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Road to Recovery #7: “MAINTAINING MOMENTUM”

(adapted from R.Warren, Celebrate Recovery)
Mark 14:38 / Ps.1:1-6; Gal.5:24-6:5

We’ve been talking in the previous 6 sermons in this series about coming out of the dark, exposing our problems to the light of God’s love, and watching Him heal those habits, hurts, and hang-ups that mess up our lives. Today we’re looking at, how do you maintain your recovery? How do you not lose the progress you are making in your Christian life?
    The fact is, growth is not smooth. The Road to Recovery is jagged. It’s two steps forward, one step back. It isn’t all easy. You have problems, you fall back into self-defeating patterns. That’s called relapse. The alcoholic goes back to drinking. The overeater gains the weight back. The gambler goes back to the casino. The workaholic fills up his schedule again. We tend to repeat the patterns of our past. It’s very easy to slip back into old hurts, old habits, and old hang-ups. Today we’ll look at what causes a relapse and then the maintenance step, which is Step 7 on the Road to Recovery, how to avoid a relapse.
    Relapses happen in a very predictable pattern. First comes complacency. You start getting comfortable with short-term gains. You start saying, “I don’t need any more help; my pain has been reduced, not eliminated but reduced, but I can live with reduced pain.So I don’t need to go to the groups any more.I don’t need to work the steps any more.I don’t need a counselor or a sponsor” – and you become complacent.
    Second comes confusion. That’s when you start rationalizing, saying, “Maybe it wasn’t really so bad after all, the problem really wasn’t that bad, I can handle it myself.” You start forgetting how bad it was.
    Then you go to compromise. You go back to the place of temptation. You return to the risky situation that got you in trouble in the first place, whether it’s the bar, or the mall, or Laura Secord’s or Dairy Queen, or whatever. You go back to that place. Like the gambler who says, “Let’s go to Vegas, we’ll just see the shows.” [SURE!] You start compromising.
    Then comes catastrophe where you give in to the old habit, old hurt, and the hate comes back, or the resentment comes back, or the old hang-up. You need to understand that the col-lapse is not the re-lapse. The catastrophe is not when the relapse happens; it started much earlier. The catastrophe is simply the result of the pattern that happened.
    Why do we fall back? Why, even when we know which way to go, when we know the right thing, why do we tend to go back on what we know is right?


1) Reverting to willpower. Galatians 3:3: “How can you be so foolish? You began by God’s Spirit, do you now want to finish on your own power?” You start off trusting God, and Step 1 is I’m powerless to change, but Step 2 is God has the power, Step 3 is I’m giving it to God. And you let God make those changes in your life, but after a while you start thinking, “It’s me that’s doing this, I’m making the changes.It’s my power.” And you resort to good ol’ willpower and that doesn’t work. You have a few successes and suddenly think you’re all powerful, all knowing and can handle everything. But guess what? You’re not and you can’t! You’re mortal and finite and put your pants on one leg at a time like all the rest of us. And God will let you relapse and relapse until you realize you can’t do it on your own. He’ll just let you fall, 100, 200, 300 times till you admit, “God, I can’t do it.” Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord...You will succeed because of My Spirit.” Only God has the power to take away those defects. If you go back to willpower you’re going to relapse. If you’re thinking, “I’ll just try harder,” forget it!
2) Ignoring one of the steps. We get in a hurry. We try to move through the steps too quickly, maybe you want to skip a difficult step like, “I don’t think I need that one last week on ‘making amends’; I’ll settle for partial recovery; and we’ll just kind of skip that one that says, ‘Go back to the people you’ve harmed.’” No, you need to do all the steps or it doesn’t work. And you need to follow what the Bible has said are principles for life. So there’s no quick fix. You didn’t get into this mess overnight; you’re not going to get out of it quickly. You need to do all the steps. Galatians 5:7, “You were doing so well! Who made you stop obeying the truth?” Keep working the steps.Maintain your momentum.Stay with the basics.
