Consider for a moment this passage from Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth:
Therefore in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
- Paul was another example, like Jesus of what God is able to achieve through a person.
- He was a highly developed person: educated, multilingual and had dual nationality.
- He was also a religious fanatic and violent before coming to faith but became gentle and kind over time.
- He describes a weakness given to him as a “thorn in the flesh”. This experience humbled him and actually became the perfect way for God to display his power.
What was the “thorn in the flesh”? Some biblical scholars have speculated:
- a physical ailment
- a speech impediment
- a personality / angel ordemon sent to tempt him
What if Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”was a type of addiction or some other form of brokenness? Whatever his weakness was it caused him to rely more fully on God and it caused him torment.
When we look at history we see that many of the great reformers have had to struggle with some form of weakness that could be described as a “thorn in the flesh”. Here are some examples :
- In the 17th Century Rene Descartes a French churchman and mathematician, widely held as the father of modern philosophy, suffered from back pains that left him bedridden most of the time. At one point he tells how he felt God had called him to use his talents to write in defence of the existence of God, especially to those who did not believe in the veracity of the Bible. He chose to use reason as his tool.
- In the 17th Century Madame Guyon a young widow who after going through an arranged and unhappy 12 years of marriage began to lead many in the France to a real faith in God at a time when ritual and hierarchy in the church had often stifled faith. Masses of other people from Germany, Netherlands and England were blessed by her wisdom yet she had to endure 8 years imprisonment including time in the infamous Bastille.
- In 18th Century England the pioneer of the Evangelical revival, an Anglican vicar John Wesley was so successful as an evangelist that it is thought by historians that England was saved from a French style revolution and its attendant blood bath as a direct result of his preaching. However when we read his journal we discover how he struggled with his fears of death throughout his lifetime.
- In the 19th Century Abraham Lincoln, considered by many to be the greatest of American presidents for winning a war to preserve the Union of States and creating the legal foundation for the abolition of slavery, also struggled with bipolar disorder throughout his life. People who knew him said that “when he was down, he was unreachable but when he was up, he was undefeatable .”
- In the late 19th Century the mathematician and inventor or the discipline of statistics Florence Nightingale spent a number of years developing nursing as a respectable profession for women. All the while she reluctantly rejected her suitor who on numerous occasions proposed marriage to her throughout what must have been a difficult 9 year period. She said that she loved him but that she would not be able to follow her calling if she married and had a family.
- In the 20th Century the Albanian nun known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India was considered to be one of the most compassionate woman on earth for her work with the poorest of the poor, the desperate and the dying. Her journal is fascinating reading. She writes about her constant self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.
As I observe these men and women, like Paul they achieved amazing things in their lifetimes. Yet when we take a closer look at their lives we discover that they all had significant and painful struggles.
The conclusions that I draw are these:
- Our weakness does not limit God from expressing his power fully through our lives.
2. Our weakness stop us from becoming conceited and it produces humility in us.
3. Our weaknesses should not be hidden but rather exposed and “boasted” about.
4. The ability to admit our weakness can be described as our strength.
Many of us struggle in different ways: we have been abused; we may live with addictive behaviours or partners or we may be struggle with insecurity about our gender and identity. It is important to realise that our weakness can serve to produce humility in us. If we accept it, it can cause us to rely more fully on God as we understand him.
Viewed this way Paul’s use of the metaphor “a thorn in the flesh” seem apt.
May God’s power be with you in all your struggles.
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul of Tarsus
In his research Patrick Carnes PhD observed that people who were successful in their recovery from sex addiction and co-addiction made deep commitments to making their lives better and did similar things. There were nine things that they did and it took them three to five years. These nine things are rather like ingredients in a recipe. If you want to be successful in your recovery over the long-term then follow this proven recipe and the results are all but guaranteed.
- Find Yourself A Good Therapist
Finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with and staying with him/her for three to five years seems to be essential to the recovery process. During this time you will examine your whole life and become very well known to your therapist who will help you through the challenges you face along the way.
- Join A Healing/Therapeutic Community
Being in a closed group setting with a trained overseer during a weekly course, a residential weekend or an intensive week allows you the space to take the healing journey from isolation to community living while learning important relationship skills. I recommend around fifty hours in a year.
- Attend A Regular Support Group
Listening to others tell their stories and sharing your own progress in an open support group creates a healthy challenge. The monthly or weekly support group also becomes a place where you can find mentors and in time learn to be a mentor for others on the journey of healing and growth.
