Using Scripture to Interpret Life

wonderful words of life

One of the main points that I seek to get across in the counseling training that I do at my church is that the end goal of biblical counseling is so much more than symptom relief or behavior modification; instead, the ultimate goal is helping an individual grow to be more like Christ in every way.  As biblical counselors, we get the privilege of coming alongside others to help to them grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, where their thoughts, desires, and actions increasingly reflect the thoughts, desires, and actions of Christ.  We do this by sharing the beautiful, wonderful words of life found in God’s Word.

 

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Since all of Scripture is redemptive, we can turn virtually anywhere in its pages and receive instruction and gain understanding about the issues in life that we face.  Yet, we should never think that its primary function is to serve us, answer our questions, or help us solve all of the problems of daily living.  The Bible is, first and foremost, a book about God, his will for mankind, and His grand redemptive story (I like the acronym that Dr. Robert Kellemen gives in his book, Gospel Conversations:  the “CCFRCC Narrative :  Community (eternity past), Creation, the Fall, Redemption (eternity invades time), the Church, and Consummation (eternity future)” (p. 53).  The more we understand the Bible’s grand story, the better we will be able to “understand people and to interpret their life stories through a biblical grid”, says Dr. Kellemen (p. 58).  So, “rather than necessarily looking at a specific section of Scripture”, he goes on to say, we explore “biblical/theological/spiritual concepts that help [a person] to see God’s perspective on his situation and his soul” (p. 65).

Almost everyone is familiar with the Maimonides quote, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Likewise, in order to help a person see life from God’s perspective, instead of telling them about our theological understanding of the situation, we need to discuss with them how a specific passage might relate to their story, inviting them to discover how the wonderful, life-giving words intersect with and even re-frame their understanding of the situation.  What we’re looking for, as a result, is the same response that Job had after God spent some time helping him to re-interpret life from His perspective:

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Author and teacher Rick Thomas says, “You can learn a person’s story. You can figure out where they have been. But as you are determining their story, you must also begin the process of leading them from where they are to where they need to be… by good question asking.”

I’m so thankful to have Dr. Kellemen’s book, which is filled with an abundance of excellent sample questions to instruct and assist me (and the ladies I train) in the art and skill of good question asking.  If this ability doesn’t come naturally to you, I highly recommend that you get a copy of his book and create a list of all of the different types of “probing” questions that he introduces in each chapter.  It will be time well spent!

In the meantime, here is a really simple exercise that I’ve created to help you use God’s wonderful Word to help you better interpret your (or someone else’s) life story:

  1. Think of an issue that you are currently facing in your life.  Write down, as specifically as possible: What are the circumstances?  What is happening to you?    How are you responding to the situation?  What are you thinking, feeling, desiring?  What effect is the situation having on you mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
  2. Choose a passage of Scripture that relates to your situation.  If you aren’t sure where to turn, go to Bible Study Tools, type a word into the search engine that relates to your situation (i.e. fear, worry, conflict), scroll through the list of Bible verses that the search turns up, choose one that relates to your situation, click on “in context” to read the verse that comes before and after it, and then click on “in context” again to read the verse within the larger passage.
  3. Using the larger passage, ask yourself (or the other person) these questions:
    • What does this passage teach me about God?
    • What is God seeking to communicate to me through this passage?
    • Through this passage, did God reveal any sin in my life?
    • Through this passage, did God encourage me or give me hope in some way?
    • Where am I succeeding or failing to believe God in this passage?
    • Where is my thinking in line with God’s Word?  Where is it out of line?
    • Where do I need to change my thinking as a result of reading this passage?
    • What might God be seeking to do in my life through the message of this passage?
    • What are some of the immediate applications in this passage that require action today and the long range applications that will require action days, months, or years into the future?
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Wrestling and Resting With The Impossible

what is impossible

As I read this story about Benny Hinn’s nephew being saved out of the “prosperity gospel”, I was reminded of Jesus’ statement in Luke 18:27 “What is impossible for man is possible with God.”  I thought, “If God could save Benny Hinn’s nephew, a man convinced that living a lavish lifestyle was the abundant life that Jesus promised his followers, and Saul (Paul), a man convinced that Jesus was a blasphemer, and Peter, who denied Jesus three times,  and Rahab, a prostitute, and me, and you, then why in the world do we doubt his ability to continue to accomplish the impossible in our lives and the lives of those we love?”  

