Over the last 7 weeks we have been in this series called Breaking Free, where we are taking about coming out of the dark, exposing our problems to the light of God’s love, and watching Him heal those habits, those hurts, and those hang-ups that mess up our lives. Some of you have said, This series is really stepping on my toes! That’s good, it’s stepping on mine too! Some of you have started attending Celebrate Recovery, and started finding freedom in your life, that is fantastic! For those of you attending CR, you have begun to see how essential community is to our spiritual growth…especially recovery! As a reminder let’s recap the last 6 steps…

  1. – Realize I’m not God, that I’m powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and my life is unmanageable. – Reality Step
  2. – Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him and that He has the power to help me recover. – Hope Step
  3. – Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control. – Commitment Step
  4. – Openly examine and confess my faults to God, to myself, and to someone I trust. – Housecleaning Step
  5. – Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask him to remove my character defects. – Transformation Step
  6. – Evaluate all my relationships, offer forgiveness to those who’ve hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others except when to do so would harm them or others. – Relationship Step

If you are doing those steps that is great…Today I want to talk about how do you maintain momentum in this process? Growth is not smooth, especially in these steps…sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. 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. It’s very easy to slip back. It’s easy to slip back into old hurts, old habits, and old hang-ups. So what causes relapse in the first place? Relapses happen in a very predictable pattern.

  1. First is complacency. You get 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 anymore. I don’t need to work the steps anymore. I don’t need a counselor or a “sponsor” and you become complacent.
  2. The second is confusion. Confusion is when you start thinking, “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.
  3. 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 thirty-one flavors, or whatever. You go back to that place. Like the gambler who says, “Let’s go to Vegas, we’ll just see the shows.” You start compromising.
  4. Then catastrophe, 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 collapse is not the relapse. Relapse starts with complacency. The catastrophe is simply the result of the pattern that happened.

Causes of relapse

Why do we relapse? Why do we tend to go back on what we know is right?

  1. Reverting to willpower.

Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” You start off trusting God, and Step 1 is I’m not God…I am powerless to change, Step 2 is there is a God who has the power, Step 3 is I’m giving it to God. And you let God make those changes in your life, but then you get overconfident and think, “It’s me that’s doing this, I’m making the changes. It’s my power.” And you resort to good old willpower and that doesn’t work. You have a few successes and suddenly think you’re all powerful, all knowing and can handle everything. It’s like the Minnesota man who was pulled over for not wearing his seat belt and soon realized that there was a warrant out for is arrest. In the middle of the arrest the man gave that arresting officer a “Get out of jail free” card from the Monopoly board game…he quickly learned that it didn’t have the same effect in the real world as it did in the actual game.

Our willpower is like using that card in real life…it doesn’t work. God will let us play that card again and again and again, and we relapse over and over until finally let it sink in that we can’t do it on our own. Paul says in Philippians 4:13, :I can do all things…”, on my own power?No…”all things through him (Jesus) who strengthens me.” Only God has the power to take away those defects. You own will power only leads to relapse.

  1. Ignoring one of the steps.

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 the amends part, 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. There’s no quick fix. You didn’t get into this mess overnight; you’re not going to get out of it. Keep working all of the steps. Maintain your momentum. Stay with the basics.

  1. Trying to recover without support.

“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.  King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” You can’t lick this problem alone. If you could have you would have. But you can’t so you won’t. You can do these steps on your own and you’ll see short-term effects, but you cannot do long-term recovery without relationships. It’s kind of like driving a car at fifty-five miles 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? Because of denial you often can’t see your own problems.

Those people testimony video

There is tremendous value in these testimonies and stories we’ve been having. When you share your story I see some of myself in it. Maybe it’s something I would have never otherwise seen. 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.

  1. We become prideful.

We get overconfident and prideful and say, “I’m strong. I’ve got this hurt dealt with. I’ve got this habit licked. I’ve forgiven them, closed the door. It’s OK.” Proverbs 16:18: “First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.” Here’s another way of saying it…The man who gets too big for his britches will eventually get exposed in the end. Pride gets us in all kinds of trouble. Pride always sets us up for a fall. It blinds us to our own weaknesses. It keeps us from seeking help. It prevents us from making amends to other people. It keeps us from doing all the steps fully. And the biggest problem with pride is that it causes us to blame other people for our own problems. We say, “It’s not my problem.” And that’s pride when you hear that one. You push it off on somebody else.

This is a picture of Mathias Rust. In May of 1986 at 18 years old, Rust (an amateur pilot) flew from Helsinki, Finland to Moscow and landed his plane next to Red Square and the Kremlin. At the time this section of Soviet airspace was the most heavily guarded air space in the world… and an 18 year old amateur pilot flies right into it. That is a parable of life. What it says is that your greatest weakness is often an unguarded strength. You say, “I’ve got this all together” “Oh, my marriage would never fall apart.” “I’d never get addicted to anything.” Watch out. Paul says in 1 Cor 10:12 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Because often the very area you think you’re strongest in is unguarded, and that’s where a plane’s going to fly in and land right in the middle of it.


So how do we prevent a relapse? The answer is continued maintenance. The best way to keep a house from falling into disrepair is to live in it and continue to fix the issues as they come up. We have to continue the steps we have already talked about. That’s step 7…the Maintenance Step.

  1. – Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and gain the power to do it.

This is based on Mark 14:38: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus says it is 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 He said, you need to have some safeguards, some maintenance tools.