- Deal With Co-occurring Problems
Attending to other similar problems in your life at the same time e.g. eating disorders (overeating, bulimia or anorexia), drinking, gambling, gaming, hoarding, co-dependence and self harming etc. will greatly enhance your healing processes. Trauma and addiction manifest through a variety of chemical, behavioural, emotional and deprivation behaviours. Understanding this will greatly help prevent relapse.
- Focus On Your Childhood Issues
Looking at the negative influence that abuse and neglect has had in your childhood, added to that the impact of other family members with addictions, increases your motivation to focus on resolving early relationships problems with parents, siblings and other significant care-givers.
- Involve Your Family Members
Succeeding in your recovery increases significantly when your partner and/or other family members commit to healing and recovery for themselves. As you deepen your healing it creates impetus within your family towards healing although sometimes it may take years before you see this.
- Attend A Couples Group
Having couples recover together is the best of all. It adds profoundly to your healing when your partner is involved. To get the best results the couple needs to participate in a group that takes into consideration the effects of the healing process on their marriage or partnership.
- Develop Your Spiritual Life
Receiving spiritual experiences and doing spiritual exercises on a regular, even daily basis is important. Usually those who belong to a lively church/community and read spiritual books do better at maintaining a spiritual life. Growing in the knowledge of God and of your place in the world around you is a sign of your spiritual growth.
- Maintain Regular Exercise And Good Nutrition
Growing and maturing as a person happens along with regular, if not daily exercise. This is best done in nature where possible, otherwise in the gym will do. Healing blossoms as you make good choices about food and nutrition. These two are the building blocks of good self-care.
If you want good results in your recovery then follow this recipe!
About a year-and-a-half into my healing process I reached a point where I began to see that I alone was responsible for my own choices and actions. I realised that there really was no excuse for my addictive behaviour. Previously, it had been extremely difficult for me to be honest about it with family members and friends from church. Staying in denial and blaming it on my difficult upbringing seemed so much easier. There was just one problem. Denying it and blaming it on others simply meant that the addictive behaviour continued unabated.
Before I could be honest with others I first had to learn be honest with myself.
I attended a second intensive week, this time in Central Finland. Although I received lots of help from the teaching sessions, small group times and the spiritual moments during the six days – when the week was over, it was over. I then needed something else in order to continue the journey. So I bought recordings of the teachings by Toni Dolfo Smith Ph.D. and Sonja Stark to listen to at home and I also bought the book Out of the Shadows written Patrick Carnes Ph.D. that was on sale there. I listened to the teachings again and again. I read the book over and over.
Something interesting happened! In the privacy of my own home as I listened to teachings and read the book I was able to admit to things about myself that I would not have been able to admit to other people. Over time I became honest with myself and this new ability began to affect the way I talked to God in prayer.
As I became honest with myself and with God I began to accept responsibility for my addictive behaviours and their consequences, I started to see what healing is really all about.
- Denial had left me feeling anxious and wanting to give-up. It had led me into despair.
- Honesty brought me the feeling of relief and wanting to go-on. It has caused me to hope and has given me peace.
The person who is living in denial, says “I didn’t hurt anybody.” The person who has learned to be honest, says “I actually did hurt others and I hurt myself.”
For example. When I regularly watched pornography or cruised the sex shops I did not recognise any damage to others. Yet at the same time I was:
- sexually unavailable to my wife.
- neglecting to spend quality time with my children, preferring the television or the internet.
- spending much of my work time in fantasy and obsession when I should have been concentrating on my job
- feeling spiritually empty, disconnected from myself, God and the world around me.
As you can see the impact and the damage was very real.
For me to become responsible was:
- not just saying sorry for what I had done. It was accepting responsibility for the damage and the hurt that I had done to my wife and family and doing what I could to make amends.
- it was not something that could be forced. Rather, I voluntarily disclosed my weaknesses, faults and vulnerabilities. First to people that I knew and trusted within my (Journey) support
- it was not about being punished for my wrong-doing. It was about me getting consultation and sponsorship from people in the (Journey) support network who had “been there before”.
If you struggle as I did with habits and behaviours that you don’t want and you can’t control, then I encourage you to begin building your support network right away and start your journey towards integrity. Read books on the subject and listen to your teachers. Look for trustworthy people and nearby support groups.
You’ll find that honesty and responsibility are milestones along the way towards integrity.
I wish you peace, inner freedom and confidence.
Do you want to grow closer to God?
Do you seek restoration and healing?
Do you feel you are stuck in some area of your life?
Do you have questions concerning relationships or sexuality?
Then, come and attend our Summer week! Experience fellowship, love, grace and truth. During the week, we worship God, listen to teaching on various themes, as well as share and receive prayer in small groups.
The Summer week is also a good way to receive training as well as learn more about pastoral care and inner healing.
