Why Things Don’t Work

12 steps practical progress Mar 17, 2021

Oftentimes people dismiss something, saying that it didn’t work. “Yes, I have a drinking problem, but I tried AA and it didn’t work.” “I tried Christianity but it didn’t work for me.” “I have had this destructive habit most of my life. I have tried everything, but nothing seems to work.” I have felt this way before and I am sure many of you have had similar experiences. Here are some things that explain why we are often disappointed by programs and organizations that are supposed to help us.

We look for perfection

It’s easy to become excited and hopeful about something new—a church, a book, a program, or an organization, etc.—that we think will help us. We want to change something in our lives and we cling to the hope that we have finally found the elusive answer, the key that will unlock the solution.

We soon spot the flaws—in the program, the people, or both—and become disillusioned and disappointed. But the problem may be our own unreasonable expectations. In this life, there are no perfect people or programs. There are no perfect churches. Yes, we have a perfect Bible, but there are imperfect and fallen people teaching it and preaching it. They will make mistakes in balance and interpretation, just like we do.

Not only can expectations derail us, but so can a judgmental and critical spirit. People with addictions can be particularly judgmental and fault-finding. I was initially very judgmental about the 12-Step program that I joined. Somehow, its philosophy wasn’t “pure” enough for me, which was a strange idea for me to have, considering that my life was anything but pure.

I had been telling people for most of my Christian life that it was important for them to find a Bible-believing church to attend regularly. I would assure them that there were no perfect churches, but that they should find one that they could be faithful to without compromising major convictions. I was telling people to vote even if none of the candidates lined up with them exactly on every position. 

At the same time, I was looking for the “perfect” program, book, sermon, or counselor that could help me overcome my addiction. I had to realize that these kinds of expectations were only hindering the work that God wants to do in my life. He uses imperfect people to preach the gospel, to help and serve others, and He uses imperfect relationships to help us grow. The more I am open to seeing God’s hand in different people and programs, the more I am able to experience freedom and growth.

We don’t apply what we learn

Knowledge without application is rarely useful or effective. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” Raw knowledge can be a source of pride and the Bible is clear that “God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble.”

I believe in life-long learning, but learning can’t be an end in itself. It is possible to be “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The goal of learning should be to increase in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and to receive God’s wisdom to bless and edify others.

Even hearing the word of God is dangerous if we don’t actively obey and apply it. The worst kind of deception is self-deception and that is what we are warned of here: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).

One test of understanding is the ability to clearly teach others what we are learning. I was recently watching a video of someone lecturing a large audience on an unconventional topic. Periodically, the teacher would stop and tell the attendees to turn to the person next to them and explain the concept that he had just taught. My friend and I tried this as we listened and I was amazed at how difficult it was to explain what I had just heard. At the same time, the act of explaining what we did understand made us more active listeners as the lecture progressed.

We don’t have to be experts in order to teach others; we just have to be a step or two ahead of them. I am able to help the men that I am sponsoring in my group, even though I am not too far ahead of them on the journey. At the same time, I am learning from them and am inspired to continue pressing hard in my own recovery.

We give up too soon

Progress in any endeavor is rarely linear and addiction recovery is no different. So many times we get on a plateau or have a setback and then quit just before the breakthrough happens. The real tragedy is that we may never know how close we were to a huge leap in growth and healing. 

For most of us, it took a long time for an addiction to develop and take over our lives. It is going to take consistency and persistence to restore spiritual, psychological, and emotional health. It is going to take deliberate practice to learn how to have healthy relationships.

Also, the more time and effort we invest—in a church, program, or relationships, etc.—the more our hearts will be drawn toward it. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” People are becoming more isolated and detached from one another and one reason is that they give up on others too soon. The paradox is that people today are harder and more coarse and yet are so thin-skinned and easily offended.

Let’s be people that can learn from others in spite of their imperfections. Let’s obey God and bless others by applying what we learn. And let’s be faithful to becoming all that God wants us to be.

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