4 ways to respond to a friend struggling with lust

If you missed yesterday’s news, here’s a quick re-cap:

  • There are women who struggle with lust
  • It’s really hard for a lot of women to talk openly about that fight
  • We can be a part of changing that

If you, like me, want to be a part of creating a culture where we can encourage one another to share our struggles, here are four things to keep in mind when responding to friends.

1.       Acknowledging the struggle, don’t belittle it. 

What does it look like to belittle their struggle? “I’m sure that’s tough.  But your  struggle is so different from the way men struggle with lust.  Their struggle is really hard.” “I’m sure it’s not that bad!  At least you haven’t acted on your desires!”  “Don’t beat yourself up! At least it didn’t go too far!”

Believe your friend when they tell you they are struggling with sexual sin.  Don’t try to convince them the struggle isn’t that bad.  Believe it is a dangerous and deadly fight.

I’ve experienced every angle on this one.  I’ve belittled my own sin; convincing myself it wasn’t that bad unless it involved really visible consequences. I’ve allowed others to belittle my sin, convincing me that I wasn’t that bad.  I’ve also been the girl who knows how bad her issue is but can’t seem to convince anyone around her.

I remember at one point in my battle with lust feeling like no one around me could grasp the gravity of the situation.  No matter what I said it seemed like they didn’t hear me.  I felt like I was drowning and people kept patting me on the head telling me it would get better.

I think sometimes we can belittle sin if it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end in physical consequences.  I often wonder if people would respond differently to my struggle with lust if I was married; would my struggle be taken more seriously?  Do we actually believe the Bible when it says God is concerned with the heart and a thought is equal to adultery.

Be the kind of friend who believes the danger is real, regardless of your friend’s stage of life, regardless of the physical outplay of their fight.

2. Treat them like a sinner, not a freak.  No matter what someone tells you they’re struggling with, treat them like they’re no worse than you.

Of course, that’s only really possible if you believe they’re no worse than you.

If you think they’ve just confessed something truly evil, you’re right, what they’ve confessed is evil.  Just like the way you judged them in your heart; just like the way you made decisions today in order to secure your employers approval.  Look at them like you’re looking in a mirror.  Their heart has darker things in it than they’ve confessed, and so does yours.

3. Engage them, don’t avoid them.  So often you love you friend, and you want to be there for them, but you just don’t know how.  You listen to them, but you feel awkward and embarrassed; the last thing you want to do is talk about lust.

Counting someone as more significant means that you put what’s best for them above what makes you feel comfortable.

Be someone willing to ask questions.  Be a learner.  Ask your friend how you can help them fight.  Ask them how you can pray for them.  Ask them what questions you should ask them to follow up later.  Ask them how you can reflect Jesus to them in this.

4.  Give them effective tools to fight.  When I think back on how I behaved at the start of my ministry, I cringe.

I would meet with a girl struggling with sexual sin and I would roll my internal eyes and think: ‘just stop! It’s not that hard!’  That thought revealed pretty gross things in me, not them.  If you believe the power to overcome sin comes from discipline, you’re preaching a different gospel than the one that involves Christ on the Cross.  Preach Christ crucified to your friends.  Preach faith.  Preach the power of God.

Does discipline have a role?  Of course.  Discipline and accountability are awesome.  They are the river beds that God’s grace flows through.  They’re just not God Himself.

Give your friend effective tools to fight, but remind them the power to defeat sin and satan is found in the Spirit working in us through faith.

I’ve included below an awesome tool from John Piper’s ministry.

I think this a great tool whether you struggle with lust, anxiety, fear, approval of man or any kind of unbelieving thoughts.

Let me know what you think!

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A – AVOID as much as is possible and reasonable the sights and situations that arouse unfitting desire. I say “possible and reasonable” because some exposure to temptation is inevitable. And I say “unfitting desire” because not all desires for sex, food, and family are bad. We know when they are unfitting and unhelpful and on their way to becoming enslaving. We know our weaknesses and what triggers them. “Avoiding” is a Biblical strategy. “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22). “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

N – Say NO to every lustful thought within five seconds. And say it with the authority of Jesus Christ. “In the name of Jesus, NO!” You don’t have much more than five seconds. Give it more unopposed time than that, and it will lodge itself with such force as to be almost immovable. Say it out loud if you dare. Be tough and warlike. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Strike fast and strike hard. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” ( James 4:7).

