A. THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST
TAKING A STAND AGAINST THE USE OF ALCOHOL
Many of our days must have been dreary and perhaps even boring, but there are those that stand out like beacons. One of these occurred when we were visiting Martie’s relatives during the festive season of 1970.
When I was saved, the Lord miraculously delivered me from any desire I had for alcohol. However, I felt that a Christian was not to refrain from participating in the things common to everyday life, for by taking part in some of them, he could influence other people and draw them to the Lord Jesus Christ. We therefore attended functions like marriage ceremonies and other family gatherings. There are, however, also dangers involved in doing so as I was to discover for myself.
When I was saved, a certain relative of ours who had no interest in God whatsoever, said to my wife: “This will never last. We know him very, very well. It is just a matter of time and he will be back to his old habits.” Martie conveyed this to me but it did not worry me for I felt very secure in my new-found salvation. During that specific visit to Martie’s relatives, on a certain evening, we were visiting her brother-in-law at whose home a lively party was being held for all the family to enjoy. Her family in fact loved to get together; they just enjoyed one another’s company. As the party picked up, I drank a beer and probably another one and probably a third one. By that time I was getting a bit tipsy and very jolly indeed. I wasn’t drunk yet, but well on my way there.
By God’s grace it did not go any further and no one else would really have seen my behaviour as out of place but this chap was watching me closely and went up to Martie and said to her: “Just look at that. Didn’t I tell you that this is what was going to happen?” When we got home that evening, Martie told me what he had said. By that time my head had cleared because I had not really drunk all that much and these words struck deeply into my heart. I was overcome with grief. I realised that I had openly put to shame the Lord Jesus Christ that had saved my soul. Before going to bed, I cried and confessed my sin, but I went further than that. I realised that by taking even one drink I had opened the way for another and that what had happened to me that night, could so easily happen again in future. So I prayed and said: “Oh God, please, I am giving myself to You tonight, completely, also in this area of my life. Lord please never ever in my whole life do I want to take even one drop of alcohol over my lips. Lord please empower me to go through with this resolution for I myself am weak and I know that my own willpower will not see me through.” I felt relieved and got into bed but knew that the next test was just around the corner, and so it was.
Within the next few days, Martie’s brother, living next door to her mother’s house where we were hosted for those days, also threw a party to which everyone was invited. Since I had always been right in the midst of the jollification, leading in taking one drink after the other, getting more drunk than most of the others, they straightaway looked for me to liven up the party.
I panicked for I knew I just did not have the willpower to stand up against them. I was like a scared rabbit hunted down by dogs. I knew that I just had to flee from them. I could not afford to be found because they would surround me, draw me into their midst, put a glass to my lips and sing: “Down, down, down!” and I just wouldn’t have the courage to give offence by not doing what they wanted. So what I did was something absolutely ridiculous in the eyes of man but I was a desperate man and God says in His Word that we are to flee from sin. “Flee from sin”: that means you have to run away from it; run as fast as you can, set up a new 100meter record, get awayget away, hide and do not let it catch up with you. Strangely enough, concerning the devil, the Word says that we are to withstand him, but as regards sin, we are to flee from it. Don’t ask me for a theological explanation; I was not dealing with theology but with sin and I felt there was only one way out and that was to run, to flee and that was exactly what I did. I did not run down the street for that would have been too embarrassing, but ran to the garage and climbed onto the flat roof which had a little wall around it. There I lay on my stomach, heart pounding, saying to myself (or perhaps it was the devil saying to me): “Look at yourself, a magistrate, doing such a ridiculous thing. Do you really think this is what God wants from you?”
Friends, at least there is one example in the Bible of a very important rich man that did very much the same and that was Zacchaeus. When he could not see the Lord Jesus, he became so desperate that he ran ahead, got up into a tree with those long robes which the people of that time wore and sat there with a pounding heart waiting for the Lord Jesus to pass by beneath him. He had acted as ridiculously as I did. We were sort of in the same tree. The Lord Jesus came to the tree, looked up at him and said: “Zacchaeus, come down for today I must dine with you in your house.” The Lord did not consider his behaviour to be ridiculous but honoured him in front of all those people.
