Marriage and Emotional Intelligence

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How are you doing with emotional intelligence in your marriage? If you want to find out, keep reading to see if you can identify with the following examples.

Example 1

Emotional Intelligence Fail!

Andy is upset because his life is a roller coaster of workplace politics. When he comes home at the end of the day, he likes to debrief with his wife, Melissa, who is also arriving home from work. Here is how the conversation typically goes:

Andy: You wouldn’t believe what happened today! Jeremy went behind my back and thwarted a change that I had put in place to increase our department’s efficiency. It drives me crazy the way he does this. It feels disrespectful. He reports to me.

Melissa: Well, Andy, you should know by now that he is going to do that. Can’t you just confront him? I mean, it is really that simple. I think you should send an email to him saying that you need to talk to him. Don’t put it off. I know you are tired, but you have to nip this kind of behavior in the bud. Let him know who is in charge. If you don’t do it now, it will just get worse…(blah...blah...blah).

Andy: (Dead silence…..)

Emotional Intelligence Pass with Flying Colors!

Andy: You wouldn’t believe what happened today! Jeremy went behind my back and thwarted a change that I had put in place to increase our department’s efficiency. It drives me crazy the way he does this. It feels disrespectful. He reports to me.

Melissa: Oh no, this happened again? I am so sorry you had to experience that. Jeremy is a real thorn in your side, isn’t he? You must really be upset…..

Andy: Thank you so much for understanding. Sometimes I just need to share my frustrations, and it helps me to know that you are there for me. I may want to talk with you later tonight once we get the kids to bed. I could use your insight.

Example 2

Emotional Intelligence Fail!

Sara has been home all day taking care of her 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. When her husband, Dan, comes home, she shares some of her struggles that she has encountered throughout the day.

Sara: Dan, you wouldn’t believe what kind of day it has been. First, Johnny vomited about 3 times from a stomach virus that came out of nowhere. And Jessica has been at it again with her strong-willed nature, pushing all of my buttons. I am exhausted!

Dan: Sara, it is so hard to come in the front door everyday after I have been at work and listen to you complain about the kids. You need to have a firmer handle on caring for our kids. I have a job, too, but I don’t come home complaining about everything that is on my plate…..(blah, blah, blah).

Sara: (Silence…….crying)

Emotional Intelligence Pass with Flying Colors!

Sara: Dan you wouldn’t believe what kind of day it has been. First, Johnny vomited about 3 times from a stomach virus that came out of nowhere. And Jessica has been at it again with her strong-willed nature, pushing all of my buttons. I am exhausted!

Dan: Wow! What a day it has been for you! What a bummer about Johnny. Is he okay? And I’m sorry you had to have Jessica pushing your buttons all day while that was going on. How can I help?

Sara: I am so glad you are home. I really could use some help. Thanks!

What’s the Difference?

Three simple words: Listening, Understanding and Empathy. This is very different from trying to fix the problem or change your spouse’s emotions. The bottom line is being able to stay connected and identify with them in the moment, especially when they are expressing so called "negative emotions".

What Does the Research Say?

Emotional intelligence (self-awareness and other-awareness) is not only important for the workplace, it is highly important for marriage and family. While both husbands and wives need to grow in emotional intelligence, it seems that men are often in more need than their wives. Statistics say that about 35% of men are emotionally intelligent, and that has risen some over the past several decades. The research is not certain as to why there is a difference. Is it nature or nurture? Probably some of both. In his classic work, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman says this about emotional intelligence and men:

I believe the emotionally intelligent husband is the next step in social evolution. This doesn’t mean that he is superior to other men in personality, upbringing or moral fiber. He has simply figured out something very important about being married that the others haven’t---yet. And that is how to honor his wife and convey his respect for her. It is really that elementary…..The other kind of husband and father is a very sad story. He responds to the loss of male entitlement with righteous indignation or a sense of victimization. He may become more authoritarian or withdraw into a lonely shell, protecting what little he has left. He does not give others very much honor and respect because he is engaged in a search for the honor and respect he thinks is his due (pages 124-125).

