4 ways my pastor counseled me through drug addiction BY MATTHEW RICHARDSON

Jul 30, 2018

I was addicted to drugs at 18 years old. I started developing an addiction at 14 and had a daily habit by 15. When I was 18, I began working for a guy at a mall kiosk who was a Christian. Through many conversations, he would seek to convince me why Christianity was true. For a year, I was very hostile to the conversations. At a time when I was very depressed and wanted some kind of relief, I finally, readily agreed to read the Bible. He suggested that I read Matthew because it was the first book of the New Testament. So I read it, God opened my eyes to his saving grace, and I became a Christian.

Very soon after this, I met my neighbor on less than ideal circumstances. I was still battling drug dependence. I was at a very low point when, under the influence one night I decided to leave my house to get food. I bumped into a neighbor's car while backing out of the driveway and left significant scratches and a large dent. The next day he came to the house and said something like, "I believe a car from your house has hit my vehicle. I am going to hold it over your head until you either come to eat dinner with my family or until you come to church with us." Of course, I quickly agreed to go to church!

What could have been the start of a bumpy relationship, through God's grace—and my neighbor's—was the beginning of a great friendship. He soon became my pastor and the one I sought for help during my addiction and he counseled me in four important ways that eventually led to my freedom from drug dependence. I hope you find them as helpful as I did.

4 ways my pastor counseled me 1. A gospel hope

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).

My pastor was gripped by this truth. He knew that faith in Christ brings a new power—the power of salvation—and with it the power of eventual recovery. While I knew Christ at this point, I still needed to "lay aside the old self." My pastor often counseled me toward this end. He taught assiduously what it meant to be a new man in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), often reminding me that because Christ went to the cross for me, I can come to him at the cross for relief and freedom (Col. 1:13-14). Over time, I found a new desire in the gospel.

For some, the fight against temptation may last a long time, perhaps a lifetime. Christ brings a daily hope when this is the case for us, whatever the temptation may be. We possess his righteousness by faith (2 Cor. 5:21) and have the promise of forgiveness when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9). Furthermore, there’s a day fixed in history that we will see Christ and all our sin and temptations removed from us. We will be free to enjoy him uninterrupted by our sin (1 John 3:2).

2. A gospel response

How do we respond when we fall?

This is one of the most important things I was counseled on. I knew how to fall back into sin, but my pastor taught me how to fall into the gracious, restorative arms of a loving Father. He would often quote Tim Keller: "The gospel is this: you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope."

I learned to not to be surprised or feel the need to seclude myself when I sinned. Once I recognized that I am "more sinful and flawed" than I ever dared believe, this brought a readiness for repentance. I also realized that since he fully paid for my sin and now fully accepted me based on his merits, I could freely confess and repent without fear of him rejecting me. Thankfully, I always found this same acceptance from my pastor, which led me to believe his counsel and seek his help without hesitation.

3. Avoid triggers

Before I became a believer, I had built my life around drugs.

I would work jobs that likely wouldn't require a drug test, made friends that I could do drugs with, and established hangout spots for doing drugs with others. My pastor started asking me, "What are triggers for you? What tempts you to want to use drugs again?" He would also help me strategically think through ways to avoid them. Obviously, this meant an entire lifestyle change for me. As much as I wanted to stay in touch, it meant I had to dissociate with my old friends for a long time. I had to move out of the house I was in because I associated it with drugs. It involved a new job, new sleep patterns, and even new music.

I was grateful, however, to begin a new pattern of life. I got a new job with higher standards and a new house with no reminders of my old habits. Most importantly, I was amazed at how growing satisfaction with the love of Jesus caused my old temptations to lose their power.

4. A gospel community

Similarly, he taught me to live in the context of community.

He would say, "You can expect failure if you're cutting yourself off from the means God uses to produce real life change." Of course, as Christians, the church is that means. We find this exhortation in Hebrews 3:13, "But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." God used this in more ways than I could have imagined. He graciously built mutual accountability within a believing community. My pastor taught me the value of humility and honesty and the necessity to confess my sins to fellow believers (James 5:16). The wisdom and power of God to heal us from our sin through confession is astonishing! On the contrary, to remain in our sin while silent is a dangerous thing: sin grows in silence like mold grows in moisture.

