How To REALLY Help Someone Change

photo credit: SomeDriftwood via photopin cc

photo credit: SomeDriftwood via photopin cc

You’ve got this person in your life, and they really need to change. For years your husband has struggled with anger. For years your wife has struggled with self-control. For years your son has struggled with laziness. For years your daughter has struggled with body image issues. At this point, you don’t know h0w to help them move forward. You don’t know how to help them overcome the sin that has beset them for so long. You’re fed up, worn out, and pretty much hopeless. You’ve resigned yourself to things always being the way they are.

What the heck are you supposed to do? Fortunately, the Bible gives us straight forward wisdom on how to really, actually help a person change. And odds are, the Bible’s wisdom probably runs contrary to your own ideas of how to help a person change. It certainly runs contrary to mine!

So how can you help a person change?

PRAY FOR THEM. REPEATEDLY. 

We tend to get this wonky, thoroughly unbiblical idea in our minds, that we can actually change people. That by the force of our will, we can move a person from ungodliness to godliness. We think that if we get sufficiently angry, they will see our point and change. They will feel the force of our anger, come under the cutting conviction of the Holy Spirit, and repent. Of course, this is complete nonsense. We know this both from Scripture and from experience.

James 1:19-20 makes this clear when it says:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

The harsh reality is that we cannot cause a person to change. No matter how angry we get, no matter how much we raise our voices, no matter how much huffing and puffing and blustering we do, we cannot cause a person to change. Only God can create true godliness in a person. Only God can bring about repentance. Only God can soften the heart.

If God is the only one who can create change, then the absolute best thing we can do for a person is to pray for them. Not in a, “God please change this person, because they are annoying the heck out of me,” kind of way, but in a, “God please change this person for their good and your glory,” kind of way. Do you want someone to change? Pray for them! Constantly, repeatedly, without ceasing. Pray that God would bless them, fill them with joy, increase their knowledge of him. Pray that God would give them victory over their sin.

Instead of criticizing the person you want to change, pray for them. For every one time you criticize, pray ten times! This is an area I have repeatedly failed in over my life. I have criticized far more than I have prayed. I want to change. I want my prayer to criticism ratio to be 10 to 1. Why? Because God really does change people when I pray. The best way to help a person really change is to pray for them.

ENCOURAGE THEM. REPEATEDLY. 

This sounds counter intuitive. If we want a person to change, encouragement certainly isn’t the answer, right? After all, if I encourage them, they’ll think everything is okay, and everything is NOT okay. They need to hear my criticisms, not my encouragement.

But this isn’t how it works. The Biblical authors followed a very distinct pattern. Before bringing any criticism, they began with encouragement. The way Paul responded to the Corinthians is a prime example of this. The Corinthian church was an absolute circus. The church was embroiled in spiritual gifts mania, sexual immorality, defiling the sacraments, and a host of other problems. But Paul began his letter to the Corinthians by telling them how GRATEFUL he was for them!

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)

Do you want to help a person change? Give thanks to God for them. Encourage them. Point out the areas where you see God at work in their life. We often fixate on a person’s weaknesses to the point where we miss all the good things God is doing in a person. Encouragement is fertilizer for spiritual growth. If you want a person to grow, pour encouragement onto them.

CORRECT THEM. OCCASIONALLY

There is a time for correction, but that correction should be occasional, and in line with 1 Thessalonians 5:14, which says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Sometimes our correction will take the form of admonishment. Sometimes it will take the form of helping someone in their weakness. Sometimes it will take the form of a rebuke. But it will always be done with a spirit of patience. Not anger, not frustration, but patience.

How do we help people really change? PRAY. ENCOURAGE. CORRECT. REPEAT.

Too often we get the sequence of events backwards. We correct far more than we pray or encourage. The result? No change.

Don’t Turn Wisdom into Mantras

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We love to simplify complex ideas, to make big thing small and sum things up as neatly as possible. It is the easiest way to keep thoughts organized and make sense out of the complicated. We try to take entire ideologies or theologies and sum them up in tight paradigmic phrases. We especially do this with quotes pulled from deep thinkers. Rather than do the work of learning absorbing the entirety of their arguments we lift the one or two phrases that seem to sum up the ideas nicely and just run with those.

Martin Luther King Jr. – “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

C.S. Lewis – All sin stems from Pride.

Mother Teresa – “If you love until it hurts there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Tim Keller – “All sin is idolatry.”

Gandhi – “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

John Piper – “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

Winston Churchill – “You have enemies? Good; that means you’ve stood up for something in your life.”

William Shakespeare – “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

Truth is easily apparent in each of these quotes or ideas. So the problem isn’t finding the wrong paradigms, it is settling for too few and doing so too readily. When we adopt a single paradigm, or maybe two, as our inspiration and guidance they easily become mantras – phrases repeated endlessly with little thought in the hopes it will transform. Mantras are meaningless. Christians can even do this with “life verses.” Jeremiah 29:11 becomes the quick fix for all problems and Romans 8:28 is the comfort for all troubles, an band aid for our spiritual and emotional boo boos.

Three main problems present themselves when we settle for such simplistic, mantra-like wisdom.

First, is that we are settling for synthesized and compacted thought. The strength of these singular thoughts comes from the massive scaffold of other thoughts on which they are built. If all we take is the single mantra we know little of the true power of the thought process and deep truths.

