by Gary Smalley; The Smalley Institute
Lust makes us think that having some person we don’t presently have would make us happier. Often that person is simply a figment of our imagination. Even if the person is real, we often attach character traits to him or her that are not real. Usually our lust focuses on sexual involvement. We imagine someone who is terribly fond of us and who prefers our presence and intimacy over anyone else’s. We imagine that if we had such a person to hold in our arms, it would be exciting and wonderfully fulfilling. This is a terrible deception, for we forget or ignore the devastating consequences of living out our imaginations.
Sensual imaginations reveal our selfish desire for stimulation. Unchecked, sensual stimulation actually increases the desire. We see this exhibited in several ways. For example, one of the primary reasons people smoke or consume alcohol or drugs is to stimulate their physical senses. As a person continues in this selfish frame of mind, the desire grows until he or she needs regular and increasing doses of stimulation.
Psychiatrist Gerald May observes that God created us to attach to him. All humans have a God-given, built-in need to attach to God in a meaningful way. When we ignore God, we instead try to attach to his creation—people, things, and career. This is where all types of addictions are formed.
Even if we feel we’ve conquered lust, the emotion can strike when we least expect it. One friend discovered this when he spoke at a Christian conference. Dick’s wife was in the final months of pregnancy, so they were not as sexually active as usual. While several hundred miles away from home, Dick suddenly found himself infatuated with a woman attending the conference. She was attractive and seemed to enjoy his company. But while admitting his normal sexual drive was heating up, he also knew that yielding to that desire would bring at best only a very temporary satisfaction. He came face-to-face with his own selfish desire to be stimulated and realized that the devastating long-term consequences to his ministry, to his wife and kids, and to his relationship with God would far outweigh any momentary pleasure. That knowledge helped him control his physical drive, which took about forty-eight hours to subside.
The motivation behind extramarital affairs seems to be very different for men and women. Men tend to lust for physical release or conquest, viewing women as challenges for satisfying their sexual drives. Women, on the other hand, tend to involve themselves in affairs because of their deep need for communication and a meaningful relationship—a deep need that is not being met.
Recently we’ve seen a huge increase in affairs on the Internet. These affairs don’t need to be consummated to cause a serious threat to a marriage. Many women find themselves more comfortable talking with a stranger in a chat room than to their own husbands. Many men enjoy the power they seem to have counseling a woman by means of an impersonal computer rather than face-to-face. In too many cases, men and women let their imaginations go wild in these relationships.
How can we use lust to strengthen our relationship with God?
First, by recognizing the basic motive behind this emotion. Lust is not serving a person in love; it is viewing a person as an object to be used. This happens even within the marriage relationship. With Norma, I had to realize that I was violating God’s law by trying to use her for my own happiness rather than loving her by serving her needs.
Second, lust can reconfirm our awareness that God — not another’s body, not even our mate’s — is the source of our fulfillment. As pleasurable as sex can be, it can never substitute for the lasting joy and satisfaction of knowing God.
Third, in the midst of lustful thoughts, as an act of our will, we can pray something like this: Lord, I know there are times when I wish my mate acted sexier. And there are even times I have entertained thoughts about being in the arms of another person. All the advertisements on TV have tried to convince me it would be exciting. But right here and now I continue to trust you to energize my life and provide all I need. I am willing to rest and wait in your faithfulness. I don’t even know all I’m trying to gain from these lustful thoughts, but you know, and I know you’ll meet my needs as you always have.
Because God knows our thoughts, we can share them with him and admit that we don’t understand. That’s what Paul instructs us to do in Romans: [God’s] Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but … he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).
What practical help can we offer those stuck in the quicksand of lustful desire?
Some try to struggle out of the grip it has on their lives through visualization, masturbation, or regular participation in sexual activity. But the more we struggle, the deeper we sink. If no one is available to pull us out, the one way to escape from quicksand is to relax, lie back in the sand, take a deep breath, fill your lungs with air, and allow your limbs to float to the top. We can take similar action with lust by not fighting our thoughts and desires and instead ask Jesus to perform what he promises to do release us from bondage. He can supernaturally pull us out as we rest in him.
If no one is available to pull you out of quicksand, you can still escape by slowly moving your arms above your head, putting them slightly into the sand, and swimming slowly to the edge, as if doing a slow-motion backstroke. Experts say it may take several hours to swim just a few feet. But freedom is as close as the bank. When battling lust, we can do the same thing by persistently looking to Jesus for strength and patience.
I have known men stuck in the mire of lust who didn’t make it to freedom for several months. It may take a year or more for some to swim to freedom. Day after day we must reconfirm truths given to us by Jesus. God promises he is faithful to answer the requests of his children. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:24). And, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you (John 15:7). Real freedom comes from abiding in a close relationship with God and from allowing God’s Word to become alive in us. The Bible urges us to live a life of love …. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:2-3). And, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). It is God’s will that we experience freedom from lust, so we can stand in his line daily, knowing it is just a matter of time before he will bring us freedom from sexual slavery.