There were also many times I felt particularly allured to drugs but had fellow Christian brothers I could run to instead. God was gracious to me; he gave me many brothers who made themselves available to me no matter the time of day (or night). Often, redirecting my temporary desire for drugs toward spending time with believers gave me enough grace and strength to get through the temptation for the day. Compiled over multiple days, weeks, and months, this meant eventual freedom from the desire altogether.

When freedom comes slowly Recovery often happens more slowly than one would wish and in fits and starts. Many people might even say that it never comes entirely. As Christians, we should take this very seriously. God has not created us as disembodied spirits; we are physical beings, just as much as we are spiritual. It’s vital that we find ways to address both.

Some drug addictions, from a physical standpoint, can have such harmful effects that medical treatment may be required. They can also permanently alter the way someone's brain functions. For example, people naturally have dopamine in their brain that controls the mood, emotions, and levels of pleasure experienced. Most drugs increase dopamine levels artificially, creating the euphoric effect. The brain then naturally recognizes a high level of dopamine and lowers the amount it produces to compensate. Sometimes this can be a permanent effect. Thus, the result can be an inability to find natural things and everyday life pleasurable anymore. Drugabuse.org reports, "This is why a person who abuses drugs eventually feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable." When individuals experience this, it makes relapse more likely. When we seek to counsel someone through drug addiction, therefore, we must remember this crucial physical component.[1]

When a person has struggled with drug addiction for a long time, it can feel like an uphill battle—one that feels impossible to climb. Yet, this is precisely the one whom Christ has come to save. He has endless compassion for this person, and we need to remind them of that repeatedly. A constant craving for drugs may be a "thorn" in a believer's flesh, but God's grace is sufficient, "for [his] power is perfected in weakness." As a believer struggles through this, it can be easy for him to be filled with guilt and shame, but Christ offers the same powerful hope to him and all believers—the hope of his righteousness given through faith. It is important, likewise, to remind one another that "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1).

God has provided multiple means for our flourishing, whether it be spiritual or physical. For the spiritual, he's provided his Word, prayer, and the church. For our physical flourishing, he has provided medicine, medical professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists. It is essential to utilize all the means of grace God has provided us with, especially when it comes to drug addiction.

All of us, regardless of what we struggle with, can take comfort in the fact that Christ sets us free from "the domain of darkness” and removes us from sin's power (Col. 1:13-14). I hope my story reminds you that "[God's] divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Pet. 1:3). May we encourage and counsel one another toward that end in whatever battles we face.

Though we may not experience full and final recovery or victory in this life, Christ’s resurrection and coming return promise sanctification to us in full. We will have our fallen bodies and minds made new and morally pure. As 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” At the sight of Christ, our previous desire for sin will be instantly obliterated and replaced with fulfillment in the fullness of pleasure he gives us (Psalm 16:4). Our longing for this promised future offers us the joy we may revel in now.

Matthew Richardson served as student pastor at Emmanuel International Church in Paris, France. He is an avid reader of theology. Matthew is currently studying to get his B.A. in Global Business Management at Troy University.



THE ROMAN ROAD: A Biblical Highway That Leads To A Personal Relationship with God

The Romans were famous for building roads throughout their empire and some could practically take you all the way to Rome itself. All you had to do was step out on these roads to get to where you wanted to go. Now I would to introduce you to another sort of Roman Road. This one takes you through the Book of Romans in the New Testament of the Bible and leads home to Heaven if you follow it all the way, step by step. We'll also make a few short stops in some other books for clarity. So, let's begin our journey...

STEP ONE: Let me ask you a question: IF YOU DIED RIGHT NOW, DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE THAT YOU WOULD GO TO HEAVEN?

Most people are surprised by that sort of a question because it may be that they were taught to believe that no one can know for sure that they are going to heaven when they die. However, the Bible teaches otherwise. First, let's see what it says about something that can easily keep you out of Heaven...

STEP TWO: Read this verse in Romans 3:10

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Everyone is a sinner, even those who try to "be good" or "do good works". Most people would not argue with that fact and that is made even more clear in the next step.

