Understanding Your Heart Struggle

Helping Others Change by Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane

This is lesson 3 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.

Lesson 1 Questions and Answers

Lesson 2 Questions and Answers

Lesson 3 Questions and Answers

The Big Question: As you deal with your daily situations and relationships, what things tend to control your heart?


  1. What a person does and says is not caused by the people and situations around him.
  2. A person’s behavior is always controlled by the desires that rule his heart.
  3. We have been united with Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit so that we can say “no” to the passions and desires of the sinful nature.

Personal Application:

  1. When attempting to understand my emotions, words and actions, I must always examine my own heart.
  2. I must learn to ask myself what emotions and desires control me in the various relationshps and situations of daily life.
  3. I must learn to affirm my identity in Christ and rely on the indwelling Holy Spirit as I seek to serve others in love.

Relational Application:

  1. I must not blame people or circumstances for my emotions, words, and actions.
  2. I must always remember that the desires that rule my heart will shape the way I relate to the people in my life.  I must constantly ask myself if those relationships are characterized by demanding or serving.
  3. I must be committted to helping people remember who they are in Christ as they struggle with temptations to indulge the sinful nature.

Journal Questions:

1.  Study the following passages to see how Jesus looked beyond external behavior to the heart.

Passage.  Situation.  What Jesus discerned about the heart
Mt 8:23-27.  Disciples in boat with Jesus.  Lack of trust

The disciples were afraid of the great storm in which their boat was being swamped.  Jesus recognized that their problem was not fear of the storm, but rather a lack of faith (trust) in the power and protection of God.

Mt 12:38-39.  Pharisees request a sign.  Rebellion, unbelief

The scribes and Pharisees requested a sign from Jesus, presumably to confirm Jesus’ teaching as coming from God.  But Jesus discerned that they could not be convinced by a sign because their heart problem was one of rebellion and unbelief.

Mt 16:21-23.  Peter rejects the idea that Jesus will suffer.  Spiritual pride

Peter’s behavior seemed to suggest his desire to protect Jesus from harm, but Jesus knew otherwise.  Peter’s problem was deeper.  His heart was full of spiritual pride because he felt that suffering was beneath his Lord, and therefore beneath him as the Lord’s disciple.

Mt 22:15-22.  Pharisees try to trap Jesus.  Desire to publicly expose Jesus as a fraud

In this episode, the narrator tips the reader off to the Pharisees malicious motives, although their question seems sincere and respectful.  In reality it was flattery because they were plotting to entangle Jesus in his words so that he would either offend and alienate the Jews or the Roman authorities.  Jesus knew their malice and topped their craftiness in response, steering through the dilemma.

Mk 7:1-23.  Pharisees and “unclean” hands.  Legalism, blindness to the heart

The Pharisee doctrine of Corban sounded and appeared spiritual in that it declared pledged funds as gifts to God subsequently off-limits for use in helping needy family members.  While the concept of Corban seemed to protect the honor of the pledged money, in reality the Pharisees legalistically enforced it this manmade principle although it explicitly transgressed the fifth commandment.  Jesus pointed this out, and also rebuked the Pharisees because they knew better.

Mk 10:17-23.  Rich young man.  Self-righteousness, love of things

Few pastors would answer such a query from a rich young man today.  We would immediately identify him as a sincere “seeker” and get him signed up for the next church membership class, all with a smile and visions of him giving a public testimony from the pulpit in 3 months.  Perhaps he could be a candidate to lead the Men’s Bible Study group, and maybe be the next elder if we really strike gold!  But Jesus did none of this, yet demonstrated true wisdom.  He discerned the rich young man’s heart, which was prideful, self-righteous, and covetous.  Jesus listed off 5 of the last 6 commandments, but indiscreetly skipped over the last one, thereby pricking the conscience of the young man at his particular idol: money.

Lk 9:46-48.  Dispute over who is greatest.  Pride, idolatry of position

Who is actually the greatest disciple?  Peter, the rock?  James or John, one of the sons of thunder?  Matthew, the author of the gospel?  Jesus didn’t say, but he did answer their question because he discerned their hearts, which revealed pride of position and idolatry of power.

Lk 10:38-42.  Mary and Martha.  Self-righteousness, judgmental spirit

Was Martha’s problem that her sister Mary wasn’t helping her in the kitchen?  Or was Martha’s problem even that she chose to serve rather than learn at the feet of Jesus while he was a guest in her home?  Her problem was deeper and rooted in “heart trouble.”  Jesus said she was anxious and troubled about many things.

