The power of insufficiency

James knew the pictures were most likely photo-shopped. He had no illusions the girls’ smiles were real or intended for him. He understood most had not chosen this profession and many stayed in it because they were forced to do so by really bad people, or they were supporting a habit. Moreover, he knew each of these women was somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, maybe somebody’s mother. He realized, on some level, that his “traffic” on this website helped fuel an industry that was harmful to families, harmful to healthy lives, and harmful to society. He knew that if one of his children walked in, he would lose their respect, perhaps forever. And yet, at this moment none of that mattered.

None of those facts, nor the flawless logic they pointed to – the logic that said, “This is wrong! Turn off the computer and go back to bed!” – could stop James from doing what he came here to do. He and his wife had had problems with intimacy for some time now. There were reasons for that, mostly his own fault, and they might get around to working through those someday. In the meantime, he had needs and she wasn’t meeting them, so this was the quickest solution. Only it wasn’t a solution at all. James professed to be a Christian and he wanted to act like one. These late-night forays into the shady side of the internet left him angry and ashamed. He couldn’t stop, but he hated himself for returning over and over again. He was almost too ashamed to ask God’s forgiveness anymore. How many times had he promised this would be the last time? He lost count long ago.

Then one night, something strange happened. James had gone almost a year without giving in to the hunger, the appetite that still tortured him, constantly gnawing at his brain even as he was committed to act in a way he felt was honorable. This particular night, the desire came flooding in again, and James just gave up. He did not want to act on the impulse. He employed all the strategies he had developed to resist the temptation. God knows he did not want this to be the night that his “good” streak ran out. But the monster was there, bigger and badder than ever, and James was broken. In that moment, he cried out to God. He had been praying all along, but now he made a startling admission: “God, I am helpless against this thing. This is who I am. I have been marginally and sporadically successful at curbing my behavior, but I have been an utter failure at changing my heart. If You want me, fine. If You don’t want me, fine. But I’m tired of fighting. If I am to be something different, that’s on You. You’ll have to do that work Yourself because I’m done here.”

James suddenly felt a peace he had never felt before. The scales fell away from his eyes and the weight was lifted from his body. God responded in a mighty way that night and James realized, for the first time in his life, he was a free man. It was as if God was saying, “It took you a long time to figure that out, but you’re right – you are weak, I am strong. I’m calling you to be holy and I am the only one who can make you holy. Welcome home!” As the tears streamed from James’ eyes, he wondered if this deliverance would last. He walked through the next day and was delighted to discover he was not obsessing over the desires that once help him captive. The old appetite was dead.

In the subsequent months, James experienced fleeting thoughts that reminded him of his old ways, but that’s all they were – fleeting thoughts. Gone was the haunting, gnawing, all-consuming obsession. A few years later, James went through a brief period when the pull became very strong again. He didn’t give in, but he wondered why the resurrection of the old appetite? The Spirit spoke once more. “You moved on, but the enemy didn’t. You’re still weak, I’m still strong. You need me every day. Remember that and you’ll be fine.” The ride for James has been much smoother with that piece of counsel.

Maybe James’ story is your story. Oh, the specific appetite may be different, but you know where your struggle is. And so does God. And so does Satan. And I don’t know of any way out other than the path James took. Hopefully you are a faster learner than James was. By the way, in case you were wondering, the story is true. I know because I am James.