In the Fall of 2014 I participated in a Porterbrook learning center. Through this endeavor I studied a module called Gospel Change. The following essay was the product of 9 weeks of individual journal entries that focussed on the theme of the gospel producing change in my life. I pray it benefits you in your journey.
I began by choosing an area of my life that I wanted to change. I was able to choose from a type of behavior, a negative emotion, or a virtue or fruit of the Spirit that I felt was particularly lacking in my life. My gospel change project was summarized this way… I want to be more patient and gentle rather than impatient and harsh or angry.
WEEK ONE: Why Would I Like to Change?
What reasons do I have to change in this area. Is there any sense of wanting to change in order to impress God, to impress people, or to feel better about myself? Or do I truly desire to enjoy freedom from sin and joy in God?
I think that at some levels I want to become more patient and gentle because I do want to impress God or earn His love or attention. I think it is highly possible that at some levels I want to impress others who know me best & have observed my impatience & harshness… I probably have a desire somewhere deep within me to be able to say “look at the level of patience and gentleness I am exhibiting… aren’t you impressed with me”. It is true that when I struggle with impatience & harshness I feel terrible later so it is tempting to desire more patience and gentleness with the perception that I will feel better about myself.
But… It is the presence of those desires above that are in me that motivate me to change. In other words… though I don’t fully understand the depths of my rebellion or the hold that sin still attempts to take in me I do understand that there is a war within my heart that is being waged by the Spirit of God who is actively at work in changing me to think like, feel like, act like & live like Jesus.
I honestly desire to live in the freedom that the cross of Christ gives me & my prayer is that the Lord would continue to free my heart from the controlling bondage & unhealthy outcomes that impatience & harshness results in. I want to honor the Lord with my life & see Him bring glory to himself through the change he works out in me.
WEEK TWO: How Am I Going to Change?
How have I had tried to change in the past? What has worked, and what hasn’t? What truths about God have given me confidence that I can change?
Things I’ve tried that didn’t lead to true change…
Before Christ I turned to self-seeking idols of drugs and alcohol and sexual relationships that I believed would make me feel better about me. In Christ I’ve turned to idols of knowledge, accomplishment and status to soothe the impatience and angry harshness which could be summed up as discontentment. I’m a learner and a builder. I thoroughly enjoy learning and building towards growth internally personally and externally corporately in the ministries I lead. The subtle lie is that if I can learn more and put effort into building more or accomplishing more it will strengthen my status as Christ follower or pastor. Though knowledge, accomplishment and status are not evil in and of themselves… when used to bring about a sense of contentment or when used to remedy the sense of impatience I feel I inevitably become pushy, angry and harsh when things aren’t progressing at the rate I think they should.
Things I’ve tried that have lead to some true change…
I am blessed to have a small handful of gospel centered pastors, coaches, counselors and mentors who’ve continually been available to process feelings, identify unhealthy behaviors, challenge me with Godly steps of change and hold me accountable over the years. Committing to a solid and consistent Sabbath spent journaling, studying Scripture along with silence and solitude have provided healthy space for Holy Spirit lead examination of my heart rhythms, confession and repentance. The ability to recognize patterns of impatience & harshness especially when it affects others I lead or people I journey with has provided many opportunities to confess this sin & ask for forgiveness… this discipline is a humiliating & humbling act and it is contrary to the sin (which is rooted in pride) that seeks to control me but by engaging in this discipline I am enabled by the Holy Spirit to continue joining him in making war against the idols in my heart.
Truths about God that have given me confidence that I can change…
I think I could fill a book with this… God chose to lavish his love upon me through the work of the cross of Christ despite my rebellion against him. It is God who does the work of changing my heart otherwise I would still be in complete rebellion against him. God is extremely gracious, merciful and kind in the way that he loves me patiently and gently. God does not discontinue the work he begins in my heart until it is complete. God took me, his enemy, and made me his son. God will never leave me or forsake me. God’s intentions towards me are for good. I can approach God as my daddy who loves to fix the mess I’ve made.
WEEK THREE: When Do I Struggle?
Our struggles reveal our hearts. What triggers my struggles in my particular change area? What patterns do I see? What do I think or believe in those moments when I struggle? What do I want or desire in those moments.
What are the triggers in this change struggle?
I think the triggers for me are very relational. Not that I don’t get impatient & harsh or angry with inanimate non living objects but I seem to be able to process non-living things that disappoint me in a better way. Course I could be deceived here! Nevertheless I tend to become impatient and angry or harsh when I feel like someone is rejecting or abandoning me, disrespecting me, talking negatively about me, dismissing me as unimportant, not listening to me or using me. The common denominators are “feelings” and “me” and “others”. Romans 12 has been a foundational passage to return to every time a trigger is identified.
What are the patterns of struggle?
I think the pattern looks like this: I feel hurt by someone which leads to me being impatiently angry and harsh with them to protect myself from further hurt which leads to more hurt because then I feel alone which leads to more anger and impatience to protect which leads to more hurt. In other words the pattern is: Feelings of hurt lead to impatience & anger which lead to to more feelings of hurt and the cycle continues until I repent.