Furthermore, this year we have a special guest speaker from Journey UK, Caroline Lennartsson, sharing about her work with victims of human trafficking.
For the application form, please email:
Please note that the application submission deadline is 15 May 2018.
The Summer Week will take place in Kiponniemi – a beautiful lakeside in Jyväskylä area.
The Summer Week is for Christians who want to get closer to God and process their life issues. In our courses, we have worship, teaching, small groups and prayer. We focus on relational, emotional and sexual problems. You can go through our Summer Week and other courses as many times as you wish as the healing process takes time. The Summer Week is also good preparation for those who would like to be leaders in the future. In order to help others, we must first deal with our own wounds.
The last couple of days of the week, 29-30 June, are the training days. Then we go through the more practical aspects of leadership in the Journey ministry. You are welcome to attend that as well or already leave on Friday afternoon.
The Summer Week programme consists of worship, teaching and small groups. Teachings are based on The Journey of Grace books. In the small groups, you have an opportunity to share about your life and receive prayer from our leaders.
Many of the teaching sessions will be in English, or are otherwise simultaneously translated from Finnish into English.
I used to think that people who went to see psychologists and attended therapy groups were the kind of people who had serious mental illnesses or other adjustment problems. I didn ́t consider myself to be one of those ́types`. It took me until I was thirty four years old before I realised that I needed therapy myself. I began by attending a weekly Journey support group and meeting with a therapist every other week.
The main reason I believed that I didn ́t need support was, I believed that all I needed was a “touch from God,” a miracle or some dramatic event that would cause me to turn away from unwanted and habitual behaviours. At that time, I did not understand that what God wanted was to bring about change in my life, but only as I would learn to trust other people. Learning to trust and depend on others was an important part of my healing journey.
I had grown-up in a strict religious community, where I developed quite rigid views about how healing would happen. I tended to think of spiritual disciplines like prayer, giving, fasting, Bible study and church activities as the way to receive healing. While these disciplines were good and helpful, they did not in themselves bring about the changes that I hoped for. I had underestimated the importance of things like:
- open and honest sharing with trusted people
- asking for help from those who knew more than I did
- being accountable to someone for my faults
- spending time, patiently working through specific problems
- learning emotional skills and developing relational competencies
These turned out to be essential constituents of my recovery and growth. Back then, I really thought that I was being open and honest with God in my prayers. I would tell the issues of my life to Him privately. I did not realise, then, that much of this, so called prayer, was private only because I was, actually too afraid to share my weaknesses with anyone else. I was ashamed of the fact that I couldn`t control my thoughts and actions at certain times, particularly with my emotions and sexuality. I thought that God was angry with me and that there was something wrong with me. Much of my thinking was distorted. Each time I prayed, I was in reality, only recycling old complaints about my addictive behaviours in His presence. I was not really conversing with God about it, I was simply moaning about it.
Perhaps the strongest reasons I had for avoiding therapists and support groups were that I thought that I could handle my problems myself; I didn ́t need other people ́s help; my problems were not so severe and that I would eventually overcome them.
I was a pastor of a newly established church and I was just too proud to admit that I was at the same time struggling with habitual patterns of pornography use and other habitual behaviours. I would much rather that people think of me as the spiritual guy. The kind, compassionate and gifted one. Not as someone with a pornography addiction who needed therapy. I was genuinely ashamed of myself and the double-life that I lived. On the one hand I enjoyed those hidden sexual activities, but on the other hand, I really did not want anyone to know about it. I simply lived as though the problem did not exist.
For me denial was about keeping things hidden and secret. I learned that growth, change and healing begins when we disclose our secrets to trustworthy people and we come out from our denial.
Andrew Chambers was born in Croydon, South London 45 years ago. When he was 6 weeks old Andy was put in a children’s home. As the already weak tie to his mother was broken Andy didn’t experience missing her. “At night, after visitors day I listened as the other children cried and yelled after their mothers, begging not to be left in the children’s home. I just lay on my bed and listened to the others – I didn’t cry”. Continue reading
My journey began in February when I confessed to the Lord my dissatisfaction with my physical self and asked for His help. He said very unequivocally that He would do it through ‘inches of surrender’. Soon after that I was contacted and asked if I would like to take part in the pilot programme of Living Waters (Elävät Vedet) as a team member. For some years I had wanted to take part in the programme itself or the one week training in Finland. However, both these hopes didn’t seem to work out as there were never enough people to start up the programme in Jyväskylä where I was then living, and I was always summers abroad when the training week would take place. Continue reading
Early in the week (Living Waters Leadership Training 3-8 August 2009) God spoke to me through His word:
“After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth. — Set up roadsigns; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road that you take. — Continue reading