Tag Archive | reformational counseling

***Porn*** (pt 4)

[This post contains explicit descriptions and is not suitable for all audiences]
Sex in Marriage and Porn

Good marriages and good sex are good for individuals and society.[i] I am not against good sex and God is certainly not against good sex either (see e.g. Prov. 5:18-19 and Song of Solomon). It’s just that God knows how sex can be most free and beautiful, and it is within a loving marital relationship.[ii] Sex flourishes within the protective “garden” of marriage (see Song of Solomon). And sex within marriage helps families and thus societies flourish.

Read More…

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Addiction and Virtue

I really appreciated Kent J. Dunnington’s book, Addiction and Virtue. Here are a few quotes that I found especially helpful:

“Because recovery as conceived by A.A. is a technology of habit reformation, it demands vigilant attention to both the external and internal dimensions of sober action” (79).

“Addiction is a complex habit” (88).

“The scope of recovery is therefore radically extended within a Christian view of addiction. Indeed ‘recovery’ does not sufficiently name the Christian hope in the face of addiction. Instead the Christian hopes for ‘discovery’ and ‘new creation’—not a return to some maintainable equilibrium between who we are and what we want but rather a transformation of the self that brings who we are and what we want… into perfect coordination and harmony” (183).

“In claiming the identity of ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic,’ we deny that addiction is a habit and assert instead that it is an entity” ( 184).

“Worship is… a totalizing activity; it demands that everything in a person’s life be put in the dock before God, interrogated by one standard and consequently renounced or reordered” (170).

“If the church is to provide a genuine alternative to addicted persons seeking recovery, it must provide daily, rather than once-weekly opportunities for communal worship, testimony and prayer, and it must challenge its parishioners to treat the church as their primary social community” (191).

“The wisdom of the twelve-step program lies in the recognition that the habit of addiction can only be supplanted through the development of another habit that is as pervasive and compelling as the habit of addiction” (165).

“The addicted person, recognizing her own insignificance and her own insufficiency to realize perfect happiness, seeks to be taken up into a consuming experience, longs to be the object rather than the subject of experience, craves to suffer happiness rather than produce it” (158-59).

“The pull of addiction is this pull toward ecstasy, the expression of a deep discontent with the life of ‘just so’ happiness, and the pursuit of an all-consuming love” (159).

“Addictions are addicting just to the extent that they tempt us with the promise of such a perfect happiness, and they enslaving just to the extent that they mimic and give intimations of this perfection” (159).

Suffering and Our Savior

When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.

However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering. 

Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.

Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.

The suffering we experience is not just the result of various kinds of sickness. It is also the result of being sinned against. People afflict others with emotional and physical pain and fail to love as they should. So we see, sin brings upon the world sickness as well as psychological sorrow. Sin is not good

So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not all. We, thankfully, are not left there. We also see…

God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering.[1] God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.

First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.

Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.”[2] Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!

Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.

God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.

So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!

Actually, even now we, in Christ, have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).

Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Read More…

Procrastination

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Imagine: a picture of a man standing beside a fire extinguisher contemplatively looking at his home on the verge of going up in flames. You are looking at a picture of procrastination. 

Part of this was written in the woods and there were still distractions tempting me to procrastinate. Partly because I wrote this on my phone in the woods. I was getting Snapchat messages and I was tempted to start taking pictures and posting them on Instagram. I was wondering what hashtags I should use, #tree? #trees? #woods? #treesinthewoods? Or is that too redundant? Or should I use all of the hashtags? And then there’s the question of location. Should I include the location or not? Should I zoom in a cool leaf and then use the little blurry feature to make it look cool?

That’s where our minds can go and do go, and super quickly. So, how, from a Christian perspective, can we take action against inaction? How can we have victory over procrastination?

Defining Procrastination
First, it’s important that we know what procrastination is. Procrastination is the action of avoiding things that you need to do. “Procrastination… [is] willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off.”[1] Actually, “The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing.”[2] So, one article I read said that procrastination is “the action of ruining your life for no apparent reason.”[3]

It may be an action, and even an art and science, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like there was no action involved. It feels like it was inevitable. It feels…

[[My mind just interpreted me for something really important. So, I stopped writing this, and texted a friend to say: “I can probably go to a baseball game.”]]

That’s how our minds work, or at least my mind. Of course, distraction is different than procrastination but it’s en route.

Procrastination is intentional (or unintentional) distraction. And intentional action, which leads to accomplishing something, is the opposite of procrastination. It is purposing to do something and then avoiding the many distractions, good (texting your friend, enjoying leaves) and bad (e.g. Facebook stocking old friends), to accomplish that goal.

Why is productivity prized and procrastination penalized? What’s the big deal about watching endless loops of funny dog videos on YouTube? What’s the big deal about interrupting writing to text a friend (and take pictures of leaves and post pictures on Instagram and… and…)?

