If you’ve been in recovery for very long, you may have noticed that addicts and alcoholics do great in prisons and programs but, when we get out, we seem to fall flat on our faces. Furthermore, it could even be argued that we don’t just survive in these places… we thrive in them. For example, we maintain our sobriety for extended periods of time, all without incident, something we can’t seem to do on the streets. We start putting weight back on and we even begin to rebuild broken relationships with our friends and family, and they start daring to trust in us, once again. Last, but certainly not least, many of us even come to develop the intimate relationship with God that we had formerly neglected on the streets and, as a direct result of this relationship, we begin to put the wants and needs of God and others before our very own. By definition, we’re not just surviving in these places, we’re thriving in them.
Then something happens; whether it be early or on time, we get released and, consequently, the growth stops and we go back to our old lifestyle. Now, upon leaving these places, some of us manage to make it a few weeks, or even a few months, in rare cases. But, in our love/hate relationship with the addiction, the majority of us leave these institutions only to throw away everything we’ve worked so hard for and go back to our old mess once again. Why is that? Much like the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans, the cry of our heart says: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”(Romans 7:15 ESV). But once again, why is that? Why do we keep making the same mistakes over and over again by continually doing this to ourselves and our loved ones? More importantly, why can we stay sober in there, but not out here on the streets?
Undeniable Proof That You can be Recovered
Many people out there today will tell you that your addiction is a disease even though that has never been proven and, yet, if you were to throw an addict or alcoholic into a jail cell and remove all access to drugs or alcohol, the bottom line is that as long as he or she is in that cell… they are cured! This undeniable proof is true for 100% of all addicts and alcoholics, no matter how far gone they may be. However, if you were to throw someone with cancer or diabetes into a hospital bed and strap them down, that doesn’t even begin to treat their disease! If you take the time to think about it, this doesn’t line up. If addiction is a real disease just like other diseases, doesn’t that seem a bit odd to you? If not, it should! However, I digress... for now!
You see, each day millions of incarcerated addicts and alcoholics all over the world are walking in victory over their addictions. Now, whether that victory is forced upon them or not is a matter for another time. For now, regardless of where their victory comes from, there is no one who can deny the fact that the addicted who are admitted into prisons and programs can maintain their sobriety for days, weeks, months, even years at a time. In fact, in many cases, they can do so without exerting much mental effort to resist the temptation to use (out of sight, out of mind). Furthermore, these individuals walking in victory do not have to have a relationship with God to achieve this sobriety. In fact, all they have to do is have zero access to their temptation of choice.
So, this begs the question: What are the key things these two undesirable places provide us, in order to save us from ourselves? More importantly: Is there a way to obtain these things without having to go there? I’m pleased to say the answer is Yes!
Four Steps towards Jesus… towards victory
The following Four Steps are the elements that I believe prisons and programs provide that protect us from ourselves. Now, even though these Four Steps to victory are found mostly in jails and institutions to stop addicts and alcoholics from using, they are available for anybody and everybody who wishes to overcome any form of hurt, habit, hang-up, or unhealthy relationship out here on the streets. We have taken these four elements and re-forged them to fit our own Recovery Program. If you can incorporate the following Four Steps into your day-to-day life at home, I have observed that they will not only change your life forever but your addiction can become a thing of the past!
As you read the following Four Steps, no matter where you’re at in life, struggling with addiction or sin, read them with your current struggle in mind. I promise you will find your path to victory and, more importantly, your path to Jesus, as well. After we identify the Four Steps of ASAP, we will look deeper at how they are used in prisons and programs to protect us from ourselves. For now, let’s just look at them as Four Steps in the right direction or as Four Steps Towards Jesus… Towards Victory.
Step 1: Absolute Surrender
After realizing the darkness of our own heart and our inability to control it, we freely put up the white flag and unconditionally surrendered every area, every decision, every action, and every remaining day of our lives over to the care and control of God.
Step 2: Structure
Under the guidance of God, we took action to rebuild the broken pieces of our lives from the inside out. We did this through daily prayer, praise, worship, Bible reading, regular church attendance, frequent fellowship with other believers, continually saying no to self-centeredness and placing order and consistency where chaos used to reign.
Step 3: Accountability
Stepping out in faith, we took off our mask and made ourselves vulnerable to God, to ourselves, to our neighbor, and to a fellow believer of high integrity and good judgment. Throughout this radical change, God worked through this Godly mentor to love us, challenge us, correct us, encourage us, and point us to Himself every step of the way!
Step 4: Purpose
Having held nothing back from God during our transformation, we are no longer surviving... we are thriving! We have found new interests, honorable values, greater meaning, and victory in life. Most importantly, God has revealed to us our God-given purpose and we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; for us there is no going back!!!