Why do we do that?

Why do we, like Elijah in Horeb, or the Israelites in the wilderness, or the disciples in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, after witnessing God do the impossible, become fearful, doubting, unbelieving, paralyzed, hopeless, despairing, and even suicidal when we face the next “impossible” situation?

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Well, there it is…our faith in God is small.

Yes, we know that He has cared for us in a myriad of miraculous ways in the past, but faith requires that we trust Him in the future, including the very next second of our lives, and we don’t have proof, yet, that He has cared for us there.  So, we worry, and fret, and take matters into our own hands, just like King Saul did when, instead of obeying God and waiting for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice, he offered it himself, believing this was the only way he and his people would escape death and destruction (1 Samuel 13). Unfortunately, just like with King Saul, when we try to play God, things don’t always turn out so well, do they?  Even when we think they do, the time we spend worrying, fretting, planning, and scheming never add a single hour to our lives (Matthew 6:27) do they?

Oh, to be like Jesus, sound asleep in a boat that’s being tossed about by the wind and waves in the midst of a storm because He knows that God knows what he needs, and has no fear that his Father will care for him.

How do you and I develop that kind of trust and faith?

Certainly not by worrying about the future.

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Instead, we need to do this:

Remember how God has already done the impossible in our lives…

He saved us!

ephesians 2 1

Think of where we were before He did this…

ephesians 2 2

What lies did we believe then? What sinful behavior did we embrace? What wrong patterns of thinking were we blinded by? Who were we trusting in? Where were we placing our hope? What purpose were we living for?

God, in saving us, has re-oriented all of this! It is not perfectly re-oriented, yet, but it is headed towards complete re-orientation.  That is the future that we always want to be thinking about!

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Evidence of our salvation and sanctification should be enough to strengthen our faith and trust in God’s ability to care for all of the things we are worried about right now.

So, let’s test that.  What is the biggest problem, fear, or worry that you are facing?  Does evidence of your salvation, and present and future sanctification speak into that situation?  How does the fact that God did the impossible in your life by saving you from your sins and that He will continue to do the impossible by conforming you into the image of Jesus Christ help you to believe that whatever issue you are facing right now is not beyond the scope of God’s care?  How does it help you to patiently wait for His will to be done in the situation?

Are you still struggling to trust God in this particular situation?  Feeling like you still need to play God and take matters into your own hands?

Let’s try this…

Make a list of the most difficult things that you have been through in your Christian life. Under each event, list evidences of how God cared for you.  

Now, scan your memory for biblical narratives that testify to the truth that “what is impossible for man is not impossible for God”.  How many examples from the Old and New Testament can you recall that demonstrate God’s provision and care for his people? What about examples of provision and care for unbelievers and the rest of his creation?

oh love of God

Now, bring all of these thoughts to bear, once again, on the fear, problem, or situation that you are currently facing…

  • Do you feel more trusting now?
  • Has your faith been bolstered?
  • Have you resigned yourself to the truth that this IS going to be impossible for man, that you cannot place your hope and faith in you or any other human to fix or solve this situation?

This IS impossible for man.

If you’re still wrestling with that fact, then you need to spend some time meditating on the first part of Luke 18:27:  “What is impossible for man”. Until you can say, “Yes, Lord, I believe that this is impossible for man”, don’t proceed to the second half.

