Introduction to “40 Days Of Purity”
Psalm 40:1-2 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog; and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”
It sucks being stuck.
One minute, you’re behind the wheel, flying down the highway, enjoying life, free and in control. Then you hit the patch of ice and slide off the road. Now you’re stuck. Any control you thought you had is gone. And you’re free alright: free to sit there and curse, kick the tires or anything else you want to do.
Getting stuck in a bad habit or a harmful behavior is a lot like that. There was a day when you were flying down the road of life, enjoying the scenery, minding your own business. You didn’t wake up one morning and decide, “Today is the day I’ll get addicted to porn.” Or “Hey, now it’s time to make good on my ambition to become an alcoholic.” Or “You know, this is as good a time as any to throw away my health with overeating.” (Or…you fill in the blank.)
Yet here you are…stuck. You woke up this morning, and It was there handing you your coffee. You can’t even finish shaving, and your mind is already thinking about It. And no matter how resolved you feel right now to do without It, It will have its way with you, sooner probably than later.
It’s worse yet if you claim to be a Christian. You know the verses promising you victory and new life and freedom. And they mock you. Going to church has become an exercise in futility. If you don’t pin a smile on your face, you really don’t belong there. Think about the people you would let down if they knew about It. Here you are a Sunday School teacher, an elder, a worship team leader, and just look at you. Better to just play the game for the time being. Besides, there’s still time to stop this silly behavior, and once you do, everything will be alright. No harm, no foul (and no shame or scandal, either. Whew!)
But there’s a tiny part of your soul that knows better. That’s screaming at you, “You’re stuck, idiot!” And there’s another part of your soul that also knows why you’re stuck. It’s not just a sickness, as people like to say. You didn’t catch this in an elevator. You signed up for it. Early on, you made choices. You saw the ice patch coming. You saw the wreckage on the roadside of those who went before you. There were ways around it. But you hit the gas pedal anyway.
It’s for those who find themselves stuck in what King David called a “miry bog” – who can both admit it and can accept some measure of responsibility for it – that this devotional is written. But it’s also written to address a particular brand of sin-stuckness, an ice patch that I wiped out upon. And it’s one that is causing a massive pile-up in the Church. It’s the sin addiction of sexual impurity created by the rise of internet pornography.
The Tsunami Of Pornograpy
Pornography is as old as man. I wouldn’t doubt if some Paleolithic cave painter 30,000 years ago was tempted to reproduce a nude form on the wall, then heard his wife shuffling in the next cavern and stuck to his bison and deer. What is brand new is the tsunami of porn that has literally overrun the world with the ascent of digital technology. And like a tsunami, this filth-flood has literally overwhelmed us all, its impact being felt on every part of society – most painfully in the home and church. And trust me on this – not only are these muddy waters seeping into the church, they’re pouring in.
Now that the tsunami has hit, most of us are walking around trying to figure out what just happened and how to react to it. The temptation may be to respond with simplistic moralism. This is raw sin – repent and be done with it. But that response is like handing a mop to a dazed survivor standing in the rubble of what was once his house and saying, “It’s just a little water – start cleaning it up.” For a pastor to take that approach with a parishioner, or a husband or wife to take that approach with their spouse, is to miss the deeper reality behind it all.
I speak from experience. I stepped into these waters. The riptide caught me. There was a time in the first decade of my marriage (my wife Janis and I recently celebrated our pearl anniversary, the big 3-0) when I was gasping for breath, about to go under, unable to save myself. Newfound access to cable TV and the shiny wonders of the internet, spiced up with a little marriage pain, and my foolish, sinful heart was overwhelmed.
In time, God’s grace snatched me back to shore and dropped me gagging and exhausted on the sand. Three things saved me: daily time with God in his Word during which time he often spoke into my life regarding my masculinity and sexuality. Secondly, I allowed my wife to see inside my heart and invited her to share in my struggle for wholeness (which in turn helped her in her own struggle for wholeness, and brought us closer as a couple to that mystical thing called Oneness.) Thirdly, we submitted to good and godly counsel from a person trained and skilled to offer it.
In the intersection of these experiences, I discerned the voice of my Heavenly Father speaking to me, and two observations stand out regarding how he spoke. Never did he once tell me that my struggle was not sin. Not once did he say, “It’s OK, it’s how I’ve made you, you have my blessing in yielding to this.” In fact, what I learned as time went on was that my sin was far deeper and more malignant that I ever could have imagined. And being rid of it would be far more complicated than simply powering off the computer.
