Understanding and Counseling The problem of Lust
The teen years are characterized by the onset of puberty and many accompany struggles, including understanding and coping with an awakening sexuality.
Adolescent girls and boys encounter many thoughts and feeling that are both new and disturbing. They begin to notice the physical development and attractiveness of the opposite sex, they develop an intense fascination with romantic and sexual matters. And for the first time experience sexual arousal, which can be innocent, and lust, which is not.
Lust can be defined as the imaginary rehearsal of sinful behavior. As the Apostle James wrote, “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust is conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished it brings forth death”.
Lust springs from the sinful human heart, of course. It is a legacy of the Fall. But there are constributing factors that make lust a critical problem for adolescents and an arguably greater problem for today’s youth than for the youth of just a generation or two ago.
Teens are not only experiencing various hormonal changes in their bodies, most teens are also largely unprepared for the hormonal surges and surprises that occur as a natural physiological part of adolescence. They have yet to learn how to control and channel their sexual urges, and the frequent, sometimes severe, physical sensations they experience can leave them often bewildered and frightened.
Today’s teen face a culture that is unabashedly obsessed with sex, sexual attractiveness. Television programs, movies, previews, magazine ads, billboards, and commercials as well as styles of clothing are often blatant in their attempt to arouse the viewers sexually.
Adolescent is a time of exploration and discovery, and an awakening sexuality is often accompanied by a strong curiosity that drives the desire to respond to new urges. Curiosity is not wrong, of course, but it does often fuel the fires of lust in a teenager who is naturally anxious to try new and different things.
Search for Identity
The teen year are typically characterized by a search for self-identity, and effort to discover “Who am I and where do I fit in? One’s sexuality is a part of that mix, of course, and for some teens, lustful fantasies become a salve to their fears and insecurities.
The search for Intimacy
Like everyone teens want to be loved. They want to experience intimacy and closeness with others. This natural desire for intimacy leads many adolescents to lustful fantasies, particularly in those who feel lonely, unwanted, and rejected.
The effects of lust are serious and should be understood so that they many be avoided:
Lust, like all sin, carries true moral guilt, factual guilt, the invariable result of disobeying God. While lust isn’t always accompanied by a sense of guilt in the person committing the sin, it can create an overwhelming sense of “dirtiness” in some and a nagging sense of moral discomfort in others.
Lust and other forms of non-marital sex are condemned in Scripture and descried as sin. If this form of sexual immorality continues, one’s spiritual vitality and influence are certain to decline. Sin must be confessed and forsaken if one is to expect spiritual growth and avoid spiritual deadness.
Overt Sexual Sin
As has been said, lust is perhaps the root from which actual overt sinful sexual activity grows. The person who harbors habitual lust in his or her heart is, by the frequent rehearsal of other sexual sin, opening the door to the Tempter.
The young person who allows lustful thoughts and feeling to prevail in his or her mind and heart may be setting the stage for sexual addictions. Lustful fantasies increase the person’s desire for such stimulation, until the youth is addicted to the fascination and/or release the visual stimulus delivers. An escalation of thought and behavior often follows until the addiction drives the youth to pornography and perhaps also acting on his or her lustful thoughts.
A strong craving or desire, often of a sexual nature. Though used relatively infrequently (twenty-nine times) in Scripture, a common theme can be seen running through its occurrences. The word is never used in a positive context; rather, it is always seen in a negative light, relating primarily either to a strong desire for sexual immorality or idolatrous worship. In secular literature, the word indicates only a strong desire and can carry either good or bad connotations.
In the New Testament, the word moves from referring primarily to idolatry to referring instead almost exclusively to sexual immorality. While the idea of idolatry is not completely absent, the primary intention is as a strong, inordinate desire for sexual relations. This sexual immorality, however, is not intended to represent actions alone since lust occurs first as a thought in the mind. The warning is to stop the lust before it moves into the realm of action. For instance, Jesus commands that a man is not to even look at a woman lustfully (i.e., with a desire to have sexual relations with her) because that is the same as committing the physical act of adultery (Matt 5:27-30); both are sin.
