Tuesday, September 28, 2010

how we change (11) strategies that support change

Remember that long-lost series on change? No, I haven't forgotten it! We were working through Tim Chester's You Can Change. Now we come to chapter 8: strategies that reinforce faith and repentance (and yes, I'll try to finish the series by the end of the year if you want to read along!).

A few years ago, I planted a lemon tree. By now, it should have produced its first fruit. But it's a stunted, sad excuse for a tree. It's rarely watered and never fed, and it's shoulder-deep in weeds.

The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Gal 6:8)

Change is like my tree. It grows in the soil of the Spirit-changed heart, from the roots of faith and repentance. But it only thrives when you water it and pluck the weeds. Temptation and harmful influences are two weeds that stunt change; God's word, prayer, Christian community, service, and (surprisingly) suffering, all feed change and help it grow.

Tim Chester says,

Not sowing to sin = saying "no" to whatever strengthens my sinful desires = reinforcing repentance.

Sowing to the Spirit = saying "yes" to whatever strengthens my Spirit-inspired desires = reinforcing faith.

But wait a minute. Isn't change about grace, not rules? To grow, do we have to forbid pubs, parties, and popular movies? Do we have to practice certain disciplines: 30 minutes' prayer and Bible reading every day? Of course not! Dos and don'ts can't change our hearts. So how do these things fit into change?

Sowing to the Spirit (watering change).

The longer I'm a Christian, the more I realise that things like prayer and Bible reading aren't a matter of rules, but a natural response to God's grace. It's hard to imagine a relationship with God that doesn't include listening to his voice (the Bible), seeking his help (prayer), encouraging his people (Christian community), and reaching out to others (service and evangelism).

I think of these things not as "spiritual disciplines" (as if there's a set of disciplines I do to gain God's blessing) but as outworkings of faith that grow my faith. Yes, doing them requires discipline; but I don't do them to get close to God, or to get God's grace - I have these already! I do them because I love Jesus, and long to grow deeper into his grace.

Not sowing to the sinful nature (weeding change).

It's the same with things that provoke or strengthen sinful desires. What matters is not whether a certain practice is "forbidden", but the impact it has on me. I'd be crazy to do anything that jeopardises my growth. If a book fills my mind with impure images, why read it? If a certain place leads me into sin, why go there? Am I trying to be wiser than Jesus, who said to cut temptation out of my life? (Matt 5:29-30 cf 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22)

As Chester says, we'll want to be aware of two things: places, people or things that provoke sinful desires by exposing us to temptation, perhaps because they appeal to our particular weaknesses; and places, people or things that strengthen sinful desires by influencing us, perhaps by subtly shaping how we think.

Some practical steps to take.

How do I make these guidelines personal? Here are two suggestions. (When I'm struggling, I do this as well as the kind of heart-work we've already talked about).

1. Take a close look at when you're tempted. What mood are you in? Where are you? What are you doing? What have you been viewing or reading? Write a list of situations, people,* places and things that it may be helpful for you to avoid.

2. Think about how to support change. Are there some Bible passages you could memorise? Would it help if you got more sleep and exercise? Is there someone you can call or text when you're tempted? Write a list of positive steps to take to support godly attitudes and actions.

Here are some examples from my own life:
- impatience and irritability: I try to get enough sleep
- gluttony: I don't buy food that is a weakness for me
- introspection: I find ways to serve others
- poor time management: I pray about my day before it begins
- perfectionism: I keep accountable to good friends
- shopaholism: I stay away from shops when I can
- anxiety: I've memorised verses about God's loving sovereignty.

Of course, none of these things replaces dealing with the deep-seated unbelief and idols of my heart. Only God's grace, working through faith and repentance, changes me on the inside. But doing these things feeds my faith, buys me time, starves sin, and supports my repentance.

If I want the tree of change to grow, it may be time to pull out some weeds and do some watering.

*I'm not saying we should avoid all the people that rub us up the wrong way, or we'd have to live on a desert island! People help us grow as we learn to love them. But we may need to stop spending time with a friend who consistently leads us into sin.

Today's post is based on chapter 8 of Tim Chester's You Can Change.

images are by GasBombGirl, Kit Keat, ashley.adcox and Flying House Studios at flickr


sandra j said...

"As Chester says, we'll want to avoid two things: temptations - people, places or things that provoke sinful desires, often because of our particular weaknesses; and harmful influences - people, places or things that strengthen sinful desires, perhaps by subtly shaping how we think."

Hmm... so does that mean I should avoid that annoying person in my life, because (s)he prokes sinful desires in me (anger, pride, impatience)???

Jean said...

Hi Sandra!

Yes, the same question occurred to me as I wrote that somewhat misleading sentence! :)

Obviously you shouldn't avoid the annoying people in your life - otherwise we'd none of us spend any time with anyone else! Other peoples' rough edges rub us smooth. That's one of the reasons that God puts us in church families, blood famlies, households, communities, and working relationships.

Not sure how to tell the difference between fleeing relationships (which clearly we shouldn't do as a general rule) and fleeing temptation (which the Bible clearly encourages us to do). If you have any ideas, tell me!

But I know it's there. For example,
- avoiding pubs if you're an alcoholic, shops if you're a shopaholic etc (I'm using "aholic" as short-hand for a besetting sin here)
- avoiding a partying group of friends if they lead you into sin (but not if they don't and you want to share the gospel with them)
- when the choice is up to you, choosing your living arrangements in such a way that helps you to be godly (living with people if you're an introvert and tend to be self-absorbed; not living with people if you're an introvert and it helps you to have the energy to serve God).

My last example shows how complicated it can be!

But I guess it's about putting love and godliness first.

Have fun disentangling all those ramblings!!

Love Jean.

Jean said...

ps. and tell me the answer to your own excellent question!! :)

Jean said...

Just changed my post in line with your helpful question ...