Behavior Change And Heart Change

Dave McWilliams

Most of us, at one time or another, have wished that we were a different person. These thoughts may come to us when things are not going well or in times when we are in trouble. We may feel shallow or inadequate in these times. Our behavior may have been offensive or unacceptable to others, and we may be embarrassed or overcome with guilt.

Change is very difficult for all of us. What about those of us who have gone through devastating situations, such as a hurricane or flooding, where we have lost a lot of what we own. Perhaps we have moved to a new location and changed jobs, and everything is now different. We can feel lost and left out in many ways. Things may never be the same again. Or we may have lost a friend who has been very close to us and supported us in many ways, and the pain is almost unbearable.

When it comes to making personal changes in our lives, it can be just as difficult. Often the focus is on changing our behaviors and our habits, but these are often not long lasting. As an example, many of us have made New Year’s resolutions, only to abandon them within a few weeks, because it was too difficult to maintain the new behaviors and habits. More often than not, our efforts are pointed at negative habits and behaviors and we put a lot of effort into trying to avoid them. It often does not occur to us to ask ourselves what to do to replace these behaviors.

While heart changes are more lasting, they cannot be made all at one time. They are not an event, but a process or a journey. In the mean time, we cannot ignore our behavior that is offensive to others or destructive to ourselves. If we are an alcoholic, or a gambler, or we struggle with pornography, our behaviors should not be excused while working on building our character.

The apostle Paul talked about making changes in our lives in Colossians 2:20-3:17. He pointed out that when we try to make changes in our lives through rules and regulations, or by trying to restrict our poor behaviors, failure is soon to follow. In his day (as in our time) people would say ‘don’t touch’ or ‘ don’t taste’, which really is nothing more than mere human effort to control our poor indulgences. But Paul pointed out that these rules and restrictions ‘lack any value in restraining our sensual indulgences’ (Col.2:23).

The best phase of our life to focus on restricting our poor behaviors is childhood. The duty of good parenting is to help us to recognize what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. The down side to this process is that no parent has it all together as to what is good and bad behavior. When we made poor choices, the way that they were managed had an effect on us, some positive, and others were destructive. The guilt that followed those destructive attempts to change our behavior will remain in our minds for many years until we are finally freed from them. While our minds are filled with the thoughts of guilt, we seldom have the clarity of thought to find direction in our lives. Feelings of loss and confusion block us from finding our way.

Real and lasting change comes from a different place than focusing on our behavior. Lasting change comes from change in our hearts as we take the focus off ourselves and onto the needs and concerns of others as well as our own. Behavior change is external and is often done to deceive others, or to avoid our pain, etc. Heart change does not deny our behaviors, but focuses on internal and character change. Heart change has a purpose in mind that is greater than our own needs and desires. We begin to become aware of how our actions and choices effect others and their well being, as well as our own.

There is another powerful factor that is involved with making changes from the heart, and that is coming to the realization that we cannot do it on our own.

Real heart change comes only through the power of the Spirit of God working in our lives. This is different than behavior change, which is done mostly in our own human efforts. When our human efforts fail, we continue to carry enormous guilt. The opposite result comes as we focus on change from the heart. This change will usually result in freedom within our thoughts, thus giving us the ability to think about life situations much more clearly. We also refer to the results of this type of change as bringing us inner peace.

Paul talked about ways to achieve inner peace as we change from the heart. He sited several concepts of life that will help our hearts grow. Some of these things are compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and bearing with each other. There are many ways to display these principles to others. God did not assign to us only one way to carry out any of these life principles. These principles are found as we seek God’s direction in each and every circumstance in our lives. And as we display them, we let others decide how to use them effectively. For example, if we are going to be compassionate to our spouses, we will let them define the most effective way to show compassion, otherwise it is nothing more than a selfish act.

There is another benefit in changing from the heart. It takes a lot of the pressure out of life. Behavior change usually results in trying to achieve perfection, and usually trying to make it quickly to avoid pain. This is real stress and anxiety and worry over what others will think of us. It often leaves us angry and defensive with others, as they point out our flaws. Heart change accepts our flaws as a part of who we are in the moments that they are revealed. The pain is used to help us change and grow. But the growth process is done without a sense of urgency. Change becomes a journey that is at times slow but consistent. Our flaws and weaknesses are seen as opportunities to work with those flaws so that they become more acceptable to others. Thus, our weaknesses do not totally define us as a person.

For help with sexual integrity, see Every Man’s Battle.
If you need help in other areas, please join us at our next New Life Weekend.

Celebrate Your Victories!

Jonathan Daugherty

There is one thing I wish we as Christians were much better at doing, and that is celebrating. We tend to struggle on the whole at really cheering one another on in the faith and throwing parties in honor of those demonstrating the character of Christ. In this article I want to challenge you to cultivate an attitude of celebration in your ongoing pursuit of purity.

God designed us for joy! He didn’t design our minds, bodies, or spirits for anxiety, depression, or gloom. Yet, how often do you find yourself stressed to the max and feeling as if you can’t breathe under the weight of your life? The pace of life, the onslaught of temptation, and uncontrollable circumstances beat you down. But is that reality from God’s perspective or just the excuse often used?

The truth is that it is simply easier to point out faults than to celebrate victories. One reason for this may be that we are spending more time giving into temptation than we are living in purity. But does that mean we must wallow in our sin and shame while our moments of faith and resolve go completely unrecognized? I think not.

