The Key to Change

Union with Christ

Union with Christ

Ready to Turn Right

Over the past few blogs, we've looked back to what Christ has done for us and how his Spirit is at work in us. We've looked around us at our circumstances. We've looked down the left fork—our negative responses and the desires that drive them. So how do we go about actually taking the right fork—choosing moment by moment to do the right thing? That's where we are headed beginning in this blog and the ones to follow.

The More You Know?

So how does ongoing change happen? We tend to think that if we just know the right things, change will follow. 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. We might call this a cognitive-behavioral approach. Research shows that very few people actually follow the advice that is given.

Many professing Christians approach the Christian life in the same way. The thinking is that if you struggle with worry, lust, gossip, greed, anger or addictions (you pick your problem), the best way to change is through awareness and information. “The more you know…”

It’s true that knowledge is important. If that weren’t true, then writing and reading this blog would be useless! Change won’t come if we don’t think rightly. But there is so much more to it than facts. After all, 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. There must be another dynamic in addition to right thinking.

It's All About Relationship

Union with Christ

Union with Christ

At first sight, it might seem that Paul agrees with the cognitive-behavioral approach. He says in Romans 12 v 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. If we were neuroscientists, we might say that Paul is speaking about the linkage between the rational brain and the emotional brain. But actually, Paul’s talking about something spiritual here—any biological change is enabled by God’s grace anyway! He is describing the part of someone that makes them tick; the central core of who a person is and what they live for. 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 and worship on a daily basis.

This is how commentator William Hendricksen states what Paul means in these verses:

Paul does not say, ‘Substitute one outward fashion for another.’ … 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.

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

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, or get angry, or look at pornography 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 anxiety, anger and addiction, or whatever your battle is. Since God is personal, change will be the result of you relating to him personally as you struggle. Because when you relate to Jesus in this way, gratitude and joy for his grace begin to work their way down deep into your soul. This is what drives true change! Relating to Jesus in this way could be called Christian meditation. It can be done alone in a quiet place or right in the middle of a hectic day—essentially, this word describes what it means to enter into a relationship and converse with a personal, loving, gracious God.

So 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 to overcome your struggles, nor does it mean that change will happen automatically or quickly. Rather, it will happen gradually over time. But it will happen.

In chapter 7 of Unstuck: A Nine-Step Journey to Change that Lasts, I consider how the various ways that our union with Christ is described can be used as a means of connecting with God in practical ways while facing temptation and suffering.

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 a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. 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.

The Accidental Counselor

Pastor Tim: The Accidental Counselor

Imagine that it is Sunday morning and you have just finished preaching a sermon. You have spent countless hours preparing all week to teach for 30-40 minutes. As you stand at the back of the church and greet people, someone approaches you and thanks you for your teaching. You thank them for saying so and you move on to the next person. The only problem is that the person who just thanked you isn’t moving. They say something like this:

What you taught today was very helpful for me. But I still have so many questions. Can we get together sometime this week so we can talk further?

At that point, you begin to panic on the inside. You are a bit baffled that the sermon did not answer all of the person’s questions but you agree to meet with them. As the meeting draws near, you begin to get a little nervous. You wonder what questions will be asked and you struggle to know what you will say if you don’t have good answers to their questions.

And then the appointed time to meet arrives. In walks your congregant and out come the questions.

Pastor Tim, I really enjoyed your sermon on worry this past Sunday! Thank you for your preparation and careful exegesis. Your sermon caused me to think more carefully about my lifelong struggle with anxiety. Over the past several months, my struggle has intensified and I don’t know what to do. I have recently started having panic attacks and find myself getting very agitated when I am around large groups of people. I have even started avoiding events where I know there will be a large crowd. I wonder if you can help me?

With the questions now on the table, you begin to emphasize your three points from your sermon hoping that a reminder will do the trick. It doesn’t! Your friendly congregant has actually taken notes and can almost preach your sermon for you! They start probing for more detail. I know your points from your sermon but can you help me more with my struggle with anxiety? The issue could be a number of other struggles: depression, anger, addiction, marriage, parenting, being single or single again.

Deer In Headlights

With that one question, you feel like a deer in headlights. You don’t know what to do. You maintain a calm exterior while inside you are struggling with your own anxiety. Once again, you recite the passage you preached hoping that will make things better. Once again, your congregant cuts you off in mid sentence to let you know that they remember the passage but it still seems too difficult to apply to the specifics of their struggle with worry.

Why I Wrote Unstuck: A Nine Step Journey to Change that Lasts

The illustration above was repeated many times in my own life as a pastor. I would preach a sermon that was relatively helpful for someone and they would approach me asking for more guidance. Like you, I would get nervous because I did not know what else to do. This is precisely why I wrote Unstuck: A Nine Step Journey to Change that Lasts. I wanted to provide a pathway for the pastor or a friend to walk down with the person who is struggling.

unstuck diagrams9.jpg

Hope and Direction

In the book, there are 9 steps that are essential for change to take place in your life. The 9 steps take you on a journey towards greater Self-Awareness, Gospel-Awareness and Other-Awareness. Each chapter ends with a practical application. Here you can see the diagram that illustrates the path to change.

Step One—Get Grounded: In Christ

Whenever you are struggling with a temptation or some experience of suffering, the tendency is to make the struggle your fundamental identity. For example; My name is Dave and I am a divorced person. Or, My name is Olivia and I am a depressed or anxious person. If that is your starting point, it will lead to a distorted identity and impact your ability to move forward due to the guilt and shame associated with those issues. Instead, Dave and Olivia are both children of the living God, in Christ, forgiven, loved, empowered by the Spirit, a new creation in Christ…..who struggle with anxiety or have been through the challenging experience of divorce.

Grounding your identity in Christ is the first step on the journey to change. It has been true in my own life and in the lives of those I counsel. As you reflect on this first step along the pathway to change, take a moment to give thanks that your mis-steps, sins, weaknesses, and sufferings do not define who you are, the risen Christ does!

2 Comments

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 a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. 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.