The Christian life, and the road of recovery, both involve a collaborative effort of partnership with God. It’s neither aggressive nor passive, but assertive.
Prayer is an essential component of this assertive way of life. In prayer, there is both the real dependence on the unlimited sovereign power of God, and at the same time the real commitment to our limited but real efforts in obedience.
We see this in the Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer:
In the Lord’s Prayer, it is God whose name is hallowed, whose kingdom comes, who gives bread, and guides us. But it is us who offer the hallowing, commit to doing his will, and forgiving those who trespass against us, etc.
In the Serenity Prayer, it is God who gives the Serenity, Courage and Wisdom. But it is us who commit to accepting the unchangeable, changing the changeable, and seeking to know the difference.
Twelve step spirituality is, as they say, a “programme of action”. Although clear, humble thinking, and understanding awareness of emotions is important, an essential aspect of recovery is “doing the next right thing” whatever we think or feel. Christians, especially those in the vein of Luther and his criticism of ‘works righteousness’, can struggle with this aspect of ‘working your programme’.
On the one hand, I want to affirm where this concern is coming from, and the best of this theological tradition. If ‘working’ was all we had, then we really would be hopeless. In the language of the twelve steps, all ‘God’ language would be screened out, and recovery would be entirely our work. We would have to restore ourselves to sanity, hand ourselves over to our own care, bear the weight of our own inventories, identify and remove our own defects of character, be the agent and audience of our own prayer and meditations. Recovery would be up to us entirely. That, of course, is neither Christianity nor twelve step spirituality. Both heartily affirm – in their own ways – that God “does for us what we were unable to do for ourselves”. Christian faith focuses this upon the person and work of Jesus Christ, making possible a new identity and a new life.
On the other hand, I need to point out that I and other Christian addicts have struggled in the throes of addiction whilst also holding sincerely to all of this wonderful Christian theology. The only assessment I can come to is that my theology wasn’t the problem, it was my obedience. If a sailor does not do the absolutely necessary work of hoisting the sails of obedience, his ship will receive zero benefit and momentum from the abundant and free gusts of wind. So it is with recovery and Christian discipleship. The good news is that we don’t have to use oars to travel. We get wind and direction absolutely free as a gift. But the hard reality is that we have to hoist the sails of prayer, meditation, reading, confession/honesty, service, etc. in order to get anywhere.
Or as Augustine said it: Without God, we cannot; but without us God will not.