When you are exhausted from all of your wrestling, like Jacob, and have completely surrendered to that truth…

  • Walk forward in faith
  • Cast all of your worries and burdens on Him
  • Embrace and meditate on the second half of the verse: “is possible with God”
  • Believe that even this situation is NOT impossible for Him

Finally,  trust that – no matter what your senses feel as you deal with the situation – you’ll continue to walk by faith, believing that no matter what happens…

  • God will be at work
  • Once again
  • In you
  • Doing the impossible… re-orienting you towards Him and conforming you into the image of His beloved Son, our savior, Jesus Christ, completing the very work that He began in you!

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Understand the Heart Before Attempting to Speak Into It

purposes of the heart

In biblical counseling, the heart is known as the “control center” of the human being.  It is where our thoughts, beliefs, desires, feelings, emotions, intentions, and choices originate from.

According to Proverbs 4:23, the heart controls what we think, feel, say, and do: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

If we truly want to understand why a person (including ourselves) says, feels, or does the things that they do, then we have to understand the heart. 

Because we are not God, we cannot perfectly understand or know the heart of man; because we are corrupted by sin, we see things imperfectly – “as a man sees” (Job 10:4), based “on the outward appearance” (1 Samuel 16:7), and “according to the flesh” (John 8:15).

Scripture tells us that God alone is the One who knows “the hearts of the sons of men” (2 Chronicles 6:30), and “understands every intent of the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). Because God alone is the One who made our hearts, he perfectly understands everything that we think, say, and do (Psalm 33:15).

Heart probing is probably the most challenging aspect of biblical counseling,  in my opinion.  Jeremy Pierre expresses it well when he says, “I have often wished for a Holy Spirit o’Meter to plug into [the counselee’s] heart so I can have a direct reading of what’s going on inside there.  But, alas, counselors have no such instrument” (from The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life).

Yet, the Apostle Paul assures us, in Romans 15:14 that all believers are “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”

We also know, from James 1:5, that “If any of [us] lacks wisdom, [we] should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to [us]”.

Likewise, in the book of John, believers are promised that the Holy Spirit will “teach [us] all things” (John 14:26), and “guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13).

So, when we seek to counsel others, we are never alone nor without help – God’s Spirit and His Word are always present and available to help us draw out – from the deep waters – just what is going on inside of a person’s heart.

To counsel well, we have to understand the heart before attempting to speak into it.  This means that we can’t just listen to and focus on the outer story (the situation) that is going on in a person’s life. We have to draw out the inner thoughts, beliefs, feelings, motives, and desires that are going on inside of their control center (the heart).  We want to “discern the interplay between what is inside a person and what is outside a person” (Pierre).

We will know that we’ve properly understood someone’s heart when we more fully understand the situation through their own eyes.  When we can correctly put into words another person’s own unique thoughts, beliefs, feelings, motives, desires and other inner responses to their outer circumstances, then we can say that we’ve properly understood their heart.  Dr. Robert W. Kellemen, in his book Gospel Conversations,  calls this “rich soul empathy” This type of empathy, he says,  is “much more than a hug.  It also is more than trying to sense how someone feels.  It is a comprehensive sensing of what the whole person longs for in their situation, what they think about their situation, what their goals are in their situation, and then how they feel about their situation.”

If we haven’t done the hard work of understanding the heart, then we will be handicapped when we attempt to bring instruction and counsel, and we will be frustrated in our attempts to help bring change into the situation.

Whenever I counsel, or teach biblical counseling training classes at my church, I put a huge emphasis on understanding the heart.  I always try to stress that it should be the starting point of all counseling and should always remain in view, no matter what stage of the counseling process a person is in because true and lasting change will not happen unless the heart has been addressed and there has been genuine heart change.  Even if the outer situation and circumstances of the person I am counseling never changes, when God brings about heart change, then they are able to experience victory in the midst of whatever circumstances they are going through –  2 Corinthians 4:16-17 says it well:  “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

It takes time and practice to understand the heart.

