The men’s prayer meeting had barely begun when he lay his head on the table and said, “I just can’t win over pornography.”
I now know that many Christian men struggle with sexual temptation. But there was a time when I thought it wasn’t a pervasive problem.
The problem in the church
Why was I so naïve? For much of my life, the internet didn’t exist. I went to Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, a place where only movies like The Sound of Music were acceptable. In Grade 11 on my first date, it didn’t even dawn on me that she might have wanted a hug.
As a young, happily married missionary pastor, I read “The War Within” in Leadership magazine, a watershed article in which a pastor confesses his problem with porn. He adds, “A recent convention of youth pastors resulted in the highest rental of X-rated movies in the hotel’s history.”
The article opened my eyes to the fact that this was a problem within the church. Some pastors openly questioned whether the author was a Christian, but others thanked him for verbalizing something they were struggling with. I read excerpts to the young men I was discipling, and we were able to begin to talk frankly about their problems in this area.
My own heart
When Erika and I married, we were both virgins, and we have been monogamous for 44 wonderful years. But what has limited my intimacy with God has been all the time I have wasted staring at other women.
In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen distinguishes between intellectual prayer and heart prayer. Prayer of the mind is where we talk or think about God. But we often treat God like a waiter in a restaurant who serves us day after day: we never chat with him on a personal level or even ask his name. What should be a dialogue becomes a monologue, and we stop praying because there are more pressing things to do, such as reading a book or getting breakfast ready. But many realize that the intellect has limits, which leads us to look for heart prayer.
Heart prayer is where we become intimate with the Lord, asking him to enter into our spirit and soul, reveal our sins, forgive us, guide us to make moral choices, and show us what our priorities should be. Heart prayer leaves nothing untouched. Jesus truly becomes our shepherd, and the Holy Spirit urges us to pray continually and so guides our lives.
When I pray from the heart, I allow Jesus into every area, including sexual temptation. Heart prayer leads to living with purity and glorifying God in all I do.
Scripture memory bears fruit
In Change your Heart, Change your Life, Gary Smalley describes his own victory over the temptation to mentally undress other women. He discovered that memorizing Bible passages created new paths in his memory, like trees bearing good fruit. (Laziness kept me from memorizing Scripture until I found a simple system.)
A key verse for Smalley – and myself – is Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to become an excuse for letting your physical desires control you; rather, serve one another in love.” (GNB) When I reject hedonism – the belief that my life should be pleasurable – I begin to think less about how others can please me and more about how I can serve them.
This summer, something wonderful happened. On a flight from Lima to Toronto, I noticed the flight attendant was very courteous and efficient with everyone. I said, “You’re so joyful!” She says something about life being good, and I instinctively knew she was a Christian. As I left the plane, I said, “I’ll see you in heaven” to which she responded, “Yes!”
I felt God telling me, “This is how I want you to treat every woman you meet from now on.” Not for a moment did it occur to me to analyze her figure, I was so focused on the way she treated her passengers and co-workers.
I’m praying to become a light like she was to every person I meet.