Turn and Connect

From Chapter 5 of The Road to Grace:

Turn and Connect

by Mike Genung

Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men
of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea
and all that is in them.
Acts 14:15

In his prime, Iron Mike Tyson was a ferocious fighting machine with phenomenal punching power. In 1985, at the age of 20, he won the WBC title from Trevor Berbick in less than six minutes. Michael Spinks, an undefeated former champion, was knocked out by Tyson in 91 seconds. Carl “The Truth” Williams went down in 93 seconds. By 1990, Tyson had a 37–0 record with 33 knockouts.

I remember watching Tyson in one of his early fights, thinking about just how hard he could hit. There was a loud smack when Tyson connected with his opponent’s face, and his head snapped back like it’d been hit with a cannonball. The thought of taking a shot like that gave me the jitters.

Imagine getting into the ring with Mike Tyson when he was at the top of his game. The bell rings. Tyson calmly walks up to you in his trademark black trunks, grinning and showing his gold tooth, his hands down at his sides in mockery of you. You know that if this guy hits you it’s all over, so you charge him and swing hard. Tyson deftly swivels his torso and avoids your punch, still grinning, hands at his sides. You panic and swing wildly, but Tyson dances around your every blow with ease. Over the next few minutes you throw a frenzy of punches, but nothing connects.

Now you’re exhausted; your arms feel like they’re made of lead and your guard is down. Still grinning, Tyson launches a right cross to your jaw that connects with incredible force; the room starts spinning, and turns black as you drop to the floor.

Fighting sexual thoughts and temptation is like taking on Mike Tyson. Lust is far stronger, faster, smarter and more experienced than you are. The power behind it has been around for centuries, and it’s knocked out millions. Satan’s strategy is to get you in the ring with lust, because once you start swinging he knows he’ll win; he wants you fighting it. The final outcome may take a few rounds, but it doesn’t matter; he knows that once you wear yourself out, it’s lights out.

I’ve tried several different methods of dealing with sexual temptation over the years.

  1. Ignoring the thoughts. This doesn’t work because they keep coming back, often with greater intensity.
  2. Quoting Scripture. I once heard someone say that since Jesus quoted God’s word when He was tempted by Satan in the desert, we should use the same strategy in resisting temptation. I tried this and it sometimes worked, for a little while, but the thoughts always came storming back.
  3. “Commanding the devil to leave.” There have been a few instances where this worked, which may have meant the attack was purely spiritual. However, most of the time I’m battling my own flesh and brokenness in addition to any outside spiritual influence, making this approach ineffective.
  4. Calling a friend (see chapter two). This helps if I’m able to get someone on the phone immediately, but what happens if no one’s available? I can’t just let lustful thoughts run roughshod over me until I can talk to someone; it might be too late by then. Besides, Jesus commanded us not to commit adultery in our heart, so I need a way to cope with the thoughts as temptation hits, not after I’ve sinned.

There are no verses in Scripture in which we are commanded to conquer or even attempt to conquer sexual temptation by our own strength or willpower. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39, he ran. If he would have stayed to resist her she would have touched him provocatively, sparking the flames of sexual desire. Paul confirmed the flight versus fight approach in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when he wrote we are to “flee (sexual) immorality.”

Note how the Lord calls us to deal with sin in the following verses:

Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through
all His prophets and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according
to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which
I sent to you through My servants the prophets.”
2 Kings 17:13

…and (if) My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven,
will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14

Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,
and revive me in Your ways.
Psalms 119:37

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:7

Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.
Isaiah 45:22

And I said, “Who are You, Lord?” and the Lord said,
“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles,
to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
Acts 26:15–18

God calls us to turn away from sin and to Him, after which He will forgive our sin, “heal our land,” and “revive us in His ways.” In the battle against the Mike Tysons of sexual temptation and thoughts, we don’t face lust, try to negotiate with it, or fight it. As soon as we’re tempted, we immediately turn away from the thought and then connect with God, setting our mind on Him and asking for His help and power. I call this the turn and connect approach.

Here’s what “turn and connect” looks like: I’m sitting at my office and a picture of an old girlfriend pops up in my mind. Immediately, I turn to God; I imagine Him, seated on the great white throne in Heaven in all of His majestic glory and splendor. From within I call out “Lord, create in me a clean heart; I don’t want any other women except for the wife you’ve given me.” My focus is now on God (and I’ve even brought my wife into the picture); I’ve turned away from the lustful thought and connected with the Lord and His power. Not an ounce of energy was wasted on fighting; the temptation fades away as I come into the Lord’s presence, and the battle is over.