Brothers and sisters, I don’t know what your struggle in life is: drugs, cigarettes, homosexuality, alcoholism, sin, gambling, or even weight loss. However, what I do know is that your struggle can be traced back to neglecting or rejecting one, if not all, of these four areas in your life! If you’ll notice, these Four Steps are the very things or key ingredients that prisons and programs provide us with that protect us from ourselves and keep us from using.
You see, not only do all four of these elements have the ability to drive you in the direction of a deeper relationship with Jesus and His life changing power, but I guarantee you that if you were to look back at your last relapse (or the last time that your relationship with God became complacent) you could trace it back to neglecting or flat out rejecting one or all of these four categories: Absolute Surrender, Structure, Accountability, and Purpose. Take a minute to replay the tape and think about it… I’ll wait!
Not only can you trace any relapse that you’ve had back to these four areas but you can also trace them back to any former success you’ve had in your life, as well. In order to prove it, let’s put these Four Steps under the microscope so that we may see the importance they play in our recovery and, more so, our Christianity.
Absolute Surrender: These are the things that I give to Jesus
In the numerous times I have gone to jail, the first thing that I’ve had to do is Absolutely Surrender my freedom and all rights to self at the door. The guards, the jail and the Warden are now in charge of every area, every decision, every action, and every remaining day of my life while I’m there. Likewise, when we check into a rehabilitation facility, they are now the ones in charge and calling all the shots in our life. This is a good thing because we have a long track record of making the wrong decisions. I don’t know about you but I can't help but notice that every time something bad happened to me in my life, I am the one who made the decision that led up to it. Amen?
Consequently, I’ve observed that when I’m not in charge of my life, things seem to go a lot smoother for me and, before long, I pass from surviving to thriving as mentioned above. Therefore, the best idea is to let someone else make my decisions for me until I am capable of making them on my own. The challenge set before us, then, is figuring out how do I incorporate on the street this same level of unconditional, Absolute Surrender to God and to someone else until I can be trusted with my freedom and become responsible enough to wield it for myself?
Structure: These are the things that push me to Jesus
These institutions also provide us with a solid amount of Structure, the very same structure that we lacked on the streets! These places tell us when to eat, when to sleep, when to go to class, when to go to work, and when to go to church. All of this forced structure and routine keeps us in a position of forced growth whether we feel like it or not. Again, this is a good thing because, when we’re on the streets, we don’t feel like it the majority of the time; there is no growth, there is no routine. We go to bed and wake up when we feel like it (or, more accurately, when we’ve slept it off). We often miss work or other obligations more often than not and, as far as attending things that force us into growth, such as meetings, church, Bible reading, or moral inventories, fuhgeddaboudit! Instead, we tend not to view these things as priorities in our life and they are often dismissed when feelings are absent or when more fun opportunities arise. Consequently, relapse is never far off!
Accountability: These are the things that bind me to Jesus
Whether it be forced or voluntary, from the moment we enter these places, we are Accountable to their rules and decrees. If we do not fall in line or if we do not do what we say we’re going to do, when we say we’re going to do it, there are repercussions. Sometimes we get kicked out, sometimes we get thrown in the hole and sometimes we get disciplined in other ways. Whatever the repercussions may be, the bottom line is that these places provide us with a standard for living and someone to look in the eye and give an account to for that standard… and there are consequences when we don’t.
On the streets, we’re only accountable to ourselves and, when we fall short, the consequences are often not felt or experienced because they are dulled by the influences of the drugs or alcohol in our system. We just shrug it off by saying something like, “My bad” and move on without taking the time to feel the pain that we have just caused ourselves or others by not being accountable for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
Purpose: These are the things that pull me to Jesus
If you were to take any prison or any program in the world (from the beginning of time until now) you would find that we have all shared or carried one common Purpose while there: getting out and going home! When it comes to being in one of these institutions, our group will do whatever those people in positions of authority tell us to do, for as long as they tell us to do it, if it means getting to go home one second sooner than the prescribed amount of time.
When it comes to knocking time off of our sentence, we will clean toilets, take out trash, do phase up paperwork, go to self-betterment classes, demonstrate good behavior (at least when they’re looking) or any other job that the rest of society would turn their nose up at, all for the sake of going home early. This is our Purpose! Now, it’s true that this purpose is not available to those of us on the streets, we’re already out; however, it does show us the power that Purpose can have in our lives.
On a deeper level, the real reason we do so well in these places is because this particular kind of purpose causes us to fall in line, accept our circumstances (or shortcomings), and forces us to better ourselves while in there. However, where everyone messes up is that they do not have another Purpose lined up (that is strong enough to hold them) for when they hit the finish line of this race and get out. Consequently, since we aren’t running towards anything after getting released, eventually, we always run back towards the addiction.