What Does Scripture Say?

Maybe the Apostle Peter understood something that modern research has confirmed when he says this to husbands in I Peter 3:7:

Husbands, live considerately with your wives, and treat them with respect…

While Peter didn’t have the vocabulary of emotional intelligence, he certainly captured the meaning in his encouragement to husbands. What he says is particularly amazing when you think about how patriarchal the cultural and religious milieu was in his day. Here is how one commentator puts it:

Live considerately with your wives is literally, ‘living together according to knowledge’. The ‘knowledge’ Peter intends here may include any knowledge that would be beneficial to the husband-wife relationship: knowledge of God’s purposes and principles for marriage; knowledge of the wife’s desires, goals, and frustrations; knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms. A husband who lives according to such knowledge will greatly enrich his marriage relationship…(Wayne Grudem, I Peter, Tyndale, p. 142-143).

While this sounds simple and easy, it’s not. Believe me, I need a daily reminder myself. I would love to hear your thoughts.

1 Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

The reality of life is that your perceptions--right or wrong-- influence everything else you do. When you get a proper perspective of your perceptions, you may be surprised how many other things fall into place.
-- Dr. Roger W. Birkman 1919-2014

If you are connected on LinkedIn or any other leadership website or forum, you probably have noticed quite a bit of talk about Emotional Intelligence or EI. EI is a way of talking about two things:

  1. Self-Awareness: How do I understand my own emotions and exercise self-control?
  2. Other-Awareness: How do I understand others and interact in ways that are beneficial?

Both of these perspectives are critical for all relationships, but especially in the workplace where personalities can often clash with one another due to a lack of personal awareness and other awareness.

If you lead a church staff, work for an organization, or are in any relationships with people, growing in emotional intelligence should be a critical desire and goal. So, how do we begin to achieve that goal?

In a recent blog by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, he gives these examples of a leader adjusting their leadership style to fit the need of the moment:

At 9 a.m., Emma met with a skilled team effective on day-to-day assignments but lacking a broader view of the company’s goals. She articulated a shared mission and the big picture, which got them motivated and headed in the right strategic direction.

At 10 a.m., she joined a group having a crisis after an overnight fire destroyed the warehouse of one of the company’s key suppliers. She knew that an emergency like this meant she needed to take a directive approach; she tasked group members to plan work-arounds and initiated a customer service response to manage delayed deliveries.

At 1 p.m., Emma headed to a session with a team that had lost most of its senior members after a recent wave of reassignments. She adopted a coaching role, helping the group recognize their missing skills and devising a way to quickly build the team’s capabilities.

By mid-afternoon Emma had already used three different leadership styles. To be an effective leader in today’s changing world, you need more than a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. You must adjust your leadership style to face the challenges of the moment.

First, a quick review. Here are several leadership styles that produce a positive work climate and outstanding performance:

Visionary leaders articulate a shared mission and give long-term direction.
Participative leaders get consensus to generate new ideas and build commitment.
Coaching leaders foster personal and career development.
Affiliative leaders create trust and harmony.

In the short-term, directive leaders who simply give commands and pacesetters focused only on hitting targets (like the emergency situation Emma confronted) can be effective. In the long-term, however, such styles produce a negative climate and very poor performance.

In March of 2015, I pursued certification to use a tool called the Birkman Method to help leaders and teams grow in Emotional Intelligence. In addition to learning how to use this tool to help others, my training also allowed me to grow in greater self-awareness and learn how my own leadership style could be both productive and not so productive given the situation. I wished I had been exposed to this while I was in seminary preparing for leadership in ministry.

Humility is always an important key to good leadership. I have worked with dozens of pastors, leaders and staff to help them work better together.

Here are some practical outcomes that can emerge as a result of using the Birkman Method:

  • Improve communication
  • Increase management effectiveness
  • Build cohesive teams and reduce conflict
  • Improve sales
  • Discover hidden potential of current employees for greater productivity
  • Reduce turnover
  • Develop accurate job descriptions

If you are interested in finding out more about the Birkman Method and what others are saying about how it has helped them and their teams, follow this link or click on the image to the right.