What am I typically thinking or believing when I struggle?
Typically when I am struggling with impatience and anger or harshness I believe or think mistakenly that if I behave impatiently or angrily or harshly it will protect me from further hurt feelings but in reality that sinful protective mechanism causes more relational harm which causes more hurt feelings. I also think or believe in these moments that I am the victim and that someone else is the abuser. While there may be some truth to this in these moments the full truth is that we all live on a playing field of life that has been leveled by sin and the cross of Christ and due to this my self protective mechanisms of impatience and harshness or anger are really sinful mechanisms meant to preserve the idol of myself and therefore positioning me as the object of worship instead of Christ. The cross of Christ isn’t about self-preservation it’s about self-sacrifice.
What do I want or desire when I struggle?
I want & desire to protect myself from pain!! Impatience, harshness & anger are sinful mechanisms meant to protect & preserve the idol of self which is opposed to self-sacrificing worship of Jesus.
WEEK FOUR: What Truths Do I Need to Turn To?
Behind every sin is a lie. What is the lie behind the issue in my change project? What lie do I need to reject and what truths do I need to turn to.
Being impatient will produce desired results of change in me and in others. Being harsh and angry will protect me from being hurt by others. I don’t deserve to be treated or disrespected this way.
The fruit of the Spirit that is being cultivated in me is patience and gentleness. It is His work alone that produces desired results in me and others.
The Lord has been more patient and gentle with me than I can ever fully describe and I pray that this realization will continue to motivate me to become more and more like him.
Self protection is self worship which steals my attention from living a life of sacrificial worship of God.
It is the Holy Spirit my helper who empowers and compels me to be patient and gentle so its not my mustered up strength but it’s me leaning into the truth of God’s Word and the presence of the Spirit to help me walk in patient gentleness.
What I actually deserve is God’s wrath but in his patient and gentle way the Lord has continued to show me His grace by giving me what I don’t deserve and withholding what I do deserve through the cross of Christ.
I’ve been given the Spirit who makes me a son who can approach God boldly rather than being controlled by fear.
WEEK FIVE: What Desires Do I Need to Turn From?
What desires control my heart? What wrong, false, idolatrous longings/cravings do I need to turn from?
I can be controlled by a desire of self protection or preservation (motivated by fear) from: being hurt, failing or having the appearance of failing and being abandoned or betrayed.
Practically this can look like me feeling hurt by someone I am in relationship with so my initial response can sometimes be to become impatient with them or angry and harsh with them in an attempt to protect myself from further hurt.
It can also mean that in the presence of people I feel inferior to I can have the tendency to slip into the macho tough guy persona (which characterized much of my lifestyle before Christ) to protect against appearing like a failure or just failing period which in the twisted places of my heart and mind means that I’ll be abandoned or betrayed. I’m looking forward to future glory when I will be completely loosened from this body of death!
WEEK SIX: What Stops Me From Changing?
Who or what do I blame for my sin? How do I minimize, hide, or excuse my sin? What are some of the typical ways I avoid confronting my sin?
Typically I blame others for my sin. “They hurt me, offended me or undermined me so they are to blame for me being angry or impatient with them” is usually how the reasoning or justification goes.
I tend to minimize, hide & excuse my sin by reflecting on the growth I’ve seen in my journey. For instance… before Christ saved me I was a raging drug addict & drunk who sold drugs to support my habits. When someone crossed me I actually on a number of occasions threatened their lives with baseball bats, chains, knives and even held a gun to someone’s head. This along with drop kicking a tv through a door, punching windows out of my home and many other outrageous displays of rage illustrate where I’ve come from. That said… when I speak harshly or impatiently push people and realize I am doing it, I easily minimize, hide & excuse the sin by thinking of where I’ve been.
I typically avoid confronting my sin by dismissing it as not that bad, focusing on how sinful others are & focusing on how others have hurt me and how mistreated I feel which ultimately moves my attention from the sacrificial, gracious, loving & merciful work of Jesus in the cross.
In a sense I trade worship of the Lord for self-pity, self-loathing & pride which is self-worship that leaves me believing I have arrived at some level of holiness and others should keep up or catch up.
It really is amazing isn’t it? Grace! That saved a wretch like me! I once was blind… but now I see! I once was lost… but now I am found.
WEEK SEVEN: What Strategies Will Reinforce My Faith and Repentance?
I reflected on Galatians 6:7-8 while asking the following questions. How is the law of sowing and reaping at work in my struggle? How can I avoid provoking or strengthening sinful desires? What new habits can I sow in order to reap a harvest of righteousness?
I think that growing & changing in the context of relational holiness is where the rubber meets the road in terms of character growth. In other words… when I am sowing to my own flesh I see relationships as merely something to invest in for the purpose of personal gain… much like a “return on investment” strategy where if I don’t gain what I expect to or desire to gain then I discontinue the investment & move on to the next relationship where I can attempt to coerce others to meet my needs. Then… if the return on my investment isn’t what I was seeking… I become bitter, angry, harsh and impatient.
Impressing others, revenge, self-obsession & attention seeking are some of the sinful desires that I must guard against provoking or strengthening.