Evaluation is the first tool. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13:5a “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” What does that mean? How do we evaluate and examine and test ourselves?

(1) Do a physical evaluation: You ask the question, “What is my body telling me?” Your body is a barometer of what’s happening inside you. Have you ever been stressed and because of that stress you have had a headache for days? Or maybe it is a muscle ache or digestive issue…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 stressed out?” Take some clues that maybe things are out of line.

(2) Do an emotional evaluation: What am I feeling right now? Am I allowing my real feelings to surface? Or am I just pushing them down? If you keep pushing down your real feelings, they will explode like a shaken up soda can. You do what I call a “heart check.”

H Am I hurting?

E Am I exhausted?

A Am I angry?

R Do I resent anybody?

T Am I tense? anxious? fearful?

(3) Do a relational evaluation: Am I at peace with everyone? If you’re not, that internal conflict is going to hold you back, from your recovery. You know when you are in conflict…but maybe its with someone a few states away. That past hurt from Uncle Bob hasn’t resolved…and even though Bob lives in California…he is constantly living in your mind, rent free. Your preoccupied with it. It’s controlling you. Ask yourself, “Is there anybody living rent free in my mind? Am I holding on to a hurt?”

(4) Do a spiritual evaluation: Moment by moment am I relying on God? When you shop for fruit you evaluate the good and bad…do that in your spiritual life. 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.
  • I blew it three times but I was calm twice.
  • I at least wanted to be unselfish in that situation.

You celebrate, no matter how small the progress is, because you are making progress.

You do an evaluation, you celebrate your successes and confess your failures, but be grateful for what you see God doing in your life.

Evaluation is kind of like cleaning house, and there are three ways you can clean a house:

  1. Some of you wear a broom like an accessory. You’re the Doc Holliday of dustbusters. You are instant cleaners. The dust is swept up before it even hits the counter.
  2. Some of you 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, once a year, whether the house needs it or not, clean it up. Kind of like spring cleaning.

This is the same way you can do an evaluation.

  1. Spot check evaluation. At any time of the day, you start feeling the pressure build you say, “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. There is a practice called the breath prayer…that might benefit you. A breath prayer is when you have blown it, you immediately confess the sin, blow it out and breathe in God’s love, “I receive Your forgiveness.” Breath out shame and breath in grace. That’s a breath prayer. You need to learn to do that on a moment-by-moment basis. You don’t let things build up…you take out the trash asap. You can do that a thousand times a day as the need be.   So the spot check evaluation 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. Look at my life, see if it’s in order, prioritize the things in my life.

Meditation is the second tool we can use to maintain momentum in our recovery.

Meditation is a good biblical word that has been used by other philosophies and people. It simply means this: Slowing down long enough to hear God. That’s all it is. Business stifles recovery and growth. This is the secret of spiritual strength, and I find that Satan fights nothing harder in my life than this issue—making sure I get time alone with God, quiet time. He has three tools he uses: noise, crowds, and hurry. Those three things keep you from hearing God on a personal basis.

Psalm 1:1–3 “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

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 think about what does it mean to my life. That’s meditation.

I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I do love tea. A good cup of tea is one where the tea steeps in the water for a few minutes where the flavors, colors and smells of the tea are extracted throughout the hot water. Just a simple dip of the tea bag into the water won’t make a good cup of tea. Now Imagine that this cup of water is your mind, and the tea bag represents your intake of God’s word. Hearing God’s word is like one dip of the tea bag…some flavor is absorbed, but not a lot. Reading, studying and memorizing God’s word are like additional dips. The more frequently the tea enters the water the more permeating it’s effect. However meditation is like immersing the bag completely and letting it steep until all the flavors are extracted. Meditation is letting the Bible brew in the brain…just as the tea colors the water…Scripture colors our thinking. And we become like a tree that bears good fruit and can weather seasons of drought. We don’t have relapse.

How do I meditate on God’s word? Take a passage of scripture. And ask three basic questions. “What does this say about God?” “What does this say about humanity?” And the final question is “What does this mean for my life?” Think about God’s word. Meditate.

If you know how to worry you know how to meditate. Worry is just negative meditation. Worry: you take a negative thought and think on it over and over and over. You take a verse of the Bible and think on it over and over and over—that’s called meditation.

Lastly there is a third tool in preventing relapse…prayer. Prayer can do whatever God can do. In fact it is the way that you plug into God’s power. You say that I can’t do it but God can. How do I get God’s power? You get it through prayer.

Now how do I pray. Notice what Jesus says. Matthew 6: “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Notice a few things with me…First Jesus says, Pray like this…not pray this. Underline like in your Bible or Bible app. Jesus gives us a model not exact wording. Jesus did not mean for this prayer to be a prayer that one simply recites as a religious ritual. He doesn’t want empty words. Instead he gives us a model of what prayer should include.

Now let’s look a little closer at this prayer and you will notice all of the recovery steps are covered in this prayer. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” That’s saying I realize I’m not God but You are—that’s Steps 1 and 2. “Your kingdom come, 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 also have forgiven our debtors.” That’s Step 6. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” That’s this step 7. You see, recovery is as old as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus Christ gave us the principles by which we can find full recovery.

Maybe you’ve got a hurt that you’ve been holding on to, or you’ve got a hang-up that you just can’t get past. Or you’ve got an issue in your life, a habit, 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 seven 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. Jesus wants to help you, but he will not force you. His offer is there…You have to take a step of surrender and say Jesus I believe. Will you do that today?