Jesus Christ is the True Higher Power

I get a daily thought in my email every day regarding Alcoholics Anonymous. I wanted to share today’s with you because I find this thought to be dangerous.

A Beginning
My friend suggested what then seemed to be a novel idea. He said, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” That statement hit me hard. It melted away the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last. It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.
Alcoholics Anonymous, page 12

I think this thought is dangerous for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, I know that no human power can relieve us of our alcoholism, but on the other hand we’re told that there is one who has all power, that one is GOD, may you find him now. I know in my heart that the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous meant the God of Abraham, the Father of Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Redeemer. I believe it is He who relieves our compulsion and squashes our physical cravings and delivers us from the bondage of addiction and helps us to become neutral when it comes to alcohol. It is He who renews our mind and our spirit, and takes away our character defects if we ask. It is He that heals our drug and alcohol battered body. It is he that forgives our offenses (our sins) and provides the river of living water. It is not a tree, or a door knob, or the AA group, or a dog, or a universal spirit, or the wind, or fire, or mother earth, or Buddha, or Mohammed, or the spirit of Bill W. It is not our own concept of God. There is only one God. He’s contained entirely within the Holy Bible. He is all sovereign and all powerful and all caring and all knowing. He wants us to live life sober and abundantly. For me, being told I can “invent’ my own God does not encourage me or make me feel good in my spirit. I would most likely invent a God that is far less powerful and judging than the God of Abraham. I run the risk of creating in my mind a God who is all loving, and I’ll tend to let out God’s wrath, His hatred of sin, His disdain for false prophets and Pharisees, and self-righteous worshipers.

But this God is a jealous God. He does not want us to seek a solution to our difficulties on our own, or to use some written formula or steps or rules of behavior. He doesn’t want us trying to behave ourselves into heaven, or even out of drunkenness. We cannot find our own solution to the sin problem. We have a sin nature. We walk often in the flesh, where we cater to our instincts, our wants, our desires, our cravings. Left to our own devices, we lie, cheat and manipulate. Sometimes we even steal. We justify or rationalize our behaviors. We don’t even consider whether we’re doing something wrong. And if we examine our behaviors outside of the scope of the Law of Moses and the commandment of Jesus to operate from a platform of love, we totally miss the point. We can’t get into heaven by obeying a bunch of rules, and we can’t beat our cravings for alcohol without intervention from the Lord Jesus Christ.

How It Works has it right: No human power can relieve our alcoholism. With this in mind, how can we successfully make “the rooms” of AA our higher power? Yes, there is strength in numbers. Two minds are better than one. 12-Step interventions work. We can talk to a struggling alcoholic and share our experience, strength and hope. Picking up the phone and calling someone on your phone list can help you derail your intention to drink at that particular moment. But people do not possess the power necessary to relieve your alcoholism. If the only way you deal with cravings is to call and talk about them when they occur, then you’re not going to grow strong in your ability to stop experiencing cravings in the first place. If you call on fellow members of AA only, and you don’t get into a relationship with Almighty God, you will always be troubled with cravings. You see, there has to be a change within us. A change that renews our mind and alters the way we think of alcohol, period. This change comes from the Lord Jesus. The Big Book promises us that if we work the Steps, rely on God, and thoroughly follow the treatment plan, it is rare that a person fails in his effort to get and stay sober.

So when I see people going to meetings day after day, airing their dirty laundry, their complaints, their heartaches, and seemingly struggling with a compulsive thought to drink, I think they are missing something. We’re promised we can come to a position of neutrality regarding booze. We will be able to be around it without wanting to drink it. We can go wherever we need to go, with good reason, and feel safe even if alcohol is present. Yes, it is often suggested that we take a sober friend along, and this does help us be accountable for our behavior at the event. But if I am on good spiritual ground when I come across a drinking opportunity, the Big Book tells me I will not pick up a drink. A good part of what helps me resist any temptation is my prayer to God to keep me away from a drink or drug today. To be in touch with God enough that my behavior will be that which God wants. Here’s the thing: the more we walk in the will of God, the easier it gets to do so. It’s like exercising our spiritual “muscles.”

