The image burns in my head. A dramatization of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting–the participants stand in a circle, holding hands, joining in unison as they say:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I do not know if this is how all AA meetings go, or if it is merely a Hollywood dramatization. The thought arises, isn’t this how the church should be? And so I dig, wondering if this is just a passing thought brought on by a creative dramatization, or if there is more to it–what are the AA twelve steps? What I found brought a furrow to my brow.
In a population of “addicts,” who most believe got themselves into their situation, lies a depth of wisdom in how to get out of that situation. Among a group that we tip-toe around and wonder if they will slip, there is great wisdom to be learned. The 12 steps amaze me. If you have never read them, click here to read Wikipedia’s succinct list.
Inspired by the humility and courage embedded in the 12 steps, I offer an edited version for the Christian church (adapted from this list):
- We admitted we were powerless over sin–that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that God, who is greater than ourselves, could restore us.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admit it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to sinners, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The reality of the above list is that I edited it very little. For such a humble approach based in the first step of personal powerlessness over that which entangles us, it is incredibly applicable to you, and to me, and to the church. Not convinced? Wondering about one or more of the steps (is #5 tripping you up? or #8?) Maybe these sub-bullets will help you:
1. We admitted we were powerless over sin–that our lives had become unmanageable.
“As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have all together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.'” –Romans 3:10-12
2. Came to believe that God, who is greater than ourselves, could restore us.
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redeption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” –Romans 3:21-26
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” –1 Peter 4:1-2
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” –1 Timothy 1:15
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” –1 John 1:8, 10
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
“So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” –Romans 14:12
“Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul…Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’…And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against the, so that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. This became known both to all Jews and Greeks…and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all…So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.” –Acts 19:11-20
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” –1 John 1:9
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” –Psalm 139:23-24
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” –Titus 2:11-14
“He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.” –Malachi 3:3
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
“When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him…” –Luke 12:58
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” –Matthew 5:23-24
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admit it.
“The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked down to the ground.” –Psalm 147:6
“For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.” –Psalm 149:4
“And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” –Galatians 6:9-10
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” –1 Thessalonians 4:1-2
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.” –1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
12. Having a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to sinners, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.” –Matthew 4:23
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” –Mark 8:35-36
“‘Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” –Luke 9:4-6
Imagine if we, as individuals in the church, adopted these twelve steps? Please, I beg you, do not use this lesson as a tool to say the church can heal all addicts. Can Jesus? Yes. But if we, as a church, cannot adopt these humble steps to understand our own weaknesses and truly live, day by day, by the power of God, we cannot offer healing to anyone.
This lesson is not for “them.” This lesson is for me. This lesson is for you. Meditate on your own life, your own weaknesses, and the power of God, the God whose will is perfect. And maybe, rather then telling a recovering alcoholic (or drug addict) what they should do to stay clean–maybe we need to take a seat, and ask how they did it, taking a lesson from one who recognized the hellishness of their choices and submitted themselves to the One Whose strength carries them through temptations too strong to bear on their own. Maybe you and I have something to learn from those who have walked these steps before us.
Wisdom emerges from the most surprising places. We would be wise to recognize God’s hand, no matter from where it emerges.
photo by Chris Cheever