3) Trying to recover without support. This sounds like: “I’ll just get well by myself.I don’t need anybody else’s help.” You’re asking for a relapse. “I’ll listen to these sermons, I’m not going to go to counseling, I’m not going to go to Celebrate Recovery, I’m not going to go to small group; I’ll listen to these messages and I’ll just get well on my own.” Wrong! It doesn’t work that way. Eccl 4:9-10, “Two are better off than one because if one of them falls down, the other can help him up.But if someone is alone and falls it’s too bad because there’s nobody there to listen and lift him up or help him.” You can’t lick this problem alone. If you could have you would have: but you can’t so you won’t. When you’re tempted and things are going bad, who you gonna call? Like the song says, “We all need somebody to lean on.” We need support, and you’re not going to make it in life if you don’t have those relationships. Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together.” You can see short-term gains in your life without involving other people if you’ll do these steps. Yes; you can do these steps on your own and you’ll see short-term effects, but you cannot do long-term recovery without relationships. The root of your problem is relational. You can go out and practice these things on your own and not get involved with anybody else. It will work for a while but it won’t work for long and you will relapse, guaranteed. It’s kind of like driving a car at 90 kilometres an hour and you take your hands off the wheel; you’re not going to crash immediately but it will happen inevitably. And if you don’t get support when the temptation comes and then you don’t feel like doing the right thing, who’s going to help you do the right thing? If you fall, who’s there to help you?
    In order to avoid a relapse you need to get support in your life. Because of denial you often can’t see your own problems. So we need each other to serve as mirrors. That’s the value of sharing our stories – when you share your story I see some of myself in it. I would never have seen it in me except you shared it about you. And when I share, you see part of yourself in me. And so when you share a testimony it brings healing to yourself and hope to other people.
4) We become prideful. We get overconfident and prideful and say, “I’m strong.I’ve got this hurt licked.I’ve got this habit licked.I’ve forgiven them, closed the door.It’s OK.” Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction.” You need to stay humble or you’ll stumble. Remember the lesson of the whale: When you get to the top and are ready to blow, that’s when you get harpooned! Pride gets us in all kinds of trouble. Pride sets us up for a fall. It blinds us to our own weaknesses; keeps us from seeking help, prevents us from making amends to other people, and keeps us from doing all the steps fully. The biggest problem with pride is that it causes us to blame other people for our own problems. You push it off on somebody else. Like the guy who went to a psychiatrist and said, “I’ve got a problem, I think.” The psychiatrist said, “I’m going to show you some pictures, you tell me what they are and then I’ll tell you what your problem is.” He holds up a picture of a square. The guy says, “I see an apartment window and inside there’s a couple making love.” The psychiatrist holds up a circle. The man says, “I see a beautiful white beach, that’s a beach umbrella, and underneath it there’s a couple making love.” He holds up a triangle.  The guy says, “I see a beautiful reservation and that’s an Indian teepee and inside there’s a couple making love.” Psychiatrist says, “We don’t have to go any further, you are obsessed with sex.” He said, “Me, obsessed with sex?! You’re the one showing the dirty pictures!”
    “It’s not my problem, it’s somebody else’s problem, somebody else’s fault, THEY’RE responsible.” That’s pride talking; pride causes us to blame other people. 1Cor 10:12: “So if you think you’re standing, watch out that you do not fall.” The secret of lasting recovery is to live with humility. It’s the best protection for a relapse. Not get prideful, think you’ve got it all together. No. I’m getting it together, but I don’t have it all together; I’m getting it together. Live with a constant state of humility in your life – that’s the best protection.
    Years ago before the Soviet Union broke up, there was a German teenage boy who flew a private plane into Soviet airspace and landed it in the Kremlin in Red Square. The most heavily guarded air space in the world and a kid flies right into it! That’s a parable of life – your greatest weakness is often a supposed strength. You say, “I’ve got this all together” – “Let him who stands take heed less he fall.” “Oh, my marriage would never fall apart!” Watch out. “I’d never get addicted to anything.” Watch out. “Let him who stands take heed lest he fall.” Because often the very area you think you’re strongest in is not as strongly guarded as you suppose, and that’s where a potential enemy’s going to fly in and land right in the middle of it.


This is based on Mark 14:38: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation, for the Spirit is willing but the body is weak.” Jesus is saying it’s human nature to have a relapse, to go back to things that mess us up even though we know they mess us up. It’s human nature to let past problems revisit us, old hurts, and hang-ups come back to haunt us. So Jesus is saying, you need to have some safeguards. And that’s what this step is about: there are three safeguards that help you maintain your recovery, 3 maintenance tools:
1) EVALUATION. 2Cor 13:5 says, “Check up on yourselves.” (Examine yourselves, test yourselves.) Lamentations 3:40, “Let us examine ourselves and let us repent.” What do we first examine? and when?
What to Evaluate—Four kinds of inventories:
(a) Physical: You ask the question, “What is my body telling me?” Your body is a barometer of what’s happening inside you. You have tense muscles? Guess what? You’re under stress. You have a headache or a backache. What is it saying to you? Your body is a barometer, a warning light that maybe something is wrong, and so periodically you need to stop, maybe in the middle of the day and say, “What is my body saying to me? Am I hungry? Am I tired? Am I fatigued? Am I stressed out?” Check out some clues that maybe things are out of line.
