Pastor, Are You Trapped in Pornography?
My Beloved Brother,
I write this letter with tears in my eyes because I know firsthand the hopelessness and darkness you are now experiencing. In spite of repeated promises to quit, you remain trapped in an uncontrollable habit of pornography and masturbation.
There is a part in the movie, Fellowship of the Ring, where Aragorn asks Frodo if he is frightened. Frodo responds, “Yes.” Aragorn then ominously says what I want to say to you: “You are not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.” A devil is stalking you, luring you and dragging you into ever greater darkness. The “power of the ring” is growing stronger in its grip on you. If I sound like I am being overly dramatic, the truth is that I am not being nearly dramatic enough: you have every reason to fear.
However, I also want to tell you that it is my unshakable testimony that God can lead you out of this dark valley back into the blessedness of His presence. To find this path of escape will require painful self-examination and a heart-felt, no-excuses repentance. I promise you that if you will do what is outlined in this article, you will find freedom. Let’s begin by appraising the situation, using the lives of David and Samson to represent two different types of pastors who become addicted to pornography and sexual sin.
David and Samson: Men Called by God, but Caught in Sin
David had a unique hunger for the Lord from the time he was a young boy tending sheep in the wilderness. His spiritual appetite intensified as he spent time with Samuel and deepened during his years of running for his life from Saul. Undoubtedly, David was hitting his spiritual peak when he became king at the age of 30. Yet, within 20 years, he had committed the unthinkable: he had lured Bathsheba into adultery and had her husband killed. How did it happen? It seems that the palace life sapped David’s spiritual hunger. Everything around him: his increasing responsibilities, his fame and fortune, and his growing pride all combined to dry up his life in God. He became easy prey for a stalking predator.
Perhaps you can relate to David. You too once walked closely with the Lord. You have known the hand of God on your life and experienced His power in your ministry. But little by little, your intimacy with Him has waned. Quite possibly you have experienced what Corrie Ten Boom once warned about: ‘Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.’ Maybe your work became more important to you than your walk with the Lord. It could be that your devotional life gradually withered away until the heavens seemed like brass and the Word of God became stale and lifeless.
Little did you realize that all this time you had a fearsome enemy dogging your every step, feeding your idol of “success,” biding his time until you became so spiritually weak that you could be lured into sin. Let’s not have any patronizing nonsense that you “fell” into sin as if you were walking along a path in the dark and suddenly—through no fault of your own—stumbled into a hole. There is a reason why it happens. Believers are vulnerable to temptation when they are not walking in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16)
Once you reached that place of spiritual weakness, the enemy set into motion his malignant scheme to bring you down. Perhaps you became curious about pornography but underestimated its power. One glimpse of it unleashed a poison that rocketed into your soul and instantly spread throughout your being. However it initially happened, it quickly seized your heart and you found yourself going back to it time and again.
Or perhaps your situation is more comparable to Samson’s. He too had the call of God upon his life, but never really enjoyed deep fellowship with Him. From his earliest days he was given over to lust, taking every opportunity to seek out forbidden Philistine beauties. His life was one spiritual failure after another, until he found himself in the lap of Delilah with the Philistines upon him.
You have had struggles with masturbation and pornography since your teen-aged years. You knew the Lord was calling you into ministry and thought you would attain victory in Bible school, but you found that freedom was just as elusive there as it had been at home. Then you saw marriage as the way out, but alas, once again you found yourself returning to the hog trough. You have experienced brief moments of God’s presence, but “the sin” was always lurking one step away. You have never really known what it means to truly walk in the Spirit.
Regardless which illustration you identify with, the bottom line is that you are now in the clutches of something very evil. Whether you realize it or not, Delilah has set you up and you are now languishing in a Philistine prison of gloom and darkness. The eyes of faith, which once held glorious visions of victories to be won for God, have been mercilessly gouged out. The anointing that once flowed with power and unction has been quenched. The mouth which once was filled with Holy Ghost-inspired messages now serves up weak, uninspired sermons. You have lost the God-given authority to speak His Word: “What right have you to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth? For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you.” (Psalm 50:16-17)
Your life’s work has disintegrated into a meaningless existence of going through the motions—pushing a grindstone in a Gazan prison. You are surrounded by heckling devils, mocking all that your life once represented. “Our god has given our enemy into our hands!” (Judges 16:24)
If your sins are of such nature that they have become public knowledge, you have given the world one more excuse to disdain all that Christianity stands for. Oh, how unbelievers love juicy newspaper accounts of yet another fallen minister. You have shattered the trust of your family, your congregation, your fellow pastors and your community. Because of your actions, “the way of the truth (has been) maligned.” (2 Peter 2:2)
It’s likely that you are in a sin-induced stupor, making you insensible to the great danger surrounding you. Most likely you vacillate between the extremes of faithless despair and stubborn denial. David was in his sinful condition for at least a year before the prophet put his bony finger in his face and exclaimed, “You are the man!” It took piercing words to penetrate his calloused heart.
