Reading through I and II Kings can be, at times, like watching paint dry. Except for the crazy stuff surrounding Elijah and Elisha’s ministries, the books are a painful, four-hundred-year history of one king after another, repeating the mistakes of those who ruled before them. Same old, same old. Every now and then, however, there is a pleasant surprise, a turn of events, but by the end of this two-part series, the nation of Israel is pillaged, and the people deported.
As I recently made my way through the second of these books again, something revealing struck me about Hezekiah, a king of Judah (see 2 Kings 18-20). Unlike those preceding him, he followed the Lord wholeheartedly. In fact, so devout was Hezekiah in his faith, that the narrator writes, “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him” (18:5).
So far so good.
He cuts down the Asherah poles. He keeps the commands of the Lord. He defeats Judah’s enemies. He gets deathly sick but cries out to God and is heard. The result: He gets fifteen more years.
But near the end of his reign, after things having gone swimmingly well, he makes a fatal decision. He gets too comfortable and enters a relationship with the king of Babylon, forming the beginning of a partnership with an unrighteous nation.
God in his mercy spares Hezekiah personally of the consequences of this partnership, but the wheels of God’s judgment begin to turn, and Jerusalem falls some one hundred years later.
There is an invaluable lesson from this story that we can learn. As Hezekiah’s life shows, many times we are far better off when our days are long and bitter than when they are short and sweet. One commentator writes, “We see a king who seems to do better in sickness than in health, who perhaps handles blight better than blessing.” This was certainly the case with others who had gone before Hezekiah (e.g., Asa, Uzziah, Jehoshaphat, etc.).
A bumpy road has a way of keeping us close to God.
No wonder the psalmist wrote: “It was good for me to be afflicted (to be thwarted, put down, frustrated) so that I might learn your decrees” (119:71). Difficulty can be the genesis of surrender (and re-surrender).
September is national recovery month. It is a month when we as a nation educate Americans about addiction treatment and promote recovery practices as well as celebrate those who’ve taken steps—however great or small—toward their own freedom from substance use disorder.
Recovery is hard, exhausting work. It is full of ups and downs. It is complicated. Any motion forward is to be commended. No two people’s journeys are ever the same. Recovery takes courage, knowledge, patience, and the support of others.
Real recovery also takes faith. Faith in God.
Maybe that is why no one’s recovery is ever easy. If it was, who would need a Higher Power?
Breakdown is what gets recovery going. And breakdown is what keeps recovery going. Breakdown is a great motivator.
In my fifty years of battling a legion of addictions (greed, gluttony, impurity, judgmentalism, legalism, selfishness, etc.), I can attest to the truth that misery is often mercy. My relapses bring me back to my knees. Failure is where faith is born and reborn ad infinitum.
I start coasting when I’m doing relatively well. Unbeknown to me, seeds of pride begin to germinate. This is always the beginning of the end.
So, God in his kindness re-covers me (lit., the return to a normal state of health) by allowing my little house of cards to fall apart once again. It is a recovery that works but hurts.
The Apostle Paul knew better than anybody about this experience. He writes, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these ‘surpassingly great revelations’ (personal paraphrase, ‘my smashing successes’), there was given me a thorn in my flesh, . . . Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
I don’t wish ill on anybody, let alone addiction. Addiction kills. It is awful. I hate it.
That said, there is nothing like suffering to move us toward God. The psalmist captured the truth of this reality when he exclaimed, “When I was in distress (lit., tightness, cramped), I sought the Lord” (77:2). In other words, “When my life was falling apart, I cried out to God.”
Relapse opens the door to deeper recovery.
I am not exalting distress and agony. I am not minimizing sin or poor decision making. But there is something about being between a rock and a hard place that gets one to look up (again). Jacob is proof enough (see Gen. 32:22-32).
I remember being at a large minister’s conference in my early 30s and recall in a panel discussion one of the pastor-speakers being asked, “What is one of the petitions you pray most?” The leader’s response nearly took my breath away as he was (and still is) one of the most respected scholars and pastors I know: “That God would keep me.”
Later, after reading Psalm 119 more carefully, I understood why that prayer was at the top of this man’s priority list. No less than nine times (NIV) the psalmist prays, “preserve my life.” Additionally, please such as “Do not let me stray,” “Keep me” “Sustain me,” “Uphold me,” “Direct me,” “Save me,” and more abound in this great psalm.
What is one of God’s chief ways of keeping us? Protecting us? Adversity. The psalmist appropriately states, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (119:67).
In the world of addiction-recovery, relapse is more often than not the road to a greater, more sustainable recovery.