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:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format
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 Five

Have you ever been in a heated conversation with someone and it was just the two of you in a room? In the middle of the argument, your cell phone rings or someone else enters the room and you change in an instant from angry and agitated to quiet, calm and sensitive! Have you ever wondered why you were able to change so quickly? This is the next critical step in the change process that we will cover in this blog series.

If you have been following this series, we have covered four steps for growth in grace 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

If Step Four begins to move inward, Step Five goes even deeper. All the more reason to keep the first three steps on the horizon. The more you look inward, the more you must keep the grace of the Gospel central. Your ultimate identity is not found in a specific struggle with some temptation and sinful behavior, nor is it located in some form of suffering you may have experienced. If you are in Christ, you belong to God and you are deeply loved by him.

Step Five: Ask the “Why?” and “What?” Questions

That being said, if lasting change is going to happen, you must begin to ask “Why?” and “What?” questions. Why do you do the things you do? What motivates you to do the things you do, either good or bad, helpful or unhelpful? It is at this very point that you begin to grow in self-awareness. The passages of Scripture from our last blog on self-examination are as relevant here as they were in looking at certain behaviors. The call to self-examination includes behaviors but goes deeper to the heart of one’s motivations. Consider Paul’s admonitions in Philippians 2:3:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Selfish ambition and vain conceit are attitudes that express themselves in certain behaviors that will propel someone to put themselves first instead of seeking the well being of others. In Philippians 2:5, Paul goes on to say that your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. This way of talking about behaviors growing out of fundamental attitudes is confirmed all throughout Scripture. Consider Paul’s teaching in Romans 1:25 where he describes the inner disposition of the non-believer:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.

From Paul’s perspective, human beings are fundamentally worshipers. The word “worship” is not a common word in our culture. It means to give worth to something, to honor something. For a human being to worship something, it means that they are ascribing worth to it, consider it worth pondering and revolving one’s life around it. Paul says that the tendency for all human beings is to find something in the created world and revolve one’s life around that rather than the only one who rightly deserves it; who is the true God. This fundamental loyalty will express itself in specific behaviors.

Jesus is saying the exact same thing in Luke 6:43-45:

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

If Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor to describe what drives our behavior, James uses that as well as one of a spring’s source in James 3:10-12:

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Scripture is painting a picture of what ultimately drives our behaviors. It is a fundamental orientation of one’s inner person.

What’s Under the Hood?

For the sake of argument, let’s use a more modern metaphor; the car engine. Suppose you are driving down the road and you notice that your temperature gauge is running high, moving into the zone where there is a red bar. What would you naturally conclude if this happened? Hopefully you would conclude that the temperature gauge is not the ultimate problem and that the real problem is under the hood. It could be a bad water-pump, a broken belt, a hole in the radiator, low oil or a busted hose. In order to fix the car, you would need to get under the hood and diagnose the problem in order to fix the issue. Only then would the temperature gauge return to its normal and appropriate level.

The same can be said of humans and their behavior. If you see good or bad behavior (like the gauge) it is revealing what is going on in someone’s heart (under the hood). The Bible has many ways to describe this; idolatry, spiritual adultery, false worship, evil desires, over-loves. St. Augustine called these struggles “disordered desires.”

Be Careful

It is fairly easy these days to diagnose what is wrong with a car engine. But you must keep in mind that you and other people are much more complex than even the most sophisticated car engine. Therefore, it is important to move carefully and wisely when asking the “why?” question. You want to avoid becoming simplistic when assessing motivational drives in yourself as well as others. You certainly don’t want to assume that you have such clear discernment that you have the right to go on an idol/sin hunt in someone else’s life. This could be devastating if you are not careful, wise and loving in how you help others grow in self-awareness.

Application

The challenge at this level is growing in self awareness so that you begin to see the kinds of things that drive your behavior. When you begin doing this, you will likely see themes and patterns that are unique to you but are also common to many other people.