I am not picking on Alcoholics Anonymous. I will say, however, that just going to meetings and reading the Steps as part of opening up the meeting will not give you any power to resist the temptation to drink. Saying the Lord’s Prayer, paying particular attention to the line that “yours is the kingdom and the POWER…” will not automatically infuse you with the power over the drink. How It Works tells us “There is one who has all power, that one is God, may you find him now.” That line hints that we have to seek God. He’s there, and He will reach out to us as we reach out to him. I truly know of no successful breakaway from alcoholism while using a door knob, a tree, a rock, the sun, mother earth, Thor the thunder god, universal consciousness, the rooms of AA, the cosmos, Buddha, Mohammed, or any other source as a higher power. However, I know of numerous alcoholics that have put down the drink one day at a time through seeking God Almighty. Moreover, Jesus Christ died for my sins and iniquities, my bondage, my illnesses. He was tortured, whipped, spat upon, mocked, and murdered for my sake. By His stripes I am healed. I am set free from the bondage of addiction. And that is what makes me able to be free from alcohol one day at a time.

I attend AA meetings. I don’t always share, and I sometimes chair the meeting. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, I substitute “Jesus” for “God.” I often pray silently that God would move among the meeting, tugging at people’s hearts to share what they need in order to get healthy, that newcomers would have a light bulb go on over their head. I pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. For insight that will edify and benefit others in the meeting. That God would keep the meeting safe and on track. That no one leaves before the miracle happens. I thank God for keeping me sober another twenty-four hours. That he puts the right words in my mouth when I share. The only thing I don’t do is preach about Jesus, and frankly that makes me feel guilty. I know Christ came to set the captives free. So I save that conversation for one-on-one after the meeting or on the phone. May God bless the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Why Does He Drink So Much?

Why do people become alcoholics? Is addiction a sin? Is it a disease? Why can’t alcoholics see their problem and help themselves? Why do family members frequently become as sick as the alcoholic? What about the role of Alcoholics Anonymous, treatment centers, and healing services?

One out of every ten drinkers are alcoholics. These people are from all walks of life. Their level of education, their profession, their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual preference, all have nothing to do with whether they cannot control their drinking. Many have jobs, a house, a wife, some degree of normal life. They get promoted, discover new diseases, fight crime as officers, save lives as paramedics, operate on brains as neurosurgeons. Some even teach our children in school or serve as den mothers at girl scouts. A recent news story reported on a chief of police who left a preliminary hearing in full uniform, driving a police cruiser, who was pulled over by state police and booked on DUI charges. He had a blood alcohol level of two times the legal limit.

Only five percent of alcoholics are what we call skid row bums. The rest are our neighbors. Some are born to alcoholic mothers. Alcohol abuse while pregnant is one of the most common causes of birth defects in the United States. Sadly, neither doctors, mental health professionals nor clergy are equipped to handle this growing problem of alcohol addiction. The average physician prescribes medication for anxiety or depression for his alcoholic patients. Psychiatrists and psychologists go to great lengths to uncover childhood traumas and Freudian alibis. Alcoholics gratefully accept any explanation that justifies their need for a drink. Why do some people become alcoholics while others are able to drink socially and not develop a problem? Obviously, not everyone who drinks alcohol is adversely affected. So the blame does not lie with the beverage itself.

Social drinkers, it is said, exercise self-control; alcoholics suffer from weakness of will. The average person will almost always say of an alcoholic, “I would never let myself go that far. What’s wrong with him?”  Well perhaps the explanation lies with how the alcohol abuser was raised. Several factors can contribute to alcoholism. First, if excessive alcohol consumption was the norm in the home during the alcoholic’s formative years, he or she is more likely to abuse alcohol. Second, if the culture in which the alcoholic was raised did not look down on the consumption of alcohol, it is more common that the individual will abuse alcohol. Alcoholics seem more dependent, more anxious, more childish, more oral, more self-centered, and less self-controlled than non alcoholics.