In each of the texts where Paul uses the word, it clearly is condemnatory of sexual immorality, both homosexual (Rom 1:26-27) and heterosexual. The command from Paul is to utterly destroy those inordinate desires that most often manifest themselves in the area of sexuality (cf. Col 3:5). Paul continues to warn that we must learn to control our bodies and be sanctified rather than giving in to our base desires, which is characteristic of those who do not know God (cf. 1 Thess 4:3-5).
Our lusts have a very powerful influence on our actions if they are not caught and corrected immediately. We must remember that lust occurs in the mind and is not a physical action in and of itself. It does, however, have great potential of becoming an action—indeed a very damaging action. That is why we must heed the admonition of Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5: "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
How can a youth leader, pastor, parent, or teacher help a young person who is struggling with the sin of Lust? Victory must begin and continue with prayer, of course, and it many be aided by a plan such as the following.
Listen. Listening with sensitivity is a basic starting point for all counseling but sometimes it is forgotten when we are presented with sexual issues. By listening, we convey our desire to understand and our willingness to help with the counselee’s real problem. It is quite appropriate to ask clarifying questions (provided that these are intended to increase our understanding and not to satisfy our curiosity). Try to avoid giving advice, preaching, expressing opinions, or even quoting Scripture, at least until you have a clear perspective on the problem.
Helpful questions may include:
1. When did this first become a problem for you?
2. Has it become better or worse at particular times?
3. When (under what circumstances) do you struggle most with it?
4. When did this first become a problem for you?
5. Have you tried to cope with it yourself? How? With what results/
6. How does it make you feel?
Empathize. Backus emphasizes the need for getting in touch which our own sinful desires before we can hope to help those struggling with sexual sins. Honestly facing our own sin can help us empathize with the young person and approach him or her with compassion and understanding. The wise parent or concerned adult will not need to share his or her own struggles with the youth but will stay focused on addressing the young person’s concerns.
Affirm. For adolescent to admit and discuss lustful thoughts and feelings at all is likely to be a difficult endeavor. He or she is likely to feel extremely self-conscious, guilty, embarrassed, and perhaps shameful. Consequently, it is important for an adult who wishes to be helpful to avoid certain attitudes or actions; for example:
Do not communicate judgment, blame, or disappointment.
Do not preach; be especially wary of using the words, “You should.”
Do not patronize or sympathize (“I feel so sorry for you”).
Do not cajole or threaten.
Instead, the concerned adult should adopt an attitude or affirmation toward the young person. Take every opportunity to affirm his or her worth and your regard for him or her. Help the youth realize that sexual desires are normal, that they are especially pronounced in the teen years, and that learning to control and channel them is a primary challenge for adolescence. The caring adult should seek, by his or her actions and attitudes, to communicate three primary messages to the youth:
1. You are normal.
2. You are valuable.
3. You are loved.
Direct. The parent, pastor, teacher, or youth leader may suggest some of the following directions for countering lust:
Give careful attention to the devotional life. Fellowship with God is the best deterrent of lust.
Steer clear of temptation. Avoid store displays, magazine racks, television shows, and other things or people that prompt lust. Eph 4:27
Memorize Scripture to counter temptation. Eph 4:27, James 1:14-15, James 4:7, Peter 5:8-9, Heb 4:15-16
Establish accountability. Enter into an accountability relationship with someone you trust, with the agreement that you will meet weekly to ask (and give honest answers to such) question such as:
How ‘s your devotional life?
How’s your thought life?
Is there any sin in your life?
Make it a habit to begin praying the moment temptation hits. A temptation can be rendered powerless if it is identified immediately and countered quickly with prayer.
Employ diversions. Active diversions such as cold showers, fifteen-minute jogs, and playing tennis can effectively redirect a person’s thought life.
Identify vulnerable times and plan accordingly. For example, if a person struggles with lust most often right before bedtime, vigorous exercise right before bed or staying up later might make him or her tired enough to go to sleep quickly and so resist temptation.
When you fail, confess your lust as sin, repent before God, and ask Him forgiveness now and victory in the future.
© 2008 Christian Youth Counseling Ministry.