Lk 15:1-2, 11-32.  Parable of the Lost Son.  Self-rightesouness, pride, lack of mercy

The Pharisees seemed to be concerned with the perceived holiness and righteousness of the Jewish religious establishment that Jesus’ company was threatening.  But Jesus exposed their heart issues by telling the parable of the lost son, which in the end identified the Pharisees as self-righteous, prideful, unmerciful to repentant sinners, and unconcerned with wayward sinners returning to God along any path not sanctioned by them.

Jn 4:1-26.  Woman at the well.  Spiritual thirst, deceit, spiritual blindness

Jesus discerned the true heart issues of the woman at the well.  She was thirsty for water, but was really thristy for water that would not leave her thirsty again.  She was spiritually thirsty.  He also uncovered her deceit and her questions meant to obscure her heart issues.  Jesus also diagnosed her spiritual blindness and pointed her toward himself as the source of living water and eternal life.  Jesus was the answer to her questions, although at first she didn’t understand.

Jn 6:1-14, 25-58.  Feeding of the 5000.  Spiritual blindness, materialism

Was Jesus speaking in opaque terms, or were the disciples spiritually blind to what Jesus was trying to teach about himself?  Probably a little of both, although the disciples should have recognized that Jesus was the true bread of life, the ultimate manna that was symbolized by the manna from heaven during the exodus years.  The crowds and disciples were materialistic.  The crowds followed Jesus for the free lunch (much like church-hoppers who move from congregation to congragation looking for what will “feed” them).  The disciples were materialistic in the sense that they were thinking only in material terms (money and food) when Jesus was speaking about spiritual truths.  Jesus knew their struggles and heart issues, and worked toward addressing them.

Jn 8:1-11.  Woman caught in adultery.  Self-righteousness, lack of mercy

Was the woman “caught” in adultery, or entrapped so as to create a trap for Jesus?  If the woman was caught, where was her partner in crime?  Perhaps she had been seduced by one of those who stood condemning her?  Jesus recognized that the scribes and Pharisees were setting a trap, and that they cared nothing for the guilty woman.  He exposed their self-righteousness and lack of mercy toward her.  They didn’t really care about the sanctity of the Law of Moses, they just hated Jesus and his Father, and Jesus knew it.

Jn 13:1-17.  Jesus washes disciples’ feet.  Pride

Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, and his relunctance appeared to stem from respect for Jesus.  But the Lord saw the heart of Peter, which was still full of the same kind of pride that Jesus had confronted at Caesarea Philipi.

Jn 21:15-19.  Jesus reinstates Peter.  Guilt, shame

Peter had denied Jesus 3 times, and Jesus reinstated him 3 times, thus restoring him completely.  But this episode was not merely a formality.  Jesus understood that Peter was surely struggling with guilt and shame over his precipitous collapse of faith.

2. Examine your heart in the light of these passages.  If Christ were talking to you, what would he seek to expose?  Where is he calling you to fundamental heart change?  Pray about these things.

Jesus is the spiritual surgeon par excellence.  I imagine that if he were talking to me, he could expose any of the sins listed above (to a greater or lesser degree at certain times in my life).  Being a person drawn to the contemplative, religious life, Jesus would probably use an encounter with me to expose my self-righteousness and pride.  These seem to be some of the greatest “occupational hazards” of those who devote their lives to ministy in the church.  Also, Jesus would surely address a lack of mercy on my part and judgmental spirit.  I often struggle with thoughts that attempt to explain away or dismiss a person’s suffering, attributing it to either a self-inflicted predicament or a hoax to prey on the generous.  Lord help me!  Being an American also certainly puts me at risk of materialistic sins, both in my heart and manifested in practice.  Our society is sooo materialistic that most of the time I don’t even realize that I’m influenced in this way.  It is so easy to redefine wants as needs, and to excuse extravagent spending on myself (or my family) when so many of God’s children are truly in need, especially in poverty-stricken countries.  Lord help me!  Perhaps the fundamental heart change Christ is calling me to is to die to myself and my desires in order to serve him and his people.  This is the most selfless, yet most difficult, thing to do.  And it certainly will require the rest of my life to die to sin and live unto righteousness.

This entry was posted in Church Life, Helping Others Change, My Spiritual Pilgrimage, Personal and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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