This is lesson 2 in a series of online journal posts on my journey through the workbook Helping Others Change. I plan to post my answers to questions at the end of each chapter, hoping that the process of being open to my own struggles living for Christ will provide encouragement to others on the same journey. Each post in this series will begin with the Big Question from the lesson, and list the key Concepts along with the Personal and Relational applications. After these will be my journal entries answering the questions as honestly as possible.
The Big Question: What is your biggest problem?
- The heart is active. It controls our behavior.
- Whatever rules the heart exercises inescapable influence over life and behavior. Your heart is always ruled by something.
- God’s Word alone is able to expose and judge the heart.
- If I am committed to personal change and growth, I must be committed to a biblical examination of my heart.
- In the situations and relationships of my everyday life I must constantly ask, “What is really ruling my heart?”
- I must always study the Word of God with an eye toward my heart, always asking what the passage reveals about my thoughts and motives. (What is really ruling me?)
- As I minister to others, I want to be an instrument of heart change.
- Heart change is always the result of the careful ministry of God’s Word to a particular person in a specific situation.
- I must not attempt to manipulate or control the behavior of others. I must leave room for God to work lasting change in their hearts.
1. How will the truths of this lesson shape your prayers about ministry opportunities?
So often, even when I don’t realize it, I find myself praying that God would change so-and-so’s behavior. “God, please make this person STOP IT!” Now, those are not the words that I pray, and I don’t normally pray this kind of prayer in a fit of frustration, but when I stop to ponder what the root of my prayers for others (even those genuinely well-intentioned for the good of the other person), I’m praying for the effects of a sinful heart to cease. After reading this lesson, I’ve become more aware that what I should be praying for is that God would address my (and others) root problem, which is not behavioral, but is attitudinal, and rooted in a heart corrupted by sin through and through.
Recently the Lord has brought two young men to me for a discipling relationship. I’m committed to discussing life with them, and also praying for and with them. I suspect that my words to them (and to God on their behalf) will be more consciously aimed at heart-change rather than action-change. And this is how it should be. Hopefully this study will continue to train me to properly recognize and address the heart of my and others issues—the heart.
2. Give some examples (good and bad) of your heart overflowing in your words and deeds. What kind of fruit stapling have you tried? When have you seen real change?
There is nothing like having a roommate that will bring forth words and deeds from your heart. And there is no other roommate as intimate as your spouse (at least this is how it’s supposed to be!). Being married provides experiences every day to show forth what is in my heart. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised and what bubbles up. Other times I’m ashamed of the muck down there in the sinner who is me. Something that always turns up the heat on my stove is the general cleanliness and orderliness of our home. We have 4 little kids as well, and they rarely turn down the heat on this issue. Sometimes when I come home from work our home is a total mess, but I’ve had a pleasant drive home, or things went well at work, or I listened to a stirring sermon recently. When these are the ingredients I bring home, there is rarely a problem. I will come in the door and be ready to relieve my wife from a hard day’s work. I’ll take one or two of the kids and help straighten up the mess. But other times, when I’ve been agitated for some reason (and frequently I don’t recognize that I’m in an aggravated mood), I’ll come inside and the mess will set me off. My words and deeds toward my family don’t turn out to be a gracious stew, but a burned-up, smoky mess. Same external circumstances, but wildly divergent reactions. One stew is tasty for the family, the other is bitter and baits them into sending back the soup!
I’ve noticed how I can affect the mood of our household (by the way my wife is much better at this than I am) by my response to messes. Sometimes I’ll go through a little mental ritual when walking from my car to the front door, telling myself to leave all my frustration outside, and to change my attitude on the inside. It sounds nice, but is really just my version of Serenity Now! Paul Tripp calls this kind of forced external change “fruit stapling” as in stapling good fruit to a bad tree to fix the problem of rotten fruit. But for me it only works if I address my heart attitudes and thoughts, repent of my anger and frustration at whatever I’m upset about (this part is really hard when I’m still stewing because I know I’m right!), and pray that God would forgive me for wanting to dump my bad day on my family. So I’ve seen first-hand in my own experience how “fruit stapling” doesn’t work although I slip into that trap all the time, and how addressing my heart in repentance and faith to God (and applying the gospel over and over again to my sin) really does make a world of difference. Problem is I’m still a sinner, so although I know what I ought to do, I do not do it (Rom 7:15).
