Now the work begins. Recovery, or repentance, in the Twelve Steps is often referred to as “working the program.” Unfortunately, the average believer in Jesus has no program. They think they graduated after step three, with no need for continuing education. Nothing changes for the anonymous recovery group person, who has no program either. If we apply the Steps to our lives, step four is where the work — that brings life transformation — begins. Now we are going to begin a searching and fearless moral inventory of our life. Like the other steps, we will continue to work this step for the rest of our life, as the Steps become a way of daily life.
Generally, we have not done well at self-assessment and some form of denial is probably a factor. Remember, in the first three steps, we have initiated a relationship with God, now we ask Him for help as we examine the characteristics that shape our life. Denial is a survival skill we learned as a child. It keeps us in a make-believe world. This may have worked as a child, but now it hinders us from facing the reality around us. Think about it — how difficult is it to clearly identify our character defects? We may think of them, from time to time, but do we admit them to our spouse, our friends, family members or our church friends?
I think we need help to step out and begin this process. I sure did. I found a recovery group, that was specific to my addiction to pornography, Sex Addicts Anonymous. There I learned how to identify my defects of character by listening to others do that for themselves. It was a safe place to begin. I also remember reading, in some book, that just because I was in recovery for my addiction, it did not give me the right to vomit all my putrid defects all over my family and friends. A recovery group and or a trained professional in the field of your addiction is the appropriate place to get into the intricate details of shameful thoughts, behaviors and where they may come from concerning our history.
But there are many character flaws that we can begin to write down and confess openly because most everyone in close relationship with us already knows our flaws. But we have had “no talk” rules surrounding them. We all need to do this step! If we do not, for the most part we remain the same. The old saying “if nothing changes then nothing changes.”
I, personally, know of a man who consistently drank a case of beer every day and was an obstinate, self-centered jerk. One day his wife met him at the entrance door to their home. She had his bags packed and said “it’s living here with me, or the beer, make your choice.” It’s been many years since he has drank any kind of alcohol. He has never been to an AA meeting or counseling and he remains obstinate and self-centered and without doubt can be a jerk. He is known in recovery circles as a “dry drunk.” The alcohol is gone but his personality remains unchanged.
I will list some of my obvious character flaws, that I wrote down 29 years ago, as an example of where you might begin in your own journey. Anger, pride, self-righteousness, self-centered, self-pity, defensiveness, and unpredictable mood shifts to negative, abusive or withdrawn actions. Of course, this was just a beginning point. Over the years, God has revealed other areas that needed improvement and there will be more to come, I am sure. For me, I ask God to help me. I ask Him to examine my ways and to reveal any offensive ways in my thoughts and behaviors. Psalm 139:23-24. It is also in accord with Lamentations 3:40, that we examine our ways and return to the Lord. I am grateful that this is a slow process. I believe if God revealed everything to us at once, the burden would be too much to bear.
Generally, I find the parts of my character that need improvement or change by reading God’s Word. As I am reading, it is as though a verse or section of Scripture just stands out. When that happens, I write down the character flaw, like defensiveness and the Scripture that identified it. 1 Peter 2:23, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” I memorize these verses and contemplate them regularly. I believe the power to change our behavior is in God’s Word. When I find myself in a position where I want to be defensive, I think of the verse, say it to myself, and the result is a very different behavior.
Sometimes our character defects are revealed to us by other people, especially if we ask for their input. Sometimes they are revealed in ways we need to be on the look out for. One such occurrence was when I went on a fishing trip with some fellow Bassmaster fishermen to O.H. Ivie, Texas. At the small, very rural cabins where we were staying, there was a small cafe, perfect for breakfast. Inside the cafe, a local artist had some of his drawings for sale. I was attracted to one particular drawing, it was a silhouette of an older man standing by the lake’s shoreline, patently undoing a severe backlash in his reel. The man looked very much like my dad. I thought about buying it, every day for the week we were there, but I didn’t want to spring for the $50.00 he wanted. For a whole year I thought about that drawing and kicked myself for not buying it. Our group of fishermen went back to that same highland reservoir the following year. I didn’t even take my bags to the cabin. I walked directly to the cafe and upon finding the drawing still there and for sale, I bought it. On the bottom, by the artist’s signature, was a Scripture verse, Proverbs 16:32, “Better a patent man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper, than one who takes a city.”
God had used a fishing trip and an artist to point out the fact that it was long over due for me to work on patience, my temper and my anger. The drawing hangs in our home where I see it frequently, every day. We need to be on the lookout, so we can identify our defects of character and begin the process of taking them captive, making them obedient to the will of God, 2 Corinthians 10:5, and be transformed by rebuilding the way we think. Romans 12:2.
There are many books written to help us get through step four — and all the steps, for that matter. But I believe the greatest help is other people. A recovery group or a good, sound, Christian small group with an understanding and a commitment to anonymity can be of great help. Hearing other people express their character defects helps us to identify our own and then gives us the courage to express them. It is in that group we also carry out Step Five. “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” A Scripture that reinforces this is James 5:16a. “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
I greatly benefited by being involved in a recovery group every Monday evening for over 11 years. I also sought professional counseling, help to work though some of the deep-rooted, issues of childhood sexual abuse and physical abuse. Eventually I could talk of these things in my recovery group, and now I can write and publicly speak of them. That’s a long way from the absolute, “no discussion” rules I had for 28 years of my life. God has truly brought healing to me for my childhood rape and abuse. He has brought it through people who have touched me deeply in the relationships we have had over years of time. God does speak to us though His word but He speaks and acts powerfully through our relationships with other people.
I can not encourage you enough to fearlessly identify the defects of character you know to be true about yourself, ask for the input of family and friends to identify ones you may not be aware of. Make a list of these things and add the sins or the exact nature of the wrongs you have committed against God, yourself and others. Now, find a safe person or persons that you can share your list with. I am convinced that the power Satan has over us is at its strongest when we have secret sins and much of his power is lost when we break the secret(s) through confessing them, in a safe place, with other people.
Lynn Fredrick is the author of Stand Firm, a program to work for bringing about life transformation through the power of God’s Word.
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