If it seems like I’ve been too hard on you, the truth is that I haven’t been nearly strong enough. You are a representative of the thrice holy God. What a frightening position to hold! No wonder James warned, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (3:1) Your danger is not only from a wicked foe, but also from the God whose Son you have “trampled under foot.” (Hebrews 10:29-31) Please remember that these hard-sounding words come from a man who had to face them in his own life.
Uprooting Entrenched Sin
Over a period of fifteen years, I became increasingly involved in sexual sin until I reached the point where nothing was too shameful for me. “But God, rich in mercy…” heard my cries for help and eventually helped me overcome sexual addiction. However, my heart remained full of corruption and lust. The memories of sexual scenes I had witnessed or experienced were still very vivid. There were times I despaired of ever having a pure heart. Could a man such as me really be purged of the knowledge of evil? Would I ever be able to forget those pornographic images that seemed forever etched upon my mind? Would I always lust over pretty girls? Was it possible for me to make love to my wife without fantasizing about other women?
The answer to each of these questions is a resounding yes! Today I can sincerely testify that the Lord has truly purified my heart. This freedom is there for you as well. However, I must warn you that it will not be appropriated cheaply or easily. I refuse to offer you psychological gimmicks, superficial solutions or pain-free alternatives. Instead, I will share with you the biblical principles that worked in the lives of me and many others.
It should be obvious that before a man can find purity of heart he must put away the pornography once and for all. This requires open confession to, and accountability with, your wife, friends and associates. A good Internet filter is also mandatory. Enough has been written about these topics that a passing reminder should be sufficient here.
Of more long-term consequence is what God desires to do within you. Having an Internet filter or an accountability partner will not wipe away memories, purge sin or cleanse your heart. A deeper work must be accomplished in your inner man. The truth is that somewhere along the way the foundation of your spiritual and ministerial life has become terribly corrupted. This is no small matter and minimizing it will only exacerbate your dilemma. And yet, chances are, that is exactly what you have done.
Consider an automobile that is running very poorly. The owner has the car towed to the shop, convinced that a tune-up will rectify the problem. “Sir,” the mechanic informs him, “the engine in this car is shot. Getting a tune-up is a waste of time. It needs a complete overhaul!” You too need more than a few minor adjustments—you need God to do an overhaul of your life.
Consider one more illustration. A man breaks a bone in his ankle. He knows that if he goes to the emergency room, the attending physician will have to wrench his foot in order to reset the bone. The thought of this terrifies him, so he ignores the problem, even though every step brings wincing pain. Because of his unwillingness to face a moment of greater pain in the doctor’s office, he must live the remainder of his life as a cripple.
My dear brother, God wants to cleanse you, free you and use you for His Kingdom. Will you spend the rest of your ministerial career buried by this sin, unwilling to do the difficult thing? Will you eventually become one of the “false teachers” Peter speaks of, “who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires… having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin?” When you stand before God, will the terrible judgment of Second Peter 2 serve as an indictment against your life?
The Way Out
In your case, it is not a foot that must be wrenched; it is your self-life. Over the past twenty years, I have experienced numerous breakings from the Lord’s hand. I mostly attribute the inner purity I now enjoy to those experiences: brokenness restores innocence. In his excellent book, The Release of the Spirit, Watchman Nee asks, “Can one who is unbroken, but whose teachings are right, supply the need of the church?”
Brokenness is a precious thing to God because it allows Him to accomplish His perfect will, use His power and still receive all the glory. Unfortunately, in many people’s lives, SELF becomes the Lord’s greatest competitor. Jesus spoke of two different types of brokenness people face. “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (Matthew 21:44) The implication is that if a person will not allow Jesus to break his self-life and all that comes with it—self-will, self-indulgence, self-glory, etc.—then he will be “broken without remedy.” (Proverbs 29:1)
Such was the case of Samson, who apparently ignored numerous warnings from the Lord. His last days on earth were spent languishing in a Philistine prison, occasionally being brought out to play the part of a clown before his tormentors.
