Written By Raphael Zhang, Singapore
I used to drink a lot. Once, I had one too many that I stumbled about the streets and passed out outside a shopping mall in the wee hours. Some kind strangers woke me up and asked if I needed to be sent to the hospital. Subsequently, they carried me to the side of the road and helped me flag down a cab to go home.
Another time, I did a silly act in my drunken stupor that got me hurt. Thankfully, I was with a friend who accompanied me to the hospital’s Accident & Emergency Department and stayed with me through the night.
I’ve texted things I shouldn’t have to people I shouldn’t have. I’ve patchy memories of nights of heavy drinking. I’ve had experiences waking up the following day, terribly hung over, dehydrated, and with a pounding headache. Regretfully, there were even times I ended up in the beds of strangers.
That was a few years ago. I no longer drink to excess now, but I still like to drink.
We Need to Identify What Hinders Us
I do not believe that drinking alcohol is wrong in and of itself. Jesus turned water into wine as His first miracle (John 2:1-11) and at the Last Supper, Jesus used wine to represent His shed blood of the new covenant (Matthew 26:26-29).
But what I do believe is that some things may be more of a hindrance and temptation to some people, than to others. For example, a former pornography addict might find that sensual images or films are easy doorways that could lead him or her back to the stronghold of lust.
Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us in this way: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This tells us that some things are clearly sins, but there are also things which—though not explicitly wrong—will hinder us. For me, alcohol is one of the latter things. Another way of putting this is that while alcohol is permissible for all believers, it is not beneficial to me personally (1 Corinthians 6:12).
When God highlighted to me that alcohol is something that is not beneficial to me, He also prompted me to examine the deeper reasons why I turn to alcohol.
1. The false promise of alcohol
I won’t lie: I like drinking because tipsiness feels great. When I drink, the problems in my life appear smaller. The burdens of responsibilities and expectations (from myself and others) seem to be lifted, and I feel carefree without all these concerns weighing on me.
However, I have learned that these feelings are deceiving. Alcohol lowers my inhibitions, causing me to be more willing to take risks and to make moral compromises. Things I would not have done and which I could resist much better when I was sober, I’d give almost no second thought to when I’m drunk. Even when I drink alone at home, I’d end up feeling down the whole of the next day. There’s a reason why alcohol is called a depressant.
Just as sin is disguised as a pleasure that eventually causes pain—alcohol has often played out the same way for me. Like sin, something that hinders us is a promise that does not deliver, a cheque that does not cash. In fact, it will cost us far more than what it has falsely promised us.
2. The belief that it will get rid of my woes
I realized that the times I craved a drink were when I was trying to soothe a deeper discomfort or ache I had in my heart.
But drinking has never accomplished anything fruitful. When I was weighed down by something, drinking only made me feel less concerned about it, and only momentarily. During the times when I found loneliness hard to bear, alcohol simply distracted me from the ache of that emptiness, instead of giving me the connection I desired. When I was hurting inside, drinking was merely a way to numb the pain, so I didn’t have to deal with the root issues beneath the wound.
In fact, the more I avoided confronting the root issue, the more pain recurred and festered, and the more I turned to alcohol as a form of escapism. It’s a vicious circle. The Chinese have a saying which goes: Using alcohol to relieve worries would only bring more worries.
I’ve had to remember to ask myself in the moments I crave a drink: “What is the discomfort, ache or pain I’m trying to soothe?” Identifying what the pain is helps me to understand what I actually, really need. I’ve to learn to not turn to alcohol but to God for the solution.
When I’m stressed out by overwhelming demands, I have to go to God and ask Him to show me which are the reasonable expectations I can and should meet, and which are the ones that are beyond my capability. When the desolate feeling of loneliness hits, I need to be still before Him and remind myself of His promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5) and He holds me close to His heart (Isaiah 40:11). When I experience deep pain from longstanding wounds, I must take them to Him—trusting that He knows and understands—talk it through with Him, and be comforted by what He has to say to me.
Instead of using unholy and unhealthy ways to deal with my pain, turning to God is a holy, healthy way to meet this inner need. There is also a place to ask others whom I trust for prayer and support, letting their strength carry me in my weakness.
Be filled with the Spirit
The Bible tells us, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). That is, we are to let the Holy Spirit control us, instead of wine (or anything that can lead to indulgence in sinful or unhealthy pleasures). We do this by trusting and obeying Him as His Word directs. This is something I’m still learning to work out in my life.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us how we can effectively achieve that: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The more I’m captured by His beauty and encouraged by His endurance, the more I will be able to throw off anything that entangles or hinders me from finishing the race well.
It is a journey I’m still on, but I choose to take God at His word and trust that the more I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and fill myself with His Spirit, the more I will stop thirsting for alcoholic spirits, which never satisfy (John 4:13-14).