We have to be dedicated to “listening well and wisely”, as Dr. Kellemen says.  That means that are ears are open and ready to latch onto words and phrases that people use to communicate what is going on inside of their heart.  Questions like, “Why is God doing this to me?”, “What must other people think about me?”, “Why can’t I get my act together?”, and statements like,  “I don’t deserve this!”, “God doesn’t care”, “I’m a loser!”, and “This is a hopeless situation” give us insight into the core of a person’s being.

We also have to become adept at following up on these statements by asking more, good, heart-probing theological questions, like, “Why do you think that God is the source behind your circumstances?”, “Why is it so important to you what other people think about you?”   “Where did you get the idea that you shouldn’t have to be going through this?”, “Can you explain to me what it would look like for God to “care” for you in this situation?”, “How do you think God views you?”,”Can you point me to any stories from Scripture that prove that God can overcome the impossible?”

Both of the books that I mentioned, above, provide numerous examples of questions, like these, to help guide you in the process of drawing out the heart.  I highly recommend reading through both of them, and then compiling a list of heart-probing questions that you can begin incorporating into your conversations with others to draw out what’s in their heart.

Start putting into practice what you’ve learned:

  • The next time you have a conversation with someone, listen for clues in what they are saying that will help lead you to a better understanding of their heart. Also, make attempts to ask questions to draw out more from their heart.Take mental notes as you go along.  Especially try to remember, word for word if you can, questions or statements that reveal what/how they are thinking, feeling, believing, and desiring.
  • Later, try to write out a summary statement of what they said.  It should include details about both the outer circumstances, issues, or situation that they are facing, and the inner, heart issues, that you have discovered.  The goal is to be able to put into words what the other person is communicating about the outer and inner situation.
  • At a later date, ask if you can share what you’ve recorded with them.  Have them read it and give you feedback as to how well they think you have understood what they are experiencing, thinking, feeling, etc. in regard to the situation.

The more you do this exercise, the better you will become at “listening well and wisely”, asking good questions, identifying heart issues, summarizing the outer and inner stories, and developing “rich soul empathy” – key components that lead to good counseling.

The better you understand the heart, the better counselor you will be!

 

 

 

 

 

Making Friends With Your Past

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There is a question I’ve been asked in a variety of different ways from different women, and it goes something like this:  Is it important for me to examine my past (and they are referring to negative, painful, or traumatic experiences) in order to help me deal with my present struggles/issues and to heal or move on?

Some women ask cautiously – they don’t want to look back into their past because there are a lot of really bad memories there and they don’t want to relive or be re-traumatized by them.

Other women are quite eager to get digging, hoping to find clues that will help explain why they are feeling or behaving a certain way in the present day.

It’s a good question, and one that will take a lot more time to fully flesh out than this blog post will allow, but I thought I’d take some time and record, in a nutshell, my understanding of the subject.

First, let me start by saying that the Bible does not approach the answer in the same way that psychology does.  The Bible says nothing about the need to re-visit the past for the purpose of healing emotional pain and memories in the wounded inner child, dealing with “unfinished business”, or finding a place to discover what lead to or lay the blame for our current problems and behavioral responses in life.   Furthermore, digging deeply into the past is often unproductive and, for some, might be potentially harmful as they are re-traumatized by the experience.  Also, as Stephen Viars rightly acknowledges, “Scripture does not encourage us to view ourselves as hopeless victims”.  So, we need to steer clear of looking into our past in the hopes that our present issues will finally be resolved if we can just find a way to link them to the past.

That does not mean that the past is irrelevant or has nothing to do with today.  However, when dealing with the past, according to Viars, we must be careful to avoid two extreme beliefs: “believing the past is nothing”, or “believing the past is everything.”

What reasons, then, do we have to look into our past, and what do we do with it once we get back there?

God absolutely designed our brains to be able to create and store memories from the past. The fact is we all have a past and memories that go with it.  There’s really no way to escape that; we can’t just wave a wand and make it all magically disappear.