Rehearsing scripture alone doesn’t work because there’s no connection with the Power behind the words. Isaiah 45:22 says Turn to Me and be saved, not “quote the Bible.” We are turning to the Living God, Who hears us, cares for us, and can overcome every temptation; it is He who gives us the power to “walk in the light.”

but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:7

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides
in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit,
for apart from Me you can do nothing.
John 15:5

Pray without ceasing
1 Thessalonians 5:17

Abiding in Jesus (turn and connect) is to be our way of life, not a one-time event. When “we pray without ceasing,” He provides the power to “walk in the light,” free from sin. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” said Jesus; the Christian life is minute-by-minute dependence on the Living God and His power. We are not strong enough to fight the Mike Tysons of temptation, so when the battle starts we must lean heavily on the Lord. It is here, in the heat of battle, where our faith is fire-tested and made true (1 Peter 1:6–7).

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew
a steadfast spirit within me… Restore to me the joy
of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Psalms 51:10,12

I often ask the Lord for the blessings of these verses in the midst of temptation, as they give voice to my desires. When I ask Him to “create in me a clean heart,” I’m acknowledging my inability to do so and my complete dependence on Him for freedom from sin. When I’m shaken or attacked with fear or doubt, I need Him to stabilize me with a steadfast spirit. And, I want to live in the joy of His light and love so I ask that He “restores me with the joy of His salvation.”

The process of asking the Lord to “create in me a clean heart” many times over the years has retrained my mind. In the past I would turn to lustful thoughts by reflex when hit with temptation; today, “create in me a clean heart…” pops up at even the threat of temptation.

Turn and connect is just as powerful in the physical world. When an attractive woman crosses my path I’ll immediately turn to God in my heart, saying something like “Lord I want you; You’re my source of life, not her. Create in me a clean heart.” Ultimately, lust is an attempt to fill the emptiness inside with another person; by acknowledging the Lord as my source of life, I’m looking to Him for comfort, life and love, not another broken person.

When encountering women who are not my wife, I look them in the eyes, not their body parts; I may notice their figure in my field of vision, but I don’t let my eyes “drop, lock and roll.” There is one woman in this world whose body I allow my eyes to gaze over, and that’s Michelle’s. To gaze on another woman’s body is to paw her with the eyes.

I have made a covenant with my eyes;
how then could I gaze at a virgin?
Job 31:1

In December of 2003, I took three of my kids to a beauty salon to buy a gift certificate as a Christmas present for Michelle. It was a work night, and I was worn out from the day; a beauty salon was the last place I wanted to go, especially with three restless kids in tow. I entered the salon; where two girls in their 20’s stood at the counter, dressed to kill. The one who helped me wore thin, skin tight clothes meant to accentuate every curve. The pull to look was intense; I kept my eyes locked on her face and cried out from within: “Father, You know there’s something in me that wants to look at her figure, please help me; create in me a clean heart.” The pull didn’t let up, but neither did I; I continued turning to the Lord throughout the time I was in the salon. By God’s grace and power I didn’t maul that girl with my eyes, even though my flesh was screaming for it; if I’d have resisted on my own the chances are high I would have given in.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according
to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ
2 Corinthians 10:3–5

It’s critical that we “take every thought captive” and turn to God the instant temptation hits; once you give lust an inch of daylight it charges the opening and goes for a touchdown. If I would have waited a few seconds before drawing on God’s strength that night in the salon, I probably would have lusted with my eyes, which could have taken me to sexual fantasy, the sin of adultery in the heart, and maybe worse. To delay turning to God is playing with lust, and messing with this fire gets us burned; we must turn to God the instant temptation hits.

Playing with a mental image of a woman with clothes on, by the way, can still be adultery. When we use an image to draw life or comfort from, it’s the same as worshiping it, and worshiping an image of a woman is idolatry and adultery, regardless of clothing. The intent is as important as the object.

When we train ourselves to feed on Jesus for life, love and comfort, our desires change, and we find ourselves hungering for God instead of lust. Temptation, which is meant to cause us to sin, now has the unintended effect of drawing us closer to the Lord.

Another benefit of turn and connect is that it cleanses our imagination. A man who has spent years soaking his mind in porn has trained his imagination to conjure up the images of lust. When we picture Heaven as we’re connecting with God, we’re retraining our imagination to form images that provoke worship and awe of the Living God.

Read through the following from Revelations 1:12–17:

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me.
And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands;
and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like
a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet,
and girded across His chest with a golden sash.
His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were
like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow
in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His
mouth came a sharp two-edged sword;
and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.

