It was the anti-drug campaign in the 80s and First Lady Nancy Reagan led the way. It was considered the elementary solution aimed at teenagers addressing the temptation to experiment with dangerous drugs. It was a great campaign that swept the world. When asked to “do” drugs the answer was simple: Just Say No. Presidents Nixon and Reagan were determined to fight the War On Drugs and spent millions of dollars in the effort. Reagan established mandatory penalties for drug crimes. In 1980, 50,000 people were incarcerated for drug crimes; by 1997 that number was over 400,000. First Lady Reagan toured the country to educate and inspire everyone to fight the “war.” The city of Los Angeles established the first Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program in 1983 which spread throughout the nation and still exists in public schools today. In 1985 between 2-6% of Americans considered drugs a problem. By 1989, that number had increased to 64%.*
It was an extremely successful campaign: Just Say No. It was a great slogan.
It just didn’t work. 😧
The war on drugs continues. As a matter of fact, it is worse than ever. Why is that? Because just saying no is not that simple. The ability to say no does not occur the moment we are tempted. We don’t simply decide I’ll just say no! and then magically are not tempted to do whatever it is we are trying so hard not to do! Signing a pledge card, agreeing not to do something—these are futile until we address the real issue. And what is that? 🤨
Our hearts—specifically, our desires. James wrote about it: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (1) Until our desires are changed, we will not be able to just say no to anything—drugs or alcohol or donuts or any other bad habit! Being able to just say no requires two steps. First, we need to want to change. If we do not want to change, we will not. This is where most people are. They do not want to give up the drugs or the alcohol or the donuts or the (fill in the blank). They would rather enjoy the temporary pleasures and suffer the unhealthy consequences than give (fill in the blank) up. 😮 Oh, they have periods of abstinence—days, weeks, even months—but in the end, they are drawn back into their bad habits because they really do not want to give them up.
But if we really do want to change then we can go to the next step. Second, we must allow God to change our desires. This is not a “one and done” thing; it is a process but one that will free us from the bondage of our problems. Here’s Paul’s message about it: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2) This transformation is the changing of our desires (what we want) to God’s desires (what God wants). Note that this occurs “one degree” at a time. 😕 As I said, it’s a process.
But this is good news! God can change our desires! 😀 But that’s not even the best part because when this happens, guess what? God will give us whatever we want! 😲 Really! How can this be? Because we will want what God wants! 😁
Our real problem is not saying no to things. Our real problem is not wanting to say no and not believing that God’s desires are more desirable than our desires. But once God does change our desires, we will experience freedom like nothing else. We can be free of all that binds us—our habits, our attitudes, our anger, our fear, our insecurities, and so much more.
It is ironic to discover that Nike’s Just Do It campaign began in 1988 right alongside the Just Say No era. But the same theology applies to Nike and its idealistic fitness. If I were to write about it, I would give it this title: Just Do It (and why we don’t!). 😬
(1) James 1:2 (2) 2 Corinthians 3:17-18