You’ll see a lot of compelling things if you spend enough time at the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley in Youngstown, Ohio. While many people might assume that an emergency shelter for the homeless would be filled with lazy individuals who aren’t interested in working for a living, I’ve come to find that the majority of the time the exact opposite is true.
Most of the people who enter through our doors are looking to better their lives in one way or another, whether that be through seeking a job in workforce development, saving their Social Security income into our savings program until they can afford an apartment, or dedicating a year of their lives to the Rescue Mission Discipleship Academy.
The Discipleship Academy is a yearlong residency program where men who have come to the end of themselves decide to dedicate their lives to the change that only Christ can offer. Through daily biblical education classes taught by pastors, service opportunities, and community events, men are challenged to experience true change through Jesus. Many of these men have pasts with addictions, and these individuals are often literally facing death if they aren’t willing to embrace change. In fact, some of them have already died several times and been revived by medical teams after an overdose.
It’s exciting to see men make changes in their lives that bring them from the brink of physical death to life, but it’s even better to witness them coming to an understanding and acceptance of who Christ is. As the academy’s men spend more time distancing themselves from their addictions, it becomes easier for that change to impact their lives. On a bigger and more important scale, it’s vital for them to understand that they will never experience the lasting change they’re seeking unless Jesus is the center of it all.
As I’ve spent more time with the men in the Discipleship Academy, I’ve come to realize that it’s not just those kinds of men who wrestle with these kinds of issues. Life and death, addiction and freedom, becoming bitter or better — these are things that all of us must face throughout our lives. In other words, we’ve all faced our own addictions, whether to drugs, alcohol, money or relationships … the list goes on and is virtually endless.
These addictions have control over us; they are the antithesis of change. They keep us enslaved to burdens that weigh down our very souls. These shackles limit our growth, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Most of these addictions find their roots in fear and anxiety, whether we realize it or not. Some of the men in the academy fear sifting through the details of their troubled past, so they mask the fear with shooting heroin or drinking whiskey until the pain goes away. Your personal fears and worries may be different, but take the time to consider how they might be shaping the sins and addictions that have had control over you. If we’re willing to let go of our fear and let God have control, we’ll find the kind of life change we’re looking to experience.
Jesus was clear that worrying won’t add even a single hour to our lives and that living faithfully is a large enough task for today (Matthew 6:27, 34). In other words, unless we’re willing to make a change, surrender our addictions and fears to God, and simply live faithfully for Him each day, we’ll be cheating ourselves out of the fullness of life that is available to us.
I know a guy named Bob who often challenges people by telling them to “stop letting fear call the shots and get back to building the rocket ship that was supposed to be your life.” Most of us have a big dream when we’re younger, only to let our anxiety about what people might say or how we might be rejected shape our decisions.
When Jesus proclaimed in John 10:10 that He had come so that we “may have life, and have it to the full,” He wasn’t simply talking about the promise of eternal life available to us in heaven one day. Jesus has also come to bring the best possible kind of life right here and now in the present, if only we are willing to embrace the changes needed to make it possible. With His help, we can overcome any and all barriers in our way.
Begin asking yourself: What might I need to change to experience freedom in Christ? It’s time that we stand up to our addictions, fears and sins and embrace the new life that is available through Christ. Once we begin living in that new freedom, we’ll experience true, lasting joy and peace that surpasses all understanding.
Josh Avery is an appointed Free Methodist pastor in the Pittsburgh Conference serving as the men’s discipleship manager for the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley.
- What kind of sins, addictions or fears have been holding you back from living the fullest kind of life that Jesus offers?
- What are some Scriptures that encourage you personally to help you move forward in your faith instead of allowing you to become stagnant?
- Do you have a group of friends or mentors who can hold you accountable as you decide to make the hard changes that are necessary in your life?