T – TURN the mind forcefully toward Christ as a superior satisfaction. Saying “no” will not suffice. You must move from defense to offense. Fight fire with fire. Attack the promises of sin with the promises of Christ. The Bible calls lusts “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22). They lie. They promise more than they can deliver. The Bible calls them “passions of your former ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14). Only fools yield. “All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter” (Proverbs 7:22). Deceit is defeated by truth. Ignorance is defeated by knowledge. It must be glorious truth and beautiful knowledge. This is why I wrote Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. We must stock our minds with the superior promises and pleasures of Jesus. Then we must turn to them immediately after saying, “NO!”

H – HOLD the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out. “Fix your eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). Here is where many fail. They give in too soon. They say, “I tried to push it out, and it didn’t work.” I ask, “How long did you try?” How hard did you exert your mind? The mind is a muscle. You can flex it with vehemence. Take the kingdom violently (Matthew 11:12). Be brutal. Hold the promise of Christ before your eyes. Hold it. Hold it! Don’t let it go! Keep holding it! How long? As long as it takes. Fight! For Christ’s sake, fight till you win! If an electric garage door were about to crush your child you would hold it up with all our might and holler for help, and hold it and hold it and hold it and hold it.

E – ENJOY a superior satisfaction. Cultivate the capacities for pleasure in Christ. One reason lust reigns in so many is that Christ has so little appeal. We default to deceit because we have little delight in Christ. Don’t say, “That’s just not me.” What steps have you taken to waken affection for Jesus? Have you fought for joy? Don’t be fatalistic. You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart – more than you treasure sex or sugar. If you have little taste for Jesus, competing pleasures will triumph. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don’t have: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). Then look, look, look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see him the way he is.

M – MOVE into a useful activity away from idleness and other vulnerable behaviors. Lust grows fast in the garden of leisure. Find a good work to do, and do it with all your might. “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Abound in work. Get up and do something. Sweep a room. Hammer a nail. Write a letter. Fix a faucet. And do it for Jesus’ sake. You were made to manage and create. Christ died to make you “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). Displace deceitful lusts with a passion for good deeds.

11 thoughts on “4 ways to respond to a friend struggling with lust

  1. I would like to know whats your advice if you have made mistakes sexually? specifically if you (by the grace of God) have not have sex, but have crossed several lines and not drawn your boundries tight enough. It seems all the purity books out there take a view of “you’ve had sex, now what?” or “don’t kiss until you are married and if you do, your marriage and sex life will suffer”

    I’ve screwed up with lust and physical boundaries, so have many others I know. Are we doomed to unhappy marriages? I am making the choice to live a pure lifestyle now, but live with this impression that sexual sin is the one thing you can’t recover from, the one thing which God’s grace doesn’t cover….

    1. GREEAATT Question! I’ll post a blog responding to this cause I know it’s a hot issue for a ton of us out there…

  2. Thank you for these posts! Like you, I’ve been on all sides of this and you’ve hit the nail on the head. I found the ANTHEM tool myself a couple of years ago and have it posted in my journal and for a long time, I had it on my nightstand.

    I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my best girl friends and the Gospel lived out by them. I know that anytime I rely on my own strength and discipline, this battle is lost; but the constant reminder of “Christ in me, Christ in me” seems to always center me back on the cross of Christ. A loving, Biblical community is what God used to rescue me from this pit. This is a great reminder to be that community for someone else! Thank you!

  3. I have struggled all my life with sexual boundaries, I am still a virgin and I fight to keep focused on God. Even today I am struggling. This blog helped me so much today. I am going to keep on reading. It is such a breath of fresh air to know that there are other women out there who deal with this. Recently my sister told me she struggles with this as well, in fact she has gone much much further than I have, But sadly she believes certain parts of her struggles are only human and not a sin. She almost convinced me and caused me to fall back into my struggles again. I love God but I have lost that fire. How do you forgive yourself and feel desirable by God again? I feel like such a hypocrite and have promised change so many times to God I feel like my word means nothing.

    1. Gosh. Great questions. Too good to respond to in a comment! I’ll email you! In the meantime – keep fighting by His grace.

