. Three things that will increase your output: exercise, fish oil, and turkey.
Step #2:MAKE IT HARD TO SLIPTo really change bad habits, you have to trash everything associated with them. “Some people say it’s their last cigarette, but they’re not investing in it, because they won’t throw away their lighters,”says Mark Griffiths, Ph.D., an addiction expert at Nottingham Trent University, in England. So, depending on your drug, that could mean eliminating anything from corkscrews to high-speed Internet. You’ll know what to toss. (http://www.menshealth.com/health/kick-your-addiction)
A Christian perspective on the two steps:
Step # 1:Christianity offers the alternative obsession. It’s called worshipping the Creator. Let me explain: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Catechism, cf. Psalm 16:5-11; 144:15; Isaiah 12:2; Philippians 4:4). When we worship and serve the Creator, we experience the joy and fulfillment we were meant to flourish in and we bless those who know us. This is reflected in what Jesus called the greatest command of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NIV). I am not comparing Jesus to an addictive substance but recognizing that God satisfies the longings of the heart and fills emptiness of life that lead addicts to their drugs.
Idolatry exists in a heart controlled by something other than God. When any activity becomes controlling in a way that dishonors God’s authority, it must be viewed as an idol. This could include excessive activities and behaviors considered to be harmless. Things like work, exercise, listening to talk radio, watching cable news, internet use, reading, and sports can become harmfully addictive. Any behavior that occupies a place in our lives that hurts other priorities and relationships must be brought under God’s will.
When we ignore God or set ourselves up as God or try to define God on our own terms, we inevitably sabotage ourselves. We lose our sense of reference and direction (by ignoring God) and disorient and sabotage ourselves. We turn the good gifts of the creator against ourselves by excluding the worship of the giver of the good gifts. Everything becomes a means for meeting my needs not for glorifying the Creator and serving others.
Step # 2: Going to the source of temptation and dealing radically with it is what Jesus taught in rather shocking language: “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (see: Matthew 5:27-30).
One of my favorite teachers put it this way: “If your eye causes you to sin because temptation comes to you through your eyes (objects you see), then pluck out your eyes. That is, don’t look! Behave as if you had actually plucked out your eyes and flung them away, and were now blind and so could not see the objects which previously caused you to sin. Again, if your hand or foot causes you to sin, because temptation comes to you through your hands (things you do) or your feet (places you visit), then cut them off. That is: don’t do it! Don’t go! Behave as if you had actually cut off your hands and feet and flung them away, and were now crippled and so could not do the things or visit the places which previously caused you to sin” (Sermon on the Mount, p. 89, John R. W. Stott).
When the Holy Spirit is the controlling influence in a person’s heart (Ephesians 5:18), part of the outcome will be “self control” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit is the key to overcoming controlling behaviors (Galatians 5:16). He provides the power to replace them with qualities that bless us and all our relationships. “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT). Imagine life with someone characterized by these qualities!
At the heart of the matter:
This goes to the heart of the matter because we cannot experience the power provided by God’s spirit unless we live in continual dependence upon God. Here’s what this dependence looks like: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT). We cannot (in our own strength) live the blessed life God has for us. It doesn’t mean we passively wait for God to do it all for us. This is no “let go and let God life.” Instead, we work out what God works in us by the grace of saving love. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). The opposite of this way of life it to “lean on your own understanding.” It is to think and act as if you know best, better than even God. Instead, in ALL your ways (everywhere life takes you) consider your relationship with God and follow His will.
This means we must look to Him (His Word and Church) as our primary source for sustained victory over addictions. We need to consistently place ourselves under good biblical teaching and in transparent Christian fellowship. If these two practices are missing from you life, seek them immediately.
(See also: 8 Dynamics of Addiction and A plan for change)