What about Philippians 3:13, you may ask? Does it not teach us that, when it comes to the past, we are supposed to forget about it and leave it behind?  I’ve tried to tackle that question in another post here , but, no, actually, that is not what the Apostle Paul meant when he penned this verse (still, it’s one I’ve often heard quoted by Christians when they are trying to help others deal with their past).

So, if we will always have a past and memories that go with it,

and if we’re not meant to simply forget about them,

then…

What part of our past should we focus our attention on?

A good place to start, according to Dr. Jay Adams, is to focus only on the parts of our past that are affecting our present.  In other words, if a matter has been dealt with and settled in a biblical and God-glorifying way, then it doesn’t need to be brought into the present; it is a past issue, and one that needs to be put behind us. That doesn’t mean that we will never again have memories about it, but it does mean that whenever memories of it unnecessarily get brought into the present that we don’t allow it to begin governing our present life in an unbiblical way.  If we have dealt with an issue biblically, then we should be able to talk presently about the event and people in a way that is God-glorifying and full of grace and forgiveness.  We also see the matter with what Rick Thomas calls “sovereign clarity” – the ability to “perceive the Lord’s thoughts – as much as His thoughts can be ascertained-about what happened to [us ] (Isaiah 55:8,9).”

What, from our past, might we still need to deal with then?

  1. Unrepented sin
  2. Unforgiveness
  3. Habituated, unbiblical response patterns

Jesus says, in Revelation 2:5, “Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent”.

Now, I want to be careful here and recognize that it is entirely possible that we can be an innocent victim of suffering:  a child who had no way to escape an abusive home, a woman who was raped at knife-point, or forced to have an abortion,  a worker disabled from an on-the-job accident, or a prisoner of war.  We know that the Bible speaks of many instances of “men and women who have been sinned against or who are suffering because of the natural and painful effects of living in a sin-cursed world” (Viars) – think of Job, Joseph, and – of course – Jesus.  Passages, like Psalm 73 and 2 Corinthians 1 also speak to this:

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
 All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.” (Ps. 73:13,14)

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:8,9) 

Yet, even when we have done nothing to contribute to our suffering, if we do not respond biblically to it, it is highly likely that there will be unrepented sin still attached to it, sin that shows up in our outward expressions and inner heart attitudes of anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, jealousy, disappointment, discouragement, anxiety, fear, etc.  If we do not bring our sin into the light and expose it for what it is so that we can confess it and ask God to help us with it,  then we will, most likely, continue spinning our wheels, wondering why we can’t get traction and move forward beyond the pain.

Can you think of a situation or person from your past that tends to keep getting brought back into your thought life and that you then allow to govern your life in an unbiblical way?  If so, take some time right now and ask yourself:

  • Do I have any unrepented sin in regard to this situation or person? (you certainly don’t need to go morbidly digging around for unrepented sin, but you can simply ask God to search your heart and bring to mind any area of TRUE sin that you will want to confess in the matter).
  • Am I harboring any unforgiveness? (again, the purpose of exploring this is to reveal truth and bring it to the light where it can be dealt with).
  • have I developed any habitual, non-biblical response patterns that could be lying at the root of my immediate problems?   The goal here is to evaluate how I have learned to respond to past events and people.  What is the “shape” of my response patterns? Do I become angry, withdrawn, manipulative, jealous, hateful, self-righteous, unforgiving, a gossiper, slanderer, self-harmer, etc.?After any unrepented sin, unforgiveness, and non-biblical response patterns are discovered, then, take some time and:
  • Confess – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. (1 John 1:8,9)  State the specific acts/attitudes of sin that you are harboring to God, joyfully expecting Him to pardon you, cleanse you, remove your guilt, and faithfully make known, because of of the shed blood of Christ on your behalf,  his steadfast love to you that surpasses all understanding.
  • Re-frame – this is a psychological term, but one that has its roots in Scripture.  It simply means to go back and re-write your experience in the light of Scripture and the Gospel; instead of focusing on what happened to you, overwrite the experience focusing, instead, on who God was in and through it and what He did in and through it. In this way, “Our pasts”, according to Stephen Viars, “can be among our best friends.”  We should look at our past as  “a record, in part, of the way God has related to you and worked in your life.”  Our goal, then, he says, “is not to focus on “it” but on who God is and what He has done [in and through it]”.

