Every one of us has heard the story or seen the testimony of the former addict who, one day, simply threw away their drug of choice, never to touch it again. In the Christian form of this, there is generally an encounter with God, perhaps a conversion, and Voila!, no more addiction, temptation, or even thoughts about their former way of life. There it is, the triumph of faith or willpower over the evils of addiction. So, what does it mean if that isn’t your experience?
Am I extra broken?
We platform these kinds of stories just as we do with the stories of healing or other dramatic changes to the circumstances of life. We champion them because of the clear picture of deliverance, the obvious sign that God is at work just as we would expect Him to be. For many of us, when this isn’t our story, we feel even more shame. Perhaps there is something extra broken about us that we can’t simply believe enough for that. Perhaps we haven’t done what needs to be done to get God to see us, and move towards us. Perhaps we don’t have the faith for a miracle like that.
“But what is more amazing, a work that delivers someone such that they never even think of it again, or the power of God to sustain someone daily even though they want to return to that thing desperately?”
Am I not enough?
This expectation isn’t new.
There seems to be something in our very being as humans that sees the activity of God in only the flashy, big, parting-of-the-Red-Sea-type moments. Jesus, after all, did say that if you had enough faith, you could tell a mountain to get up and move. If the mountains I see remain fairly motionless, it must be because I am not enough.
One of the letters of the New Testament actually engages this very thing: Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
An Over-Realized Eschatology
The church in Corinth must have been an exciting place. God did some pretty amazing things there. Some members of that church were brought out of some pretty crazy lifestyles (1Cor 6.9-11), and there were some pretty flashy gifts of the Spirit (1Cor 14), in general, the resurrection power of Jesus was on full display. But, this also brought along some pretty serious problems.
New Testament scholars would describe the root of this problem as an over-realized eschatology. All that really means is that the Corinthians had begun to believe that the full power of the Kingdom of God was here now and that there was very little left for Jesus to come back to do. This sounds rather harmless until you realize what it was doing to the community within the Church.
Am I not as faithful?
If these amazing deliverances and flashy gifts were a sign of being a part of the new world Jesus had brought, if being prosperous and impressive was now supposed to be the norm, then what are we to think of those who aren’t? What are we to think of those who struggle, who are barely making ends meet, and those whose gifts aren’t as flashy? In Corinth, as in our lives, those folks seemed a little second-class. Maybe they haven’t actually been rescued by Jesus at all, or, if they have, they are just not as good.
“Our lives this side of the return of Jesus is not a series of mountain tops, but a series of Tuesdays.”
Paul’s Answer for the Addict
When Paul addresses this, he draws attention to himself but not in the way you’d think. In 1 Corinthians 4:8-16, Paul draws the gaze of the Corinthians off of themselves and to him and the other apostles of Jesus. If anyone would be the poster child for the power of Jesus in their life it would be Paul, right? Well, yes, but not in the way we’d expect. In these verses, Paul highlights his weakness, his suffering, his having to work hard, and what we would struggle to call the victorious Christian life. And at the end of it all, he tells the Corinthians to imitate him.
Why would he say that?
Think about it this way. No one would ever doubt the power of God to deliver someone from something like an addiction in a moment.
But what is more amazing: a work that delivers someone such that they never even think of it again or the power of God to sustain someone daily even though they want to return to that thing desperately?
What shows more faith: a one-time miraculous deliverance or daily repenting and believing that Jesus is the satisfaction you are looking for when you pick up that bottle, pop those pills, or click on that site? Paul’s boast, if you want to call it that, is in his suffering, not in his dramatic conversion.
Yes, he would say, the Kingdom of God is here now! It is on display in our lives. But it is also something we await in its fullness. We experience that power, but our lives on this side of the return of Jesus are not a series of mountain tops, but a series of Tuesdays.
Struggling Is the Norm
Have faith, friend. It is not strange that you still struggle, nor is it that I do as well. It is not strange that you have to daily turn away from that temptation and return again to Jesus, nor that I do. It is not strange that you long for the day that you won’t experience that, nor that I long with you. And it is not strange that your story of recovery and change is not one straight, ascending line of victory, nor that mine is not as well. The good news for you and for me is that Jesus is not surprised by your story or disappointed, even if you are. He walks with you through it, and He will see it to its end (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Corinthians 1:8, Philippians 1:6).