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!

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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 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.

"Unstuck" Available for Pre-Order!

This book has been brewing in my mind for over a decade.

The ideas were forming as I counseled, traveled and spoke to churches across the globe. My primary goal was to find a way to encourage people that change was possible and what they needed was a way of connecting the lines between their daily struggles and their relationship with God.

In the fall or 2016, I was invited to teach a class on worry at Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church. Near the middle of the class, I had been mulling over Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and the thought occurred to give the class “steps” they could take to grow in grace. Soon after that class, a series of blogs began to take form that eventually shaped this book.

In late 2017, the final stage came as I reconnected with The Good Book Company and pitched the idea of a book on change that was short, accessible yet nuanced enough to capture more complex struggles. They accepted and provided an excellent editor, Rachel Jones, who gave wise feedback through every iteration of each chapter.

My hope is that this short book would be read by individuals, couples, families and churches. But I would also love to see it used in one-on-one discipleship relationships, as well as a foundational supplement for counselors as you seek to help others grow in grace.

Thank you to each and every person who had a shaping influence on this book.

Tim Lane

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 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.