That is what happened to me on that roof that day. I had an open heaven above me. Like Jacob, there were, unseen to me, angels ascending and descending with the Lord standing at the top of that ladder, looking down and saying: “Well done My servant, now I know that you really love me”. You know it was when Abraham did that ridiculous thing of taking his son onto the mountain, laying him on the altar and took up up the knife and was on the point of killing him, of sacrificing him unto the Lord, and it was then, only then, that the Lord stopped him saying: “Now I know that you love me and that you did not withhold your only son from Me.” It was then that the Lord showed him a ram entangled in a bush which he could use to sacrifice in the place of his son.
It was on that roof where the Lord said to me: “Ben, now I know that you really love me and now I seal your desire not to touch liquor again for the rest of your life. I will now make your decision a fixture in your spirit, I will be with you in every situation in which you are tempted”. You know what, I got down from that roof, walked amongst all those people and they never even seemed to notice me. It was as if they had just been blinded as regards my presence and I knew within my heart that the victory now was mine forever. Oh, the grace of God. Oh, the love that sought me. Oh, the blood that bought me. Up till this day which is, I believe some 41 years later, I have never again had a drop of alcohol over my lips. I do not even partake of Holy Communion when it is served with wine that has alcohol in it. There are dear Christian friends of mine that see no harm in taking a glass of wine with their food, but as for me my answer is: “No, I will not touch it again. I will not endanger myself. I will not endanger the lives of others who might also be weak and seeing me as a Christian taking alcohol, might be tempted to do so themselves and fall into the net of the evil one”.
This was not the last occasion on which I was challenged on the issue of taking alcohol. In the course of my work I once had to do a project in the magistrates’ court offices of Johannesburg. That was a very, very large office. At that time it had more staff than some of the smaller government departments had in total. I also had to interact with very senior people. As regards that project, I had to liaise with the town clerk of Johannesburg, who nowadays is the mayor, with vice-directors of the Department of Justice and with the senior magistrate of that office. I had to come up with proposals on how to solve a certain problem affecting both offices and get everybody to accept it.
When lunchtime came, we were all invited by the Mayor for a meal at a posh restaurant. As we were sitting around that enormous table, he asked each one of us what we would have to drink. When it came to me I said I would have a Coke. He brushed aside my reply and repeated his question to which I again replied that I would love to have a Coke. He then sympathetically enquired whether I had an ulcer. The moment had come to be open and I said no, I did not have any physical problem but that I was a Christian and would not have alcohol. He got upset, saying that we all were Christians. I replied that I was a born-again Christian and for that reason would not have alcohol. As you can imagine, it somewhat spoiled the spirit of camaraderie which was important for the co-operation between the two organisations. The Lord, however, overruled and my work never suffered because of my walk with Christ.
It was incidences like these that mightily strengthened my faith and helped me to give myself to the Lord completely.
I am aware of all the theological arguments for and against the moderate use of alcohol, especially wine, by Christians, but let me briefly approach the issue in a more practical way. That exceedingly godly man, Noah, was laid low by wine, became a spectacle to his household as he lay naked on his bed, and in the aftermath, one of his family members was cursed.
If any person, on his deathbed, were to be asked what he would have done otherwise during his lifetime if he could have it all over again, very few, if any, would say that they would have liked regularly to have had a mug of beer, a glass of wine, a tot of gin or a tumbler of whisky. On the contrary, millions would probably say that they would not have touched alcohol had they been given a second chance.
We as a family went through a couple of years of terrible trauma because of a family member that had become an alcoholic. We witnessed the devastating effects alcohol had on him as well as on his family. In the course of our work as evangelists, Martie and I saw the effects of alcohol on society. More than once we stood at the bedside of an alcoholic, physically just skin and bones, shaking like an animal that had been poisoned and was staring at us as from the pit of hell. Never have I seen a person in that plight, being born-again and restored to normal life. Often have I seen such people sliding down into the darkness and horror of eternal damnation and all that because, on a certain day of their lifes’ journey, they had taken a sip of alcohol . No, I will not have it and have no need of it for the Spirit of the Lord fills my life with joy.
BREAKING WITH TOBACCO
Another act of deliverance which the Lord effected in my life was when He delivered me from the bondage of smoking. I had actually started smoking at the age of 17 when I was in standard nine (grade 11), my second last year in secondary school. I started off by smoking cigarettes but when my father gave up smoking cigars, I gradually emptied that large carton by smoking them myself. I took these with me to boarding school and we had a secret place where all of us smokers got together and enjoyed our smoke.