The Jesus we see in these verses is nothing like the long haired hippie many have portrayed him to be. Picture a Person whose face beams with light so powerful that it’s like looking at the mid-day sun. He has eyes with such intensity that they smolder like fire; His hair is white, not like an old man’s hair, but fresh snow. His feet are bronze in color; smooth and polished in appearance. He is clothed in a spotless, floor-length white robe with a gleaming gold sash around the chest. His voice has many layers; like none we’ve heard before. John had been so comfortable with Jesus that He’d leaned on his chest at the last supper, yet at the blazing appearance of the Son of God he dropped to the floor “like a dead man.”

When I picture the Lord in His awesome glory, my imagination is transformed from corruption to something holy, powerful and wonderful. My faith is set ablaze, because a God like this has no problem vaporizing the Mike Tysons of sexual temptation. Lust, which was so big, intimidating and seductive before, is nothing compared to Jesus; I find myself wanting to know Him more.

Another Christian walking in the light is the last thing Satan wants, and he’ll hit you hard and often to keep you from turning to God. He attacks with accusation, trying to drown you in despair: “You’re such a hypocrite; you’re no Christian. Look at how many times you’ve fallen. You’ve gone too far for God to love someone like you; you’ll always be a sex addict.” But 1 John 1:9 says:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

There is no sin a Christian can commit that’s bigger than the cross, and God’s forgiveness, grace and cleansing are always available to you. When the deceiver hits you with accusation, you can turn to the Lord and say, “Father, thank you for cleansing me from all my sin by your blood at the cross; I ask that You fight the battle of these lies. Fill my mind and my heart with the power of Your truth so I can stand firm.”

The forces of evil will try to increase your sense of isolation: “God’s not here; do you see anyone? You’re all alone. Did He help you when you masturbated with porn before? He’s not going to listen to a sex addict like you.” But Psalms 139:7–12 says:

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can
I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

And 2 Chronicles 30:9 says:

For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your
sons will find compassion before those who led them
captive and will return to this land. For the Lord your
God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn
His face away from you if you return to Him.

God is all around you, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. If it’s 2:00 a.m. and you’re getting tempted, He’s right there, waiting for you to turn to Him. The evil one wants you to buy into the lie that God is far away and you’re alone so you fall into despair and give in. But you can turn to the Lord, saying something like “Father, although I feel alone, I know you’re all around me; You said You’re everywhere, and I believe you. Fill me with Your presence now; fill this room with your peace. Be my strength and shield in the battle against despair and loneliness and be bigger to me than anything else.”

The evil one also tries to get us to think we’ve sinned when we’ve not by attacking with the fear of sin: “You saw that girl and you lusted for her, you hypocrite! You’ve already sinned, so you might as well take the next step, get some porn, and have fun with it.”

Every thought that flutters into your mind isn’t sin, and just because an attractive person crosses your field of vision, it doesn’t mean you’ve lusted after them. It’s when we run after temptation with a butterfly net that it turns to sin. The evil one tries to make you think you’ve sinned so you stumble on something that isn’t there. But you can turn to the Lord, and say, “Father, you know the true motives of my heart. If I have sinned, I invite you to convict me. However, I believe I’m being attacked with lies and accusation, so I ask you to fight the battle for me and fill me with the truth.”

We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.
1 John 3:19–20

You can detect an attack of fear if an overwhelming wave of terror washes over you.

In my experience, the Lord lets us know we’re on the wrong path with a sharp sense of conviction or restraint from within, not a blast of fear.

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity (fear),
but of power and love and discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

If you’re hit with fear, you can turn to God and say something like, “Lord, Your word says You haven’t given me a spirit of fear, and I won’t back down because you’re bigger than the one who’s attacking me. Please take the battle in your hands and fight for me.”

Learning a new habit takes consistent effort and hard work, and making turn and connect a way of life is no different. As a teenager, when I first started working out with weights I would get exhausted quickly; I had little muscle development and no endurance. I kept at it and have now been working out with weights three to four times a week for the past 25 years. Today I’m in much better shape and can lift a lot more than I could in my teens; I also have few health problems.

It’s the same with building up our spiritual muscles. In the beginning it will take a lot of effort to turn to the Lord every time you get hit; you may find yourself needing to turn to God many times every hour. Some battles last longer than others, and you need to build up endurance. When I was in the salon, I had to stay connected with Lord the entire time I was there. You might get discouraged and feel like it’s too much work; soon you hear the Snake from Hell whispering, “It would be easier if you just gave in; remember how good it feels to masturbate? Wouldn’t it be a relief to get this over with? You wouldn’t have to fight any more.” This is Satan’s battle strategy to try to keep you in bondage to sin; don’t give in. If the weight gets too heavy and you need a spotter, get on the phone immediately and ask your brother for help.

