Most Christians seek to be responsive to needs they see around them. Often, individuals or church congregations work to “carry the burdens” of those dealing with a variety of spiritual, physical and social issues. Showing God’s love in tangible ways, from offering prayers to opening food pantry doors, is part of our call as followers of Jesus.
I can testify personally that the support of my Christian friends has made a huge difference during difficult times. In fact, I've talked about it before in this blog. Throughout my ordeal, just knowing people wanted to be there for me was reassuring. So I am disappointed that those with addiction disorders often don’t receive the same level of care from other Christians.
According to an informal survey on the site PastoralCareInc.com, 35 percent of Christian adults admit to habitually drinking too much, and 17 percent to using drugs not prescribed by a doctor. The epidemic of addiction has spread everywhere, affecting people of faith as well as others. But instead of reaching out to those who struggle, many Christians turn away.
Why? A lack of understanding of the nature of addiction is partly to blame. Some don't realize that it is a disease, with a strong physical component. They see it primarily as a spiritual problem, a weakness in someone’s nature that must be fixed. This can lead them to try and effect change through persuasion or pressure, which only serves to create a negative atmosphere.
A popular phrase used in recovery programs is, “You're only as sick as your secrets.” Too many Christians who struggle with addiction keep silent rather than face disapproval from their congregation. Fortunately, we can all be part of breaking this pattern.
Even a quick online search will provide lots of useful information about addictive disorders. But as Christians, we have an additional resource literally at our fingertips. The Bible actually has a lot to say to us in terms of reaching out and ministering to those who struggle.
Jesus is Our Model
When we are unsure of how to approach people who are caught up in addiction, we can turn to Jesus for inspiration. Many Scriptures describe Jesus as not only compassionate toward those who had diseases, but active in helping them. Matthew 9:35 says that He “went about all the cities and villages… healing every sickness and every disease among the people.”
His heart was burdened for those who were physically, mentally or spiritually needy. In fact, Matthew 11:28 is a beautiful invitation and promise Jesus gave to all: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
It's true that we ourselves don’t possess the power to miraculously heal anyone. But, starting with our attitudes, we can provide a safe place for someone to let down their guard, and even share some of their hurts. That in itself can start the healing process.
The Apostle Paul is Our Teacher
When we don’t quite know what to do to help, we can turn to the Apostle Paul for guidance. He knew the importance of caring for others, and wrote many instructions that still apply to us today. For instance, Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Here, Paul echoes the desires of Jesus. Next, Paul gets practical.
1. We are to welcome those who are struggling.
Romans 15 says to “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Can we seek out those in our midst who need recovery—not to shame them, but to let them know we care?
2. We are to be sensitive to those who are struggling.
In Romans 14, Paul uses food as an example: “Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions...For although all things are clean, it is wrong to cause anyone to stumble by what you eat. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Can we learn to appreciate the difficulty of addictive diseases and encourage people who live with them?
3. We are to be willing to meet needs of those who are struggling.
Romans 12 encourages us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Can we be ready to give our time, our prayers and our skills to offer meaningful help to others?
One other teaching Paul gives us is important to remember here - “Let us not become weary in doing good…” Addictive behaviors usually do not change quickly. Recovery truly is a journey, and Christians need other believers in their support system who will stay over the long haul.
Specific Ways To Minister to Those With Addiction Disorders
- Making a commitment to learn about the nature of addiction through an online search or visit to the local library will start equipping us to be effective.
- Honestly examining our beliefs and attitudes about those who are dealing with this condition will soften our hearts and grow our compassion.
- Doing a Bible study on Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels or on Paul’s letters (especially Romans and 1 & 2 Corinthians) that teach about loving and serving one another will keep us aligned with God.
- Praying for wisdom about ways to show concern for others will awaken a joyful spirit for ministry.
- Keeping a prayer list specifically for those who are addicted or in recovery instills a sense of discipline for lifting up the hurting.
- Inviting friends, prayer partners, etc. to join us builds a powerful community of Christians.
Some Resources To Get Started
Though not a faith-based program, AA is one of the best resources for information about addictive diseases. Just reading the 12 principles and steps can be an eye-opening experience. The materials are full of advice and insights for family and friends of those dealing with all kinds of addiction.
Like AA, this website offers general information about addiction. But the books and videos that individuals and churches can order have a decidedly Christian component. Also, the site has a nationwide listing of support groups and times for CR meetings. If you're interested in hosting a Celebrate Recovery Program at your church, I talk about the steps here.
SoberRecovery’s Christian Rehab Articles
The site offers a library of articles on different addiction related topics, including a faith-based section. It’s a good resource for tips and inspirational stories from a Christian perspective.
SoberRecovery Forum: Christians In Recovery
With more than 170,000 members as of 2018, the site’s thriving forum section is an excellent place to provide and receive support online. The “Christians In Recovery” thread is where people who share the same Christian faith check-in for daily inspiration from others who share the same beliefs.