After leaving school, I continued smoking for approximately another 10 years when I gave it up for the sake of my rugby. I felt that I would be able to get fit much faster. I did not find it all that hard at that time but after a while I had very strange physical symptoms which the doctors could not diagnose. This got worse and worse and one side of my face went numb. I also had other tremendous physical discomforts during that time so one of the specialists I consulted, advised me to go back to smoking because, in his experience, people sometimes displayed these strange symptoms when discontinuing their smoking habit.
His consulting room was on the fifth floor of a certain building. As I left the lift on the ground floor, there was a cafe right in front of me. I went in, bought myself a packet of Lexingtons and within a minute I was drawing on a cigarette until it glowed like the tail light of a motorcar. From that moment I was firmly bound by this habit and knew very well that I would not get rid of it again. I bought myself a very grand pipe and smoked Boxer tobacco instead of cigarettes “for health reasons.”
But God had other ideas for me and so one day when we were at the seaside and as I was fishing and casting the bait into the water, I looked down and saw a pipe being swept into the sea. Realising that it was mine that that fallen from my pocket, I ran after it but, in doing so, I felt the Spirit of God saying to me: “Leave it”. I was stunned but it was just too much for me and I said: “No Lord, I can’t let my pipe just go like that”. So I ran after it and got it back. But the seed had been sown in my mind.
A few days later my brother and I were fishing from the wharf. For some reason or other he had forgotten to bring his pipe along for he was also smoking. Now a pipe is something you do not share with anybody else but he was my brother and I just could not see him suffering like that. So I lent him my pipe but, to my grief, he dropped it and it fell somewhere beneath the rocks where we could not retrieve it. Again the Spirit of God spoke to me very clearly saying: “I told you to stop smoking. I told you that this habit is now to be broken.”
This time I could not ignore the voice of the Lord any longer and said to Him: “Lord as you know, there at Justice Head Office, I am on the verge of implementing a very comprehensive filing system which is going to touch each and every one working in that office. I know everybody is going to be very irritated in the beginning for not being able to find the correct file and they are going to converge on me, blaming me for this or for that for some time. My superiors are also going to call me in, wanting to know this or wanting to solve that problem. Lord, I know it is going to be a very stressful time. So Lord, please grant me extension of time just until this trial is over. I promise that I will then attend to this issue”.
Whether the Lord actually granted my request or whether I just stubbornly decided to do it my own way, I do not know, but what I can say is that I kept my promise and as soon as that system had been implemented and the dust had settled, I went to the Lord in prayer, saying: “Lord, please, the time has now come to deliver me, but this is going to be a fight. Lord, please assist me and help me to get through with it”. I also went to Martie, telling her what I was about to do and asking her to pray for me, not only on a daily basis but on an hourly basis for I knew this was going to be a most terrible battle.
I decided to cut my smoking or to limit it to a certain number of smokes per day, cutting down to the point where, after five days, I would stop completely. I also recall that when I had stopped the previous time, while the nicotine was withdrawing from my body, I would fall asleep whenever I sat down on a chair for longer than two minutes. So I knew this was not going to be an easy matter but I was resolved to do it because the Lord had told me that this was what He wanted. What made it worse was that I couldn’t find any text in the Word saying that a person was not allowed to smoke and I knew that very few Christians would agree with me that smoking is similar to taking any other kind of drug, that it is an idol in one’s life that binds one and takes the place of God in certain areas of one’s life.
Well the long and the short of this issue is that, at the end of the fifth day, I put down my pipe for the last time. I did not put it into the dustbin, I put it in a drawer of our dressing table so that I would be able to lay my hand on it should I not be able to achieve what I had set out to do. Again the Lord was so good to me and though I went through a very hard time and was very moody during that time, I did get through. After about fourteen days I realised that I had somehow gained the victory. It took much, much longer for the recollection of smoking to be eradicated from my mind. Whenever I saw people smoking again or smelled it, I knew I had to take a stand against it.
The devil also attacked me on several occasions, causing me to have nightmares during which I dreamt that I had again taken up my pipe and started smoking. It was an extremely traumatic experience and I would actually wake up in a sweat. I had to get out of bed, walk around, sit in the lounge for awhile to recover and to realise that it had just been a dream and that I had not succumbed to this habit. I had to pray again, confessing that smoking was against the will of God and in this way regain my inner peace and confidence that I had really been delivered and that I would not revert to that old habit again.
Smoking has a tremendous hold on a person and I do believe from personal experience and from what I have seen in other people, that it can even be worse than alcohol. Yet, there is deliverance and after a period of some forty-three years, I can testify that God has given me grace never again to take up a cigarette or my pipe and that I have no further desire or use for it.