Once we’re free from the quicksand, we’re usually weak from the effort.
Here are four ways to regain strength and remain strong so we don’t fall back into the mire:
First, rehearse the negative consequences of sexual involvement, even in the midst of lustful thoughts. Remember what it feels like to be trapped. The consequences are far more than we can mention here, but they include enslavement to passion (see Galatians 5:1); reinforcement of our self-centered tendency that diminishes genuine expression of love; callousness of our soul (see Ephesians 4:19); and, of course, the possibility of catching a sexual disease. In other words, the truth and life of God are darkened within us when we engage in unrighteousness (see Romans 1:18-32).
Second, memorize sections of Scripture that deal specifically with sexual freedom. After memorizing them, persistently ask God to make your life consistent with these verses. Start with Galatians 5:1-14, Ephesians 5:1-6, and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7.
Remember, when we read God’s Word, we don’t read it for what we can do by our own efforts. Don’t think, I need to start living more by this or that law. Rather, read God’s Word and see his commandments as what you’ll look like as you continue to abide in Christ. If you love me, you will obey what I command, the Lord says (John 14:15). Keep your focus on loving, knowing, and abiding in him and watch him enrich and strengthen your life.
Third, for men especially, beware of the anger/lust cycle that often develops. Many men experience their most severe times of lust after a struggle or problem at home or at work. If we fail to make things right after a disagreement or confrontation, we may be setting ourselves up for temptation, because such encounters leave us feeling depressed and inadequate. Because none of us likes to feel bad about ourselves, we look for something to perk us up, to make us feel powerful and important again.
Sexual stimulation can have a temporary euphoric effect. Like alcohol or drugs, it can bring about a heightened sense of self-worth until the shame and reality of our actions bring us crashing down. Some men who never take a drink or try drugs submit to a life of erotic escapades that is every bit as addictive and deadly. Sin always takes you further down the path of destruction than you want to go.
Writing in the book of Proverbs, Solomon has sobering words for those who use any form of lust actual sexual encounters, fantasy, or pornographic pictures to make up for feelings of anger or low self-worth: For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword (Proverbs 5:3-4).
Giving in to lust does not break the anger/lust cycle; it only intensifies it. Now we are not only angry and depressed about our problem at work or at home, but we are also angry about our lack of self-control. And on top of our shame, those of us who are Christians also have the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin.
Genuine repentance is a biblical solution, but getting furious with ourselves and vowing it will never happen again do little good. In fact, when we browbeat ourselves (a way of punishing ourselves so that God won’t, or so that he will let us off the hook), we actually dig a deeper rut for ourselves and set ourselves up for our next lust fix.
Unless we truthfully deal with the anger/lust cycle and admit it is signaling that a relationship needs repair or that we need the help of a Christian friend or counselor, we may continue in the downward spiral for years. This vicious circle of sin can cause even Christians to spin so fast that right seems wrong and wrong seems right. But returning to Christ’s healing is always the answer.
Finally, realize that for most people the gaining of freedom from lust is a long-term process, especially for those who have developed a habit of immoral thoughts and actions. You might consider starting or joining a support group for those who struggle in this area. This can be a men-only or women-only group who testify as to how God has produced freedom and who encourage and support one another in memorizing and meditating on Scripture. These folks also hold each other accountable, pray with each other, and talk honestly about their entrapment. Much healing can come just by confessing our weakness and praying for each other: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Al meets regularly with several other men in a discipleship group. Once he returned from a business trip and reported that his hotel room had a cable movie station. He watched a PG-rated movie, then started to watch a sexually explicit film but caught himself and turned it off. However, he expressed concern about handling temptation on an upcoming ten-day trip. One of the members asked Al to develop a plan for using any of the time that was not being spent in meetings, which he did.
On his return Al had to give a report. Near the end of the trip he had found himself seated next to a single woman at an athletic event. The thought entered his mind, You could take her out for dinner and no one would ever know. Rather than allow time to entertain the thought any further, he left the game early. Knowing he was accountable to men back home helped him resist temptation because he knew they would ask him how he did. Accountability is good, but remember that it doesn’t replace the most important solution God’s grace doing its work in us.
I have focused on the sexual aspects of lust because it is so out-of-control in our society. But other forms of lust such as craving sweets, overeating, and stimulating the senses through drugs and alcohol can be just as damaging. The thoughts I’ve shared can apply in any area of sensual temptation that robs us of life.
What error messages appear most frequently in your life? Jealousy, envy, or lust? Take the time necessary to deal with those emotions.
Excerpted from the book “Joy that Lasts”.
© Copyright 2003 Smalley Relationship Center
Smalley, Gary. Joy that Lasts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.