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

How to Grow in Grace: Step Eight

Let me refresh your memory so that you know where we are in this series on change. Here are the steps that have been posted so far:

  1. Look to Christ
  2. Look for Evidence of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life
  3. Rightly Pay Attention to Your Circumstances
  4. Identify Unproductive Coping Strategies and Ungodly Responses
  5. Ask the “Why?” and “What?” Questions
  6. Remember Change is All About Relationship
  7. Experience Internal Transformation

Step eight focuses on how internal transformation produces noticeable fruit in your life that is the exact opposite of sinful and unproductive behaviors. But before we go there, we have to return to where I left off!

In the last blog, I used an illustration of how internal change happens as you relate to God at a very personal and practical level. “God, I am struggling with this again and I need your grace, power and wisdom to respond differently.” That is the practical cry of faith and repentance that begins the change process, which evidences itself in new and different responses to the pressures of life. It is a critical pivot that is intensely relational. It is more than a technique or a mind trick. It is relating to God based upon what Father, Son and Spirit have done and are doing in our behalf to bring about real change.

Last Blog

Here is the end of the story I was recounting in the last blog. It is a true story of me stomping up the stairs to confront my daughter in anger but slowly experiencing internal change in light of God’s grace:

As I was relating to God on the basis of I Corinthians 1:30, something began to happen. The allure of earthly peace, comfort and respect began to lose its attractiveness and charm. Instead, Jesus in all of his grace and power began to loom larger on the horizon of my gaze. New things began to fill my heart and I found myself worshiping and thanking God for his kindness to me. The irritation and anger began to dissipate. It was being replaced with joy, gratitude, patience, empathy and love. You might argue that I was experiencing deep renewal at the heart level as I engaged in deep repentance (turning away from peace, comfort and respect) and faith (turning to Christ and his loving-kindness).

As I turned the corner, I found myself walking calmly up the second flight of stairs! The grace of Jesus was changing my behavior at the level of how I used my legs and feet to walk up a flight of stairs! Another miraculous thing happened as I approached my daughter’s door. Rather than using my fist to firmly hit the door in anger, I was able to pivot my hand and simply tap on the door with my knuckles.

This simple illustration from my own life represents the micro-moments of change. It is in these seemingly simple moments of life where change, growth in grace, and our relationship with Father, Son and Spirit must become real. If we can’t relate to God in the more mundane moments of life, we will not relate to him when the more significant moments arise.

The process of internal change is a mystery at one level and something that we clearly participate in at another. In my next blog, I will tell you what transpired right after I tapped on my daughter’s door…...

So What Happened Next?

Step Eight: Move Out in New Obedience and Service

Immediately after tapping on my daughter’s door I was able to say in a calm voice, “How are you doing and would you like to talk?” An amazing change had transpired in me. My body language, tone of voice, choice of words and how I knocked on the door had been radically altered. The drama of redemption had played out in my life and my daughter had no idea that she was being rescued from me because I was being rescued from myself…by God’s gracious help!

There are so many other options that could have played out that day. I could have easily remained offended and angry, even using Bible verses to justify my unrighteous anger. It could have sounded like this,

  • Angry comment #1: “Children should obey their parents in the Lord! That’s what Ephesians 6:1 says. Open this door right now!”
  • Angry comment #2: “Have you forgotten the 5th commandment that says you are to honor your parents? If you don’t open this door right now, there will be serious consequences!”
  • Angry comment #3: “How dare you slam doors and stomp up stairs in this house. I work hard to provide a roof over your head and a comfortable place to live. You need to think about that the next time you come in this house upset at me!”
  • Angry comment #4: “Don’t you ever enter this house again and dismiss my kind gestures and greetings. That is completely inappropriate and will not be tolerated going forward! Do you hear me!”

