This is part of a series for pastors on the problems that can be found in us all. Other problems being addressed include anger, fear, guilt, shame, victimization and the pain of life. Every Christian should have increasing wisdom with them.
In this post, I want to talk about addiction.
So many people I know have died over the past two years—more people than in the previous ten. A few died from disease, a few more died from suicide, but most died from overdoses. Among those who overdosed, the stories began to sound the same. They often began with legal narcotics when a physician prescribed something for pain relief (Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin). The drug worked until the person developed tolerance, and then looked for and found either more of the drug or—something worse. Heroin was cheaper and became the drug of choice. It was eventually supplemented by fentanyl or carfentanyl, and the person unintentionally overdosed. And the deaths keep coming.
Human beings have a habit of saying yes to activities that can harm them, even when they want to say no. Narcotic use is the most lethal of those activities, pornography is the most common. Pornography is certainly lethal in its own way in that it kills relationships and deadens the soul.
How, as pastors, do we even begin to help those who say “yes” to what can kill them? One way is for our churches to be clear about what it means to be human. That is, we want to understand how Scripture both anticipates these struggles and embeds how to respond in features of our common humanity.
Here are three aspects of our humanity that can help with addictions.
To be human is to say no to temptation. When considering addictions, our natural entry points are words such as desire, lust, the flesh, sensuality or drunkenness, but there is an important story behind these words—a story of temptation—and this story is what we want to understand.
One of the first questions posed in Scripture is about temptation: When temptations come—and they will—will you trust in the words of the Lord and say no? The wisdom literature intends to help us with this question. The relentless message of the book of Proverbs is that our desires are not a reliable judge of which paths lead to life and which paths lead to death. In fact, our desires can suggest life is unexciting and that death can satisfy. Proverbs aims to sharpen our discernment. It helps us to consider the consequences of our decisions.
Pastoral work, therefore, raises the profile of human temptation. We all need discernment and power to turn from temptations. We all need to see Christ as more beautiful than the beckoning trio of the world, the flesh and the Devil.
To be human is to turn to the Lord during suffering. Temptations are more pronounced when we feel discomfort or pain. The pain is actual physical pain among those who fight against narcotics, yet this is joined by the pain of broken relationships, dashed expectations and other miseries that create a jumbled mass of hopelessness.
Pastoral work, therefore, avoids triumphalist pronouncements and seriously considers the troubles of everyday life. So many of us still secretly believe that life in Christ means less suffering than the rest of the population, and we are unbalanced when hardships take residence. In response, we all need to relearn that the love and presence of God is a certainty through Jesus. And we all need to practice calling out to the Lord in our trouble rather than managing our troubles in our own way.
To be human is to speak openly with each other about trouble and temptation. This is a more difficult proposition to embed in our ministry. You can preach about saying no to temptation or turning to the Lord in suffering, but this one is about church culture so it must be part of us if we are to influence others.
We prefer to keep our struggles to ourselves, especially when they are shameful struggles. The kingdom of God, in contrast, invites us to be open before God and others. The challenge is that this is both alluring and impossible: to be known and accepted is peace, but who volunteers to talk about temptations and sins? And what if someone opens up to others and then is met with rebuke and unhelpful judgment?
Pastoral work, therefore, considers small steps that build an inviting and open community. This means that the pastor is willing to be needy and open, which takes wisdom so that this helps others rather than merely shocks people.
Pastoral ministry has endless matters to consider. My purpose is certainly not to burden you with more work. Instead, we know that these problems have some priority in our ministry, and this is an occasion to review them.