Come close to God & God will come close to you
Much like Joseph in the Old Testament (Genesis 37-50), God took me out of a pit and placed me in the palace, in a very short amount of time. God transformed me from prisoner to pastor in less than a decade and, throughout that process of life transformation, I have observed three very important truths. First, I have found that these Four Steps are the very things that prisons and programs provide that protect us from ourselves.
Second, I have found that Jesus doesn’t want you to live the rest of your life in a jail cell or in a program just so you can stay sober. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 NIV). You see, He wants to give you that same kind of healing and freedom right here on the streets where we you need it the most. If you will notice, Jesus said very plainly in the Gospel of Luke that giving you this kind of freedom was His God-Given Purpose for being here: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV).
The third thing I have observed over the years is that these Four Steps, or ingredients, were present in every victorious man or woman of God’s life that I’ve ever looked up to. These same steps have not only helped to keep me sober all these years, but they’ve also kept me growing in my relationship with Jesus. This is the same Jesus, mind you, who gave me the privilege of freedom in the first place and the continued power to just say no to the world, the flesh, and to the devil, so that I don’t have to go back to those places in order to regain forfeited power. I pray that, in the course of this book you would come to experience as well that these Four Steps Towards Jesus are at the very core of living a sober, growing, and well-balanced Christian life.
Reader, please know that we’re not looking for perfection here and neither is God. Perfection is His part, progress is ours; therefore, the goal here is always progress over perfection. In other words, if you will simply commit to wholeheartedly doing your best (whatever that may look like) and letting these Four Steps draw you closer towards God, God is standing by and eager to lift you out of your pit today, too! I wonder if you will you reach out today and grab His hand? If so, the Bible promises that if you draw close to God, He will do His part and draw close to you. “Come close to God, and God will come close to you(James 4:8 NLT).
Just so it’s perfectly clear to that voice inside your head trying to steer the ship, although God is not looking for our perfection, that’s not to say that He’s not interested in our participation. In fact, He is very interested in us doing our part, so much so, that in the second half of this verse He goes on to tell us exactly what our part should look like: “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James 4:8 NLT).
Friends, if you will notice, this verse teaches us that the way we do our part in drawing close to God is by being faithful (wash our own hands, purify our own hearts, and un-divide our loyalty). Unfortunately, if left to ourselves and our own motivations, none of us in recovery would do that. If we’re honest, that takes too much effort and consistency. However, that’s where these Four Steps come in and, although they can’t save you, they are designed to draw you closer and closer to the One who can!
These Four Steps can't save you… but if you let them, they point you towards the One Who can!
In my walk with the Lord, I’ve lost numerous friends to the battle of addiction. I’ve also watched many church-going Christians fall by the wayside only to return to their mess as well. At an Al-Anon meeting in 1981, someone was first credited as saying that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” However, the Bible says this isn’t the definition of insanity, it’s actually the definition of a fool: “As a dog returns to its vomitso fools repeat their folly” (Proverbs 26:11 NIV).
As previously stated, I was in an intensive drug and alcohol treatment facility for close to fifteen months. After getting released from this program and going home, I made some pretty big compromises in my walk with the Lord. In fact, I was not far off from being one of these fools who crossed back over to the point of no return. However, praise be to God, the faith-based program He had put me in had taught me that victory over any kind of sin and addiction was possible. However, for some reason, my friends and I on the streets were just failing to experience it! Fortunately for me, due to my own personal time drawing near to God while in that program, I knew enough to know that if the Bible says I should be experiencing something but I’m not, then that disconnect is always with me and never with the Word of God.
So, I started asking the Lord, “Where is the victory? Where is the abundant life and freedom Jesus spoke of? Where is the power for living that was promised?”
“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly”(John 10:10 NKJV)
Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36 NKJV).
I was missing something, and I knew it. So, it was here that I decided to make my final stand and I determined that if there was some kind of victory to be had on this side of eternity then I would not rest until I had found it. So, I began to read everything I could get my hands on. I went to seminars, retreats, meetings, classes, workshops, Bible College and church services in order to find the key elements that make up the victorious Christian life. It may surprise you to learn that at the end of this quest for victory and enlightenment, I found one thing and one thing only that had the power to save me from myself. This one thing is an authentic, growing relationship with Jesus and not the Four Steps of ASAP Recovery.
Unfortunately, even though these elements work great in prisons and programs, apart from God, they cannot save you out here on the streets unless you learn to reforge or repurpose them towards Him. If you will notice, the victory that prisons and programs provide us with is not our own and, because of that, they are only able to produce for us a counterfeit victory that does not carry over to our life on the streets. Therefore, in their current or raw form, these Four Steps that we have borrowed from prisons and programs cannot save you; if they could have, you would still be sober after leaving.