(b) Emotional: What am I feeling right now? Am I allowing my real feelings to surface - or am I just pushing them down? Pushing down your real feelings is like shaking up a Coke bottle and not taking the cap off; it’s going to blow eventually. You do what we call a “heart check”: H - Am I hurting? If you are hurting and won’t admit it and deal with it, it’s going to mess up what you’re doing. E - Am I exhausted? A - Am I angry? R - Do I resent anybody? T - Am I tense? anxious? fearful?
(c) Relational: Am I at peace with everyone? If you’re not, that internal conflict is going to hold you back from your recovery. There are some people around you that you obviously know when you are having conflict with. But there are other people many miles away…Do you realize you let some people live rent free in your mind? Aunt Bertha hurt you fifteen years ago and she lives a thousand miles away, yet you wake up thinking about her. You’re letting her live rent free in your mind. Preoccupied with it; it’s controlling you. You’ve got to let it go. Ask yourself, “Is there anybody living rent free in my mind? Am I holding on to a hurt?”
(d) Spiritual: Am I relying on God? Moment by moment am I relying on God? When you do an inventory at work, like a grocery store, you don’t just look at the bad fruit that’s spoiled, you look at the good fruit too. When you do an inventory you want to say, “What’s good in my life?” You celebrate any minor victory, no matter how small it is, on a daily basis. “I told the truth at least once today.” Or, “I blew up three times but I was calm twice.” Or, “I at least wanted to be unselfish in that situation.” You celebrate, no matter how small the progress is, “I’m making progress.” You do an evaluation, celebrate your successes and confess your failures, but be grateful for what you have done that’s right. Gal 6:4, “Each one should test his own action.Then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to somebody else.” You can be proud in a good way – “I’m proud of what God’s doing in my life; I’m grateful that God is working and I’m seeing progress in my life.”
When do I do my evaluation? Evaluation is kind of like cleaning house, and there are three ways you can clean a house: (1) Some of you are neatnicks. You are instant cleaners, you live with a Dustbuster strapped to your holster. You walk around behind the kids, picking up after them, like those waiters at restaurants who take your plate before you’ve finished your meal. (2) Others of you kind of clean house at the end of the day. Look around the house, pick it all up, do a daily clean up, keep the thing from falling completely apart. (3) Others of you clean it up once a year, whether the house needs it or not - kind of like spring cleaning. This is the same way you can do an inventory...
1) Spot check inventory. At any time of the day, you start feeling the pressure build you stop and ask, “What is my body saying to me? What are my emotions saying? Am I tuned into God right now? Do I have any relational conflict?” You try to deal with it immediately, because the longer you postpone a problem, the worse it gets. You need to learn to do what some call “spiritual breathing”. Spiritual breathing can be described this way: when you’ve blown it, you immediately confess the sin, blow it out and breathe in God’s love, “I receive Your forgiveness.” That’s spiritual breathing. You need to learn to do that on a moment-by-moment basis. You can do spiritual breathing a thousand times a day as the need be. Keep short accounts with God. Don’t let those sins stockpile. If you keep short accounts when you do that Step 4 Moral Inventory, it doesn’t take 16 pages, because you’ve had short accounts. How often do you take out the garbage? If you just let it pile up, pretty soon your house starts stinking! You have to take it out. And your life starts stinking if you don’t deal with the garbage that’s in it on a moment-by-moment basis. So the spot check inventory is whenever you need it.
2) Daily review. At the end of the day find a quiet spot and review your day, confess your failures, celebrate your victories, look at your day.
3) Annual checkup. Kind of like spring cleaning. You go away for a day, do a moral inventory, take some time off to really look at your life – see if it’s in order, prioritize the things in your life.
Meditation is a good Biblical word that simply involves slowing down long enough to hear God, to focus on what He’s saying, usually “seeded” by a verse or Scriptural truth. Busy-ness stifles recovery and growth. Satan fights nothing harder in our lives than this issue – so determine to make sure you get time alone with God, quiet time. Maybe you’re like Susannah Wesley, who had so many children, she’d just sit on a chair in the kitchen and throw the apron up over her head – when she did that, the children knew she was taking some time alone with God and they’d better not bug her. Satan will fight this, though - he has three tools he uses: noise, crowds, and hurry. Those three things can keep you from hearing God on a personal basis.
