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There are times in our lives when we hear that soft, gentle voice in our heart that tells us to stop and listen closely. We never count the times we hear the sound of the voice, because more often than not, we don’t care to stop and listen. We are too busy; there are places to go things to do and the basic needs of our day-to-day lives to be met. Our lives become matters of convenience; we take the easy way out and heaven help anyone or anything that becomes an obstacle. I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I will honestly admit that I can still very easily slip into a very focused mindset.
I took the path of least resistance for the 33 plus years I was addicted to the poison nicotine, by way of smoking cigarettes. There are many people that listen intently every day of their lives to hear the voice of love, but I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t have time; I enjoyed the nicotine rush as I sucked the noxious fumes into my lungs each day. Smoking was more than an addiction, it was my personality, it was a part of who I was, and it was an unfailing constant in my life. It comforted me in times of stress, the lazy smoke rings over coffee added to my times of relaxation. I was a smoker and no one but no one was going to complicate my life by telling me I should quit. Certainly, it wasn’t about to be a voice that called my name in the stillness of the night, with whispered words of direction guided by unconditional love.
As I approached my 48th birthday, I was enjoying life, working with one of my best friends in a small office environment, but for a multinational insurance company. Great benefits and pretty good salary. I had survived a dreaded consolidation the year before, being one of only a handful of employees to still have a job in the city I called home. I was in good health and had not entertained even the thought that I should end my addiction to nicotine. Little did I know of the plans that had been laid out for me.
At that point in my life, I had been drifting far off course in my spiritual life. I was like one of those guys you see in cartoons, who are stranded on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere. The first time I remember seeing the Armor Of God verse was on a piece of needlework hanging at my father-in-law’s house shortly after my wife and I married, and several years prior to my approaching epiphany. The next time I saw the verse was when my father-in-law gave my wife another piece of needlework similar to the one hanging at his house. My wife placed the hanging on the back of the front door, so it was physically difficult for me to ignore. I saw the words each day, but I did not take what it was saying to heart.
The needlework continued to hang on our front door, and everyday, as the family was beating a path out the door to school and jobs, my wife would ask our then 9 year old son if he had put on his “you-know-what”. Meaning, had he recited and visualized putting on the Armor Of God. My son, in his childhood eagerness to one-up an adult, would turn to me and ask the same question. Even in my usual “Type A – we are going to be late for school and work” attitude, it made me hesitate ever so slightly, but I was still not hearing the message of the words.
In mid-October, 1998, I went on a business trip to Newport, Rhode Island, near where one of my cousins lives and ministers to a local congregation. My cousin and I had the opportunity to have lunch, sight-see and visit for part of one afternoon. With both of us now being in our forties, it had been many years since we had shared each others company. We had a great time talking about family and politics, but what I truly enjoyed was our discussion of personal faith. Although I have faith God has always been with me, even when I did not acknowledge His presence, I had never been very demonstrative in my faith. In other words, I was a “quiet Christian”, which is nice way of saying a person only goes to church on holidays and special occasions. However, before leaving Rhode Island, I asked my cousin to e-mail me some of his sermons.
About a week or so after I returned home, my cousin e-mailed a sermon he had given at a recent baptism service. The scripture he used was the Armor Of God verse from Ephesians. Besides being a very good sermon, the words of St. Paul seemed to jump off the page at me. I could not explain what I was feeling, or why I was reacting to “just another Bible verse”. It caused such pause within me that I took the sermon home for my wife to read. After reading it, she asked me if I did not think someone was trying to tell me something. It was at that point that I felt something within me say, “Yes, you’re right”, but I truly did not know why I was being called.
Prior to my Rhode Island trip and over the course of the next couple of weeks after I returned, it was as if someone or something was telling me that if I did not quit smoking, it would have a negative effect on my life. More bluntly put, I felt as though I was being told “either quit or die”, but I had not had any illnesses or other causes of alarm for my health. I had been a regular cigarette smoker for well over 33 years. I had tried to quit about three times over those 33 years, but had not seriously thought about it in at least 10 years. Smoking had become a part of me; it was like it was a part of my personality. You did not see Jim unless I had a pack of smokes in my pocket. I remember going through the security checkpoint at the Little Rock airport a month of so before the Rhode Island trip, and, as the guard ensured that my laptop computer was not a bomb, she noticed the three days worth of cigarettes stuffed into my computer case. Her immediate reaction was “Wow, you sure smoke a lot”. I had not occurred to me how it looked to anyone else to have 6 or 8 packs of smokes nearby and ready should a “Designated Smoking Area” suddenly appear. The guard’s words made me think, and caused what were probably the first stirrings within me, about this habit that was so much a part of who I was. Or, whom I thought I was.
As the first week of November, 1998 approached, almost subconsciously, I started to cut back on the amount of cigarettes I smoked. I had no idea why I was cutting back, it was as if I was being taken down this path, but I was not being dragged kicking and screaming, I was willingly being lead. Looking back, I truly believe God was speaking to me, and I just did not recognize His voice. In this day and time, you do not run across too many burning bushes, although you could believe that a cigarette is nothing more than a bunch of burning leaves of the tobacco plant. Okay, that image might be a bit of a stretch on the burning bush scenario, but my point is, He does speak to us in many ways, the more often than not, it comes quietly to us, and not from a thundercloud.
Within a matter of days, I realized that I was reducing the amount of nicotine in my system. For some reason, which I did not understand at the time, I was mildly happy that I was reducing my smoking. It was at this point that I consciously began to limit the amount of cigarettes I smoked. This conscious reduction took place over a period of approximately 7-10 days. During this period of time, I began focusing on the Armor Of God verse as my strength against the withdrawal symptoms I knew should start very soon. Also, I relied upon the story of “Footsteps In The Sand”, in which the person ask of God at the end of life, why, at certain times during life, there were only one set of footprints in the sands of life. To which God replies, “That is when I carried you”. I had effectively turned my withdrawal symptoms over to Him, and did not worry about them again.
The idea of using faith and the Word of God as a part of a smoking cessation program is not a new idea. Also, there is a definite question as to how to approach prayer. My wife has told me that if you pray for something, say “strength”; then God will provide situations, in addition to those for which you prayed, that will force you to find the strength for which you originally prayed. The thought is, a person should not so much ask of God, but to thank Him for the peace He has provided during that day. This latter thought still helps me deal with occasional cravings, and reaffirms that tomorrow will be even better.
This is the background and birth of a witness to God’s love and gifts. Now, please follow me as we next move to the truths and mechanics of the Armor Of God Stop Smoking Method.
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