Have you ever found yourself thinking and saying things like this? You can tell that I have! These are manipulative, ungodly statements. Only the grace and kindness of God can melt a proud parent’s heart and utterly change their speech. Thankfully, that is what happened on this occasion and continues to happen on many occasions.

A New Situation!

As soon as those calm words came out of my mouth my daughter responded in a way that might surprise and frustrate you. She said, “Go away! I don’t want to talk to anyone, not even you!”

Wow! Now I was faced with a new situation. How would I respond to her response? Would I become self-righteous on the heels of my transformation? “How can she act that way towards me, especially after I was so godly!” It almost sounds funny, doesn’t it? Thankfully, I was able to respond in a quiet manner with these words: “That’s fine, if you want to talk, I’ll be downstairs. Dinner will be ready in about an hour.”

I then proceeded to calmly and quietly walk down the stairs and help my wife with dinner. At this point, it felt like everything was over, but it wasn’t. About one hour later, my daughter came down the stairs and joined us for dinner. She seemed to be in a better place, herself. After dinner, as we were cleaning up, I was able to ask her about her day at school.

As she shared with me, I began to understand why she had entered the house earlier that day in an agitated, angry way. She began to tell me about a few friends who had said some harsh things about her that hurt her feelings. In other words, she had a “mean girl” day at school. In addition, I was aware that she was very self-conscious about her skin. She was experiencing normal changes, but the result was frustration and insecurity about her appearance. These two things alone were enough to help me see what was going on.

Practical Ministry/Service Options

In the practical context of relationships, the apostle Paul says this in I Thessalonians 5:14,

And we urge you to warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak.

In this short verse, Paul outlines three ministry options that are based upon the needs of the other person.

  1. Warn the idle: Warning is needed when someone is in clear disobedience to one of God’s clear commands. In Paul’s context, it was probably those who were not going to work because they believed Jesus was coming back any day and soon. If you read Paul’s letter, he kindly but firmly instructs them to go to work. See 4:11.
  2. Encourage the timid: Encouragement is needed when someone is fearful or anxious. In Paul’s context, these are people who have lost loved ones and they are anxious about them. Paul encourages them by teaching them about what will happen to Christians who die. He calms their fears by encouraging them. See 4:13-18.
  3. Help the weak: Help is needed for those who are struggling in significant ways with their past addictions. In Paul’s context, these were believers who had come out of sexually promiscuous lifestyles and were struggling to break completely free from their past. They needed someone to walk with them on a daily basis. The word “help” literally means “cling to them.” Put your arms around them and help them on a daily basis. See 4:1-8.

In light of these three ministry options, which 1 or 2 did my daughter most need? If you think 2 and 3, you are right. She needed encouragement and help. In this case, her dismissal of me when she came in the door and her lack of interest in talking with me once I reached the top of the stairs were not expressions of high-handed sin that needed confrontation. Rather, they were expressions of fear and weakness. It would be easy to miss this and move into confrontation and warning. That would not be serving according to the person’s need.

A Larger Perspective

You may be thinking that this is a nice story, but what’s the big deal? We all struggle with anger and impatience. But let me help you examine that thought.

Imagine if my daughter grew up in a family where her father was always dropping the hammer. For 18 years! Imagine, though, if she grew up in a family where her father was growing in grace and showing humility and patience, albeit imperfectly. For 18 years! These little moments may seem inconsequential, but not when you view them within the larger perspective of months and years. These two father/daughter relationships may not look that different early on, but they look radically different over the course of many years. That is the larger perspective we need to have when we consider the process of growth in grace. Every little moment counts!

Conclusion

This blog series has ended in a very practical place. How does a renewed love for God translate into the way a father treats his daughter? You could apply that beyond this specific relationship to all relationships. At the end of the day, change gets into the nitty gritty micro-moments of life where attitudes and actions occur.

So, as you can see, change is a very personal and practical dynamic. It is personal because in the context of a Christian vision, it grows out of a very personal relationship with God. It also happens within an interpersonal context with other people. If you are a Christian, it happens within the body of Christ.