The average social drinker, we have learned, develops a one-in-ten chance of developing an addiction to alcohol. With an alcoholic in the family tree, social drinking takes on a resemblance to Russian roulette. Alcoholism is an unconscious drift toward addiction. By the time the genetically susceptible drinker is aware that he is in trouble, it is too late. He is caught up in an addiction from which he cannot return without help. When we consider the subtle nature of addiction and the infinite value of every human life, uniquely created by God for his special purpose, those of us who drink and have alcoholism in our family tree must ask a sensible question: Is it worth it?

What separates cultures with high rates of alcoholism from those with low rates? The most important factor is intolerance for public drunkenness. When we examine American culture in light of this factor, the news is not encouraging. Americans habitually drink outside of meals and tolerate “party drunkenness” to such a degree that it is difficult to distinguish heavy drinkers from alcoholics. The connection between heavy drinking and addiction has profound implications not just for our society, but for each one of us individually.

The alcoholic is an individual who cannot predict when he will drink or how much he will drink. The alcoholic addict is no longer in control of his own will. His internal center for decision-making and free choice has been captured by alcohol and he is unable to choose not to drink. This fits with the concept in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholics lose the ability to choose. There comes a point when the drink chooses for him. It is tempting to dismiss alcoholism as a problem unique to weak-willed people, but the truth is that strong determination is no defense against addiction. Know this, that strong-willed alcoholics pursue their drinking with more aggressive methods. The euphoria that compels a heavy drinker to risk embarrassment serious accident is only a distant memory for the alcoholic. The constant physical agitation produced by his craving for alcohol combines with a paralyzing guilt and self-hatred to trap the alcoholic into a chronic state of mental anguish. The alcoholic, whether he consciously chooses to drink or not, inevitably finds himself intoxicated.

Alcoholism leads to a sickness of the mind and emotions. Very early in the addictive process, the alcoholic moves from anticipation to preoccupation with drinking. He no longer simply looks forward to drinking; he thinks about it all the time. His mental and emotional energies are almost completely directed at protecting his right to drink. He becomes irritable and defensive, and his mood can change from jubilant to euphoric to angry suspicion in a matter of minutes.

This brings me to an interesting point in the discussion. It is tempting to dismiss Christian alcoholics as hypocrites, but the guilt and shame they feel are far removed from the arrogant self-complacency condemned by Jesus. The spiritual anguish of the alcoholic is seldom redemptive. He may have repented from alcohol abuse more times than he can remember, but he cannot imagine life without alcohol. His confession, therefor, never leads to a changed life. His spiritual beliefs only increase his sense of condemnation and compel him to adopt increasingly extreme denial measures. This happened to me. Not only was I professing to be born-again, and therefor set free from the bondage of addiction, l was also teaching Bible study at the county prison. I spoke on deliverance and healing, but continued taking opiates.

There is no known cure for alcohol addiction. Alcoholism, like diabetes, is a progressive chronic disorder which can be controlled or arrested, but seldom cured. The fact that alcoholism is incurable is a stumbling block for some Christians. Members of AA who are Christians will often tell their Christian friends that they are a recovering alcoholic, only to be told that that is a “bad confession.” They try to convince the Christian alcoholic that he is not recovering, rather that he is healed. The Christian alcoholic needs to remember that he has  been healed from the burning compulsion to consume alcohol, but he will always be one drink away from a drunk. Instant healing from addiction is no more common than instant healing from cancer, heart disease or diabetes.

