I lead a porn recovery project called Naked Truth. Yeah, I know…it does tend to shut down the small talk at parties.
To be honest, it wasn’t part of my plan; it certainly wasn’t something I chatted about with my careers advisor at school. However, I’m convinced that what we do is needed now more than ever. Today, on your campus and in your church, porn is committing daylight (and midnight) robbery; stealing futures, destroying relationships and leaving lives battered, broken and bleeding out. And it’s not just the minority. PornHub alone cited that it had 33.5 billion hits in 2018. I spoke at a Christian festival recently where 73% of the young adults said they had used porn in the last month. Does that surprise you? So is there any wisdom, any scriptural and practical steps that will help defeat and defend against porn’s pull and power? In a word, yes.
Proverbs VS PornHub
For some people, porn can become a life-controlling problem; one that requires the kind of specialist support we offer at Naked Truth. Porn may not be a dependency issue for you, but for all of us porn has become a discipleship issue and it has been this way for a long, long time.
Ok, Peter, John and Mary didn’t have to contend with PornHub in their discipleship and pursuit to become like Jesus, but there were plenty of other cultural manifestations of lust to deal with, as well as the issues of the human heart we still grapple with today; our appetites and egos, self-soothing and shame, attachments and anxieties.
In our discipleship, we can of course look to the life of Jesus as they did, but also to the same scriptures that guided the Shepherd himself along the right paths. For example, the wise words of Proverbs surprisingly have a fair amount to say to a 21st century disciple about tackling porn:
“Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life. Avoid all perverse talk;
stay away from corrupt speech.
Look straight ahead,
and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path.
Don’t get sidetracked;
keep your feet from following evil.”
– Proverbs 4:23-27 (NLT)
“Guard your heart above all else.”
In Jewish literature, ‘the heart’ is commonly understood as the seat of our emotions and desires and, as such, there are two key ways we should seek to guard our hearts: as a bodyguard, whose role is to protect, and also as a prison guard, whose job is to restrain and contain.
A bodyguard will pay attention to the vulnerabilities of those they are protecting, and if we are going to deal with the issue of porn it is essential that we know the vulnerabilities of our hearts. When we are tired, lonely, stressed, overwhelmed, disconnected, angry – these are the times that we self-soothe. For some of us, it’s another pint or a bigger bar of chocolate, and for others it’s an image search or porn site. Being able to ‘figure the trigger’ is an important first step to guarding your heart. What are the emotions that have led you to regrettable decisions? What emotions do you need to be watching carefully? When are you vulnerable?
The Prison Guard
Our culture profits from the monarchy of our hearts, making money from an entitled pursuit to satisfy all desires, wants and aspirations, yet scripture says your heart can be a cruel and corrupt ruler, needing to be impeached and deposed. Our master has told us to pick up our cross daily. He wasn’t talking about our bodies being crucified daily, so what did he mean? I’ve heard it said that “the cross is a two finger salute to our ego.” Guarding our hearts can mean that we say no to our wants; that we keep constrained our distorted and dictatorial desires.
Of course this is easy to say, and far more difficult to live out.
One of the practices of Jesus that has helped me guard my heart is the ancient discipline of fasting. Choosing to fast regularly, amongst other things, can teach us to say no to ourselves. Over time, as we regularly learn to say no to the smaller things, like lunch, it strengthens our ability to say no to deeper appetites, like porn.
“Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech.”
Proverbs 4 tells us that the way of wisdom, the way of Jesus, is to avoid perverse talk and corrupt speech. Of course it can be read as benching the gossip or bad language in our lives, but maybe there’s more to it.
Moments before exchanging his future for some food in Genesis 25, Esau says, “What good is my birthright, I’ll die if I don’t have some of that stew!” From a distance, and in the cold light of day, we can see how ridiculous that statement is, yet have you noticed how the things you tell yourself right before your mistakes simply don’t add up or make sense afterwards? Therapists call this warped self-talk ‘cognitive distortion’.
