My Weakness, His Strength

Without Christ's help, inner battles with the natural self can destroy the Spirit-filled soul.

by Chuck Pfeiffer

I’ll call her Crystal. All you have to do is mention her name to any male member of the gym, and his eyes will roll. With long, blonde hair in a pony tail, a perfectly tanned body scantily clad in a skimpy workout bra and shorts, she enjoys turning every man’s head.

One day I found myself working out near Crystal. Even at 78 there is more swirling around in me than mere imagination. Yet imagination alone swings me off into a sinful tangle I supposedly left behind when I found Christ fifteen years earlier.

She stood directly in front of where I reposed on the press machine. The noise of the gym buzzed around me, the hum of treadmills masked by background music and the occasional clang of weights. My attention centered on Crystal.

“You’re Chuck, aren’t you?” She carefully patted her tanned face with a towel. I caught a faint whiff of light cologne. In her soft, pouty voice Crystal continued, “Haven’t seen you lately.”

At that moment I wished I had on dark glasses so she wouldn’t see my roving eyes. She shook the workout towel at me. “Oh, you! Say, for an older guy you sure take care of yourself.” It was almost as if she had put a hit on me.

Unfortunately for me, this incident tapped into my not-yet-fully conquered, lustful self. I kept the casual, flirtatious conversation going and relished the warm glow of sensuous stirring within. It was as if I had become frozen in time and could reach back to who I used to be.

Inner disturbance

Prior to my conversion at 63, one twisted strut of my existence had been rampant, unfettered lust along with all its destructive ramifications. During various phases of my life, this inner disturbance spilled out into splurges of promiscuity.

A first marriage to my high school sweetheart was a wild, unstable affair, just before I shipped overseas to World War II. A year or so later when I was in the Mediterranean theater of war, her “Dear John” letter pushed me off into a flood of cognac and women. Drunkenness and promiscuity became my lifestyle.

After the war came the university, a second marriage to a fine lady, and a beautiful baby daughter. These wonderful happenings only applied a veneer to the volcano inside. Throughout my career, lustful behavior bubbled just below the surface, waiting to rage and completely destabilize me.

Christ’s startling, glorious presence bowled me over when He ambushed me in a pew at church. This set-in-his-ways old sinner was not prepared for the warmth and joy of salvation. The appearance of a new me jolted the old, bedraggled, wayward man inside.

Battle lines

It took a year for the initial exuberance, joy, and love to settle in. Then I began to pray, “Oh, Lord, the old me still hangs around, wanting to leap back into the old life. He won’t give up!”

Battle lines were drawn between the new creature in Christ and my sin-plagued past. Lustful covetousness still lurked in the dark depths of my inner being. My continual plea during years of a stumbling walk with Christ became “Lord God, I’m Yours. Stomp out this miserable, stinking, sinful old me.”

The paradox of this problem is that there seems no longer a realistic basis for its existence. My third marriage of thirty-two years leaves no excuse for such inner conflict. My wife is a warm, caring person; we are the best of friends, confidantes, and lovers – both Christians and as tight as two people can be.

It’s the deep channel of this good marriage and the more recent Christ-instilled conscience that holds back the firestorm of destructive, lustful behavior. It continues now as an inner battle only, but nonetheless full of explosive force. I am continually aware how these wild emotions blaze at my Christian stability and at the foundations of my beautiful marriage.

Personal responsibility

Our pastor recently described a Christian man entangled in the sinful tentacles of pornography. “He came to me asking how come the Lord doesn’t heal this passion in him. I told him he had some responsibility in the process. He has to let go and not hang on to his old self.”

Those words “hang on to his old self” rang a bell in my conscience. Why, I was clinging to parts of my former sinful life. Lustful thoughts were one item the old me loved. I left the meeting determined to separate myself from this old habit, this emotional addiction of sexual covetousness.

As a struggling Christian for fourteen years, I had discovered that overcoming lust was a mighty steep incline to scale alone. The more I looked at it, the more obvious it became that Christians have heavy responsibilities – and I couldn’t handle mine. There must be something wrong with me, because I can’t hold up my end, I told myself. Where does this leave me in my walk with Christ? My prayers became worrisome questions.

Humble prayer

One spring day an explosive thought struck out of nowhere: This scum bag of a sinner can’t hold up his end of a walk with Christ. It devastated me; I felt like a bowl of melted Jell-O.

“Lord God, I can’t hack it,” I muttered as I hit my knees, alone in my backyard storage shed. I bawled like a baby. “Who am I to think I’m fit enough to even worship my Creator?” Unworthiness sloshed over me like the pounding surf.

Weeping, silent prayer followed, and with it came a humble but warm, comforting realization: I am nothing of myself; only through Him can I rise up. I realized I had arrived exactly where the Lord wanted me. He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

In times of crisis when I am incapable of beating down the flame and too weak to hold my own, I’ve learned to call out to God. It’s an inner shout, a plea that resounds through my being: “Lord God, help! I’m too weak. Quench this fire in my mind. I can’t handle it alone.”

At that point, I’ve found that He not only does His part but also leans down and picks up my portion as well. Eventually, by His strength in me, He will put the final damper on my uncontrollable inner inferno.