But secondly, I also learned afresh of the amazing grace of God my Father, who was willing to enter into dialogue with me regarding my stupidity and rebelliousness. He never turned his back on me. Each time I fell, he was there to pick me up and clean me off. Through it all, he kept up the conversation, and over time, I learned things about myself and what made me tick that had been hidden in my heart for years. As C.S. Lewis once said, a Christian who is honest enough to hear the truth about himself comes to know his sin like Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty.
How Should We Respond To It?
As a pastor (for a quarter-century now) knowing what’s happening out there in our pews, I have agonized over how best to minister in this brave, new, corrupt world of ours. There is such a fine-line to be walked. Take a heavy-handed approach and we may suddenly find our church boards and worship teams emptying. We’ll also prevent people from coming forward to seek help, and inadvertently drive many into the closet of hypocrisy.
Yet leniency risks appealing to the debased heart that is always looking for any excuse to cover up its failings and not repent. God in his grace gives us second and third chances to get it right, that we might learn how to live “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). But if we use grace as an excuse to sin, or to try to dull sin’s razor-sharp edges, we deceive ourselves.
This is just one pastor’s opinion, but it’s my observation that the church’s response to the porn tsunami so far has tended to the extremes. Theologically-liberal churches downplay it as they do most of the Bible’s sexual ethics, to the harm of its people. Theologically-conservative churches have devised crack-the-whip responses and programs to deal with it.
One ministry that deals with porn addiction requires that all offenders participate perpetually in a 12-step-style support group. Every one of us needs accountability, but not everyone needs that form of it. Another ministry requires that husbands sign a letter to their wives that contains the line, “You understand that I will never be able to erase those images from my mind and will always wonder when we are having sex if I am thinking of you or ‘them’.” The letter ends, “Things will never be the same.”
Such an approach is void of hope. Besides the fact that it’s simply untrue. I know from my own experience that the mind can be renewed just as the Bible promises. A person who can’t go even one waking hour without facing agonizing temptation can learn to go days, weeks then months with a mind at rest.
I would want a married person to confess his or her sin to their spouse, and for them to begin to enter into holy conversations with each other about their sexual journey as a couple. I would want a single man or woman to understand how pornography is ruining their prospects for love and marriage, by dulling and distorting the inner circuitry God has placed within them to attract them to each other. I would want a person to understand the power of the brain as God created it to sear images into his or her mind and store them up, which adds link after link to the chain which binds them to this sin.
But I would also want them to know that help and healing is possible. Science has shown that the transformation of the mind which the Bible speaks of is not a legal fiction. Surely the Bible has more in mind here than mere physiology, but our brains can be rewired to think new thoughts. A person addicted to porn is not condemned to think of ‘them’ the rest of his life.
Train Yourself For Godliness
There’s something comforting about the fact that the Bible uses the word training to describe the process of growing in holiness. “Train yourself for godliness,” Paul writes to his young friend Timothy (1 Timothy 4:7) using the Greek word gumnadzo that has to do with the physical training one acquires in the gym.) While sin is surely to be repented of and forsaken – it is also to be unlearned. Jesus invites us to “learn from him” in order to find rest for our weary souls (Matthew 11:29). The disobedient are to turn to the “wisdom of the just” (Luke 1:17).
Discipleship is a relationship concept that presumes a master and a student. In the journey of discipleship, the student acquires discipline through physical, mental and spiritual training – discipline that will cause the student in time to act like his or her master. This book is written to provide a roadmap toward that type of training.
Training by its very nature suggests a rigorous process of fits and starts, of two steps forward and one step back. Anyone who has taken up weightlifting or started piano lessons understands how training works. Through practice, repetition, trial and error, and falling on your face more times than you can count, you are virtually rewiring your brain and strengthening your muscles in a way that enables you to do things that weren’t possible for you before. The same process that allows you to master a language or learn to run a marathon applies to spiritual and moral growth as well.
This opportunity exists only because of the cross of Christ. Think of it – because Jesus died for me on the cross, I am now given the space and time to work out a salvation that is already in my possession. What’s more, I don’t have to worry about the fact that if I mess up one day I’m out of the kingdom and if I perform well the next, I’m back in. Christianity doesn’t work like that. Jesus dying for us is the most amazing gift you and I will ever be given. It takes all the pressure off of having to measure up right this very moment to God’s standards. Jesus has done what I never could do – he lived a perfect life, then gave his perfect life in exchange for my imperfect one, and secured for me God’s radical acceptance.
But the Cross of Christ also provides me with the most potent motivation for running after God’s standards with all the effort I can muster. While every other faith, religion and philosophy says: Work hard and maybe God will accept you, Christianity says: God accepts you, so work hard.
