Banding Together for Sexual Purity

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Ninety days. That’s the goal. For most of you, it is the goal for abstaining from pornography. Others of you may struggle with lust, sexual fantasies, or obsessive masturbation. For some, trips to clubs, bookstores, or hookups may be the thing. Regardless of the obsession, you are invited to take the journey.

Thirteen weeks. Can you hang on that long? Some of you have tried to stop before. Your secret or not-so-secret behaviors have been following you into your bedroom, hindering your ability to respond to your spouse, and leaving him or her feeling rejected.

Three months. It can seem like an eternity when you are in the fog of obsession. But it’s really just a small slice of your lifespan to gain control over an obsession that could eventually rob you of reputation, honor, and true intimacy.

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In fact, get this: If you can make it through the first ninety days, the rest of the journey just might get easier!

Recent neurological research reveals that significant rewiring of the brain takes place in the first ninety days of recovery. And many are finding that abstinence for ninety days not only lessens the pull of pornography, but restores one’s ability to respond properly to one’s spouse. Instead of needing edgier and kinkier visual extremes, they have been able to recalibrate, finding sufficient arousal from the one they love.

There are three elements which can enable you to power through these thirteen weeks:

  • Connection with God
  • Connection with Others
  • Resolving Deeper Issues

Connection with God

Solar panels. Don’t you love them? Maybe it’s because I am always looking for ways to save a buck, but I think it’s great to power my calculator and other small stuff from the God-given energy of the sun. No need for batteries or outlets. You simply have to aim the panel toward the light.

There is a God-given source of energy to help you power through these ninety days: his sustaining grace. God’s Holy Spirit enters each one who has placed faith in Jesus Christ. But just like solar panels, we need to position ourselves before his healing light on a daily basis to receive his enabling. While there are many ways to turn our hearts heavenward, the tried and proven means have always been Scripture and prayer.

Yep, I can already hear sighs, groans, and moans. A few of you have been battling addiction for years and have been told to pray harder and read your Bible more. And you’ve found it a bit like a stationary exercise bike: furious pedaling and much fatigue, but the scenery stays the same. I get that.

But for these ninety days, I’d like you to make a subtle shift in how you view daily devotions. Simply think of it as putting out solar panels.

Some days the spiritual atmosphere around you and the clouds of your own emotions will make it seem as though you are gaining nothing. But grace is seeping through those clouds. Some days, however, the clouds part and the beams of his presence will noticeably fill your heart with hope and energy. If you have a satisfying practice of daily devotions which readily connects you with God, great. If your intake of Scripture and prayer are providing conscious contact, simply try putting the panels out both morning and evening.

Note: Many are finding an ancient practice known as the divine office a tremendous means of looking Godward, and so I’ve included appendix C, “The Divine Office for Sexual Strugglers.” This will probably be out of your tradition and comfort zone, but I encourage you to try it for at least two reasons.

Let’s start with the hardest to swallow: Written Prayers: Yeah, not my tradition either. But these prayers are written in first-person plural: “we” and “our” instead of “I,” “me,” and “mine.” This is healing tonic for the narcissistic, self-absorbed soul, and it unites us with the prayers of people around the world. This is subtle but liberating. And having a routine of the same prayers day by day provides a much-needed spiritual rhythm.

You are encouraged to pray them slowly and from the heart. Like a well-chosen greeting card which captures our sentiments for the one we love, these prayers capture our soul’s deepest needs and faintest groanings.

The Psalms: The divine office keeps our nose in the Psalms throughout the month. These are sacred prayers that point our panels heavenward both morning and evening.

The Psalms have been the prayer book of God’s people ever since the days of King David. Jesus quoted from them frequently. Even while languishing on the cross, he reached for Psalm 22:1 to put words to his anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The struggles of the psalmists will echo your own at times. In fact, the scriptures chosen parallel your journey through these ninety days. And as you read with an open heart, God’s grace will seep through the clouds.11. Have a smart phone? Many discipleship bands are finding Seedbed’s Daily Text a tremendous resource for daily interaction with Scripture that allows conversation among band members. See https://www.seedbed.com/daily-text-subscribe.

Connection with Others

We need each other. That’s just the way it is. Yes, our culture exalts the hardened individuals who, through grit and determination, climb to the top of the heap. But the reality is that the greatest triumphs require a team. Jesus had the Twelve, three of whom became especially close. Paul had Barnabas, and then others. Moses had Aaron. David had his thirty mighty men. And you, my friend, need a band of brothers (or sisters).

There is a healing and empowering dynamic that arises when two or three open their hearts to each other in the name of Jesus. First of all, Jesus promised to be right in the midst of such a meeting (see Matthew 18:20). And Christians have found much grace when two or three live life together with transparency.

Such groups were the initial building blocks of John Wesley’s Methodist movement. These “bands,” as Wesley called them, were three to seven people of the same gender who asked penetrating questions about their inner life. The following are an adaptation of his questions, shaped for our purposes as a band:

  • What sexual sins have you committed since we last met?
  • What temptations did you face successfully?
  • How did you overcome those temptations?
  • Did you do anything questionable that you are not sure was sinful?

Okay, I think I heard a collective gulp! Not so sure you want to pry open your secrets just yet?

