He was addicted no doubt about it. The first time he called into the radio station I told him, “Harry, it’s the best thing I ever did for myself.”
Addictions never leave you alone. Addictions don’t care if you call yourself a Christian. Smoking is one of the worst, but a few don’t think so because it’s one of the addictive habits that were once “acceptable.”
Of course everyone has read the stats on smoking and quit, right? Right, I mean what kind of stupid would it be to keep smoking after reading those grave numbers, huh? Yet, addiction has very little to do with intelligence.
“The doctor tells me if I quit smoking,” Harry mentioned at his third call that week, “then I can have the heart operation I’m needing.”
“So how’s it going?”
“Oh, I do pretty well for a day or two than bam I’m back to smoking as bad as ever.”
Guilt didn’t move Harry to change. He was beyond feeling guilty. Harry knew all the negative stuff. He told me that he could barely get his lungs kick started in the morning and, “Oh Lord, you should see the crap I cough up.”
“Yeah, no thanks Harry, I remember that gunk.” Nope, guilt wouldn’t work on Harry but still I felt some (humanity) obligation to reason with him; I tried to hook his faith. “Harry I’m sure you’ve prayed about this?”
“Well sure, my church is praying. I think the whole world is praying.”
Nonetheless, Harry kept smoking and because he did the doctor would be prevented from performing surgery or so Harry said. Addictions often make you a terrible liar.
“All right let me give you something that might help. Harry the next time you’re tempted to smoke say this: “Every temptation is an opportunity to get closer to Jesus … Does that make sense?”
“Sure, I’ll try it. I like it. It makes sense. How’s that go again?”
I repeated the phrase. Harry told me he wrote it down. I prayed he’d see the truth wrapped in the words. Addiction is so noisy it’s difficult to hear anything else.
Two months past by before Harry called me back. During his absence I’d reflected about why people have such a hard time quitting an addiction. Occasionally I’ve heard people advise, “Just give it to Jesus (and leave it there).” As if Jesus had a magic wand he’d wave and fix whatever. But often I listened to other stories about disappointment because giving it to Jesus rarely made a lot of difference. Certainly for some it did but for a lot of others it didn’t. They needed something more. “Lord God what do we need?”
I guess I hoped to offer a formula. If I do this, this will happen. I like formulas. A formula is easy to follow once I make the decision to follow it. And if a formula doesn’t work then it isn’t my fault and I can always blame the failure on the faulty formula or the person who gave me the formula. “Naw I tried that it don’t work.”
I’d been there myself. And I had an objection and an excuse for everything. Addiction of any sort is a cruel, demeaning master. How do you beat addiction? If, “Jesus you take it!” isn’t sufficient then what? I wonder how quickly you’re going to follow this formula? I thought about it and began to doodle, then penciled what I was thinking:
1) You have to want to quit your addiction
2) You have to take personal responsibility for your addiction
3) You have to resist and refuse to go along with the temptation of addiction. Then
4) You have to ask for God’s help with your addiction. But that isn’t enough because then
5) You have to cooperate with God in giving up your addiction, not just once but continually.
Four big steps before you get to the fifth, but when you act on this advice you will begin to enjoy freedom. The continual cooperation with Jesus means you’re working on the addiction together. You have a relationship. A working relationship that can grow into something more.
I waited for Harry to call back. When he did I planned to tell him my idea. The red light flashed on the incoming studio phone. “Good to hear from you Harry I was wondering what happened to you?”
“Well I had the operation.” I heard his labored breathing, his voice barely louder than a whisper. “The surgeon did what he planned to do.”
“That’s good. Have you quit smoking?”
“I did for a while.” … Short, shallow breath…. “And now I’m smoking again.” … A gasp and a sigh…. “Not as much though.”
Addictions have no mercy.
As I’ve told other addicted callers, since Harry, about the five steps I scribbled on a piece of scrap paper I’ve heard stories of deliverance. I’ll save a few of those stories for later.
“Just give it to Jesus” is enough for some because they have already made the choice they’re quitting their addiction.
For many, though, this isn’t enough. To those I say the first thing you must do to quit an addiction is say to yourself, “I’m not doing this anymore.”
You have to want to. You begin to understand why you can’t afford to waste anymore time getting less than everything Jesus has to offer. Actually the best thing I ever did for myself was to keep cooperating with Jesus. Truthfully, our relationship is much more satisfying than my past addiction. I pray Harry found this truth too.