To stop smoking was a very real deliverance for I always had, before leaving for any place, to make sure that in my pocket I had my pipe, tobacco pouch filled with tobacco and matches. I often was in meetings where I felt this terrible craving and longed just to to get out for a while to take a smoke, so having been delivered from this was a tremendous relief. I could sit in church or in other spiritual meetings, totally free from this desire to which I had been bound for so long. In this matter also, once more I can just give glory to God and say: “When the Son has set you free, you shall be free indeed”. I am not saying that an unconverted person cannot lay down his pipe or cigarettes but I do say that I have seen many of them doing so, but taking it up again after a while. “Thank you Lord for what you have done also in this area of my life.”
ON ADDICTION IN GENERAL
It is so important that we as Christians see things like addiction to alcohol or tobacco from a spiritual perspective. We need to see that it is not just a physical thing harming our health, but that there is a spiritual side to it. Firstly, it dishonours the Lord and secondly, there is a very strong demonic influence which we allow to operate in our lives.
The nation of Israel, as they moved into Canaan taking the land which God had promised to them, came up to one city after the other and it was just human to bypass the stronger cities and rather take the ones that were not so heavily guarded. That might not have been the right thing to do, because what happened was that these strong cities remained amongst them. They settled down around these heathen communities.
One can just imagine what happened. In the beginning there would probably have been enmity and no interaction with them, but as time went by, both sides became used to each other. The people of Israel might have gone into the cities to buy things which they needed. Those within the cities may have gone out to the surrounding Israelite farmers and bought goods from them like vegetables and animals. In this way trade was established between the two groups. That brought friendship that might even have led to intermarriage. That led to Israel becoming tolerant of heathen gods and as we see in history, very soon they started worshipping them, which led to Israel’s downfall when they were carried away into captivity.
This is very much the same in the life of a Christian. There comes a moment after we are saved when the Lord points out the strongholds in our lives. It is as if we arrive at a specific city. The time comes for us to deal with that specific enemy that is in our midst as in the instance when the Lord pointed out to me, very definitely, that smoking was to go. If we do not get to grips with it immediately, we first of all grieve the Holy Spirit and He discontinues speaking to us regarding this issue. He withdraws after having spoken to us for a day or a week or a month or two or three. He gradually just withdraws and we do not feel a strong urge any more to deal with this enemy within our lives. What happens? In the end we sort of make peace with this thing within our lives. There is a truce between us and when people speak to us about this, we just overlook it and feel: “Oh well, I do know the Lord; I am on my way to heaven. I am growing in other areas in my life, so this is not all that important. This is just a physical thing, this is not really touching my spirit.”
What we do not realise is that it actually undermines our faith because, in a specific area, we have not been able to gain the victory. Of course it also undermines our health. Just recently I stood at the deathbed of a man dying from emphysema. He had been smoking for many, many years during which time his wife had been pleading with him to stop, but he just went on. Now towards the end of his life, he was blaming God for the suffering which he was going through, but he was not thinking about the fact that God had in fact spoken to him so many times but that he had just been putting this off, shifting it aside, turning a deaf ear to the Lord and that these were the natural consequences which he was now bearing.
What I am saying is that these things will not keep one from heaven, but it will definitely harm one’s relationship with the Lord, it will make one ineffective in work that one wants to do for God. I can assure you that with reference to some racial groups, if you bring the Gospel to them and you are smoking, they will just laugh and ask in which way you are different from them?
There comes a time, a divine time, when God speaks to us and when we must immediately respond to the Holy Spirit. He will see us through and work deliverance in our lives. This applies to each and every area of our lives and to whatever becomes an idol and wants to rule within us.
Our children were taught by a certain teacher who was bound by Coca-Cola. He would drink a couple of bottles of Coca-Cola daily. Now Coca-Cola is not normally a substance that causes addiction but by drinking it all day long, he got to the point where he could not be without it even for a couple of hours, which means that he had become addicted to it .
Addiction can affect any area of our lives and we must be wide-awake to see it coming and immediately deal with it before it becomes a stronghold within us. It could be caused by sitting watching the TV hour after hour instead of spending time with our families. Any good thing could become an idol if over-indulged in, for instance, I love to read books and I have to be careful not to over-indulge in this pastime which in other ways, is very profitable.
Enough on the topic of addiction. Let us get on with the story of our lives.
STAND FIRM AND THE ENEMY WILL TURN TAIL AND FLEE FROM YOU!
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