We’ve been talking the last several weeks about coming out of the dark, exposing our problems to the light of God’s love, and watching Him heal those habits, those hurts and those hang-ups that mess up our lives. We’ve been in this series on the Road to Recovery and I hope some of you have been encouraged to start that journey and are already seeing changes in your life. But today I want to talk about how do you maintain momentum? How do you not lose the progress you are making in your Christian life?
The fact is, growth is not smooth. the Road to Recovery is jagged. It’s two steps forward, one step back. It isn’t all easy. You have problems, you fall back into self-defeating patterns. That’s called relapse. The alcoholic goes back to drinking. The overeater gains the weight back. The workaholic fills up his schedule again. We tend to repeat the patterns of our past. It’s very easy to slip back into old hurts, old habits and old hang-ups.
Today I want to look at what causes a relapse and then the maintenance step, which is Step 7 on the Road to Recovery, on how to avoid a relapse. First, I want you to understand that relapses happen in a very predictable pattern.
First is complacency. You start getting comfortable with short-term gains. You start saying, “I don’t need any more help, my pain has been reduced - not eliminated, but reduced - but I can live with reduced pain. So I don’t need to go any further, I don’t need to work the steps anymore, I don’t need someone walking beside me, and you become complacent.
The second is confusion. That’s when you start rationalizing, saying, “Maybe it wasn’t really so bad after all, I think I can handle it myself.” You start forgetting how bad it was.
Then you go to compromise. You go back to the place of temptation. You return to the risky situation that got you in trouble in the first place, whether it’s the bar, or the mall, or thirty-one flavors, or whatever. You go back to that place. Like the gambler who says, “Let’s go to Vegas, we’ll just see the shows.” You start compromising.
The catastrophe is where you give in to the old habit, old hurt, and the hate comes back, or the resentment comes back, or the old hang-up. You need to understand that the collapse is not the relapse. The catastrophe is not when the relapse happens; it started much earlier. The catastrophe is simply the result of the pattern that happened.
So, why do we, even when we know which way to go, when we know the right thing, why do we tend to go back on what we know is the right?
I. WHAT CAN CAUSE A RELAPSE?
1. Reverting to willpower.
Galatians 3:3: “How can you be so foolish? You began by God’s spirit, do you now want to finish on your own power?” You start off trusting God, and Step 1 is I’m powerless to change, but Step 2 is God has the power, Step 3 is I’m giving it to God. And you let God make those changes in your life, but after a while you start thinking, “It’s me that’s doing this, I’m making the changes. It’s my power.” And you resort to good old willpower and that doesn’t work. You have a few successes and suddenly think you’re all powerful, all knowing and can handle everything. We all need someone to say,” Who are you kidding? You’re you.” And God will let you relapse and relapse and relapse until you realize you can’t do it on your own. He’ll just let you fall, one hundred, two hundred, three hundred times till you say, “God, I can’t do it.” Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit says the Lord. You will succeed because of My Spirit.” Only God has the power to take away those defects. If you go back to will power you’re going to relapse. If you’re thinking, “I’ll just try harder,” forget it.
2. Ignoring one of the steps.
We get in a hurry. We try to move through the steps to quickly, maybe you want to skip a difficult step like, “I don’t think I need that one last week on the amends part; I’ll have partial recovery; and we’ll just kind of skip that one that says, “Go back to the people you’ve harmed.” No, you need to do all the steps or it doesn’t work. And you need to follow what the Bible has said are principles for life. So there’s no quick fix. You didn’t get into this mess overnight; you’re not going to get out of it. You need to do all the steps. Like Paul said, “You were doing so well. Who made you stop obeying the truth.” He says, Keep working the steps. Maintain your momentum. Stay with the basics.
3. Trying to recover without support.
“I’ll just get well by myself. I don’t need anybody else’s help.” You’re asking for a relapse. “I’ll listen to these sermons, I’m not going to go to counseling, I’m not going to go to Celebrate Recovery, I’m not going to go to small group; I’ll listen to these messages and I’ll just get well on my own.” Wrong. It doesn’t work that way. Remember Solomon’s words: “Two are better off than one because if one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls it’s too bad because there’s nobody there to listen and lift him up or help him.” You can’t lick this problem alone. If you could have, you would have. But you can’t, so you won’t. When you’re tempted and things are going bad, who you gonna call? We all need somebody to lean on and we need support. And you’re not going to make it in life if you don’t have those relationships. Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together.” Yes, you can do these steps on your own and you’ll see short-term effects, but you cannot do long-term recovery without relationships. The root of your problem is relational. You can go out and practice these things on your own and not get involved with anybody else. It will work for a while but it won’t work for long and you will relapse. I guarantee it.