David, on the other hand, threw himself on the mercy of God: “Wash me thoroughly, cleanse me, and purify me,” he cried. “Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Create in me a clean heart, O God. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51) Unlike many who attempt to minimize or justify their actions, David thoroughly acknowledged his guilt. This was a man who was truly broken over his sin and freed from its power. Every attempt to justify or minimize what you have done will weaken God’s ability to purge your sin.
Perhaps you realize that you are in spiritual trouble but don’t know what to do. You would welcome a Psalm 51 experience but feel dead and unbroken inside. As you know, you cannot make yourself experience brokenness. However, you can do what the old-time Pentecostals used to do: tarry before the Lord until you get the breakthrough you need!
Get alone with the Lord in a place where telephones and secretaries can’t reach you; somewhere no one can hear you pour out your heart. The best setting would be a remote cabin where you can fast and pray for several days. At the very minimum, spend four to six hours on your face before God. What is purity worth to you?
Plead for His mercy. Take a piece of paper and detail every sin you have committed. This is no time to go easy on yourself! Ask the Lord to convict you of the selfish attitudes that have allowed this sin to take root in your life. Don’t be like some pastors who always take the most painless path available and never find real freedom. Pray over and thoroughly study Psalm 51, II Timothy 3 and II Peter 2. These chapters are full of deep truths about God’s perspective on sin and repentance.
Above all else, don’t lose track of what you are there to do. Remember: Deep repentance brings about profound and lasting change. Paul said, “Godly grief and the pain God is permitted to direct, produce a repentance that leads to… deliverance from evil.” (II Corinthians 7:10 AMP) The Greek word for grief used by Paul describes a heart-wrenching, inner anguish over one’s sin. Allow the sword of the Spirit to plunge deeply into your heart. You could easily cry for three days straight if you really saw the ugliness of your sin and how it has hurt those around you.
A word of caution here: I have known men who have cried out to God for deliverance, yet still clutched their sin, refusing to let it go. A sincere penitent will do the hard things, such as confessing his sin to his superintendent. If you will earnestly seek God to bring about real repentance, He will not disappoint you.
The Fruits of Repentance
The deeper you allow God to break you, the more profoundly your thinking will be altered. One of the first things you must do is to thoroughly repent to your wife. Undoubtedly, you have hurt her in many ways. Not only have you been fixated on the bodies of other women, but you have probably also neglected her emotionally. Pornography nearly always causes a man to become aloof and distant with loved ones. If you have experienced a real breakthrough, your wife will immediately notice the change in the way you treat her and the children. Your intimacy with her will become far less carnal and much more loving. When I committed myself to putting my wife’s emotional and physical needs before my own in the marriage bed, fantasy lost its grip on me and I actually began to enjoy my wife sexually. The power of selfishness must be broken!
You should also see a noticeable change in your devotional life. Rather than dry prayer times and stagnant Bible study, you will discover a renewed thirst for God and hunger for His Word. This is just what you need. A vibrant time with the Lord every morning will not only help you in your own personal struggles, but it will also empower you in your ministry like never before!
Another thing that will change is your attraction to the allurements of the world. Every fallen pastor I have known was more familiar with the world’s offerings (sports, newspapers, Internet, television programs and secular talk shows) than with sitting in the Lord’s presence. Jesus said, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29) This is serious business! You must sever everything in your life that has fed a carnal mindset.
The greatest changes in your life may seem imperceptible. People will simply notice a softness in your countenance, a genuine passion for God and love for others that weren’t there before. Nothing will restore the shattered trust of others more than for them to see you persist in the humility and love that come through true brokenness.
If the temptations still seem overwhelming, you might consider doing something more dramatic like getting out of ministry for a time of restoration. God’s scalpel cuts deep in the Pure Life Ministries 9-month Residential Program: ungodly attitudes are transformed, sin is carved out and the power of God is imparted. Also available is a telephone counseling program.
Whatever path of restoration you choose, you will have to fight to regain your lost innocence. Jesus said that the violent take the Kingdom by force. You must become like Bartimaeus who refused to be silenced and Jacob who refused to let go. Ask, seek and knock and I promise you that God will abundantly meet your need.
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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