Right about now you’re probably thinking, “I thought you said these Four Steps were your secret to success to beat our addiction?” And, you’re right, I did. However, I also said that these steps only work out here because of the direction they take us in. That being towards a powerful relationship with God, not towards getting out and going home or even towards a future sobriety, for that matter. If these Four Steps are to change your life, then they must first be re-manufactured to push, pull, and point you towards the highest seat of power and authority… Jesus Christ!
All too often, I have observed within the recovery community that the Twelve Steps of AA and NA are exalted to the highest seat of authority in the recoveree’s life. Nowadays they’re even exalted to a higher position of authority than that of the One they were designed to point you towards, God. In other words, today’s Twelve Steps have become the source of the recoveree’s saving grace and not the higher power that they talk about within them. Sadly, the Twelve Steps have become what their group now points to for saving, instead of God! Friends, Steps can’t save you, only God can do that!
Therefore, in the hope of not repeating the same sins of the past (and becoming a fool in the process) I will be the first to admit that the Four Steps of ASAP Recovery can’t save you, but they can point you towards the One who can and His name is Jesus! The bottom line is that our Four Steps are just the path to get you to the One who holds the keys to your freedom.
Re-forging the steps towards Jesus
Now, although these steps don’t have the power to save you (as only Jesus can) that’s not to say that they are without merit or value. What I mean by that is, although these Four Steps didn’t save my soul, they did, however, consequently save my sobriety multiple times and, therefore, my life. You see, during my pursuit of the victorious Christian life I kept wondering how come I was still standing while many of my brothers who had been in the program with me (and I even looked up to) had gone back to their addictions and, eventually, to jail or the grave. It was here that the Lord began to reveal to me how I had unintentionally carried these Four Steps, or elements, from prison and the program home with me. He showed me that this was why I was still standing and the godly men that I had looked up to were not. Unfortunately, they were just going along with the program and the process, while I had embraced it as a way of life!
Furthermore, during my interactions with others over the last fifteen years, I have found that for the most part, people are generally complacent. We’re complacent in our jobs, our marriages, our recovery, and our walk with the Lord. If left to ourselves, we will always choose the road of least resistance; especially those of us in recovery! However, complacency to the recoveree, is no different than a judge handing down a death sentence! Therefore, in light of this bent towards complacency and self-centeredness, we need something to continually drive us towards forced growth whether we feel like it or not (which happens to be most of the time)! That’s where the Four Steps of ASAP Recovery come in!
The reason these Four Steps worked for me (and many of my friends today) is because once we learned to re-forge the steps to our own individual purposes on the streets, they removed the pull towards complacency and drove us all closer to Jesus in the process. Simply put, if you can start guarding and strengthening these four areas (Absolute Surrender, Structure, Accountability, and Purpose) they’ll work for you, too, because now that we have defined them for you, they can continually push you, point you, and pull you towards a deeper relationship with Jesus!
However, I would like to state again, so as not to give our sinful nature, our addiction, or the devil a foothold, that if you are looking for these Four Steps or any other program to save you, then you will be sorely disappointed. Our steps are just steps; onlyan authentic growing relationship with Jesus Christ can save you!
An authentic... growing... relationship... with Jesus Christ
In closing, as a result of redirecting and reforging the successful elements of prisons and programs to my life on the streets and by continuing to take these Four Steps towards Jesus, my addictions and compulsive behaviors no longer have dominion over me. Instead, Christ has given me dominion over them. Not only have I now been out of my addiction for as long as I was in it, but I am also a growing Christian who does not practice willful sin and, therefore I (and my friends) are walking, talking proof that you can be recovered as opposed to forever recovering.
Now, that is not to say that we don’t make mistakes or mess up from time to time; we all do! Sometimes sin sneaks up on you but when you’re in an authentic growing relationship with Jesus Christ, it no longer appeals to you. You sure don’t go seeking it out! I can personally testify that I’ve been set free from the chains that formerly bound me and, if you are willing to commit yourself to pursuing God and this kind of relationship with Him, then these Four Biblical Steps will keep you from complacency and get you to Him, where He’ll set you free, too!
Start working on some of the things mentioned in Step 2:Structure, and Step 3: Accountability mentioned above. In particular, the primary focus should/needs to be on:
Reading (at least a chapter) in your Bible every day. More would be better!
Finding, joining, and serving in a local church, where you are ministered to. (Might I recommend My Church if your looking)
Asking someone in that Church (that you respect) to mentor you on a weekly basis.
For now, everything else can wait. Now that we’ve seen undeniable proof that you can be recovered and have familiarized ourselves with the 4 Steps of ASAP Recovery and the direction they need to take you in; in order to get you there, please spend the rest of today allowing your heart to get excited at the hope and promise of freedom over your addiction.