The concerned expression on the man’s face is one I have seen many times over the years. He is convinced he needs to enter the Pure Life Ministries’ Residential Program but is grieved about its length—almost frantically trying to negotiate a more reasonable compromise. “I could see coming for 30 days or even three months,” he complains, “but why, why does it have to be nine months long?”
I asked that same question of the Lord in 1989 when He directed me to begin our residential program in the hills of northern Kentucky. I honestly didn’t know if anyone would be willing to leave home for that long. In spite of my misgivings, I couldn’t escape the definite sense that the Lord was directing me.
After all these years I can now understand God’s wisdom in this. The simple answer is that a man will not experience the level of heart change he needs in a shorter period of time. The men who come to us to escape sexual sin need a complete transformation in the way they do life. Cheap shortcuts simply will not stand the test of time. There are many reasons I could mention to support the length of the program, but I will mention just a few.
A New Way of Thinking
First, dislodging addictive thinking takes time. It has taken years to establish the thinking patterns that have kept a man’s addiction stubbornly lodged within his life. Reading a good book, hearing a powerful sermon, attending a sexual addiction seminar or even going to a 30-day treatment center are not going to change the way a man views life. It is possible that he might be nudged in the right direction, but the notion that someone can suddenly change deeply entrenched habits of thinking in a short period of time is illusionary.
An addiction is a lifestyle that has been built upon learned reactions to outside stimuli. The man has repeatedly trained himself over the years to give in to temptations that come his way. Each indulgence in sin further strengthens the grip of the sin. “Ruts” are actually carved into his brain through habitual behavior. Nothing short of a prolonged separation from those enticements will allow his learned responses to change. Living in a godly environment, separated from those allurements, gives a man the opportunity he needs to break free from past destructive habit patterns.
A New Level of God’s Involvement
Second, freedom from habitual sin comes only through the power of God. There is no psychological gimmick that can provide the inward transformation an addict needs. Most men who come to us looking for help have been attending church for years and they can’t understand why God hasn’t set them free. What most don’t realize is that they have only skimmed the surface of Christianity. Their sin has kept them separated from the Lord. They have been flouting His authority in their lives and, at the same time, have been demanding He set them free from their sinful practices.
Two vital components to freedom come into play during a man’s stay at our residential center. For one thing, God’s presence is strong at Pure Life Ministries. Our staff spends hours every week seeking the Lord for His presence and interceding for the men in our program. So a guy arrives at Pure Life Ministries—dejected, hopeless, confused, full of spiritual darkness—and he has no idea the level of spiritual light he’s walking into! But as powerful as this atmosphere can be, a man who has soaked long in the cesspool of pornographic perversion must now soak long in God’s presence. Being internally cleansed of that filth simply takes time.
The other aspect to this is that most men who come to our residential center have attended church—done the evangelical, Christian thing—for years, while at the same time, maintaining a vibrant life of secret sin. That double-minded way of living the Christian life must be unlearned, and a new Christ-filled life must be learned and maintained long enough for it to become a lasting lifestyle. This requires a complete overhaul in the way one does life, and that does not happen in thirty days!
A New Way of Dealing with Emotions
Finally, there is an emotional dynamic that comes into play when a man first begins breaking away from habitual sin. A man’s stay in the Residential Program is almost predictable. As I already mentioned, most men arrive at our facility with very little hope that anything in their lives will actually change. Then, as they begin talking to other students and begin experiencing God’s presence, they start to get excited about the very real prospect that they are going to find the freedom they have long hoped for. This excitement—as is true of all emotions—eventually wears off as he enters the “endurance” stage of the program.
One of the common characteristics of Christian sex addicts is that their lives have been controlled by their feelings. If they “feel” like obeying God, they do. If they “feel” like indulging in sin, they do that. Their lives tend to be a roller-coaster, with no more stability than the waves of the sea. This is why they can sit in a powerful worship service on Sunday morning and be surfing pornographic websites that very night.
A victorious life in Christ cannot be maintained through such untrustworthy emotions. The staff is always happy to see a man filled with hope and excitement about getting free, but we know from years of experience that this period of excitement is going to wear off. It is absolutely vital that he is in the safe environs of the Residential Program when that happens. I can’t tell you how many men I have seen squander their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to find freedom because they left the program during the excitement stage. “I got this thing,” a man recently boasted as he was packing his car. Of course, within two weeks he had fallen back into his old habits.
This period of learning to endure through fluctuating feelings and various circumstances is so important because it is reflective of what real life will be like when he returns home. While the man is in the program he is learning to overcome temptations without being buoyed by emotions. A man who can overcome during the drudgery of life in the program is well on his way to being able to overcome in the drudgery of life he will face at home.
Phase II of the Residential Program also plays a key role in preparing the student to live in sustained victory. He has experienced the exhilaration of seeing light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. He has learned to go through the difficulties of life without caving in to temptation. In the final phase of the program he begins preparing for life in the “real world” in earnest. All three of these stages he will experience provide important aid in his quest for freedom.
So let’s cut to the chase. “Why does it have to be nine months long?”
Because that’s how long it takes to quit thinking and responding like an addict. Because that’s how long it takes soaking in the presence of God to flush out the filth. Because that’s how long it takes to learn to live in victory even in the down times. Because that’s how long it takes to establish the kind of victorious life with God that will last a lifetime.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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