It is also practical. Since sin and disobedience are very specific and concrete attitudes and actions, growth in grace must be as specific and concrete. In other words, grace based change will always be very visible because it changes the way you live your life in your body within the context of your relationships.

Jesus said that we are to love God and neighbor. I hope this series of blogs has put meat on those gracious commands and helped you get a sense of how knowing and relating to God based upon his grace for you can translate into how you live your life on a daily basis.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

How to Grow in Grace

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

How to Grow in Grace: Step Seven

In my last blog, I said that the Christian vision of change is rooted fundamentally in a relationship, not a discipline, technique or even thinking positive thoughts about your new standing in Christ. It means RELATING to Christ on the basis of what he has done for you.

We could spend a good bit of time talking about doctrines like election, effectual calling, conversion (repentance and faith), justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. Those are important and necessary aspects of growth in grace. But if knowledge of those doctrines doesn’t move you into relationship with God (especially when you are failing), then you have not grasped those doctrines deeply enough. All of these doctrines are simply describing different aspects or perspectives on the nature of your relationship with God based upon the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in your behalf. What we need to do is bring these doctrines into real life where we fight to grow in grace.

This is precisely the point that John Calvin wishes to make in the following statement from his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

"We have given the first place to the doctrine in which our religion is contained, since our salvation begins with it. But, it must enter our hearts and pass along to our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us … [The gospel’s] efficacy ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, take its seat in the soul and affect the whole man a hundred times more deeply than the cold exhortations of the philosophers!"

While knowledge is important, it is simply an aspect of change. Now here is the challenge; how do we take truth and utilize it in such a way that we relate to God in the midst of our temptations, sins and sufferings in order that we experience growth?

Let me refresh your memory so that you know where we are in this series on change. Here are the steps that have been posted so far:

  1. Look to Christ
  2. Look for Evidence of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life
  3. Rightly Pay Attention to Your Circumstances
  4. Identify Unproductive Coping Strategies and Ungodly Responses
  5. Ask the “Why?” and “What?” Questions
  6. Remember Change is All About Relationship

Step Seven: Experience Internal Transformation

In this seventh step, I want to spell out what it looks like to relate to God in the midst of our struggles. Let me do this by sharing a simple illustration from my own life as a parent.

A Real Life Example

Late one afternoon, I was sitting in my house enjoying some peace and quiet. This always works better when no one else in around to interrupt you! At just the moment that I was contemplating how peaceful it was, the front door opened and then was quickly slammed. I immediately felt tense and a bit agitated. It was my daughter coming home from school. I managed to welcome her home by simply saying “Hey.” I got no response. She proceeded to stomp up both flights of stairs and slam the door to her room. Now I was really frustrated and a bit irritated.

Ask the “Why?” and “What?” Questions

In that moment, I was appropriately enjoying some simple blessings like comfort and peace, but as soon as my daughter entered the house, those were no longer able to be enjoyed. In addition, I felt disrespected when she did not respond to my welcoming her home. What was I living for in the moment more than Christ?

  • Peace: a good thing that had morphed into something I was living for.
  • Comfort: a good thing that had morphed into something I was living for.
  • Respect: a good thing that had morphed into something I was living for.

I proceeded to get up out of my chair and stomp up the first flight of stairs! As I was doing this, I asked myself, “Where did my daughter learn to stomp up stairs like she had?” I asked this question without even realizing the obvious answer! Why was I doing what I was doing? Because I was getting things I did not want and not getting things I wanted. Peace, comfort and respect had become my functional objects of worship in the moment. And when they were taken from me, I began to react in sinful ways; mild irritation at my daughter growing out of a sense of entitlement.

