A Glass Half Full

When you look at this picture, do you see a glass half full or half empty? What about the way you view other people, especially other Christians?

I know, we don't want to be accused of going soft on total depravity, the reality of remaining sin and the temptation to exchange worship of the true God for something in creation. But we have more biblical categories to work with than those, as important as they are.

What about the following? We are made in God's image; the reality of the powerful work of regeneration and new life in Christ; the ongoing work of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer; the present intercession of Christ for his people; the bright promise of a changed life due to God's utter commitment to us? These biblical truths are equally important as we consider growth in grace and wise pastoral care and counseling with others. Let me make this very practical by sharing a counseling story with you.

John and Erin came to me for marriage counseling. They seemed like your average Christian couple, but that was not the case once I began to get to know them. Both of them had come from severely broken homes and had lived lives of confusion and self-destruction years before they had become Christians, met and married. Now they were telling me how hard it was for them to get along. They had several small children, were starting a business together and were trying to navigate ongoing extended family fall-out over a host of issues.

Here is what they saw and described:

  • We are not communicating and getting along.
  • We are constantly fighting with one another.
  • We are not working as a team.
  • We are such a poor example of a Christian marriage.
  • We are doing the same thing to our kids that was done to us.
  • Are we headed for a divorce just like our parents.
  • Does God really love us in light of the way we are responding to one another?

As they shared their story, I began to see what they were not able to see. Here is what I saw:

  • A married couple who were clearly professing Christians.
  • A couple who wanted their marriage to last.
  • A couple, though struggling to get along, were seeking outside help, again.
  • John really cared for Erin and wanted to encourage her.
  • Erin really care for John and wanted to encourage him.
  • Both were involved in a small group Bible study with other couples.
  • They were avid readers and listeners to podcasts that pointed them to Christ.
  • They had been married 8 years.
  • They loved their children and pointed them Christ.
  • They served others within the context of their church.
  • They longed to love their extended family well.

Those two lists couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to one another. Yet this is what is so typical when we are in the midst of a difficult season. There are two very different kinds of blind spots we can have in the midst of difficulty. One is to be in denial about our sin. Another is to be in denial about God’s grace at work in our lives.

Self-Examination

When most people consider the change process, they tend to start with the negative. What’s wrong with me? Why do I continue to do things that I should not do, and why don’t I do the things I should? The Apostle Paul struggled with this, too. In Romans 7:15 he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In another place, Paul knew very well his own sinful tendencies. That is why, in I Timothy 1:15, Paul says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.

Paul was not afraid to speak candidly about his own struggles. He knew his own weakness and propensity to deal with the reality of remaining sin even though he was a Christian. No doubt, this ability to be honest about his own sin was grounded in the hope of the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ. You see how he connects the two in verse 15. Honesty about sin is equal to apprehending the work of Christ.

When you start to take a good look at your life, what is your tendency? Is it to think more highly of yourself or to beat yourself up? You are either blind so that you don’t see your sins and weaknesses, or you are preoccupied with your weaknesses, failures and sins so that you can’t see God’s present grace in your life. Paul is seeking to lead you in a different direction. He doesn’t want you to ignore either of these things. By doing this, you are more apt to see progress in your Christian life.

Ministry to Others

It does no one any good to go on ferocious sin and idol hunts in one’s life or the lives of others. Not only do they not help, they can seriously hurt people. Instead, we want to begin with marks of God’s work in our own life and in the lives of others. As I met with John and Erin, I had many opportunities to help them see where God was actually powerfully working in their marriage and family. It wasn’t a completed, pretty picture, but it was a masterpiece in the making by God’s grace.

Remember, if you are a Christian, you have God’s Spirit at work in your life. You can always find places where he is at work; just like John and Erin. And you can find ways that he is at work in others, too.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane

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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.