How do you begin to determine why you behave in unproductive and even ungodly ways in response to your circumstances? You need some tools to help you gain clarity of what you are living for in the moment. In How People Change, you will find some guidance on detecting underlying motivations in chapter 10. Here is another tool:

Look at negative behaviors and ask two questions:

  1. What did I want in the moment but was not getting?
  2. What did I not want in the moment and was getting?

These simple two questions will open a window into what you tend to live for and what drives your responses to your circumstances.

Let’s take the example at the beginning of this blog of two people arguing and then suddenly stopping when one of their cell phone rings:

  • You are arguing with another person.
    1. Why? Because they are getting in the way of something you want and giving you something you don’t want.
    2. What is that? You might want comfort, respect, affirmation, acceptance, and/or peace, but you are getting disagreement and/or disrespect instead .
  • You change immediately when your cell phone rings and become very polite.
    1. Why? What do you want? To be thought highly of? To be seen as a nice person?
    2. Why? What do you not want? To be seen as a mean, selfish person? To tarnish your reputation?

Take a recent situation and describe what was going on and how you responded in an unproductive and ungodly way. Now begin to ask the “Why?” and “What?” questions. What did I want that I was not getting? What did I not want that I was getting?

Chances are, as you do this in a variety of areas in your life, you will probably see particular themes that show up in many other areas of your life.

This step is critical for the next step which involves engaging in robust repentance and faith and savoring the grace of Christ.

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:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format
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 Four

John finds that he has a pattern of anger in his life that just won’t go away. Ethan struggles with anxiety and often feels stuck. He tries and tries to change but nothing seems to improve. Catherine regularly looks for an excuse to go online and shop when she is lonely. Now her credit card is maxed out. What can these individuals do in order to get on a new trajectory of growth in their lives?

If you have been following this series, we have covered three steps for growth in grace:

  1. Look to Christ
  2. Look for Evidence of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life
  3. Rightly Pay Attention to Your Circumstances

These first three steps focus your attention outward in an intentional way. This next step is our first pivot inward.

Step Four: Identify Unproductive Coping Strategies and Ungodly Responses

Step four in the process of growth in grace moves you to see how you are reacting to your circumstances. In particular, you should focus on responses that are unproductive and possibly sinful. This step moves in a more critical direction, which is why the first three steps are so very important. As you begin to see sinful responses, you have to repeat steps 1-3; see Jesus, see marks of the Spirit, and understand that your circumstances are part of but not the whole picture.

A Word of Caution

Since step four requires us to focus on our unproductive and/or even ungodly responses to our situation, we need a gentle warning in order to avoid some critical errors. There are two opposite and equally wrong ways to do step four:

  • One is to view looking inward as unnecessary. This is called unreflective activistism. This person tends to stay busy in an effort to avoid looking at their responses. They might even be tempted to say that looking inward is too mystical and not helpful.
  • The second wrong way to do step four is to turn inward and live under a cloud of guilt and shame. This wrong way of looking inward might be called morbid introspection.

Neither of these ways is helpful. That is why steps 1-3 are so important. These first three steps build a foundation of confident Gospel optimism. This will enable you to move forward, prompting you to run to Christ for mercy and grace so you can start the change process where it should always rightfully begin; with your relationship to Jesus.

Scripture Calls for Robust Self-Examination

Is there any biblical warrant for paying attention to your responses to life’s circumstances? Absolutely. Just start with any of the 10 commandments. The entire history of Israel is a picture of how they respond to God in the midst of life’s blessings and difficulties. The Psalms and Proverbs continue the theme of how to live life faithfully before God in a broken world. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-6 and you see a rich picture of what it looks like to live in productive, godly ways in this world. I call this the Psalm 139 or Matthew 7:3 lifestyle.

Psalm 139:23-24 says,

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Matthew 7:3 says,

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

Read the corresponding list of deeds of the sinful nature and fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-26. Heed Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:15-17 where he says,

Be very careful, then, how you live---not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

What Does This Look Like in Real Life?