One thing I have found to be true in pursuing purity is that the “domino effect” works in both directions, whether following our lusts or following Christ. The more we give into temptation the easier it becomes to fail more quickly the next time we are faced with a similar situation. Conversely, the more we discipline ourselves to obey Christ, taking every thought captive, and connecting with our band of brothers, the stronger we become in resisting attacks. Because of this principle I believe it is all the more important that we develop an ongoing attitude of celebration, not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of other brothers striving for purity.

I have numerous people contacting me every week, wanting to know how to break free from sexually destructive habits. I try to respond to every person based on the core values of ministry (hope, integrity, humility, honesty, compassion, perseverance, accountability, faith, and love). The values that amaze people most about how I interact with them are hope and love. Many times people will attempt to argue that their situation is unique and they really can’t be free. But I never back down from the hope of freedom available to everyone through Christ. What many of these individuals have missed much of their life is someone sharing the truth with them and cheering them on when the journey is hard. They have never been celebrated for doing what is right, only chastised and shamed for their sin and addiction.

Jesus Christ was the incarnation of joy. Many times, because of the very serious nature of his mission (salvation of all mankind) we tend to picture him sullen and, well, miserable. Last time I checked, I didn’t see throngs of people dashing to see a sullen, miserable person. People were drawn to Jesus because He exuded life, true life. As his followers we are to do the same. And one way we do this is by celebrating the successes we, and others, have on our journey to purity.

Here are a few ideas on how you can celebrate your victories:

When you meet a purity goal

– Give yourself a gift of some sort to remind you of meeting that goal.

– Share a meal with your band of brothers in honor of accomplishing your goal.

– Celebrate with a favorite hobby or activity (i.e. golf, hunting, professional sporting event, etc.)

When you resist temptation

– Call a buddy to share the success with them.

– Say, “Thank you Jesus for this victory!”

– Write down what happened to remind you later of the victory.

Here’s the real key to celebrating victories: don’t celebrate alone! God wants us connected, to Him and to others around us. We can certainly have personal moments of celebration just between us and the Lord, but the ongoing impact of celebration is most often realized in the context of others. Surround yourself with people of celebration who understand how to balance getting excited about doing the right thing and holding you accountable when you stray.

So, how’s your “celebrateability?” I challenge you to watch for the moments and situations worthy of celebration. Then, don’t be afraid to cut loose and enjoy the freedom God has given!

For help in the battle for purity see Every Man’s Battle.

The Loophole of Denial

Fred Feliciano

I love a good story. Good stories catch us off guard. A good story has the power to show us what we believe about the world and how we think things ought to be. They stretch our minds, challenge our beliefs, and move us towards change. That is why I love Jesus’ stories. His stories move me, jolt me and propel me towards facing and embracing the reality of who he is and who I am. In short, his stories catch me by exposing me. That is why I also struggle with his stories. They expose me and my thoughts. His stories bring me back to facing my self whether I want to or not. So, I find ways around his stories in order to avoid stepping into his light. I just focus my attention on something else, anything. I use denial as a loophole. A loophole is a term used to describe a way around a particular obstacle with little to no negative effect to oneself. We find ways out of situations where we anticipate feeling shame.

The loophole of denial assists us in avoiding the light of God in two ways. First, denial provides us a way of alleviating the stress of our shame by refusing to face it. Shame can be defined as an intense fear of being exposed based on a corrosive belief that one is fatally flawed, unlovable and deserving of rejection from others who are deemed worthy and perceived as merciless all at once. As long as we do not have to face what we do that’s wrong, we don’t have to confess or own up to others in honesty and we find relief from the burden of our shame momentarily. Good shame allows us to focus attention on the welfare of God and others above our own.

Confessions made in the light of good shame lead us to restore relationships with loving dignity and help to develop true self perceptions in light of God’s true view of us which does something better than provide relief from the shame we feel. It provides us a deep sense of rest in our minds and hearts. The cost of not facing our shame is too high a price to pay.

Secondly, the loophole of denial provides us a way of avoiding painful truth by creating an alternative to the truth. Alternatives to the truth are simply lies. Lies help us to maintain the illusion that we can avoid rejection and increase the chances of acceptance by presenting ourselves as someone we are not. The problem with creating alternatives is that acceptance is never fully experienced and we are never fully known because the truth of who we really are remains hidden underneath the lies;  we remain distanced from others. Those who are closest to us never experience us as we are. They experience a false self. The alternative at first seems like it will increase acceptance and decrease rejection but in the end it isolates us further by taking us farther away from the truth of who we are, others are, and who God is. We wind up never trusting or being intimate with anyone.

Christ provides us a way out of our shame-based loopholes of denial by reversing the path our loopholes have taken us. Traveling in reverse back into the loophole of denial transforms it into a doorway. A doorway that leads to a redemptive path of trust for prodigal sons. Prodigals who, in repentance, come home, face the truth of their guilt in relation to their legitimate failures and face their longings for acceptance never received. But most of all are able to trust, face, and receive the Father’s healing embrace. His embrace declaring to us, ‘Not only are you forgiven but you are my son. You were dead but are now alive!’

I want to encourage you to read in Luke 15 about the transforming power of the Father’s deep love for his ragamuffin sons. Let that story catch you, expose you and shake you loose from your denial and fear.

For help facing your denial and experiencing God’s transforming power, see Every Man’s Battle.