Let’s look at some examples of how this is done in Scripture…

  • Jesus, in 1 Peter 2:23 – “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously”
  • Joseph, in Genesis 50:20 – “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive”
  • Isaiah, in Isaiah 6:5 – “Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
  • Job, in Job 42:5,6 – “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
    Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

…And some from outside Scripture…

  • Corrie Ten Boom, prisoner of war in a Nazi Concentration Camp – “Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him….Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness….And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives along with the command, the love itself.”
  • Elisabeth Elliot, after her own husband and 4 other missionaries were tragically killed at the hands of the Auca Indians, in the midst of her own grief – “Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering…. The love of God did not protect His own Son…. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.”
  • Oulaudah Equiano, a Christian, born free in Benin, kidnapped, stripped of his family at the age of ten, and then enslaved – “I early accustomed myself to look at the hand of God in the minutest occurrence, and to learn from it a lesson of morality and religion; and in this light every circumstance I have related was to me of importance.  After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn ‘ to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humble before God!'”

*How is this information challenging you personally, right now?

*How can you begin to apply what you’ve learned, so far?

*What will you do with your past in light of this information?

When we develop a biblical theology of the past, we can begin to handle the difficult past well.  When we handle the past biblically, here are some benefits, according to Viars, that we can expect in our present:

  • replace guilt and despair with forgiveness and hope
  • unplug the negative effects of a guilty past
  • turn failures into stepping-stones for growth
  • evaluate the place of the past in current struggles and find hope in the midst of the process
  • experience the joy that comes from viewing hard times God’s way
  • appreciate the sovereignty of God, who can use the past as a marvelous opportunity to teach valuable and life-changing lessons
  • be better prepared to help others who are struggling with the past

 

Remember: a key component of making disciples is sharing the things we’ve learned with others, so…

  • How might you come alongside another believer in Christ who is “stuck” in their past and having difficulty living in a spiritually (biblically) healthy way today?
  • How would you answer another believer who asked you whether or not they needed to revisit their past to “get healthy”?
  • What might you say to someone who believes that their past is nothing, that it has nothing to do with their choices today, that it’s irrelevant to today’s struggles, and whose motto is “hakunamata” (put your past behind you)?
  • What might you say to someone who believes that their past is everything, that all of their failures today are because of disobedience, abuse, lack of love, physical/emotional needs not getting met, etc. in the past, and that none of their present behavior is their fault because their “wounded inner child is creating emotional pain”, their “memories need to be healed”, or they are being “ruthlessly driven by their past”?

Good things to think about and ponder in light of Scripture!

If you have enjoyed this post, if it has been helpful to you, and you find yourself wanting to learn even more on the subject,  I highly recommend that you check out Stephen Viars’ book, Putting Your Past in Its Place.  It will absolutely transform the way you look at the past. My prayer is that, as you learn to handle it with solid biblical theology, the past will become your ally, your friend,  and no longer your enemy!

 

 

 

 

 

When Change Seems Impossible – Part 2

phil-1-6If you are waiting on heart change to take place in yourself or another believer, the wait can be long and tiring.  You will be tempted to become discouraged and angry, pull away, grow cold, numb, lose hope, and walk away.  As we talked about in part 1, heart change is messy business, especially when there is habituated sin involved.  But God is in the business of heart change, so we can rest assured that positive change can and will eventually take place in the life of one who belongs to God.  It might not come today, it might not come tomorrow.  It might take years, and even a lifetime.  So, what are we to do while we wait?