The second problem is more one of human nature: anything repeated often enough, no matter how brilliant, becomes rote and fades into the background. In order for truth to maintain its radiance in our eyes it must remain varied in its expression (how it is expressed, who expresses is it, when we see or hear it expressed). Truths repeated endlessly become tired (though not less true).

The third problem is also a function of humanity – that of human error and finitude. No one mantra sums all of life or truth perfectly. No one piece of wisdom answers all the questions or is clearly applied in every situation. So to claim one or two or three bits of wisdom as what you “base your life on” is to leave yourself with a largely empty tool box while facing the complex project of life.

There is no simple way to find and learn wisdom for life. Simplicity functions to create easier opportunities to begin discovering. It is not to be the end of discovering. Even biblical truths cannot be isolated and claimed apart from the full canon. Our response to brilliant bites of wisdom should not be to treat them like the samples at Costco but rather as an appetizer for the seven course meal. Each bite should titillate the senses and create wonder as to what more there might be.

5 Benefits Of Having A Challenging Teen

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What?  Are you serious?  What good can it possibly be to have a difficult child?  Or a teen who struggles with sin?  Or a child who rebels against you?

God causes all things – even a teenager’s sin – to work together for our good. Here are 5 ways:

Having a challenging teen causes us to grow in dependence on God

Challenges with our children are as much (or more) about us than about them. Sometimes we discover that we are depending more upon ourselves than the Lord. So often we think that if we just do all the right things – have family devotions, discipline our children, love them, keep them from bad influences, educate them in a certain way – then they will automatically be saved and follow the Lord.

But doing all the right things doesn’t change the heart. The Lord is the only one who saves and changes people, not all our practices and effort, as good as they may be. Having a difficult teen causes us to grow in dependence on God – to cry out to the Lord in prayer, to seek him for mercy and grace and wisdom. It drives us to his Word, to seek out his promises. It causes us to grow in faith and trust in the Lord to work in our child.

Having a challenging teen causes us to grow in humility

When we have a child or two who do well, we can start to think that we are responsible for how well they are doing. Yes, we think, it is my parenting that did this. My hard work paid off. A difficult teen ends all that. We become aware of doing many things that failed. We become aware of making many mistakes and that the reason any of our other children are doing well is God’s grace. A difficult child makes us feel weak. It’s humbling to ask others for prayer and counsel. It’s humbling for others to find out we don’t have the ideal Leave It To Beaver Family.

Having a challenging teen causes us to grow in mercy and sympathy toward others

Years ago in my arrogance, when others had challenges with their children, I would think they must be doing something wrong. It was somehow their fault. In my arrogance I had little mercy or compassion for others.  Having a difficult teen changes all that. When you have been through challenges, struggles and disappointments with one or more of your children, you become very merciful and sympathetic to others in their struggles. You know how much you appreciate the sympathy of others, so you extend it to others. You know how much you need mercy so you become merciful to others.

Having a challenging teen causes us to grow in patience and perseverance

Unfortunately, the only way to gain patience is to be put into a situation that requires it. Jesus usually works in our children little by little, often imperceptibly, over years, as he does in us. Sometimes we must keep praying for our children for years and years – even as they are adults. All we can do is plant the seed of the gospel, then we must water it with our prayers and trust God to cause the seed to grow in his own timing. This takes patience.

Think of how patient and long suffering God has been with you. You aren’t always quick to change are you?

Having a challenging teen helps us to grow in love

Jesus told us to love our enemies expecting nothing in return. Of course our kids aren’t our enemies. But we must love them, bless them, speak kindly to them, bear with them and do good to them, even when they don’t respond. God loved us before we loved him, and he calls us to do the same. We rejected Jesus again and again, yet he loved us and came for us and died on the cross for us. Even now, millions and millions reject Jesus every moment of every day, yet he continues to love them. Whatever disrespect we receive from our children in return for our love is but an infinitesimal taste of what Jesus experiences every day from mankind.

So we must grow in love. We must seek the grace of Jesus to love as he loved, unselfishly, expecting nothing in return.

Our children’s struggles are as much about us as they are about them. So praise God and thank him, that as difficult as things are, he is at work both in you and your teen. Don’t give up, even if you see little change or fruit. God isn’t done working yet. The story isn’t over yet. God is not only working in your child, he’s working in you.

Should There Be Publicity Stunts In the Church? Have Church Scandals Changed? Why Do We Love the Apocalypse?

It’s the end of the day, and your brain feels like someone has been pounding it with a mallet. You need a little Happy Rant action to pick you up.

In the latest episode, Ted, Barnabas, and I, discuss:

  • Is there a place for publicity stunts in the church (We’re looking at you Ed Young!!!)?
  • Has the nature of church “scandals” changed in the last twenty years? What role has social media played in that change?
  • Why is everybody so caught up in loving the apocalypse (Looking at you Nic Cage!)?

Please:

Get “The Inmates Are Running The Asylum” For Free!

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What’s better than cheap? I’ll tell you what: FREE.

This week I’m giving away my book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, for absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zero.

Why am I giving it away for free? Because I love you. And you need some more joy in your life. You need to think about:

  • The mathematical odds of finding your soulmate.
  • Why everybody loves Tim Tebow.
  • Why everyone is so obssessed with Amish romance novels.
  • And a whole lot more.

Download it here. 

And please, spread the word by sharing this post.