Christian alcoholics have no trouble understanding the “Higher Power” as being Jesus Christ. AA will not damage a Christian’s faith. I heard it said once that AA won’t get you in to heaven, nor will it keep you out of hell. But it can keep you sober long enough to make up your own mind. Truly, a person first must be sober before he can hear or practice the Gospel. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were careful to emphasize that they were operating only a “spiritual kindergarten.” Christians in recovery need to make sure they do not mistake the rescue boat for dry land. For the Christian, AA is an effective means to an end, and that end is not merely a program of recovery or fellowship with other alcoholics, but a sober life lived to the glory of God.

Higher Power

Step Two of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous states we come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. Step Three says we turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him. There is no mention of a specific concept of God.

The Oxford Group, which existed before the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, was based solidly upon Christian principles. Jesus was at the center of the program. This was also true for the earliest groups of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Twelve Steps are rooted in basic Christian principles. The message has been watered down over the years. Today, sharing about a Christian God is frowned upon. In fact, naming Jesus Christ as your higher power will likely draw strong comments. I think it is no coincidence that fewer than twenty percent of those who start attending AA meetings today remain sober one year later. The rate of success was as high as fifty percent in the early years.

Although it is often difficult to share Jesus in AA, I am convinced that he is the one true God. He is the highest of higher powers. The 53rd Chapter of the Book of Isaiah tells us that Christ was bruised for our iniquities. It states that by his stripes we are healed. The Gospels indicate that Jesus became a sacrifice for our sins. Christ wants us to have life, and to have it more abundantly. He sets the captives free. This is good news indeed for the alcoholic and the addict. In the grips of active addiction, we are certainly not happy, joyous and free. We are living in the flesh while in the grips of active addiction. We find ourselves doing things we do not want to do, and we find it difficult to do the things we want to do. The Apostle Paul discusses this in detail in the Book of Romans.

For me, the answer is Jesus Christ. I long to share the message of Christ in AA meetings, but I cannot. Instead, I make sure to share him with alcoholics on a one-on-one basis. I give my testimony and explain how I have been set free. I also tell people that I am capable of falling out of grace and taking my will back. When I do so, I take definite steps toward relapse. That is why I start my day on my knees asking Jesus to walk with me and to reveal his will for me throughout the day. I ask that he deliver me from the bondage of self. That he keep me away from a drink or a drug for the next twenty-four hours. I pray that God’s will, not mine, be done. When I get ready for bed at night, I once again get on my knees. I thank Jesus for delivering me from the bondage of addiction. For keeping me sober throughout the day. I take a look at my behavior during the past twenty-four hours, and I ask forgiveness for my shortcomings and my offenses.

I veered away from turning to Christ. The result was relapse. I started lying to myself and to others. I took my will back. Once again, I was the god of my own universe. My emotions were raw. My anxiety was through the roof. I experienced increased back and neck pain, and was negative about my life. The more miserable I became, the further I slipped back into active addiction. When I couldn’t get enough opiates on my own, I started stealing pills from family members. It got so bad that I lost track of how many pills I was taking. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I was trapped in active addiction with no sense of hope.

It took an intervention by my family in order to get my attention. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family that cares. One that takes a stand and confronts you. I am most certainly blessed in this regard. It’s clear to me that God works through the actions of those around us. I will be forever grateful to God that he saw something in me worth saving. I am a cat who has used up eight of his nine lives. It reminds me of a video game where your life force is down so low that just one more brush with the bad guy will knock you out of the competition. You run around looking for “health” icons, trying to stay alive for one more minute. It’s a lot like running on empty in active addiction. I’m so lucky to still be breathing. It’s as though I have been saved for something special.

I realize now that God’s will for me is to be clean and sober, and to reach out to others caught in addiction. He wants me to be a conduit through which his power can move. Although I cannot “preach” during AA meetings, I can get together one-on-one with addicts and alcoholics and share Jesus Christ with them. I look at it this way: They’ve literally tried everything else, what have they got to lose? I just pray that God keeps me clean and sober today, and that he helps me keep my head above water. Thank you Jesus.