Here are some encouraging words from Scripture to read, meditate on, pray through, and act upon as we wait for the change that only God can bring:

  1.  Trust.  Be confident of this: “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” -Phil. 1:6.  This is a verse that I share regularly with women who are waiting for change to happen.  I ask them, “Who is it that began the work and Who is it that will carry it on to completion?”  Knowledge and understanding of this is key in the change process.  No, this does not mean that the person needing change is a passive bystander waiting for God to act. Change does require human repentance, and an act of the will to change thinking patterns, habits, and turn from sin.  According to this verse, though,  God IS already acting (carrying it on to completion) on behalf of the believer, and we can be assured that He will keep His promise.  So, the deeper questions to examine are, “Do you believe God is trustworthy to do this work?” “Do you believe He is capable of bringing about change even in the most impossible of situations?” “Do you trust Him completely to bring about change in His way and in His timing?” “Do you believe He is good?” “Do you believe all He does is right?” “Do you trust in His sovereign control over all things, including the messy work of heart change within a person?”  “Where are you struggling with unbelief?”  If you find that you are having a hard time trusting God with the change process, pray right now for God to help you in this area.
  2. Love.   “Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:7-8  It can be hard to love while we’re waiting on change.  Instead of bearing with the failings and weaknesses of the sinner, we can become judgmental, angry, frustrated, and bitter.  Instead of believing that God is at work, we may write the person off as a lost cause.  Instead of hoping for the best, we may become cynical and give in to despair.  Instead of enduring all of the pain, hardship, and suffering that comes with waiting (excluding situations where physical abuse is involved), we might find ourselves creating distance, pulling away, and giving up on the person whose change is not coming fast enough for us.  What do we do when we struggle to love as we wait?  We remember the Gospel.  We reflect upon the awesome love that God showered us with while we were still steeped in our sin – a love that reconciled us to Himself through the precious blood of Christ shed on our behalf.  What kind of love is that?  Let’s let this Graham Kendrick song put it into words for us…My Lord, what love is this
    That pays so dearly
    That I, the guilty one
    May go free!

    Amazing love, O what sacrifice
    The Son of God given for me
    My debt He pays, and my death He dies
    That I might live!                                                                                                                            Jesus commands us, in John 13:34 to “love one another as I have loved you.”  So, as you wait, ask yourself, “Am I loving as Jesus loves me?”