In order to avoid a relapse you need to get support in your life. Because of our tendency toward denial we often can’t see our own problems. So we need each other to serve as mirrors.
4. We become prideful.
We get overconfident and prideful and say, “I’m strong. I’ve got this hurt licked. I’ve got this habit licked. I’ve forgiven them, closed the door. It’s OK.” Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction.” Pride gets us in all kinds of trouble. Pride always sets us up for a fall. It blinds us to our own weaknesses. It keeps us from seeking help. It prevents us from making amends to other people. It keeps us from doing all the steps fully. The biggest problem with pride is that it causes us to blame other people for our own problems. We say, “It’s not my problem.” And that’s pride when you hear that one. You push it off on somebody else. It’s not my problem, it’s somebody else’s problem. Pride causes us to blame other people. 1 Corinthians 10:12: “So, if you think you’re standing, watch out that you do not fall.” The secret of lasting recovery is to live with humility. It’s the best protection for a relapse. Not get prideful, think I’ve got it all together. You live with a constant state of humility in your life. That’s the best protection.
II. HOW DO I PREVENT A RELAPSE?
Step 7 is the Maintenance Step. RESERVE A DAILY TIME WITH GOD FOR SELF-EXAMINATION, BIBLE READING AND PRAYER IN ORDER TO KNOW GOD AND HIS WILL FOR MY LIFE AND GAIN THE POWER TO DO IT.
This is based on Mark 14:38: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation, for the Spirit is willing but the body is weak.” It’s human nature to let past problems revisit us, old hurts, and hang-ups come back to haunt us. So you need to have some safeguards. And that’s what this step is about. There are three safeguards that help you maintain your recovery.
1. EVALUATION. 2 Corinthians 13 says, “Examine yourselves… test yourselves.” Lamentations tell us, “Let us examine ourselves and let us repent.”
There are four kinds of inventories we need to take regularly:
(1) Physical: You ask the question, “What is my body telling me?” Your body is a barometer of what’s happening inside you. You have tense muscles? Guess what? You’re under stress. You have a headache or a backache. What is it saying to you? Your body is a barometer, a warning light that maybe something is wrong, and so periodically you need to stop and ask, “What is my body saying to me? Am I tired? Am I fatigued? Am I stressed out?” Take some clues that maybe things are out of line.
(2) Emotional: What am I feeling right now? Am I allowing my real feelings to surface, or am I just pushing them down? Do what I call a “heart check.”
(3) Relational: Am I at peace with the people in my life? If you’re not, that internal conflict is going to hold you back from your recovery. There are some people around you that you know when you are having conflict with them. But there are other people a thousand miles away. But there are also people a thousand miles away or twenty years ago that you’re giving control over your life. You’re letting them live rent free in your mind. Am I holding on to a hurt that I just need to let go of?
(4) Spiritual: Moment by moment am I relying on God?
When you do an inventory in your life you want to say, “What’s good in my life?” You celebrate any minor victory, no matter how small it is, on a daily basis. I told the truth at least once today. I blew it three times but I was calm twice. I at least wanted to be unselfish in that situation. You celebrate, no matter how small the progress is.
You do an evaluation, you celebrate your successes and confess your failures, but you be grateful for what you have done that’s right. Paul writes, “Each one should test his own action. Then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to somebody else.” You can be honestly proud of what God’s doing in your life. Tell yourself, “I’m grateful that God is working and I’m seeing progress in my life.”
Evaluation is kind of like cleaning house, and there are three ways you can clean a house:
1. Some of you are neatnicks. You are constant cleaners, you live with a Dustbuster strapped to your holster. You walk around behind the kids, picking up after them, like those waiters at restaurants who take your plate before you’ve finished your meal.
2. Others of you kind of clean house at the end of the day. Look around the house, pick it all up, do a daily clean up, keep the thing from falling completely apart.