  4. This is real good information and I liked reading the comments, which also helped. These issues were once a big deal in my life and yes, nobody cared enough to offer help. Either they thought I was weak and not ‘a big girl to handle it’ and accept it as just a part of life, or they thought I suddenly became a hypocrite and wanted to shine judgement on them. I didn’t even TALK about them and they were feeling condemned by me. I later found what that was all about. And those with cleaner minds thought I was ‘now open about being secretly nasty’ and they rebuked me. I speak from experience that if you don’t know God’s Word, you too will become an ‘Adam’ or ‘Eve’. The devil is a liar. He’ll trick you and tempt you to doing things that sound exciting. He’ll flatter you and lie by manipulating you into thinking he’s the only one that thinks you’re special and he’s the only one that can get you what you really want. But he won’t use his face or real voice to tempt us, ‘cause his true package is disgusting, freaky, and repulsive. The sheep won’t follow the wolf unless the wolf is cleverly disguised. So the enemy uses someone else’s look or your own thoughts to lure you into his manipulation. That way, when you catch on to what he’s doing to you, he’ll lie again and say “no that wasn’t me. That was all you.” Then you feel trapped in his web of guilt and shame and you either don’t know how to get out, or you think if you do get out, that lying spider will grab you and spit you back into his manipulative web where you belong. The good news is, the shed Blood of Jesus washed me clean, God goes after the lost in the darkest places (physically and spiritually speaking) otherwise His omnipresence wouldn’t prove true, and He reminds me of His mercy in being quick to forgive. His patience and forgiving nature burst my heart open and drew me to aggressively go after Him to replace my old addictions. He wiped out nearly all my past contacts and gave me a new future. I also moved. I get to walk with him now. When the enemy tries to remind me of my past failures, Jesus immediately steps in to tell me “No, go ahead and check out what the enemy is showing you. Don’t be afraid. Good. Now that you heard what the enemy has to say, hear what I have to say. My Blood wiped out your sins and destroyed the works of the devil in your life. I forgive much. Remember that. Now let’s rejoice of My grace in you, My love for you, your FULL deliverance, and your bright future. You are Mine now as I paid full price to own you. And no one can take what is rightfully Mine. The enemy will say and do what he can to lure you away from me so he can hurt you , but he can only do that if you hand him your authority that I gave you. The enemy is deceitful and will not offer anything that won’t drag you to death’s door. So walk with me and I will equip you, I will open your eyes, I will stretch your faith, and it is I Who allows your strength to be tested. I Will be your ultimate provider and bring you to victory.” Knowing what I know now, those moments of lust, were a spiritual sting to disarm me and make me vulnerable to demonic manifestations of spiritual attack. After all, how can you fight back if ‘’you’re the guilty one?” The enemy’s tactic is to find open doors and illegal loopholes. How bad could it have been for Eve to eat a piece of fruit that the enemy lured her to do? Was it as if it would eventually lead to curses, disease, war, suffering, and eventual death for her and every generation to come? When God does or makes something, He says “It is good.” And it is good. The enemy counterfeits everything God does and it is bad. Always. The devil will not lead you to love, Jesus, or Heavenly Paradise. The devil works to separate us from those things. So now, when I approach someone with the love of Jesus and the person mistakes it for lust and sends forth lust to me, I rebuke the spirit of flattery and pride and break its power between me and that person. I press in with Jesus in His purity and become a threat to the enemy, causing it to flee. I stay firm on this, especially in the workplace where you see the person daily, and they soon check the look in your eyes and see your lack of agreement on lust. When that happens, I’m reminded I walk with Jesus, He Is with me and in the center of it ALL, weaving Everything into His good plan for my life.

  5. What is the godly response when your closest friend gets exposed as a fraud and her (homosexual) lust is directed at you?! She is a teacher at a Christian school, does all the outward “spititual routine” but the depth of her relationship with God was questionable and now the lust has been revealed and I am feeling so violated by her deception and failing in my response. I don’t know how to be gracious only because the lust is directed at me; I absolutely would be gracious about the sin if I didn’t feel so betrayed because I question everything and all trust is completely broken. It feels to me that the entire friendship is a lie….

    1. Oh man. I am so sorry you’re walking through this and God understands the confusion and betrayal you’re feeling. I would encourage you to think less about the godly response and more about what’s happening inside. You will need time and space to grieve and wrestle through so many things you are feeling and to make room for all the different injuries you’re feeling.

      There is no way to rush this process, and I don’t share these thoughts to try to do that or to try to tell you what is right, but I do share them in case they are helpful in the processing as you work through all the different narrative and emotions on your end: (1) always remember David “against you and only you have I sinned.” As much as this feels like it is about you and a betrayal of you, ultimately it is between her and God, not you. (2) have you ever had a crush on a male friend? Would you feel different if she was a man and hadn’t told you? Is it a betrayal if a friend doesn’t tell you about feelings out of consideration for the friendship? Or because they don’t think you’re who God has for them? Or because they know you are not interested? I would encourage you as much as possible to remember that Jesus draws no distinction between homosexual and heterosexual lust, and instead says that lust is adultery specifically so we can’t make ourselves feel better about things that feel more acceptable to us.

      I don’t share this to belittle the betrayal and hurt you feel, but to encourage you as you work through it to look for the places where your narratives around specific struggles might be coloring your experience. Pain is still just as valid and real and will still need grace and mercy for yourself, and God has plenty to give. Press into the love of God for you and you will find it spills over into her. xo xo. Praying for you both.

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