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:

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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 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 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 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
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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 Two

Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
“Grace” – U2

In our previous post, we said that step one in the process of growth in grace is fixing our eyes on Jesus. If we are going to even begin the process of self-examination, it must begin by looking outward. If you consider other methods of change, they typically begin by looking at yourself.  Not so with the Christian story. A Christian vision of change begins with a gaze outward and away from oneself. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews 12:1-4:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

If step one begins with gazing outward, what is step two?

Step Two: Look for Evidence of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life

If being overwhelmed with guilt and shame and failing to see Christ is a natural tendency when facing struggles, another tendency looms prominently on the horizon. That tendency is a failure to see clear evidence of the Spirit’s work in your life. We are more prone to focus on faults and failures, not Spirit-wrought perseverance and good fruit.

In all of my years of personal growth and working with others, if someone is not blame shifting and avoiding guilt, they are wallowing in all the bad things they have thought, said or done. This is never more apparent than when a couple comes to me for counseling. As they tell the story of their marriage, the narrative is often filled with the negative things in their marriage. They focus on what John Gottman calls “the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” which are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Certainly those things are evident, but what is also evident is their desire to grow and improve their marriage. This is not what they see, but it is precisely what I see. The very fact that they have sought help is a mark of the Spirit ablaze in their lives!

Once again, look how Scripture changes your gaze. In Philippians 1:3-6 Paul says,

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

He says this in 2 Corinthians 5:17;

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

While Paul is able to acknowledge the reality of remaining sin, he does not let that eclipse the powerfully optimistic way that the Spirit is on the move in your life now that you belong to Christ. There will be plenty of time to address the ongoing battle, but for now, we want to establish the fact that we are in the fight! While it may not be easy, the fact that you are fighting is evidence that you are spiritually alive; alive to the Spirit and dead to the things that once held you in abject slavery and powerlessness.

Consider two more examples from the ministry of Jesus and Paul.

In one of the most well known verses of Scripture, Jesus says this;

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Most people can recite verse 16, but not verse 17. Verse 17 gives you an indication of Jesus’ mission. He came to save us from condemnation, not focus on the things that condemn us.

In I Corinthians 1:2-9, the Apostle Paul writes this to a congregation that is torn apart by division, incest, pride, lacking love, along with a host of other problems:

2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

He does go on to address the deep problems in the church, but notice where he begins! This is a typical pattern in Paul’s letters to the churches.

Application

Within this context, look for evidence of the Spirit's work in your life, and let that move you in the direction of gratitude. Be utterly ruthless about this. Take note of everything that gives evidence of God's presence in your life! Everything! If you are married and you are still desiring a good marriage and seeking good counsel, that is a mark of the Spirit. If you have struggled with the same old temptation and are still in the fight, that is a mark of the Spirit. If you have been struggling with depression for years but you still stay connected to the body of Christ and you occasionally think about reading your Bible or praying, that is evidence of the Spirit. These are confirmations that you belong to God and his Spirit is working in you. Never despise the simple signs of his presence in your life. I use the word “never” not to shame you but to encourage you!

Be practical. Get out a piece of paper and start pondering every evidence of God’s work in your life. Don’t stop until you can list 25 things.

Why are these first two steps so important? Because they get you looking in a better direction. It is easy to let your circumstances and your failures weigh you down, turn you inward and feel defeated. These first two steps move in a very different direction and provide a solid foundation for you to take the next steps.

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
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3 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.

How to Grow in Grace: Step One

As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream. –John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This is how John Bunyan begins his classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress. He illustrates what it looks like to become and grow as a Christian. The allegory is carried along the path of a journey. In that journey, there are many twists and turns. Many setbacks but ultimate progress. It is fundamentally a journey of grace, yet not without confusion.

In the book, How People Change, I say, “Nothing is more obvious than the need for change. Nothing is less obvious than what needs to change and how that change happens (p. 17).” Can you identify with that sentiment? Sometimes change can feel so elusive.

For example, Dan has struggled with the same temptation for years. He has tried countless times to change but to no avail. He doesn’t even know where to begin. Nancy struggles with debilitating anxiety and depression. She, too, has tried so many different things to change but nothing seems to help. At first glance, you might think that Dan and Nancy are unique, but they are not. They are normal people trying their best to navigate life and its challenges.

So how do you experience change? How do you grow in grace? How do you begin to experience renewal in an area of your life? In this series of posts, I would like to propose eight basic steps for growth in grace. This is not a simplistic technique, but an attempt to be as practical as possible. Let’s start with the first step.

Step One Along the Path: Look to Christ

Whenever you start to see areas of struggle in your life, it can immediately produce guilt and shame. The natural instinct is to deny, hide or cover up the struggle. We see this instinctive movement with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Upon their initial disobedience, they hid from God, covered themselves and shifted the blame in an effort to avoid facing their guilt and shame.

Given this natural instinct to hide, cover and blame-shift, it is so important to begin the change process in a place of confidence and safety. I believe this is the pattern of Scripture. Whenever the biblical writers are addressing disobedience or calling believers to further obedience, they almost always start with emphasizing God’s covenant love and faithfulness to his people. When there are exceptions, the writers warn their readers first and then remind them of God’s steadfast compassion. This is the structure of the 10 commandments. Before God gives the people of Israel his commands, he begins with these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Exodus 20:2, Deuteronomy 5:6).

This pattern is repeated all throughout Scripture. The commands of God are grounded in the grace of God. Paul does the same thing in Philippians 2:1-4:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Notice the pattern. Before he calls them to obedience in verse 2, he grounds them in their relationship with God in Christ. It is then that he says “then.” The same pattern can be see in Colossians 3:12:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Before Paul tells them what they are to do, he tells them who they are: chosen, holy and dearly loved! The final passage that is worth noting is Titus 2:11-14:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to all ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

In this passage, Paul points to Jesus’ first and second coming to strengthen our hope and resolve to such a degree that we are eager to do what is right. The Gospel restrains ("say no to ungodliness") and deeply motivates us ("eager to do what is good") to grow in faith and obedience.

Application

With this Biblical backdrop in mind, locate a few passages that enable you to relate to God with confidence that you belong to him and you are secure in his gracious and loving embrace. Don’t stop there. Start talking to God and thanking him for how he has loved you with an everlasting love. Is there a particular passage that you find comfort in other than the ones I have chosen? Is there a favorite song or hymn that reminds you of his grace? A poem? A phrase? A work of art? A friend who tells you the Great News whenever you see them?

So often we listen to the voice of our conscience that whispers words of guilt, shame and condemnation. These thoughts hum in the background of our minds like white noise preventing us from hearing the clear sound of God’s voice. You must fight to replace the false narrator with the true Narrator who speaks the truth about who you are and to whom you truly belong. This is the true and living Creator and Redeemer who has revealed himself in Christ.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

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.