Since there is biblical warrant to focus on your responses to life, what are some helpful categories to keep in mind as you go about the process of self-examination? Below, I have adapted a process from The Anxiety and Worry Workbook by David Clark and Aaron T. Beck that can be applied to any issue you are seeking to address. For consistency, I will use the word anxiety, but you can substitute any word that captures your own struggle.

Physical Sensations: Your body is a significant part of who you are as a person made in God’s image.

  • Record: Over the course of a week, pay attention to the times you have felt anxious and try to identify what triggered your response. In this step in self-examination, you are trying to determine if there are similar circumstances and responses to those circumstances.
  • Intensity: While you do this, rate the intensity of your struggle on a scale of 1-100.
  • Physical Sensations: Describe the physical sensations associated with the experience. This may involve increased heart rate, muscle tension, chest discomfort, body temperature, chill or hot flashes, etc.
  • What are your negative interpretations that you project on your physical sensations?

Automatic Thinking Patterns: We all are trying to make sense of what is happening around us. What negative thinking patterns do you see?

  • Catastrophizing: “I am going to do the same old thing.”
  • Jumping to Conclusions: “Murphy’s Law--if something can go wrong, it probably will.”
  • Tunnel Vision: “I am only able to think about my typical way of responding.”
  • Nearsightedness: “I am stuck in the moment and can’t see past it.”
  • Emotional Reasoning: “I am going to lose it and really embarrass myself.”
  • All or Nothing Thinking: “Either this is going to be great or terrible.”
  • What other thinking strategies can you think of?

Beliefs: This aspect of your response is tied to deeper issues that we will consider later, but here are a few categories.

  • What do you believe about your current circumstances?
  • What do you believe about yourself?
  • What do you believe about God?
  • What do you believe about other people?
  • What do you believe will help you avoid doing what you don’t want to do?

Feelings: Your emotions are a critical component of who you are. They play a significant role in your responses to your circumstances.

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Afraid
  • Angry
  • Joyful
  • Hurt, etc.
  • What negative interpretations do you bring to your emotions? That is what we call secondary emotions; the way we feel about our feelings. For example, I may get angry and then feel guilt or shame about my anger.

Behaviors: These are the visible responses and ways that you seek to manage/control your circumstances.

  • Avoidance Behaviors: You check out either by physically avoiding the situation or seek comfort usually in an addictive behavior like eating, watching T.V., using some chemical substance, etc.
  • Controlling Behaviors: This usually involves trying to exert your power in a situation to overcome any obstacles. Anger is very common but so are obsessive behaviors.
  • Escapist/Addictive Behaviors: The main theme in these behaviors is to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. There are many addictive behaviors that don’t involve a substance. Shopping or cleaning your house could be an addictive behavior.

Application

Take a moment to see how your unproductive and/or ungodly responses to your circumstances are potentially making things worse. This is a bit tricky because ungodly responses and unproductive behaviors can give you the illusion that they are working or helping. Try to look further down the path to see how they might become problematic in the long run. These responses will only complicate your struggles and add more layers to the problem which will make it harder to change. A simple example can be seen in addiction. The substance use or addictive behavior gives you the illusion of helping in the short-term but can prove devastating in the long term.

As you can see, this is a fairly comprehensive overview of your responses. It includes your actual behavior, but it is broader than that. This step in the change process is critical if you are going to see long-lasting change. These responses have likely become so natural that you don’t even recognize them. Take an issue in your life and walk through these various categories to get a clearer sense of how complex your struggle is. As you can see, it captures your entire being. Yet, this can be helpful as you see the complex nature of change and the scope of changes that will need to be addressed.

Finally, if this step discourages you, go back to steps 1, 2, and 3!

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 Three

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

Step Three: Rightly Pay Attention to Your Circumstances

Step three in the process of change continues to look outward, but now challenges you to start considering your circumstances. Often times, to our peril, we make this the first step because it is what is most obvious to us in the moment. The tricky part is that there is a right way and wrong way to view our circumstances. Before we talk about that, let’s define what we mean by our circumstances or situation.