My commitment is to learn & grow through continued reflection & application of who Christ is & who I am in Him. More specifically or concretely as it pertains to relational holiness & guarding against provoking sinful desires by cultivating new habits that produce righteousness… It is important to continue cultivating vulnerable, transparent, truthful relationships that are characterized by forgiveness, mercy, generosity & others-centeredness. It is important for me to remember that relationships and people are not commodities for my own personal gain… I can learn and grow in relationship with others and I can extend boundless amounts of forgiveness, mercy, grace, love, generosity, truth & gentleness but the return goal must simply be to model Christ’s selflessness which means growing in gospel selflessness in relationship with others.
So when other people say or do hurtful things I must forgive instead of harboring anger. When other people fail to change I must remain patient. I must consistently seek to turn mine & others attention to the Lord rather than grandiose or enlarge or exaggerate personal stories for the purpose of self-glorification.
I must admit or maybe lament the difficulty & blindness revealed once again in me in this unit or week’s study… as it stands right now… I have a number of opportunities to speak or preach in front of groups numerous times weekly due to the nature of the ministry the Lord has called me to. It is all too easy to forget that I am not the Savior but a mere reflection & often poor one at that. I am still in need of salvation daily and if it weren’t for Christ, my life would be nothing but because of the cross I am His and the work in me that fuels the work I do is on account of Him who saved me and is actively sanctifying me, making me more and more like Him daily.
I pray for the fruit of the Spirit to be cultivated not only in me but also in those whom I have an affect upon.
WEEK EIGHT: How Can We Support One Another in Changing?
“Change is a community project.” How do I tend to fight sin in isolation? What stops me from having change-oriented relationships? How will I seek support from other Christians, and how will I seek to support them?
Over the years the Lord has given me a hunger for authentic, vulnerable & transparent community that seeks to love one another in the journey of gospel change. When I am tempted to go it alone in isolation I am tending to move towards self-salvation or self-preservation rather than being immersed in gospel community where holy & godly change characterize the participants. In other words… I want to go alone so I have ownership in the change process and the change results because I want to be the hero!
What has had to change and what continues to need to change in me is a mentality from “you need me” to “I need you”. In other words when I approach gospel community from a “you need me” perspective than I become the functional savior of the community. But when I approach gospel community from an “I need you Jesus & others whom Jesus is changing” perspective then I cease being the communities functional savior and in effect I give opportunity for the Jesus who is at work in others to reflect on the Jesus who is at work in me. I’m not advocating for different Jesus’!! I’m simply referring to the work that only Jesus can do in each of us within community which simultaneously challenges the spiritual growth and change that takes place in other community members.
I am a church planter so this community has been difficult to cultivate but… by the grace of God I am blessed with a community of men outside the church we are planting who know me well and are seasoned men in ministry. Continually seeking them out for conversation, confession & accountability has been good for my soul and has produced change in my character over the years. Being available to them has provided the venue for reciprocal gospel change in each of us.
I also have worked hard in the midst of planting to cultivate gospel communities within our church family. I currently lead one and have found great freedom to be me honestly & authentically. The men in our GC have all engaged in this Gospel Change study with me and we are digging the life that is being cultivated in our community as we continue to seek Jesus together.
WEEK NINE: Am I Ready for a Lifetime of Change?
How will I take a long-term view of change in this area? What encouraging signs have I already seen that give me hope? What truths about God’s power to change me do I need to keep believing?
I think a long term view of gospel change not only in the area of harshness, anger & impatience but in many other areas as well would have to be tied to the glory of God. He has created in me a new and clean heart and has called me, a sinner, his son on account of Christ, the cross, the empty tomb & future glorification in Heaven… all to His own glory. So long term my desire is to honor Him, bring attention to Him, model Him & reflect Him to others around me.
With a strong focus on the glory of God I want to continue to change. I want to see the thinking of my head continue to be renewed, the affections, passions & desires of my heart to continue to be transformed and the actions, activity & behavior of my hands to be Christlike so… the disciplines of silence, solitude, Scripture study, prayer, community, worship, journaling, giving, serving & accountability are the disciplines I pray continue to characterize my lifestyle. I pray that through the means of grace I will continue to be the recipient of the gospel of grace and that in this the Lord will give me many whom He is calling to Himself through the same Gospel of grace and that together we will experience the Father shining His light into a dark city through our community. I pray the Lord will continue to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving towards him in such a way that our community lives radically differently and infectiously within our larger community context.
I believe that continued gospel change in me will cultivate continued gospel change in others by the power of the Spirit through the work of Christ to the glory of the Father.
The truth is God is good, faithful, gracious, merciful, loving, generous, truthful… He loves me therefore I am able to love Him.
I don’t know if I can really say anything more concrete than that at this time… I am seriously just caught up in Him at this moment. He saved me… He is changing me. The evidence is in the fruit of my life and the radical gospel change that has happened over the 14+ years of following Him.
I want to express my gratefulness to the Lord for His work through this course and everyone involved in producing it, managing it, presenting it & making it possible for me to engage in it. I seriously believe this content to be some of the most informative & formative content I have worked through in years. I am grateful!!