Relating to God in the Moment on the Basis of His Grace

It just happened that I had been doing some sermon preparation earlier that morning on a passage in I Corinthians 1! Some of my application related to how God can change us in the moment. How ironic! The one verse that stood out was I Corinthians 1:30. This one verse began to penetrate deep into my soul;

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

As I rounded the corner at the top of the first flight of stairs I simply said to myself, “Help me, God. Here I go again.” What unfolded was utterly miraculous though no one would have actually seen the transformation that was going on in my soul at the moment. Here is how it unfolded:

  • By God’s grace, I was beginning to see how I was living for peace, comfort and respect rather than for Christ. That was a vital part of my growth in grace. Seeing patterns and signature temptations is a work of the Spirit.
  • I started to cry out to God for help. This simple pivot took me out of myself and directly to God.
  • I began to talk to God on the basis of I Corinthians 1:30. The truth of Scripture began at the cognitive level but moved to a deeper place. I began to relate to God. The Scripture was truly a means of grace, not an end in itself.
  • The truths in that one verse were pregnant with rich truths, which told a very powerful story about who I was in Christ and how that was deeper, more profound and more beautiful than anything else in this world; even good things like peace, comfort and respect!

The ensuing conversation I had with God happened within seconds yet it changed everything. Here is what it sounded like:

  • Father, you say that in Christ I am righteous. That is amazing! I am completely accepted by you because of what Jesus has done for me. Why, then, am I so upset that my daughter has displayed disrespect to me? Lord, help me!
  • Father, you say that in Christ, I am holy. I have a new heart and a new power at work in me by the Holy Spirit. I don’t have to keep sinning in the same old way over and over again. I have a choice in the matter because you are at work in me. I don’t have to let even good things like peace, comfort and respect drive my life. Lord, help me!
  • Father, you say that in Christ I have redemption. One day, Jesus is going to come again and I along with the angels and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ will rule over your creation where there will be no more sin. Why am I so upset that I have lost some sense of control over this little plot of real estate that I don’t even own, the bank does! Lord, help me!

Experiencing Deep Change

As I was relating to God on the basis of I Corinthians 1:30, something began to happen. The allure of earthly peace, comfort and respect began to lose its attractiveness and charm. Instead, Jesus in all of his grace and power began to loom larger on the horizon of my gaze. New things began to fill my heart and I found myself worshiping and thanking God for his kindness to me. The irritation and anger began to dissipate. It was being replaced with joy, gratitude, patience, empathy and love. You might argue that I was experiencing deep renewal at the heart level as I engaged in deep repentance (turning away from peace, comfort and respect) and faith (turning to Christ and his loving-kindness).

As I turned the corner, I found myself walking calmly up the second flight of stairs! The grace of Jesus was changing my behavior at the level of how I used my legs and feet to walk a set of stairs! Another miraculous thing happened as I approached my daughter’s door. Rather than using my fist to firmly hit the door in anger, I was able to pivot my hand and simply tap on the door with my knuckles.

This simple illustration from my own life represents the micro-moments of change. It is these seemingly simple moments of life where change, growth in grace, and our relationship with Father, Son and Spirit must become real. If we can’t relate to God in the more mundane moments of life, we will not relate to him when the more significant moments arise.

The process of internal change is a mystery at one level and something that we clearly participate in at another. In my next blog, I will tell you what transpired right after I tapped on my daughter’s door.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

How to Grow in Grace

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to add "steps" that are practical ways of thinking about the process of growth in grace. If you want to be alerted each time the next post goes live, you can sign up to receive e-news here:

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

How to Grow in Grace: Step Six

In my book Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, I discuss a common error when considering the change process. Parts of this post come from an excerpt taken from pages 113-117.

The More You Know?

We tend to think that if we just know the right things, change will happen. It’s the approach taken by the public service commercials on American TV. The commercial briefly describes the social problem (teenage pregnancy, obesity, heart disease, etc.) and then provides some helpful advice to address the problem. The commercial always ends with this statement: “The more you know.” In other words, right thinking will lead to right behavior.

Many professing Christians approach the Christian life in the same way. If you struggle with worry, anxiety, fear, anger or addictions (you pick your problem), the best way to change is through awareness and information. Therefore, “the more you know…” And knowledge is important. If this weren’t true, then writing and reading this blog would be useless! Change won’t come if we don’t think rightly.

