Winning the battle against same-sex temptations
On 12th May, the Lord willing, I will celebrate my twenty-fifth birthday. Before anyone retorts that I haven’t aged too well, I mean the anniversary of my being born again. The day God graciously “rescued [me] from the dominion of darkness and brought [me] into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).
When I came to faith I was living with my long-term same-sex partner. But through his word and by the Holy Spirit, God showed me that my first major act of repentance must be to end that relationship. I wish I could testify to twenty-five years of absolute purity and perfect self-control since then. Sadly not. I can bear witness, however, to the God who has shown absolute faithfulness and perfect mercy to me on those occasions where I have failed to “control [my] own body in a way that is holy and honourable” (1 Thessalonians 4:4) or where I have foolishly allowed a close friend to become an idol.
Despite much prayer, particularly in the early years, the Lord has never taken away my same-sex attractions or set me free from same-sex temptations. He has, though, graciously taught me that self-control is not an impossible goal. And convinced me that a life lived with same-sex temptations does not have to be a sad life, a lonely life or a frustrating life. I have, of course, experienced periods of sadness, loneliness and frustration. But then so have all my married friends.
After speaking at a youth event last year, someone texted in this question: “What’s the secret to winning the battle against same-sex temptations?” Well, I have no amazing secret to share. But one of the key things I’ve learnt through waging war for nearly a quarter of a century is to keep this struggle in perspective. Not to let it become the main thing, even though it will often press in and demand to be the main thing. So how can we do that? Here are three practical suggestions:
“I Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored.” Those famous words in Daniel 4:34, uttered by a pagan King who had been dramatically humbled by God, act as a great signpost for us in times of trouble, hardship and suffering. A common tendency amongst those of us who experience same-sex attractions is to curve in on ourselves and become unhealthily introspective. But the only way for our sanity to be restored in days of difficulty, darkness or deep despair is to look upward to the God of heaven. To focus on his amazing love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness, glory, faithfulness and so on.
In the Psalms, we find many examples of people pouring out their hearts to God in times of distress. The Psalmists don’t hold back their emotions and are not afraid to pose tough questions to God: “Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). “Record my misery; list my tears on a scroll – are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8). “Oh God, why have you rejected us for ever? Why does your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture?” (Psalm 74:1).
Our God is big enough to deal with all our pain. And with our all our frustration, fears and failings too. Amazingly, the God who rules heaven and earth wants to be involved in all the intricate details of our struggles and to help us. Peter confidently urges Christians to “humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). So, are you regularly pouring out your heart to the Lord in prayer and involving him in your battles? He cares for you. And all the resources of heaven are available to you. You only need to ask.
Another antidote to the natural tendency to focus too much on our own problems is to remember that there is always someone worse off than me. Far worse off. I was reminded of this recently when I watched a short video about Vaneetha’s story. Twenty-one surgeries by age thirteen. Years in the hospital. Verbal and physical bullying from schoolmates. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The death of a child due to a medical error. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Abandonment. Unwanted divorce. Yet, almost incredibly, Vaneetha rejoices in the Lord.
Serving others in need helps us to keep our own battles in perspective. Peter assumes every Christian has received at least one gift from God and says “each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Do you know what gift or gifts God has entrusted to you? If not, do pray and ask God to show you. Speak perhaps to a trusted Christian friend or a church leader. God wants us to look away from ourselves and our needs regularly as we faithfully administer his multi-coloured grace to others.
Your personal experience of being loved, accepted and involved in a local church might be far from perfect. But instead of bemoaning the failures of your church, much better to commit yourself to making a positive difference. Can you encourage that marginalised person who doesn’t seem to fit in? Or if you think your church is not great at hospitality, why not set a better example? You don’t have to be a great cook. You can welcome someone into your home for a cup of tea or coffee – and Mr Kipling still makes exceedingly good cakes!
Resisting same-sex temptations in a gay-affirming, relationship-obsessed culture is tough. As more church leaders succumb to the temptation to give people “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3) it will only get harder to swim against the tsunami of popular opinion. But if you are tempted to stop resisting, remember Jesus urges that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
True, the narrow road that precludes any sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage appears restrictive. Like it might hold you back and suffocate you. But the paradox of the gospel is that this narrow road broadens out and brings you into a spacious place. A place of true freedom. A place where, in eternity, your sanity will be fully and finally restored and where you’ll experience unceasing joy as you “are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
This article was first published in the Spring 2017 edition of "Ascend", the TFT newsletter