Addiction is the topic for prayer for April and this is such a far-reaching and wide-ranging topic that it can make us feel very helpless when we are praying for people we know and situations that come to our attention. Becaues of the media focus on, and obvious visible consequences of, some addictions such as gambling, pornography, alcohol dependency or drug use, it is easy to focus on these addictions alone, but I think it behoves us to dig a little deeper into the motivations behind addictions as we pray and seek to help those who appear, at times, to be incapable of breaking free from such destructive patterns of behaviour.

The classic hallmarks of addiction include impaired control over substances or behaviour, preoccupation with the substance or behaviour, continued use despite consequences, and denial. Habits and patterns associated with addiction are typically characterised by immediate gratification (short-term reward), coupled with delayed deleterious effects (long-term costs). In other words, the short-term high or good feeling engendered by the substance or behaviour outweighs the known long-term damage. A person may well know that what they are doing is harmful to themselves and to their loved ones, but they cannot help themselves.

At the heart of all addictions is our sinful tendency to want to please ourselves more than others and more than God. We put ourselves first. We do what feels good to us at the moment and prefer to ignore the consequences. Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” This is true of all life lived in our own strength and wisdom rather than God’s, not just true of ‘addicts’.

Christian teaching shows us that sin is the deeply-rooted problem at the heart of all the other visible problems in the world today, whether those problems are violence, war, hatred, addiction, poverty or disease. Sin has marred and spoiled God’s perfect creation. At the heart of sin lies man’s desire to be independent of God and to be like God. Any time we put something else in the place of God (idolatry), we move away from the relationship between God and man for which we were created.

The hope God holds out to us is that He has done something about this sin problem which opens the door to a new way of living. Paul expounds this theme in Romans 6, when he talks about us having died to sin and being raised to new life in Christ and no longer being slaves to sin: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:11-14)

When we pray for those battling addiction, we pray for this transforming, explosive power to be revealed to them. We also know, however, that God requires us then to daily take up our cross, deny ourselves and choose to follow Him. Life is made up of daily choices, choices that are actually made minute-by-minute. Will we choose God’s way of doing things or will we take the short-cut? Will we learn to deny ourselves or will we seek the ‘quick fix’? Will we learn to humble ourselves before God, relying on His grace and power, or will we think we can go it alone and solve our problems with our own strategies and in our own strength? Paul talks about the struggle between the sin-life and the Spirit-life in Romans 7, eloquent words with which we all identify: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Rom 7:15-19)

As we pray about this topic, our own tendencies to put other things in God’s place are highlighted and we realise we all need God to help us to overcome temptation and to walk in grace. After all, it is not necessarily the thing itself which is harmful or sinful – alcohol in moderation is not wrong; exercise in its rightful place is helpful to healthy living; sex is God’s gift to us when channelled as He has directed. What is harmful is our tendency to sin, our bias towards corrupting the good and perfect gifts God gives us and our inability to obey His commands.

No one is without sin and we all need to receive God’s grace and walk by faith. As we pray, let’s recognise God’s deliverance and power (Paul goes on to say ‘Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ Rom 7:24-25), but let’s also recognise the need for daily discipleship, for accountability, for taking responsibility for every single choice we make. Does it honour God or does it satisfy the sinful nature? Dig deep into your own heart and know that there is grace enough for every one of us to live in freedom, not slavery to sin.