Change and God’s Grace

Over the past several weeks, we have been reflecting on the change process and the Christian life. So far we have covered these five perspectives:

  1. Look to Christ
  2. Look for Evidence of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life
  3. Rightly Pay Attention to Your Circumstances
  4. Identify Unproductive Coping Strategies and Ungodly Responses
  5. Ask the “Why?” and “What?” Questions

The reason we focused on the “Why?” and “What?” questions in the previous blog was two-fold. First, you need to know what is driving your behavior. Without this, you will continue to struggle with the surface issue and never address the deeper problem. Second, until you identify the core motivational driver, you don’t know how Jesus can meet you and transform you by his love and grace.

Just as change will not come if we don’t think rightly, thinking rightly doesn’t automatically produce change. I know how I ought to treat my wife; but sometimes, I don’t treat her in the way I know I should. I know what the speed limit on the freeway is; that knowledge alone does not mean I will change my driving habits. So, there must be another dynamic in addition to right thinking.

Step Six: Remember Change is All About Relationship

What exactly is that additional dynamic? What will enable you to take the information that you have gathered and utilize it in such a way that change begins to happen in your life? If you don’t answer that question, you will be left with a view of change that is simply cognitive/behavioral; that is, right thinking leads to right living. That is a very popular approach in both secular and Christian circles. And Paul seems to agree! He says in Romans 12:2:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

So renewing your mind leads to transformation, right? Not quite—because when Paul talks about the mind, he’s talking not just about our intellectual capacity, but our inner person. He is describing the part of someone that makes them tick; the central core of who a person is and what they live for. This is what we discussed in the previous blog. He is talking about the seat of affections. For Paul, if you are not changed at the core of who you are, change in your behavior will not follow. Real change begins at the level of what we honor, treasure, adore or functionally worship on a daily basis.

This is how commentator William Hendricksen states it in his explanation of this phrase:

Paul does not say, ‘Substitute one outward fashion for another.’ That would be no solution, for the trouble with those who allow themselves to be fashioned after the pattern of this present (evil) age is deep-seated. What is needed is ‘transformation,’ inner change, the renewing of the mind, that is, not only of the organ of thinking and reasoning but of the inner disposition; better still, of the heart, the inner being.

John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, says this about the process of change:

We have given the first place to the doctrine in which our religion is contained, since our salvation begins with it. But, it must enter our hearts and pass along to our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us … [The gospel’s] efficacy ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, take its seat in the soul and affect the whole man a hundred times more deeply than the cold exhortations of the philosophers!

In other words, change must happen at a deeper level than just thinking and behaving.

The Relationship Issue

What does this look like practically? It is more than talking to yourself and trying to convince yourself to change. It involves more than telling yourself to not worry because it is wrong. It is more than thinking positive thoughts (even biblical ones). It is even more than reminding yourself of who you are in Christ! It involves talking to and relating to Christ in the midst of your anxieties, worries and fears. Since God is personal, change that he accomplishes in you will be the result of you relating to him personally as you struggle.

1 Peter 5:7 captures this truth in the simplest of ways in the context of struggles with anxiety: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” It is simple, but profound. Here is what Peter says to those of us who worry and live anxious lives in 1 Peter 5:6-11:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Do you see what Peter is saying? He is encouraging you to relate to God in the very midst of your struggle with worry, or whatever struggle you may be facing. Talk to God, he says, throw your worries and burdens on him. Know that he is more than a concept or a thought, he is a person. He cares for you!

Here is the right way to approach change: right relating to God based upon right thinking about God will lead to right living before God. This does not mean it will be easy as you face your worries, nor does it mean that it will happen automatically or quickly. Rather, it will happen progressively over time. But it will happen. When you are struggling, you must talk to and relate to God. There is no other way to experience lasting, abiding change, for this is the only way to change our hearts.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

How to Grow in Grace

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to add "steps" that are practical ways of thinking about the process of growth in grace. If you want to be alerted each time the next post goes live, you can sign up to receive e-news here:

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.