STEP THREE: Read this verse in Romans 3:23

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Even people who try to be good are told, in no uncertain terms, that their efforts are in vain. God has already judged the actions of all humans and found them to be sinful.

STEP FOUR: Read this verse in Romans 5:12

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Adam was the first man and his sin in the Garden of Eden caused every person that followed to be born with a sinful nature. That means that no matter how hard we try, we are going to do things that are wrong at one time or another.

STEP FIVE: Read this verse in Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Concentrate on the first part of this verse for now)

There is a wage, or payment for sin and that is PHYSICAL DEATH. We know this because Adam eventually grew old and died and so have people born after him ever since. But a lot of people do not know that there is also another kind of death included in that wage for sin. One that can keep you out of Heaven.

STEP SIX: Read this verse in Revelation 20:14

And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

The wage for sins is not just physical death, but also spiritual death in Hell. Hell is a place of eternal regret and torment. No one in their right mind would want to go there. Fortunately, God has provided an escape from that terror.

STEP SEVEN: Read this verse in Romans 6:23 again.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Concentrate on the second part of this verse)

God offers us the gift of Salvation. He sent his son, Jesus Christ, to the Earth to die on the cross for our sins. Because it is a gift, there is NOTHING we can do to earn it. It's FREE.

STEP EIGHT: Read this verse in Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

These verses make it crystal clear that NO ONE can earn Salvation. You cannot work or buy your way to Heaven and no person can claim that they got there because they were better than someone else. Christ already paid the penalty for our SINS - past, present and future. It's a GIFT, and like any other gift, all we need do to have it is to ACCEPT IT and the Bible clearly tells us how to do that.

STEP NINE: Read this verse in Romans 10:9-10, 13

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation... For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

All we need do to accept God's FREE GIFT of Salvation through Jesus Christ is to ask for it. According to verse 13, anyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved (no matter how good or bad you may believe you are). According to verses 9 and 10, all we have to do to accept the GIFT of Salvation is to believe in our heart that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that God raised Him from the dead and to confess that belief with our mouth to God. We can do that by praying a simple prayer. Perhaps you would like to do that right now. if so, you can use the prayer below to ask God for His Gift and be sure of Heaven immediately after you pray!

A SIMPLE PRAYER TO ACCEPT JESUS AS SAVIOR: Dear God, I admit that I am a Sinner. I now believe that your Son, Jesus Christ, died for my sins and was raised from the dead. I accept your gift of Salvation and ask that Jesus save me from Hell right now. Thank you, Lord.

STEP TEN: Read this verse in II Corinthians 5:17 if you have prayed a prayer to accept the Lord, you can now KNOW FOR SURE that if you died right now, you would go to Heaven! Read on if you have accepted Jesus as your Savior...

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Here are a few BASICS of your NEW LIFE:

The Bible clearly teaches that once we accept Jesus as our Savior, we begin a new life in Christ. Because we are still not perfect and will continue to make mistakes from time to time, God is always ready to forgive us when we do sin as long as we express regret at making bad choices and ask for His forgiveness through prayer. Those sins will not send us to Hell, but God (like any Father who cares about their child) will punish us here on Earth in order to make us aware that we have done something that can cause trouble for us unless we ask for His forgiveness.

God will also send the Holy Spirit to dwell in those who accept Jesus as their Savior. He will help to keep us on the right path and open up the Scriptures so we can understand them. A good place to start reading the Bible is in the New Testament Gospel according to Luke. At the same time, it's wise to begin a daily prayer life and speak to God at least once or twice a day. He is ready, willing and able to answer our prayers and help us live a happy and fulfilling life.

As you grow in the Lord, here are a few additional steps that the Bible teaches us to take to have a more fulfilling life and a closer relationshiop with God:

  • Get baptized (water baptism by immersion) as taught in the Word.
  • Tell others about your new faith in Christ.
  • Get in the habit of praying and reading some portion of Scripture each day.
  • Fellowship with other life-minded Believers.
  • Find a Bible-believing local church to attend and ,eventually, join it.

If you have the accepted the Lord and would like to tell me about it, and/or have questions, please fee free to email me at youcantrustgod@gmail.com

You also might enjoy my article, How To Receive Godís Blessing and Find Happiness. It's a good tuturial for New Believers.


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