Lust softens spiritual and mental muscle, and it takes time to build it back up. Be patient, persistent and realistic; don’t expect to bench 300 pounds one week after you start. In time you’ll find that you’re turning to God by habit, and temptation won’t scare you like it used to. One day you’ll notice that your bench press has gone up 25%; you’d been so focused on the battle that you hadn’t paid attention to the improvements taking place.

There have been a few times when I’ve turned to the Lord and the thoughts and temptations kept coming; the cause was always unresolved sin in my life. Often, it was because I’d been unkind to my wife and our relationship had drifted apart. A disconnected marriage is an open door for spiritual attack, so keep short accounts with your spouse. If you’ve hurt your wife (or another person), make it right quickly.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

A big mistake many guys make is that they let up after getting a little freedom from sexual sin. We live in a cultural cesspool of pornography and sexual depravity, and Satan’s brewing bigger vats of sewage. A few weeks, months or even years will not make you immune to temptation. Remember, David fell to adultery with Bathsheba in an unguarded moment after incredible success, which included defeating nine-foot Goliath in one-on-one combat, victory in many bloody battles, and becoming king. Peter denied Christ after having been involved in a lot of powerful ministry. It’s easy to start thinking we’re strong enough to handle temptation on our own and become complacent; don’t make that mistake.

Establish my footsteps in Your word,
and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.
Psalms 119:133

I start every day by asking the Lord to “let no lust, fear or pride have dominion over me.” Like David and Peter, I’m stuck with this vessel of broken flesh until death. Although the Lord set me free from the bondage to sexual sin in 1999, turn and connect must be my way of life, every day, as I showed in the story of when I bought the gift certificate.

I add fear to my Psalms 119:133 request because I’ve struggled with it as a result of abuse issues growing up. God has rebuilt this part of my life and for the most part I live free from fear and anxiety, but it’s a soft spot I still have to watch out for.

Pride is a subtle snake that’s always lurking at the door of my life, trying to quench God’s spirit and thwart His work through exaltation of self, so it’s added to my morning request. It’s easy to watch God change lives and then get hit with thoughts wanting praise for what He did. When I hear the snake of pride hissing, I turn to God: “Lord, please don’t let my pride take hold here, the glory is Yours, not mine; Your grace is sufficient for me. Please help me so that I don’t get in your way or charge ahead of you; I want to follow You.”

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence
and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:8

The verse above shows what we should dwell on; He has given us many things that are “lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise.” Saturate your mind in God’s word every day, filling it with all of His truth and blessings.

Take in the refreshing sights of His beaches, deserts, mountains, forests, and meadows. Get out of your office with its flickering lights, demands on time and pale white walls, and breathe in the refreshing beauty of God’s creation. Learn to enjoy the sounds around you, such as the rhapsody of crashing waves, the melody of a bird, the soft drumbeat of rain, and the laughter of children.

Music is a gift that can minister to the hardest heart; Saul was soothed from an evil spirit when David played the harp (1 Samuel 16:23). Immerse your mind in music that worships Him; let your soul dance with an uplifting chorus that soars to Heaven, or find peace in a quiet instrumental.

We should avoid music with sexually suggestive or angry lyrics; this can turn us back to lust as quickly as the right music takes us to the throne of Heaven.

Let your mind find peace by discovering the healing mystery of silence; make getting away from the messages and noise of this world a habit. Get alone with God; find a quiet meadow, go somewhere deep in a forest, take a walk in the desert, or find an empty room in your home early in the morning. Take time to quiet the ever-racing thoughts of your mind, and learn the secret of silent communion with the Living God; it will produce depth and stability in you that few Christians possess.

As turn and connect becomes your way of life, the Lord will change you. Your focus will evolve from self-absorption to God-obsession, and you’ll turn to Him for everything. You’ll find yourself praising Him more, and caring less about yourself. Your faith will grow from mustard seed to mountain as He becomes bigger to you than sin or temptation.

You’re in the ring with Mike Tyson again, who’s grinning, showing that gold tooth. He’s standing, waiting for you to charge him in panic like before, but this time you look up and say, “Lord, this fight is too much for me; You take care of it.”

Instantly, a large fist from Heaven smashes Tyson to the floor, completely obliterating him. You walk away, silently praising God for the victory.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel
of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.
Psalms 1:1–3