What Do We Mean by "Circumstances?"

Your circumstances encompass everything outside of your soul or inner person beginning with your physical body. The Bible uses the word “world” and “body” to capture the context in which we live. This includes blessings and sufferings. You don’t exist in a vacuum. You exist as a physical person in a specific historical context. This is completely unique. Here is a diagram listing a few components that make up your "situation:"

concentriccircles.jpeg
  • Brain: We all have brains that determine our personalities and predispose us to a host of strengths and weaknesses. All of us are constitutionally wired differently. Our brains are also impacted by the fall of humanity. We are all broken at some level and exhibit various mental strengths and frailties.
  • Body: We have bodies that have strengths and weaknesses. They too are broken in different ways and impact how we respond to difficulty.
  • Event and Relational History: We have good and bad things that have happened to us, along with people who have blessed us or hurt us.
  • Political/Cultural/Socio-economic Context: We exist in a context that impacts the degree to which we may struggle.
  • Gender: Our gender plays a role in how we struggle.
  • Religious Upbringing: The beliefs that shaped us growing up influence our struggle.
  • Age: The longer we live, the more grief and loss we experience. This can make us wiser or more prone to anxiety.
  • Race/Ethnicity: Whether we are the majority or minority culture in a given context will also shape the way we experience our circumstances.

This list is not exhaustive. You may be able to think of other external shaping influences. Each one can be nuanced to fit every person who has ever lived. No two people are alike.

Now that we have defined our circumstances, let’s take a look at the wrong and right ways to view them.

The Wrong Way to View Your Circumstances

Wrong Way #1: Maximizing our Circumstances

If John and Sally are arguing, what is the most immediate thing that they might focus on? The other person! My problem, says John, is Sally. And Sally would likely say the same: John is her problem. Or suppose Arthur has had a long day at work and now he has a headache. When he comes home, he finds that he is agitated with his children. He might likely say that he is irritable with his children because of his headache. He also might blame his children. Concluding that the reason you do what you do is completely due to things outside of you would be a wrong way to consider your circumstances.

Wrong Way #2: Minimizing our Circumstances

On the other hand, the other error runs in the opposite direction. You minimize yours or others circumstances and don’t factor them in at all. Suppose Joe struggles with anxiety. At first glance, you might think that his anxiety is irrational, and that if Joe simply changed his thinking about possible bad outcomes, his behavior would change. But what if you got to know Joe and you found out that he had recently returned from a second tour of duty in the Marine Corps and had narrowly escaped being killed? That knowledge about his past experience would significantly change the way you think about and treat Joe. If you fail to factor in circumstances, you may minimize patience and compassion with yourself and others.

The Right Way to View Your Circumstances: Acknowledging Your Circumstances

If we don’t want to maximize or minimize our circumstances, then what are we to do? We must see them in their proper perspective. You want to view your circumstances as the context of your current struggle. Doing this allows you to forge ahead in a proper direction as you depend upon God’s grace.

Blessing and Difficulties

It is important to see that in all of these areas, we experience blessing and suffering. Consider your relational history. All of us have had people who have loved and blessed us and some who have hurt us. For example, if you have suffered abuse as a child, it is imperative that you take that seriously as you seek to grow in grace. This can be applied in each of the categories listed above.

When you are seeking to grow in grace, there are two things to keep in mind. 1. Look for the blessings and be thankful to God, not prideful and self sufficient. 2. Look for the sufferings and be dependent on God, not bitter. James puts it this way in James 1:9-10:

9 Believers in humble (poverty) circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.

James is helping us consider our circumstances rightly. If you see suffering, remember that God is for you and loves you. If you see blessings, remain humble.

Application

Consider each of the above categories and write down the blessings and sufferings you have experienced or are currently experiencing. As you do this, give thanks for the strengths and blessings in each area. Also, pay attention to the areas where you are vulnerable. This will increase your patience as you grow in grace and it will increase your compassion as you consider others in the same way.

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:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format
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.