Sometimes we maximise the impact – “I need this, nothing else helps.”
Sometimes we minimise the implications – “No-one is getting hurt, at least I’m not cheating on anyone.”
Sometimes it’s fuelled by shame – “I’m messed up, I can’t change, so there’s no point in trying to be different.”
Sometimes it’s fuelled by blame –“If they gave me more affection, I wouldn’t turn to porn.”
Pay attention to what you say. What we tell ourselves, the corrupt speech that plays in our minds and can leak from our mouths, reveals the cognitive distortions that so often pre-empt our mistakes. I once read, “Behind every self-defeating act in our lives is a lie we’ve believed. Either we’ve lied to ourselves or we’ve believed one of Satan’s lies.” Have you found that to be true?
To avoid warped talk, recognise and replace. Spot the lies you speak to yourself and call them lies; don’t give them weight or worth. Sometimes I literally say out loud to myself, “That’s rubbish, shut up!” Once we recognise lies, we can proactively replace them with God’s truth. What has God said about you, about your future, and about your purpose?
“Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.”
Psalm 106 says, “They exchanged their glorious God for an image of a bull, which eats grass. They forgot the God that saved them.” If he could have, you feel the psalmist would have made good use of a face palm emoji at this point. Israel were acting like children of Egypt rather than children of Yahweh: turning to what was tangible, controllable and culturally familiar, rather than the mysterious, untamed God and the future He was promising. They were reaching back for what they had left behind rather than fixing their eyes on what lay before them. They forgot the God that saved them.
The stories of the Bible (and, let’s be honest, our own experiences) frequently point to God’s people forgetting WHO they are and WHOSE they are.
The book of Hebrews echoes the language of Proverbs when it says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
When I fix my eyes on Jesus, I remember the God who saved me, but I also remember his example. Like him, I look ahead, choosing to focus on the future me; the me that I am becoming rather than the me I have been. The me that God has dreamed of and is transforming me into.
Porn may offer something that’s immediate and tangible, but it’s a golden calf. It’s not your God and it’s not your future. Fix your eyes on Jesus: he is both.
“Mark out a straight path for your feet.”
It is often when people begin to pay attention and track their calorie intake that they actually start to lose weight. Proverbs calls us to be just as intentional with all of our choices. It’s a simple principle: we don’t just ‘arrive somewhere’, there was a path we took that led us there. Think about it. What are the moments and mindsets that led you to your mistakes? What choices and paths have led you to a better place, emotionally, mentally or spiritually? Paying attention to what paths lead where in our lives is an essential part of discipleship.
Mark your path and be honest with yourself, God and others. If using tech after 10pm often leads you to using porn or contributes to poor mental health, avoid that path. If certain Instagram accounts lead to lust, block them. If covering up and hiding your mistakes leads to escalation, shame and self-hate, mark it. Choose accountability; choose another path, another way.
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
– C.S. Lewis
Training & Trying
Over the years, I have found that this wisdom helps me to defeat and defend against porn, but it takes time, not a one-off exertion of epic willpower. It’s the difference between training and trying. I once ran 10k without training first and it was painful but possible. As far as I can tell, though, running a marathon without training simply can’t be done. No amount of gritting your teeth and digging deep is going to be enough. For some of you, defeating porn will feel like a marathon undertaking, and you may need professional support; after all, you wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to ‘just try harder!’ But even if porn use hasn’t become an addiction, living a life that is postured towards ‘defeating and defending’ is the kind of personal challenge that will need time and training, not just trying. So dig into Proverbs 4, learn it and apply it as part of your spiritual fitness programme.
“You have a future, it’s beautiful, and porn is not in it.”
– Joshua Luke Smith
By Ian Henderson
Ian lives in Harpurhey, and is the founder and CEO of the Naked Truth Project, which he started as part of Visible Ministries in 2014. Ian also leads Junction Church with his wife, Jen.