3. What are some idols and treasures that challenge the Lord for control of your heart? How have they shaped your interpretations of certain events and relationships in your life?
In essence idolatry is a sinner refusing to honor God as Lord, and to exchange God with something we can control to that we are lord of our own lives. Theologian John Frame summarizes the Lordship attributes as (1) control, (2) authority, and (3) presence. All idolatry can be categorized as sins in one or more of these areas. For example, the Bible says that greed is idolatry (Col 3:5). This implies that a person who is driven by greed wants something only for himself, and will not share it with anyone else. A greedy person desires control of the object of lust, wants to be recognized as its rightful authoritative owner so as not to share it, and must have the object to serve present needs. One idol which I constantly must smash at the foot of the cross is the maintenance of an orderly environment. This idol can manifest itself in the control of order in a messy room (as previously discussed), control of finances and income, control of my schedule or work and recreation, and even control of people to maintain control of the kingdom of Brian. It stings a little to admit this, but more often than I’d care to admit I have to exhale, ask God to take the reigns of control over whatever I’m holding to with my steel grip, and humble myself before others by admitting that I need forgiveness. It’s (almost) always liberating to recognize God as Lord rather than pretend I can do the job, but even when it doesn’t feel good, I believe that God is good.
Another idol I’ve noticed is my desire to be funny, which I think is rooted in another idol—the desire to be well-liked. This one is dangerous too because my humor can cross the line of crudeness or coarseness and become sin. Inappropriate humor has the potential to hurt others and is always offense to God, who would never have us cause others to stumble or fall. These idols challenge the Lord for control of my heart. Admittedly they are poor substitutes, but at C.S. Lewis aptly observed, we are prone to be content with making mud-pies when we are missing out on a holiday at the sea. My idolatry is such foolishness. Deliver me Lord from myself!
These idols have shaped my interpretations of life events and relationships by revealing what I value. Do I value the Presbyterian and Reformed distinctions of the Christian faith because they are true, good, and beautiful? Or rather because they are decent and orderly, contrasted with the unpredictable, mysterious ways the Spirit of God so often chooses to advance his Kingdom? Do I want to be a pastor and shepherd of God’s people so I can maintain some control of the kingdom of Brian, or am I content with being a laborer in God’s Kingdom, entering into the disorder and chaos of sinners’ lives to be an agent of justice, mercy, and gospel-driven humility? Do I use humor and a veneer of what can be a winsome personality to reflect the goodness and kindness of the Savior who loves his people enough to enter into humanity, or to I abuse such gifts to win friends and influence people for my own selfish ends? Should I avoid preaching on certain controversial biblical themes and texts, or refrain from pointed application that God’s people (including myself) need to hear as a prophetic word from the Lord? Or should I preach smooth words to maintain the external appearance of the “peace and purity” of the church? I am well aware of many of the pitfalls of pastoral ministry. Again, deliver me Lord from myself!
4. How can God use the things he has taught you in this lesson to enable you to help someone else?
It occurs to me that the most important way God can use these insights (see the CPR section above) is to give me a humble heart willing to diagnose, admit, and repent of my own heart-idols, and be willing to share these common struggles with others so as to related them to their personal struggles and sins of heart-idolatry. I would be much more open to listening to and taking the advice of another believer if he explained and demonstrated how he also struggled and dealt with his own idolatry sins of the heart. I listen to the loving diagnosis and correction of my wife because I know she loves me, has my best interests in mind, and I know she knows that she is at root no better. We all struggle with sin because of our sinful hearts. Thanks be to God for giving Jesus Christ his Son, who alone struggled and conquered sin without succumbing to it, and thereby delivering us from ourselves!
5. Write your best definition of what it means to function as one of God’s instruments of change in the life of another.
To function as one of God’s instruments of change in the life of another means that I help identify heart-level problems in others, convince them of their need for heart-level change, relate to them through shared heart-level struggles, and point them to Christ the sin-forgiver, heart-changer and life-redeemer.