While our weekly questions are based upon Wesley’s model, it takes a little time to develop trust and to sense safety in a new group. This week, simply take note of these questions. Take the plunge only when you are ready. Perhaps in the next two weeks you will feel safe enough to entirely open the vault.

Yes, you can lie about your secrets. You’ve probably become quite good at lying, actually. But here’s a simple question: Do you want to get free? If so, honesty with one or two others is a must. How can anyone help you if you continue to keep secrets?

This is the reason for closing the group to newcomers, limiting it to no more than five, and requiring take-it-to-the-grave confidentiality. Such an atmosphere provides the safety needed for full disclosure. And as you hear each other’s secrets, there’s a huge need to be compassionate and free of judgment.

In his excellent book Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle, Michael John Cusick identifies three types of accountability. “Cop” accountability, as the name implies, is all about finding the facts and “arresting” behavior. This, of course, can lead to shame and discourage honesty.

“Coach” accountability is a bit better. In this approach, each one in the band helps the others by spotting weaknesses and sharing how they themselves have found improvement.

But what we are aiming for in these bands is “cardiologist” accountability—opening up from the heart. Not a cop standing over you, demanding you fall in line. Not simply a coach who can come off as a know-it-all. But fellow students of the heart, each seeking God’s enabling.

We know that as we confess our sins to God we find forgive-ness. But James 5:16 urges us to confess our sins to one other “so that you may be healed.” Healing that transforms—that’s what we long for. View these questions as a time for confessing and finding healing, not for dumping and finding shame.

The part of the brain that is stimulated by sexual arousal is the very part that relates with people. This is a key reason for needing a band. Deep connection with others will help fill this aching void!

So for the first ninety days, connect! Every day! Whether it’s a text, call, e-mail, or lunch meeting, find a way to connect daily with members of the band. In fact, search your app store for “discipleship bands” for helpful tools. And make sure initiating contact isn’t falling on just one person.

Finally, if possible, meet in person weekly to go through the questions and prayer keys. If schedules or geography get in the way, meet via Skype or Zoom. Contrary to John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, or other cultural icons, we cannot do this alone. We can’t power our way through this. We need each other!

Resolving Deeper Issues

As a follower of Jesus Christ, you already know that the world has taken God’s beautiful design for sexuality and turned it into a commodity. Distorted messages about sex permeate our culture.

What is not so obvious is how deeply this has contaminated our thinking as believers. It doesn’t help that the church has been crippled by an awkward timidity on all subjects sexual. That is why these lessons include teaching on basic principles and theology to prompt us to discuss God’s design for our sexuality.

In addition to equipping your minds, each chapter in this workbook will also equip you with prayer keys to help you begin to resolve past issues and connect you more deeply with God. Like a ring of keys to keep with you throughout the day, these prayers can be pulled out and used as each occasion requires.

Keep in mind that some of you may need to pursue counseling from someone trained in formational prayer. Others will find it helpful to locate a twelve-step fellowship to address their past. If difficulties continue, seek out a certified sex addiction therapist. But the content found in these lessons and the use of prayer keys will be sufficient for many to make it through the ninety days and to continue on the path of freedom.

“No Man Left Behind”

If you’ve watched the movie Black Hawk Down or a similar military flick, you are familiar with this slogan. No one is to be left behind on the battlefield. As a band of sisters or brothers, we are making a commitment to leave no one behind in their battles. And so this group may need to go more than three months in order for each one to reach his/her ninety days. Are you ready?

Ninety days. Thirteen weeks. Three months.

It is a window of opportunity for significant rewiring which, by God’s grace, will enable you to walk in greater victory over sexual temptations.

This is an excerpt from Mark Ongley’s new book, Pure Hearted: Banding Together for Sexual Wholeness. It is a self-guided handbook on how to overcome sexual sin together in groups. It engages in formative prayer practices and meaningful questions that gracefully help persons journey toward sexual purity.

Maintaining purity of heart in a sex-saturated world is a challenge for all believers. Sensuality has always grabbed our attention, but with the Internet, explicit and highly addictive material is jus ta click away. A glance becomes a gaze, a gaze can become an obsession, and obsession unchecked can bring the chains of addiction. Getting free can be maddening.

But freedom is possible! Studies reveal that abstinence from addictive behavior for ninety days can place you on a new plateau of victory. But you can’t do it alone. Gritting your teeth and making more promises leads only to disillusionment and despair. Banding together with a few trusted friends, however, is a key to liberation.

Arm in arm with a few others, this approach goes beyond mere sin management and aims for the root issues that feed sexual obsession. Are you ready for a journey toward purity of heart?

Perfect for:

  • Anyone struggling with sexual sin
  • College groups
  • Men’s groups & women’s groups
  • Accountability groups
  • Discipleship bands

In these pages you’ll:

  • Deepen your relationship with God
  • Grow in intimacy with others
  • Understand basic principles of sexual brokenness
  • Learn effective prayer practices

Get your copies from our store here.

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Dr. Mark Ongley has over 30 years of pastoral ministry and holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Formational Counseling. He has counseled hundreds of people with varying issues of sexual brokenness. Currently he pastors Ashes to Life Ministries, a United Methodist church in Beaver Falls, PA, reaching people in recovery, and is author of Into the Light: Healing Sexuality in Today’s Church (Seedbed Publishing, 2016).

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