Harlots and Strongholds

When I was in high school, I wasn’t much of a student. When it came to math, I think I owed points. But as bad as I was at math, the class I hated most was English Literature. It wasn’t that I was bad at language. For all the bad grades I “earned”, I had a natural bent toward words. What I dreaded about the class was the teacher’s requirement that we would each read out loud to the rest of the students. Due to some bad experiences, I was painfully self-conscious at that time of my life and it crippled me socially. Because of this, I absolutely dreaded having to speak publicly.

When the teacher would tell us to take out our books, my heart would begin to beat out of my chest. As the anxiety quickly escalated, I felt I could literally crawl out of my skin. And then…the teacher would say my name. On several occasions, as I attempted to read, I would begin to visibly tremble, my voice would shake and eventually I would freeze completely. The teacher would break the awkward silence by calling on another student while the others stared, mumbled and laughed. I wanted to die.

This anxiety was the very thing that drove me to alcoholism. I developed the habit of having some Jim Beam Tennessee Bourbon ready for class time.  Whiskey became my courage and I made sure I was under its influence before entering English Lit just in case I was called upon.

When I met Jesus, He was a lifeline to me. My desire for alcohol and drugs left as He entered. But even though He delivered me from my addictions, the anxiety that drove me to them stubbornly remained. I remember thinking, “Heaven is my destination, but I will be a mute until I get there.” My inability to speak up still haunted me. Little did I know my fiercest battles surrounded my destiny; I was called to preach.

A few years into my walk with the Lord, He spoke to me the following words, “Every stronghold has a harlot.” Although I didn’t understand it at the time, He was giving me keys to my own deliverance.

Having been raised in Sunday School, I knew He was referring to the story of Rahab the prostitute. It’s a fascinating narrative. God’s people have come out of slavery but have yet to enter their promised land. Occupied by their enemies, they must uproot these adversaries in order to inhabit their destiny.

Once over the border, the first city the Israelites came upon was Jericho, a walled stronghold which stood between them and their calling. Interestingly enough, the key to taking the city turned out to be a prostitute named Rahab. In fact, Scripture tells us her house was actually part of the city wall. In making an alliance with her, the Israelite spies were able to gather intel and escape capture. Before leaving, the scouts told Rahab to hang a red cord out her window so they could spare her and her entire family during the coming invasion.

If you know the story, it is one of drama and adventure. The children of Israel marched around the city seven days and on the last march, the city walls collapsed…all but the sliver holding up Rahab’s condo. It is a vivid picture of God’s mercy.

Redemptive history goes on to record how Rahab would marry into Israel, eventually becoming a mother in the lineage of both David and, eventually, Jesus. Spared from death, the former prostitute would become a vehicle to bring Christ into the world.

And that is the point. In delivering me of my addiction to drinking, God had torn down the wall of alcoholism the enemy hid behind in my life. Yet, the harlot insecurity which drove me to it was not destroyed. Instead, God left me insecure, only to reveal Himself as the answer to those insecurities. When I first met Jesus, I needed Him just to face the day. My need was a vacuum that pulled me to Him.

Alcohol having been so central to my life, Ephesians 5 stood out to me early on in my walk with God. In this passage Paul exhorts, “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” In this statement he reveals alcohol as the counterfeit with the infilling of the Spirit as the genuine. This revelation changed my life. What alcohol was to me – confidence, joy, comfort – the Holy Spirit would become to me. I made a decision to live “under the influence” (I have often thought it was not a coincidence the Lord included this in the fifth of Ephesians).

Remember: when God removes our stronghold, He often leaves the harlot untouched. In my case, He delivered me from alcohol, but left my insecurities as a way to draw me to Himself. My greatest fear – speaking – which was once the harlot that caused me to sell myself out to alcohol, became the very avenue by which God would both draw me to Himself and use me to bring Him to the world. His strength truly is made perfect in the area of our weakness!