Here’s a story on page 45 that kicked off the chapter…see if you can relate.
A knot in her stomach, Debra piloted her minivan int the driveway. She knew what awaited her inside: sullen, resentful children and a critical husband…no one in the family was getting along these days.
Yet much of the blame rested on her shoulders, Debra thought. She hadn’t been much of a wife and other lately. Tired and depressed, she had to force herself out of bed in the morning to get ready for work….
Reaching out for help, Debra poured out her story to Sharon, the wife of an elder at their church and known for her piety. “The worst part,” Debra concluded, “is that I just don’t feel like being the positive one anymore. I can’t pull it off.” The older woman nodded her head sympathetically. “Debra, your negative feelings are coming from a lack of caring acts. Emotions always follow behavior.” “But what can I do?” Debra asked. “Reverse the process. If you act loving, you’ll feel loving. So act more loving toward Barry. Do special things for the kids. Do one helpful act for each person everyday. Smile more. You’ll be amazed at the changes in your heart. The Bible says we’re to “put on the new self” and that means to behave like a loving Christian. Then you’ll feel like a loving Christian.
The Behavior Trap
The more we act right, the more we’ll feel the right things.
“This teaching holds that our emotions will simply fall in line as we behave better and better.”
The challenging thing is that there is always some truth to the crazy makers we’ll be looking at. Yes, we are supposed to do good deeds. The problem is not in the doing, the problem is in the role that those good things plays in our spiritual growth. Cloud & Townsend do a great job at illustrating this point by identifying some problems with the thinking.
Problem #1: Changing only our behavior confuses results with roots.
Our actions are the result of spiritual change not the cause of it. Changes in behavior, like becoming more loving, show us that God is working in our lives and moving us to be more like Him.
- Look back at your life, describe a time when God has done an invisible, internal work in your life that resulted in an important, positive change in behavior.
If changing only your behavior doesn’t lead to spiritual and emotional growth. What does lead to growth?
Spiritual growth doesn’t happen all at once. There are 4 stages that are helpful to think through as you think about your spiritual growth.
- Bonding to Others
- Attachment is our deepest and most primary spiritual and emotional need. God is relational and He created us to be relational.Read 1 John 4:16People who fail to bond with others have a hard time trusting and depending on others.
- Separating From Others
- We separate from others so that we can take ownership of our lives.People who are injured during this stage have boundary problems and they have great difficulty saying “no.” They have trouble staying focused, getting organized and controlling their lives.
- Sorting Out Good & Bad
- Here we learn that the world isn’t black and white. We learn that we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world.People injured in this phase struggle with perfectionism, overoptimism (come on…we’ve all come in contact with people like this), denial and shame.
- Becoming an Adult
- God’s ultimate desire is that we get to this stage where we mature and take control over the gifts and abilities that He’s given us. We begin to understand and value our gifts, values, marriages, friendships, and callings.We value input by others, but make our own way.
- People injured at this stage have issues with submitting to authority or they become overcompliant and rule-bound. They either question all authority or never question anything.
Destructive actions do not cause, but follow spiritual and emotional problems. We are responsible for what we do; but we must recognize the source of our actions before we can change them. Read Matthew 23:26. Behavior reflects change more than it causes change.
- How well have you had the needs of each stage met?
- Where have you been injured?
- What evidence of that injury do you see in yourself?
- Where might you go to find these vital ingredients for your spiritual and emotional growth.
God provides 3 elements that help us and sustains us as we go through these 4 stages.
- Grace…our undeserved favor from God
- Truth…the information we must learn to live life.
- Time…all change takes time. Time allows us the space to learn the maturing truths we need.
These 3 things unite in our lives to make us into a recovered, whole, loving, and functional person.
Problem #2: Changing only our behavior forces us first into phariseeism (rigid observance of external forms of religion or conduct without genuine piety; hypocrisy), then into despair.
Thinking back on the story that introduced this chapter…the elder’s wife essentially told Debra to “pretend” she loved others. To behave correctly in all circumstance and all occasions. To behave as if you have it all together. Changing only our behavior forces us into correctness and then we realize that we can’t go on forever trying to do the right thing and behaving in the right ways without any real sense of why we’re doing it.
- When have you opted for correct…or happy…or spiritual….behavior instead of dealing with the actual problem behind the behavior you were trying to change?
- How well did that work out? How long were you able to keep it up?
- Look at Luke 18:10-14. What is God saying to you through this parable?
- What proper behavior could you let go of?
Problem #3: Changing only our behavior denies the power of the cross.
The “good behavior” approach insults the redemptive power of God to heal us. It places the power for change squarely back onto our shoulders. It assumes that we have the power to stop our selfish, lustful, hating hears…by changing our behavior.
Read: Romans 11:36, Philippians 2:13.
He forms, fuels, and forges our growth and emotional repair.
- What is the power of the Cross (Philippians 3:10)
- Why does changing only our behavior deny the power of the cross (Colossians 2:23)
How then should we behave?
Our actions are signs (rather than the causes) that show our spiritual condition. And we should take on the responsibility of getting well. Then the question becomes:
What can we do to help ourselves without trying to do God’s work for Him?
The only thing that we can do is to every day pick ourselves up and take ourselves to the good places that can help us. This is regularly coming to God and other Christians. It is hard to admit that we are powerless to change our own behavior. It takes a lot of humbleness to take our “junk” and lay it all out in front of God and other safe people that He puts in our paths.
Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Actions Can Be Confusing
Just when you thought it was clear sailing ahead…even positive changes can be confusing. Consider these three scenarios and see if any hit home.
- The “Sprinter”: Resentment-driven Bursts of Good Behavior Initial bursts of good behavior are often based on fear. However, no growth comes unless there is love backing it up.
- Do you comply in order to win approval?
- Do you comply in order to avoid hurt?
- Do you comply in order to not hurt or anger someone else?
- When Worse Means Better: Sometimes the hurt has been hidden so deep for so long, that when we beginning to feel those feelings and act on what we actually feel we see anger, mourning for losses, and other actions that on the outside may appear that things are getting worse.
- When has worse behavior been a healthy sign for you?
- When have you let yourself act according to what you have actually felt for years?
- What good came out of that for you?
- No Change Isn’t Necessarily Stagnation: Sometimes we don’t see instantaneous results.
- What have you learned from those seasons when God seemed to be idle and change didn’t seem to be happening?
You can’t always know how God is changing you, but you can know that he is at word deep within your character, moving, healing, and transforming you. Keep doing your part, and let Him have His way in His perfect time. (page 218)
If you’d like to join this study in real time…I’m teaching it at HopePark Wednesday Mornings & Thursday Nights. If you’re a Nashville local, the door is always open. We’re at 8001 Hwy. 70 South, just off I-40. Online at http://hopepark.com and on twitter @hopepark.
Me…well you can find me twittering @jodytodd.
Have a great week!
Questions and assigned quotes from the study by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend entitled “12 Christian Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy.”