  3. Forgive. “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?” – Matthew 18:33  Forgiveness and love go hand in hand while we wait.  As we learn to love as Jesus loves us, we also need to stand in the same attitude of forgiveness that Jesus stood in towards us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).  When we realize how much sin we have been and will continue to be forgiven of by God, we need to extend that same forgiveness while we wait.  Rick Thomas calls this “pre-forgiveness”.   He says, “This idea called pre-forgiveness is a word I manufactured as a way of communicating the heart of Joseph before his brothers came to him to ask forgiveness. This was also the spirit of Christ before you came asking for His forgiveness. Being ready and willing to forgive the sinner is essential if you want to reconcile.If you have not done the preparatory work in your heart to forgive someone, when they do ask for forgiveness you will have a hard time forgiving them.”  Ask yourself, “Am I ready and willing to forgive?”
  4. Bear with. “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1  Believer, we’ve been given a great and wonderful responsibility here.  We, who have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us have a duty to come alongside our brothers and sisters, in an attitude of tenderness and sweetness to help in the process of change, bearing with them the weight of their difficulties and aiding them in their distress.  Our tendency is to want to punish and treat the offender as an enemy, but this is not the way it should be for believers.  Every one of us will be in the same position, at some point, in desperate need of change and correction.  Even on our best days, we’re still in desperate need of change.  What better place is there to display our imperfections and brokenness than in the church where we can bear with one another as we struggle with sin and suffering?  Ask yourself: “How am I helping bear the weight of  sin, discomfort, and hardship during this waiting period?”  “In what ways can I be a helper and encourager?”  “What can I do to help restore the person?”
  5. Pray. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” – James 5:16  This should probably be number one, but I have it here because I think that if you are solidly pursuing the things above, then your heart will truly be in a position that desires to pray for the person you are waiting on to change.  What a privilege we have to intercede on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ as we are waiting upon God to bring heart change!  “God’s friendship to us and ours to others go hand in hand”, says Andrew Murray.  “It is when we draw near to God as the friend of the poor and the perishing that we may count on His friendliness; the righteous man who is the friend of the poor is very specially the friend of God.  This gives wonderful liberty in prayer.  Lord!  I have a needy friend whom I must help.  As a friend I have undertaken to help him.  In Thee I have a Friend whose kindness and riches I know to be infinite; I am sure Thou wilt give me what I ask.  If I, being evil, am ready to do for my friend what I can, how much more wilt Thou, O my heavenly Friend, now do for [my] friend?” (Murray)  Ask yourself: Am I helping my needy friend by taking to prayer for her, believing that God is willing to act? “What is the aim of my petition?” (Murray)  Is it merely for my own comfort and joy, or is it that God be glorified, that my friend be restored, that I grow in love, trust, patience, and endurance as I wait?
  6. Confront Self. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5  When waiting on another person to change, we can get so focused in on and consumed by their sinful behavior that we fail to see how we may have become an offender, ourselves.  Our failure to love, forgive, pray for, and bear with the other person demonstrates that our relationship has experienced another sin; now we, too, need heart change. We need to take a good, hard look at the ways we may have become an offender.  Have we been judgmental, harsh, gossiping, angry,  and punishing?  Perhaps we’ve been ignoring the other person, or denying there’s a problem?  Have we been blaming the other person for the way we are behaving?  We need to take responsibility for our own part in conflicts and work to repair any harm that we may have caused.  David Powlison says, “Only if you face up to your sin and your resistance to God can you see clearly and act gently, helping others to face up to themselves as well.”  Take some time, now, to create a “log list”  and identify possible faults of your own that you have been blind to.  This always helps establish a proper heart attitude before approaching another brother, the next step.
  7. Speak truth. “…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15  There will be times that we must confront error.  Biblical love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).  Being willing to confront error and sin is the most loving thing we can do for another brother or sister in Christ.  But, the goal truly must be restoration.   Confrontation is hard.  It makes us uncomfortable, but if we’re going to steward our responsibility of loving another believer well, then we must be willing to do the hard work of speaking the truth in love.  Ask yourself:  “Is there something that I need to speak up about?”  “How is my reluctance to speak the truth in love contributing to the problem?”  “Is there a lack of love in my speech?”  “Am I motivated by a desire to see restoration take place, or by a desire for my life to be more comfortable?”
  8. Wait. “Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9  Waiting can be the toughest part in all of this, but waiting, according to this verse, is not passive – it’s not sitting back and waiting for God to work His “magic” on the person we’re waiting upon.  It’s an active waiting that keeps up the “well-doing”; it’s a waiting that keeps trusting, loving, forgiving, bearing, praying, confronting, and speaking.  It keeps hoping and believing.  It keeps encouraging and waiting in eager expectation for Him who began the good work to bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.  Ask yourself: How have I been waiting?  Impatiently?  wearily?  or Actively?  Am I worn out and exhausted? Why?  Have I thrown my hands up in frustration and stopped all of the well-doing?  What can I do to be a better waiter?

Live and walk in the light of the truth and by His Spirit as you wait upon God in faith to bring change.  Welcome it as a gift from God in your own sanctification process.  Only God can change the human heart.  That change begins at the moment of salvation, and it continues throughout the believer’s life until the day of completion when we reach glory, and the battle for change no longer rages on inside of us.  Until that day, will you stick by that person you’re waiting on change for as close as Jesus continues to stick to you?  Will you come alongside this fellow saint for the glory of God and the maturity of the Church?  I hope that your answer is, “Yes!”  I pray that you will be blessed beyond all measure to catch a glimpse of God’s handiwork in the life of a fellow sojourner as you await, together,  heart change that comes from God alone.

Wonderful books on the topic of change:

The Process of Biblical Change, by Julie Ganschow

How People Change, by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp