Overcoming Chronic Sins

My twelve year old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my blasts of anger detonated at insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.

kidmad

I remember once chasing my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I do remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.

I hated my uncontrollable anger, and I memorized over fifty verses about the angry man:

  • A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
  • A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
  • Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
  • But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

When I felt an outburst rising, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.

When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my temper. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t once lost my temper since his prayer. I hadn’t even had to fight it. My explosive temper had been defused.

It was a miracle.

Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.

Chronic sins

When we first become Christians, we think all our problems will disappear. Some do. And some don’t. We still find ourselves anxious, thin-skinned, lustful, self-focused, or critical.

Some temptations are daily companions while others are only occasional guests:

  • Some of us are anxious all the time (rare is the day we feel free of fear) while others of us experience worry once in a blue moon.
  • Some of us constantly tell stories about ourselves (often with embellishments that spotlight our greatness); others of us exaggerate our prowess only on leap-years.
  • Some of us fly off the handle at the slightest hint of an insult; others of us explode only on the fourth of July.

Each of us have chronic habits that are constant companions; we wear them like comfortable slippers. The Puritans called them “besetting sins” (taking “beset” from the King James translation of Hebrews 12:1, “The sin which so easily doth beset [or cling to] us”).

We know our chronic failures as well as we know our best friends. (Our best friends probably know them too.) We’ve worked relentlessly to rid ourselves of these unwelcome guests: we memorize scripture, tell ourselves to stop being anxious, ask friends to pray for us, and berate ourselves when we fall once again—for the third time this morning.

And sometimes God miraculously takes the problem away. Yippee! But most of the time, it doesn’t work that way. There has to be a reason.

Here’s what I think

God wants to be our daily companion. If he removed our chronic failures in the blink of an eye, we would go on our merry way without him. (Come on, we do it in other areas; God gives us a blueprint for our lives, we say, “Thank you very much,” and we start building without him.)

God wants to teach us a deeper lesson. More than perfect robots, he wants us as constant companions. So he doesn’t just remove our chronic failures with the snap of his holy fingers.

I taught each of my kids to ride a bike. Each one fell multiple times. They skinned their knees, bruised their elbows, and learned the meaning of fear. But each persisted, learned to face the fear, and each one learned to ride. Learning to ride a bike was a multi-dimensional lesson.

If I could teach my kids all over again—and if I also had the magical power to snap my unholy fingers to make them instant bike-riders—I would restrain my own power. Because my kids learned far more than how to ride a bike. They learned persistence, boldness, hope, and trust.

Learning to take a risk, in the long run, was far more important than learning to ride a bike.

Sometimes slow-cooked is better

God could snap his holy fingers and I’d instantly be free of those frustrating habits that irritate me (and others). But he hasn’t. (Ask my family.) He wants to heal me of something deeper.

What is the trigger that produces our habitual sins? We’re anxious because we “know” what we need and we’re pretty sure that God won’t get it right; we exaggerate stories about ourselves because we feel unappreciated and we want friends to value us; we explode in anger because we don’t like our circumstances, and we try to control them with blunt force.

Our anger anxiety, and self-serving stories are symptoms but not our deepest problem. If we really believed that God wants the best for us and that he’s making it happen, anxiety would disappear; if we believed God values us beyond the world and he’s orchestrating circumstances to bring about something glorious in us, our exaggerations and anger would evaporate.

More than the miracle of getting more sin out of our lives, we need the miracle of getting more of God into our lives. More than the miracle of God’s power, we need the miracle of God’s presence. From there, it’s always easier to push than to pull.

Of course, you can feel free to disagree with me. It won’t tick me off. And that’s a miracle.

Sam

P.S. God really did a miraculous healing in me when I was thirteen years of age, but I don’t claim to have reached Serenity Nirvana (as many who know me can attest). In other words, if you think I’m bad now, just think how much worse I’d be had God not intervened then.

Question: How is God slow-cooking a miraculous healing in your life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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What do YOU think?

18 thoughts on “Overcoming Chronic Sins

  1. Yes, we must both “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” Romans 13:12. How?
    “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” Romans 13:14
    The motivation?
    I like what John Calvin said about Romans 12:1 “Paul’s entreaty taeches us that men will never worship God with a sincere heart, or be roused to fear and obey Him with sufficient zeal, until they properly understand how much they are indepted to His mercy”

    • Love that Calvin line. Another way to say it might be, “To the degree we understand our indebtedness to his Grace is the degree to which we will worship with pure heart and be purified by his Holy Spirit.” (But I like Calvin’s version better.)

  2. Great post Sam!

    To which I would reply We will never understand God’s love for us until we understand that we more often than not are the ones Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 1:8-9 as the unprofitable ones and the ones who have forgotten that their sins are forgiven. As long as we remain advocate, judge and jury in our lives determining that we are not as bad as Mary, Tom, Joe, Frank and Bill, we will never be able to grasp how much he loves us. As long as, we remain busy defending, working to prove that we are indeed not failing, we cannot eagerly accept or use the grace that awaits us and as a result we never grasp that because we are the apple of his eye he has already given us all we need to live this life.

    • I have found in my life that the more I admit my faults the more I sense his love, and the less I admit my faults the less real (or moving) his love is. By this we know his love, that he laid down his life for his friends. Did he lay it down just as a symbol? Or to take our place?

  3. Our sanctification is often a painful process. It’s comforting to remember and to encourage one another that Jesus is interceding for us and that God is faithful and won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we’re able to withstand. Oh that we would have more of Him and less of ourselves.

    • iI Kirk,

      Thanks for commenting. Yes, I find that verse comforting … though (I admit) I sometimes find it disturbing! I would feel better about myself (the flesh part of me would feel better) if I believed I had experienced a temptation beyond my ability to withstand. (Then I could blame someone else 🙂 ).

      Thanks!

  4. Sam – What surprises me the most is that the Creator of the universe wants my companionship when I’m still such a mess. The Hymn, “Jesus, What a Friend of Sinners” comes to mind. Friendship is easy when things are good, but when my wretchedness begins oozing out, only a true friend is still there for us. Being accepted and loved by God reduces my perfectionistic tendencies (one of your previous posts) because nothing I do can make God love me more…or less. Thank you for the post.

    • Hi LC,

      We just sang that hymn on Sunday. It’s a great one.

      The truth is, most of our friends are fair-weather friends. We need that friend that sticks closer than a brother. So we don’t try (and fail) to be so perfect!

      Thanks

  5. There are, IMO, four areas of struggle over time. They can be classified as bond ages or diseases of fallen nature, rebellion or bad decisions, true guilt or the blot that occurs as a result of failures to be perfect and shame, the sense of a loss of identity and inheritance that lies in the human being. It takes God’s power to rid bondage, repentance to change rebellions, forgiveness to remove guilt and understanding our position in Christ to remove shame. No one intervention fits everything.

    • Hi Gary,

      Great observations. I agree we are multi-faceted human beings (another way of saying, complicated), and I agree there is too many simplistic answers (like, “Just repent and everything will be okay.”)

      But I also think we often look for magical, spectacular miracles when the real miracle (God’s friendship and companionship) are what we most need.

      My experience has shown that the more I understand God’s grace and love of me, the more I’m healed of bondage, the more I repent, the more I accept his forgiveness, and the more I adopt my new identity of being adopted.

      Thanks

  6. Wow, thanks Sam! That really touched a chord with me. In my middle teen years, God completely freed me of a pornography addiction, and every time I look back at it, or hear about other people struggling with that, I’m just amazed at how “easy” he made it for me. Yet these days, just like you said, I find myself constantly praying for help with the same sins – in my case, usually judgementalism and grudge-holding – and I see very little, very slow progress.

    I’ve been thinking about how God must feel about all this, and how he hates the sin in me (because he loves me so much), yet simultaneously, that he ordained and allowed me to struggle constantly with these sins because they drive me to him over and over in repentance and dependance, and as Paul said describing his thorn in the flesh, “to keep me from becoming conceited”. If God really got rid of all my sins right now, and let me live the rest of my life without them, I imagine that would make me an intolerably pompous fellow. But then again, he can free me from pride too!

    And none of God’s ordination or the good that he brings from this situation in any way excuses me for my sin! I still long to be rid of it, even though I know I won’t be truly rid of it until God calls me home. I’ve been pondering God’s use of suffering to bring us closer to him and purify us, and what Peter meant when he said “whoever suffers in his body is done with sin” (1 Pet 4:1). Oh, how I would love to be done with sin! And in Christ, I am truly free from its guilt and dominion; the battle goes on, but it is already won.

    And I want to echo what you said about meditating on God’s truth; I’ve been reading more about God’s sovereignty over all things, and trying and praying so hard to understand and apply it, and last week when I lost my phone, I was amazed at just how calm I felt about the whole thing – I just found myself saying “God knows where it is, and he’s ordained this for his glory.” I tend to get so frustrated at little things like that, that I was just overjoyed to realise God is actually refining and helping me! When I found the phone later, it honestly just felt like the icing on the cake. 🙂

  7. I have a 12 year old with ADHD and his impulsive mouthiness wears me out and sometimes causes me to react in anger. He is almost instantly remorseful when I bring it to his attention. Praying for the Lord to heal his outbursts and mine! We also go over the anger bible verses. Thanks for sharing! Nothing is to big for our God.

  8. Good stuff, Sam. You can have a good idea that someone has something important and true to say about sin when they humbly give themselves as an example. Thanks for doing that Sam. It also is encouraging to hear that you had a temper as a kid (LOL) and turned out to be the man you are, since we are having to deal with temper problems with our youngest child. 🙂 Thank you.
    I appreciate your encouragement through giving reasons for why it (sanctification, becoming more like Christ, learning Him) is for the most part a slow process. Being also a student of how things work in God’s creation, I would say, on top of the reasons you gave, which are good reasons, that a slow, building up, growing from the bottom up process is actually embedded into the very warp and woof (a term Francis Schaeffer liked to use) of God’s creation. Perhaps that is why the term “building up” is used in Scripture for this process, e.g. Eph. 4. Yes there is the instantaneous rebirth and justification in God’s eyes, which gives use the Holy Spirit, the enablement, to then start this growth process in His (new) life. But I like to think of the growth process as just “it is what it is”, growth is growth, not an instantaneous jump. In physics, which is a description of how God’s creation works (although He can do things outside of the general way his creation works because He is not His creation), an instantaneous jump from definitely here to definitely there is just not part of “how things work”. And we are part of God’s creation. I think part of it also is that making things to be continuous (with a finite growth rate) from our perspective allows us, who have finite minds, to do and be what God has for us in the creation/world around us that we are to master. Also, growth rates have to be finite if there is only a finite amount of energy to be used for the growth. (OK, the mathematician in me has had fun!) I just like seeing how what God does actually makes sense in the actual incarnate world to the extent that we can understand it. From my perspective, it helps in seeing that God is real.

    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your well thought out observations. (And thanks for sharing the mathematician in you!)

      For me, it is helpful to know God “could” snap his finger, but he doesn’t. That means he knows of a better way. If he knows a better way, I’m fine (mostly) with waiting patiently.

      Although, other things in life sure would be easier if he at least snapped his fingers and gave me patience!

      Sam

  9. Great treatment Sam on an excellent topic. I am just like you describe, one who prays for deliverance from the objects of pain or unhappiness instead of paying for the deliverer of life. My wife makes stew in a slow cooker, starting it early in the morning. The slow cooker runs all day as it supposedly cooks supper. But as I walk by it many times during the day, I look at it and wonder if it really is cooking, or even if it is on. And until about mid-day there is little evidence that it is even on – no smells, no bubbling, nothing! Of course, at supper time, the stew is delicious. (At which time I complain about it being too hot!)

    Maybe, hopefully, I’ll never have slow-cooked stew again without thinking of how God can work the same way at times.