Monday, August 31, 2009

how we change (7) what truths do you need to turn to?

Here's where it gets exciting. Let me introduce you to what I call "the 4 Gs". For me, the 4 Gs are the highlight of Tim Chester's You Can Change, and I'm not alone: my friend, whose life was turned upside down by God through this book, turns to the 4 Gs every day. Here they are:

1. God is great – so we don’t have to be in control
2. God is glorious – so we don’t have to fear others
3. God is good – so we don’t have to look elsewhere
4. God is gracious – so we don’t have to prove ourselves
Easy to remember, bursting with the conviction of God's loving sovereignty, full of hope: I turn to the 4 Gs every time I feel anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, discouraged, or guilty. Every time I'm tempted to value the praise of others over the praise of God. Every time I'm tempted to put my hope in possessions, pleasure, or relationships. Every time I'm tempted to prove myself through my perfectionism.

Why is it so important to turn to God's truth when we're tempted? Because every sin begins with a lie (Rom 1:25, Heb 3:12-14). You can't sin unless you believe happiness is found in something other than God. You can't worry unless you forget God's wise sovereignty over your life. You can't despair unless you doubt the love of the One who sent his Son to die for you.

I love how Chester puts it: our sin lies in the gap between "confessional faith" (what we say in church on Sundays) and "functional disbelief" (what we do and feel on Mondays). "We can sin only if we suffer from a radical loss of perspective. Only if we forget that God is great and good can we sin."

If sin begins with a lie, the cure is faith: believing the truth about God and the gospel. When the Bible talks about change, it begins with the gospel transforming our minds: "be made new in the attitude of your minds", "set your hearts" and "minds on things above" (Rom 12:1-2, Eph 4:22-24, Col 3:1-4, Heb 12:1). As we fill our minds with God's truth from his word, it burrows its way deep into us and transforms our emotions and choices.

One of the things which fascinates me about this cure - the idea that change comes as we turn from our wrong beliefs to the truth - is that it's as old as the psalms, and as new as the methods of modern psychologists.

It's as new as modern psychology. Cognitive behavioural therapy, the method now used most widely for treating anxiety and depression, is just a secular form of turning from wrong beliefs to more "realistic" interpretations of our circumstances.

Psychologists recognise that what causes my emotions and behaviour isn't ultimately my circumstances, but how I interpret my circumstances: "No-one will ever love me. I'm worth nothing if he rejects me. I can't cope if that happens." The alternate thoughts they offer are void of God, but they imitate sanctified wisdom: "It doesn't matter what people think of me. This feeling won't last forever. There will be other opportunities."

As Christians, we'll turn not only to common-sense and wisdom, but more importantly, we'll turn to truths about God: "What matters is what God thinks of me, and he loves me and sees me as perfect in Jesus. God's promises are more reliable than my feelings. My loving Father is in control of my circumstances." Alison Payne says that You Can Change “is like cognitive behaviour therapy driven by the gospel and the character of God.”

This cure is also as ancient as the Psalms. Listen to the Psalmists as they argue themselves out of fear, doubt and despondency and into trust and hope in God:

The LORD is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? ...
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God ...
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; ... he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. ...
Has God forgotten to be merciful? ... To this I will appeal: ... I will remember the deeds of the LORD ...
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
(Ps 27:1, 42:5, 62:5-6, 77:9-12, 103:1-2)

Can you hear them arguing, begging, pleading with themselves? Can you hear them taking their glooms and fears and beating them into submission with the weapon of God's truth? Can you hear them turning their anxiety into trust and their joy into praise?

The same cure has been handed down through the ages by wise Christian writers and preachers like the Puritans and Charles Spurgeon. Who could forget the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! … You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. ... And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him.’ (Spiritual Depression pp.20-21.)

God's truth - his word and gospel - is our greatest weapon. Let's take the great truths about God - that he is great, glorious, good and gracious - and preach them to our souls. Let's believe God's word instead of our feelings and sinful desires. Let's take the gospel and dwell on it until it lives in our minds and hearts. Only then will true change become possible - change from the inside out.

For reflection:
When you struggle, what lies are you believing? What truths about God and the gospel could you turn to?

It might help to draw up a thought chart. You'll need 4 columns: 1 = situation, 2 = moods and actions, 3 = thoughts, 4 = thoughts and actions based on God's truth. In the 1st write what situation you were in when you struggled with a particular emotion or sinful behaviour. In the 2nd write what you were feeling and what you did. In the 3rd write the thoughts that were going through your head at the time. You might like to circle the "hot thought" - the one which was most strongly connected to what you felt or what you did. In the 4th write out new ways of thinking based on truths about God and the gospel, and on common-sense and wisdom; and some new ways of acting which will support these beliefs. If you'd like to see a worked example, please contact me.

If you'd like to see or use my seminar How Change Happens, which is based on Tim Chester's You Can Change, please contact me.

Tim Chester quotes are from chapter 5 of You Can Change

images are from Giampaolo Macorig, Leo Reynolds, LU5H.bunny, twenty_questions and Dimi15 from flickr; second last image is from stock.xchng; used with permission

1 comment:

Annette said...

Learning to speak the truth in my heart has helped me overcome some serious battles of the mind. I need to learn to apply it to all the little things too!
I appreciate your references to Dr. Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon, two of my favorite authors!
Thanks for sharing a way to journal my thoughts and feelings so I can effectively evaluate apply God's truth to them!