    Psalm 1:1-3: “Happy are those who are always meditating on God’s laws and thinking about ways to follow Him closely.They are like trees on a river that do not dry up, they succeed in everything they do.” The key to growth is to have roots down deep in God’s Word, and the way you get roots down deep in God’s word is to meditate on it, seriously think about what you read in the Bible for a little bit then ponder, “What does this mean to my life?” That’s meditation. “How can I apply this to me?” When you do that the Lord says, “You’re like a tree planted by the river and when the heat’s on you won’t wither away and when the drought comes you won’t dry up and blow away.” You don’t have a relapse.
    We need each other and we need God’s Word to help us keep on the Road to Recovery. Notice the benefit – He says those who meditate “succeed in everything they do.” Succeed! How would you like to succeed in everything you do? God says, “Simple, just meditate on the Word.” That habit alone will help you know the right thing to do, and then you end up succeeding. The Bible is God’s guidebook, “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” (B-I-B-L-E), the Manufacturer’s Handbook – life becomes easier when you follow the instructions.
    How do I meditate on God’s word? Psalm 119:11, “I thought much about Your words and stored them in my heart so that they would hold me back from sin.” In short, “I think about Your words, I store them in my heart.” How? You memorize. As we think about God’s Word, chew on it like a cow chewing its cud, and memorize key principles and key passages, it keeps us from sinning. The Holy Spirit reaches in at a moment of crisis and pulls up that truth, steels us with it, holds us back from relapse. You want to avoid temptation? Think about God’s word; meditate. If you know how to worry, you know how to meditate! Worry is just negative meditation. When you worry, you take a negative thought and think on it over and over and over. If though, instead, you take a verse of the Bible and think on it over and over and over – that’s called meditation. So if you know how to worry, you know how to meditate. Worry is sort of like meditation in reverse gear.
Now there’s a third tool that God says will be helpful to you in maintaining your recovery and that’s prayer. Prayer can do whatever God can do. In fact it is the way that you plug in to God’s power. You may say “I can’t do it” but God can. How do I get God’s power? You get it through prayer. You can pray about any need in your life. God is a loving Father, maybe the Father you never had. You can pray about a financial need, a physical need, relational need, a spiritual need, emotional need...He will take care of any need. Chuck Swindoll tells of a lady who had 12 children but didn’t get married until she was 31 years old. She said she never worried about getting married, she just laid it in the Lord’s hands and trusted Him with her future. However, she said that every night she hung a pair of men’s pants on the end of the bed and she would kneel down at the end of the bed and pray this prayer: “Father in Heaven, hear my prayer / and grant it if You can;/ I’ve hung a pair of trousers here,/ please fill them with a man.” Chuck told that story to his church; about a month later he got a letter from the mother of a teenage boy who’d been there and heard that sermon but the mother’d missed it. Her letter said, “Pastor Chuck, I don’t know if this is serious or not.I was just wondering what you thought about it – every night when my boy goes to bed he hangs a bikini at the end of his bed.” (!) Prayer can do what God can do.
    How do I pray? Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 6:8-13, “This then is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, may your holy name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.Give us today the food we need, forgive us the wrongs that we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.Do not bring us to temptation, but keep us safe from the evil one.” Notice a couple of things about the Lord’s Prayer. First, circle the word “how.” Notice it says this is “how” you should pray. It does not say this is “what” you should pray. It says “how,” it’s a sample, not an exact template but a general model. It’s not a ritual to be prayed, so familiar that you forget what the words mean as you’re saying it. A couple of verses right before this prayer, Jesus says don’t get stuck on a ritual prayer, don’t have “vain repetitions”, empty phrases. This was not a prayer to be used as a ritual, it’s a model. This is not what you should pray, this is how you should pray.
    Notice that all of the recovery steps are covered in this prayer. “Our Father in heaven, may Your holy name be honored” – that’s saying I realize I’m not God but You are – that’s Steps 1 and 2. “May Your kingdom come; may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – that’s Step 5. “Give us this day our daily bread” – that’s Step 3. “Forgive us our debts” – that’s Step 4. “As we forgive others” – that’s Step 6. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”  – that’s relapse, that’s this step. You see, recovery is as old as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus Christ gave us the principles by which we can find full recovery.
    If you’ve got an issue in your life that you say “no matter what I do I can’t get over it,” the good news is (and we’ve been saying this for weeks) that you matter to Jesus Christ and He has the power to help you. You can make the changes with His help, that you want to make and He wants you to make, if you will just step across the line and let Him do it. The choice is yours! Let’s pray.