3. Others of you, once a year, whether the house needs it or not, clean it up. Kind of like spring cleaning.
This is the same way you can do a personal inventory.
1. Spot check. At any time of the day, you start feeling the pressure build you say, “What is my body saying to me? What are my emotions saying? Am I tuned into God right now?” You try to deal with it immediately, because the longer you postpone a problem, the worse it gets. You need to learn to do what I call spiritual breathing. Don’t let things stockpile. Keep short accounts so that when you do that Step 4, the Moral Inventory, it doesn’t take sixteen pages, because you’ve kept things up to date. So the spot check inventory is whenever you need it.
2. Daily review. At the end of the day find a quiet spot and review your day, confess your failures, celebrate your victories, look at your day.
3. Annual checkup. Kind of like spring cleaning. You go away for a day, do a moral inventory, take some time off to really look at your life. Look at my life, see if it’s in order, prioritize the things in my life.
A second maintenance tool in preventing relapse is:
Meditation is a good biblical word that has been co-opted by a lot of other people. It simply means this: Slowing down long enough to hear God. That’s all it is. Satan fights nothing harder in my life than this—making sure I get time alone with God – quiet time. Psalm 1:1–3: “Happy are those who are always meditating on God’s laws and thinking about ways to follow Him closely. They are like trees on a river that do not dry up, they succeed in everything they do.” The key to growth is to have roots down deep in God’s Word, and the way you get roots down deep in God’s word is to meditate on it, seriously think about what you read in the Bible for a little bit then think about what does it mean to my life. That’s meditation. How can I apply this to me? When you do that He says, “You’re like a tree planted by the river and when the heat’s on you don’t wither away and when the drought comes you don’t dry up and blow away.” You don’t have a relapse.
We need each other and we need God’s Word to help us keep on the Road to Recovery. Notice the benefit. He says, “If you meditate you will succeed in everything you do.” Succeed. How would you like to succeed in everything you do? God says, “Simple, just meditate on the Word.” That habit alone will help you know the right thing to do, and then you end up succeeding.
How do I meditate on God’s word? Psalm 119: “I thought much about your words and stored them in my heart so that they would hold me back from sin.” He says, “I think about Your words, I store them in my heart.” How? You memorize – you store it up in your heart.
If you know how to worry you know how to meditate. Worry is just negative meditation. With worry, you take a negative thought and think on it over and over and over. You take a verse of the Bible and think on it over and over and over—that’s called meditation. So if you know how to worry, you know how to meditate.
3. PRAYER. Now there’s a third tool that God says will be helpful to you in maintaining your recovery and that’s prayer. Prayer is the way that you plug into God’s power. You say, “I can’t do it but God can.” How do I get God’s power? You get it through prayer. Now a lot of people don’t realize that you can pray about any need in your life. God is a loving Father – maybe the Father you never had. You can pray about a financial need, a physical need, relational need, a spiritual need, emotional need. He will listen to any need.
Now, how do I pray? Notice what Jesus says. Matthew 6: “This then is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, may your holy name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, forgive us the wrongs that we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. Do not bring us to temptation, but keep us safe from the evil one.” Now I want you to notice a couple of things about the Lord’s Prayer. First I want you to circle the word “how.” Notice it says this is “how” you should pray. It does not say this is “what” you should pray. It says “how,” It’s a model. This was not a prayer to be used as a ritual, it is a model. This is not what you should pray, this is how you should pray. Now if you notice here, all of the recovery steps are covered in this prayer.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” That’s saying “I realize I’m not God but You are.”— that’s Steps 1 and 2.
“May Your will be done, may Your kingdom come.” That’s Step 5.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” That’s Step 3.
“Forgive us our debts.” That’s Step 4.
“As we forgive others.” That’s Step 6.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” That’s avoiding relapse, that’s this step 7.
You see, recovery is as old as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus Christ gave us the principles by which we can find full recovery.
If you’ve got a hurt that you’ve been holding on to, or you’ve got a hang-up. If you’ve got an issue in your life that you say no matter what I do I can’t get over it, the good news is (and we’ve been saying this for seven weeks) you matter to Jesus Christ and He has the power to help you. You can make the changes, that you want to make and He wants you to make, with His help, if you will just step across the line and let Him do it. The choice is yours.