Years ago, I was introduced to the practice of “preaching the Gospel to myself every day.”
I have come to recognize that the first three steps of AA’s 12 Steps restate the basic affirmations that Christians make when they ask Jesus to be their Savior. In the workbook The 12 Steps: A Spiritual Journey, those working together in a group commit to “pray, meditate, and work the first three steps daily.” In order to accomplish both simultaneously, I have re-written the first three steps of AA as biblical affirmations.
Step 1: “I am a sinner and cannot save myself.” (We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.)
No one wants to work for something and not succeed. We may work very hard at our jobs, but my it may go unnoticed or unrewarded. We may work to parent my children well and still find myself struggling with a prodigal. We may become dissatisfied in our “walk” with God. We may feel hopeless as we continue to struggle with sins that we have attempted to give up years before.(Think of Paul and Romans 7!) When we experience this, we can feel like spiritual failures.
At the same time, our natural instincts are to fix something that we have broken, but we don’t want to admit that we can’t. This is true—whether it be a toy, a lamp, or a relationship. I become frustrated when I don’t reach my goals.
These frustrations are compounded when we believe that “God helps those who help themselves.” It becomes easy to doubt God’s promises to take care of us. We then can become mechanics.We try to fix things. We try to move the obstacles (whether they are people or circumstances.) Our efforts often only make the difficult situation more difficult.
I now realize that my basic struggle is always trying to save myself. I suspect that this is true of you also. We must acknowledge that many of the aspects of our lives are beyond our control and we can’t fix everything. We can’t save ourselves.
Step 2: “Thankfully, there is a Savior.” (Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.)
At the age of 19, I heard the Gospel for the first time—even though I had grown up attending church. For the first time, I understood the life of Jesus Christ in a new way. I learned that my personal sin and the sins of all humanity made it necessary for Him to come to earth and die in human flesh in order to pay the death penalty that is the consequence of human sin.
Step 3: I believe Jesus has saved me. (Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.)
At that time, I did something that was rare for me. Instead of quickly agreeing with this teaching, I realized that believing it required careful consideration and a determination that Jesus was the only One who could save me. I took about one month to reflect on this truth and what believing this would mean for me. On April 16,1976, Good Friday morning at 2 am, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.
Over time I realized that I had resumed working to save myself spiritually and in other ways. This is what Paul told the people of the Galatian churches to stop—attempting to save myself through my own efforts(Gal. 3:1-3.) I was trying to manage my own spiritual condition myself. I believed Jesus is the Savior, but I was still expecting that I now had to save myself from the consequences of the the sins I committed. I expected that, after being saved, I would have the power to get better by exerting myself.
Much later, I realized that I had always tried to “save” myself from difficult situations and escape from unpleasant responsibilities and avoid people who annoyed me. I was still living as a mechanic. I was trying to fix my life myself.
The Bible teaches that sometimes God rescues me from hardship just as soon as I cry out for help. At other times, He waits to rescue me from hardship on a schedule that requires that I learn a spiritual lesson/s. (This is what He did with Job.) At other times, He is content to leave me “stuck” in my hardship because it’s only in my “stuckness” that I will learn to depend upon Him in a continuing way.
When I am stuck in the hardship, it is understandable to wonder if God really has heard my prayers…if He is going to keep fulfilling His promises to me…if I am really saved. When I work Step 3 every day, I remind myself of His promises to save me AND that He is working to save me (even when I don’t see it) AND that I am wasting my time attempting to “fix” something that He isn’t ready to rescue me from.
The familiar proverb reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” I trust Him when I turn my life and my will over to the care of God. And I need to do this every day.
Yes, I am responsible to live by faith each day and there are decisions I have to make every day. BUT I must resist manipulating people and situations in order to get when I want. This is being a mechanic again…trying to save myself.
I have been placed in some situations that I could not maneuver in. I was clearly powerless and watched for a way out but I depended upon Him for courage as I waited. And I waited some more.
As I was waiting, I wasn’t still. I did have to have some difficult talks with God and others and had to live in some hard places. My human assessment was that the path wasn’t straight. It looked more like one of the Family Circus cartoons in the Sunday paper, in which one of the kids wandered all over the yard or the neighborhood before accomplishing the task that he had been given.
As I look back on these times now, I can see how the path was straight—straight to Jesus. I didn’t have any advice for Him; I just asked Him to be with me where I was. So I spent time reading His Word in order to better know His will. I was reminded of the character God is working in me by His Spirit and what actions are appropriate to my situation. I also listened to those I knew who walked with Him and was nurtured by their encouragement. And the Lord showed Himself to be faithful in providing everything I needed to survive and thrive in those difficult circumstances.
I have access to spiritual power by faith, but Jesus says that the power flows only as long as I am living in spiritual union with Him. “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I re-connect with God when I work the first three steps every day. I don’t get plugged in like a cell phone to get re-charged so I can leave the power source and function. I am more like the lamp that must remain plugged in to work. I can’t disconnect from Him and expect that I will become spiritually healthy. I must declare my need of Him to experience salvation, but I need to keep declaring that need each day and moment by moment.
And so I have learned that I need to preach the Gospel to myself every day as an essential part of Christian discipleship, which IS my recovery.