We live in a community that has been heavily influenced and damaged by drugs. Most of the people that we work with have a steady diet of prescribed as well as street ( non prescription) drugs running through their system everyday. Many have grown up in this environment and still others come from a family of dealers. It’s the family business! Now, we have seen a number of addicts drawn to Christ over the last few years. We have seen some not only make professions of faith, but grow and produce ongoing fruit in keeping with genuine repentance. The honest truth, though, is that these have been the exceptions rather than the rule. We have had some painful experiences in recent years and these have taught us some valuable lessons in our ministry here in Niddrie.
1. Expect disappointment. Jesus warned us in the parable of the sower to expect failure. It’s OK. It’s not our fault if people decide to turn their back on the truth of the gospel. Ministry in schemes can be heartbreaking and we need to steel ourselves for that reality. The naivety of some Christians as they enter this kind of ministry never ceases to amaze me. The key is to not let your realism descend into hard heartedness and bitterness. On the other hand, don’t let your romantic notions of ministry among the poor lead you into gullibility and open to being used and manipulated.
2. Leave your saviour complex at the door. We are not people’s personal saviours. We do not possess the power to change a heart, however well intentioned we may be. We don’t have a magic wand. If we come in with a saviour complex and think we can fix everybody then we will be crushed when people let us down. And they will. Constantly. The Bible warns us to not put our trust in princes and men and we must certainly never pin another persons recovery on ourselves. That way lies heartache, failure and spiritual disaster.
3. Remind yourself that only the gospel has the power to truly transform a life. It is only when people are transformed from the inside out will we begin to see growth and long term fruit in their lives. Just keep sowing that seed, Sometimes it will sprout quickly and sometimes it will be painfully slow. But we must trust that the Lord will bring forth His harvest in His time. Not only do we need to remind ourselves of this truth but we need to constantly point people back to this truth time and again. Drug addicts become clingy very quickly. They want you to solve every problem. This is exacerbated in a culture where the benefits system has paralysed them and left them without any motivation. We will be tempted to set them rules and targets but we must remind them that their ultimate hope lies in reconciliation with God through genuine faith in Christ and repentance from sin.
4. Move new believers toward independence quickly. We have a tendency to molly coddle new believers who come from difficult backgrounds. we make excuses for them and their behaviour. We can feel guilty because of their (often) traumatic backgrounds. Fight the urge to let them cling to you. That sort of influence and control over another can be very seductive. We want to solve every problem and rush to their rescue during every crisis. Fight this temptation! Our discipleship must equip and enable and prepare them for works of service. It should not keep them dependent upon us and our charity for s long period.
5. Teach & Model Repentance. We are constantly battling to love people who seem intent on pressing the self destruct button for no rational reason! They can be doing very well for months, years even, and then out of the blue they go on a massive bender or get themselves arrested or jump into some other mischief. Keep praying for your heart during this time. Keep praying for their souls during this time. We know whose are Christ’s because they are like boomerangs. They always end up back at the church because the Holy Spirit will not let them rest in their sinfulness. We must teach our new believers that they will mess up (we all do) and when they do they need to run immediately to the grace found in Jesus Christ. We must teach them not to hide their sin under religious works and language, but to admit sin regularly and appreciate God’s grace all the more. Repentance should be as much a part of the Christian life and experience as anything else.
6. Pray for discernment. In the words of House, “Everybody lies”. We have to be on our guard for this. Drug addicts, and to a large extent alcoholics, (who are far worse manipulators in my experience) are incorrigible liars and manipulators. They smell fresh (Christian) gullible blood a mile away. Those who have been addicted to drugs for a long time will be in a pattern of lying, deceiving and manipulating. They will look you straight in the face and tell you something and yet it will be a complete and utter lie. They are masters at it. Discernment helps us to pick out the truths among the lies that we will be told in order for them to get their way. Again, this will come down to discipleship. We need to challenge lying behaviour early and consistently, even when they deny they are doing it (which they always will). We need to be teaching them that lies (even small ones) are from the devil because he is the father of lies. Again, we need to point them toward Christ and pray that God would root out their lies.
7. Persevere. We need to be patient with those we are discipling and remember that it is a long-term process. Keep going. As long as we are proclaiming gospel truth then we are doing our job. Guard your own heart and press on.