Don’t misconstrue the point. The Cross of Jesus never grants us permission to sin, it only makes room for the possibility of it occurring. Holiness is God’s absolute standard, and without it no one will ever see God (Hebrews 12:14). Sexual purity is not just for extra credit – a mistake many Christians make, who have bought into a deficient view of what it means to be saved by grace.
I’m not the first to say this, but the greatest problem when we get sin-stuck is not that we love our sin too much, but really it’s that we love God too little. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The end goal of growing in holiness is to allow your heart to become so enraptured by love for Christ, that the very thought of giving in to sin becomes as detestable to you as eating dog food. Holiness, seen properly, is not drudgery. (“His commandments are not burdensome” ~ 1 John 5:3.) God, seen properly, is not a kill-joy, bent on crimping your happiness. Jesus is bent on expanding your shalom, by teaching you the boundless freedom which purity brings. In your heart of hearts, don’t you hunger for that?
How This Book Can Help You
What follows are forty short readings, each followed by a few questions, a prayer, and a verse from the Bible to think about or even memorize. You can take this journey alone (good), or with a partner (better) or with a group (best). There are a couple of blank pages at the end of each section where I would encourage you to write a journal entry summarizing what you’re learning and experiencing each week.
The idea of working methodically through a forty day devotional is itself a purity strategy. People stuck in an addictive sin are usually like a flooded river that’s overrun its banks. They’ve lost all sense of boundaries. The behavior muddies everything in sight. The first thing you do with a river like that is throw up a wall of sandbags around it to try and enforce some sense of control over what has become uncontrollable.
If a person addicted to pornography is honest with himself or herself, the thought of actually living free of this behavior seems pitifully laughable. However, if we maybe shorten the goal a bit – instead of aiming for lifelong transformation, we shoot for a weekend of doing without this behavior, or maybe a week of pulling in the reins, then why not a month or better yet, forty days – well, that becomes somewhat attainable.
I like to jog, and hills are a bugger to me. In the town of Connecticut where I live, we have some real doosies. One hill near my house is a half-mile long and when standing at the bottom looking up, it looms over me like a wall. I can hear the hill actually jeer at me in a deriding, gravelly voice as I approach it. But six or seven minutes later, there I am cresting the top of that hill getting the last laugh. How did I do it? Not by looking at the hill in its entirety, but by a little game I play with myself. As I run, I’ll pick up a marker fifteen feet ahead of me – a crack in the sidewalk or a stray sick. And I’ll tell myself, “Well, I can run to there.” And I can. And then up ahead I select another marker – a loose stone or a dandelion. And I make that as well. And before you know it, I’ve scaled the hill.
Forty days is a marker – it’s something to shoot for. And it’s a biblical marker at that. God has a thing about bringing his people on forty-day adventures. Forty days is an attempt to throw sandbags around a flooded river. And by establishing some sort of boundary over this behavior, God brings you a leafy twig of hope that maybe, just maybe, you’ll yet get the last laugh over this.
And so I’m asking you to dedicate the next 40 days to seeking God. I’m asking you for the next 40 days to not view pornography. And to not do the things that you do when you view pornography. I’m asking you for the next 40 days to break the cycle. To say ‘no’ to this sin. To fight it. To push back. To find replacement behaviors. To redirect your energy into better directions. You will not be able to do this on your own.
This 40-day journey presupposes that you have become a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus told us point-blank that without him, we could do nothing (John 15:5). I suppose an unbeliever could adopt some of the principles in this devotional and experience some improvement in personal well-being, but it’s kind of like cutting boards with an unplugged power saw. Sure, it’ll work. But without being plugged into the power source, you’re missing the point.
Besides, God’s not out to take our old lives and splash on a fresh coat paint. He’s out to gut the building from the inside out. He wants to rip the wiring out, smash in the walls, yank out the floors, blast his way down to the studs and foundation. Knowing this, a Christian is someone who has come to understand that he or she needs the presence and power of the living God surging through them if they are ever to change for the good. The Lord is your life, the Bible says without apology (Deuteronomy 30:20).
But this is you and God together. Unless you resist, change will not come. Titus 2:11 tells us that God’s grace “has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness”. To renounce something is to say “No!” to it. Even if it seems hopeless at this juncture, start to dig in your heels. Push back. For goodness sake, fight!
What if you fail? Proverbs 24:16 says, “The righteous falls seven times and rises again.” So should you fall, then get back up. Remember – you’re in training. But never forget why you are given this opportunity – because Jesus died for you on the cross. And the cross gives you the room and space to grow. It’s a tough needle to thread. No – you don’t have permission to go and sin your head off. But God won’t take your head off either if you fail (at least at this point.)
My friend, I’m here to help. I commend you to the grace of God.
A Verse To Carry With You
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen.” ~ Jude 24-25