Proverbs and Procrastination

Most people say that they struggle with procrastination. There is so much to be done and so much to do to distract us. 

Congratulations! The human attention span has shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds in around the span of a decade. Goldfish now have a longer attention span than humans![4]

Sometimes it seems like we’re helplessly stuck in destination procrastination. So, what can help us?

The book of Proverbs teaches us that productivity is good and procrastination is bad. For example:

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).

“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Prov. 12:11).

And there’s many others: Proverbs 10:5; 14:23; 19:15; 20:4, 13; 24:30-34; Ecclesiastes 5:12; Titus 3:14. “Wise wants” inform the counsel in Proverbs. Presumably, people desire to have a reputation for trustworthiness and honor; healthy friendships, including delightful romance; a sense of security and confidence; usefulness; and competence and success at work.[5]

Many Proverbs capitalize on our “wise wants.” “Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich” (Prov. 10:4 NLT). “A man is praised for his insight, but a twisted mind is despised” (Prov. 12:8 HCSB). These verses capitalize on the fact that we want to avoid poverty and want approval. Proverbs teaches us that if we want to avoid poverty and want to obtain approval we must work hard. So, Proverbs uses “wise wants” to speak to the issue of procrastination.

Enjoying life and having fun is good. Even having wealth is good, when used to God’s glory. Paul tells us that we are to receive all God’s blessing with thanksgiving (I think that even includes funny dog videos, but of course in moderation) (1 Tim. 4:4).

So, I’m not knocking on fun, pleasure, and leisure. They are God-given and good. But God has also given us things to accomplish and we flourish in life as we are functioning in His ordained will. We were meant to live for more than just distraction. We were meant to live for a purpose. It’s as we understand that purpose that we begin to experience freedom from distraction and procrastination. So, what purpose are we ultimately called to?

We’re called to…
Work for the Lord (Col. 3:23)
We are to work for the Lord in “whatever” we do. There is no area of our life that is ok for our ultimate motivation to be for ourselves. What about school? Sports? Family life? Work? All of it is supposed to be done as work unto the Lord, not men, not anything else.

Our work is not to be done in a begrudging manner. Our work is to be done “heartedly.” That is, fully, sincerely, enthusiastically, energetically, to the Lord.

However, we can’t manufacture this. It can, as we have seen, be hard enough to get something done, but now I’m saying not only do we need to work and get something done, we are to do so with a happy heart. This is hard so what can motivate us to defeat procrastination and live with purpose?

Work for the Reward from the Lord (Col. 3:24a)
Ultimately procrastination, as the opening illustration shows us, is not helpful and is actually illogical. But that’s not it. Procrastination doesn’t lead to prospering. We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.”[6] When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).[7]

However, that’s not it. Not only does life and our purpose in it just fit when we are carrying out what God has given us to do (that is not to say that life is easy) we also see that there is a “reward.” We have reason to keep our hand to the plow and purposely avoid distractions because we have a reward we’re working for, an “inheritance.” One that does not fade and won’t be destroyed (1 Pet 1:4).

So, hear Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Cor. 9: 24-26).

Serve the Lord (Col. 3:24b)
We’ve clearly seen that it’s not about us. It’s about the Lord, we see that very clearly from Colossians 3:23-24.

So, if the “Lord Christ” is what it’s all about, if seeing Him, and keeping Him at the forefront of our lives helps us defeat procrastination and instead live God-glorifying and productive lives then it’s important that we see and know Him. Only then will we understand the purpose He’s given us. So, what is so glorious about Christ that can arrest our attention and make us drop everything thing to live for Him?

That question has been answered by many book-length treatments so I will just quote from earlier in Colossians:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together… For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.”

That’s what led Paul to say “I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Phi. 3:8). As we know Christ more and more we will strive to live for Him more and more and not to earn His approval but simply out of love. We will put away distractions because they’re just that, they’re distractions.

A Few Suggestions

  • If your same old proven-not-to-work methods aren’t working then get new methods
  • Don’t let short-term temptations overwhelm your more important long-term goals by intentionally remembering what it is you’re working towards
  • Break tasks down into smaller goals that can be more easily accomplished (“A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks look like from far away”[8])
  • Ensure the task is specific, not vague
  • Put checks in place to ensure that your tasks get done and you don’t get sidetracked (e.g. Ulysses’ knew he needed to be bound to the ship’s mast)
  • Put your phone on airplane mode or throw it away
  • Do what you have to do, not everything that comes into your mind
  • Remember, putting things off only piles them up and makes them heavier
  • Do the things you really hate first
  • If you procrastinate you’re not doing the best that you can, you’re also missing a lot of real fun, like enjoying your hard earned accomplishments

As we live on purpose for the Lord we will more and more stop procrastinating because we are given amazing motivation to do so.

___________________

[1] James Surowiecki, “Later: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tim Urban, “How to Beat Procrastination.”

[4] Lizette Borreli, “Human Attention Span Shortens To 8 Seconds Due To Digital Technology: 3 Ways to Stay Focused.

[5] Rick Horne, “Counseling Angry, Unmotivated, Self-centered, and Spiritually-indifferent Teens.”

[6] “How sad to see brilliant, creative people pouring hours and days of their lives into creating cities and armies and adventures that have no connection with reality. We have one life to live. All our powers are given to us by the real God for the real world leading to a real heaven or hell” (John Piper, Taste and See [Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2005], 139).

[7] Interestingly, although procrastination “seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make you happy” (Surowiecki, “Later”).

[8] Urban, “How to Beat Procrastination.”

Be Transformed by Cultivating a Heart of Thanksgiving

Thankfulness to God, who is our Father, should be a defining characteristic of our lives. However, I fear we have a tendency of being practical atheists. I know I do. We may not say we don’t believe in God but we often act like we don’t.

What does this practical atheism look like? It looks thankless. Sometimes when everything is great we forget God. We’re actually really prone to do that as humans (Israel was prone to do that as well; cf. Deut. 6:10-12).

Why does God want us to have a thankful heart?

We are told to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Why? Why does God want us to have thankful hearts? Because we have a ton to be thankful for. We use to have our eyes closed tight. When we were unbelievers we didn’t give thanks to God (Rom. 1:21). But now we see things in a different light. We see all we have is a gift we don’t deserve.

God has given us new eyes! Life! We we’re dead. Now we’re alive.

Ephesians lists out some of the amazing things God has done in saving us and then says “to the praise of His glorious grace.” We are adopted by God through Jesus Christ “to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:5-6). We have an eternal glorious inheritance through Jesus Christ “to the praise of His glorious grace” (v. 11-12). We have been given the Holy Spirit “to the praise of His glory” (v. 13-14). 

We should have a thankful heart because there are so many reasons to be thankful! 

We were dead in our sin. Christ made us alive. We were aliens, cast out. Christ brought us close and made us friends. We were enemies of God. Christ brought us peace. We use to walk in the darkness of sin. Now we walk in the light of Christ.

So why does God want us to have a thankful heart? Why are we told to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father”? In part because He is our Father through Jesus! We have so many reasons to be thankful! Actually, how could we not be thankful?!

It says in Romans that if God gave us His Son how will He not also graciously give us all things? Wow! That is astounding. And think of all God already gives us. He gives us breath. We typically don’t really think of that being that amazing, right? We don’t really think about it. Breathing is so easy, so constant, so natural. Yet, it is God that gives to all man life and breath and everything. He gives it. It’s a gift. A gift we don’t deserve.

 What gets in the way of having a thankful heart?

For me I think there’s quite a few things. I think sometimes I’m not even aware of things to be thankful for. Or I’m not aware that the good things I’m enjoying are from God. I often just think it’s just the way it just happened to turn out or it’s because of something I did. In short, when I’m not thankful I am acting like I don’t believe in God. I am acting like an atheist. 

God created many good things that are to be received with thanksgiving. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4) (notice it is not saying everything without exception, it says everything created by God, so wicked things that displease God are not good). But there are many many good things that we can receive with thanksgiving. Medication, walks in the woods, food, sports, music, Pop Rocks, etc. Yet, how quick I am to take those things and so many others for granted!

There are so many good gifts that God has given us. Yet if we forget to praise Him when we’re enjoying them we are liable to think the gifts are our due. And thus we’ll get upset when the littlest thing doesn’t go our way even though God has heaped good upon good. When we cultivate a heart of thanksgiving it builds us into God and protects us from grumbling and complaining.

Often times when we’re cheerful, whether from God’s gorgeous creation, good food, or good test results, or something else, we don’t think about God. We might bask in the warm sun on the beach, we might celebrate our work on an exam, we might scream out or tell someone why we’re so happy but we often don’t purpose to praise God.

So what seems natural is a response maybe even praise. But not always praise to God. If we’re eating good food we might praise the chef or Taco Bell because it seems like we’re hardwired to act out like that. However, do we thank God? Obviously I’m not saying you can’t tell the guy at Taco Bell that rolled up the mystery meat thanks but ultimately we need to thank God for that crunchy burrito grande thing. It may seem kinda silly and obviously I’m joking a little but I’m also super serious. “Every good [perhaps Taco Bell?] and perfect gift [Chipotle?] comes from the Father” (James 1:17).

We often, myself included, get caught up in the gift and forget the Giver.

How can we grow in thankfulness?

We are to rely on God for all things and look to Him for all things. So when someone is sick or suffering they are exhorted to pray (James 5:13-15). Because sometimes in those situations we can be hopeless and forget that we have a God in heaven who cares and can help. Or we think we can be self-sufficient and handle it ourselves.

However, on the other side, we are also prone to forget our need  for God when things are going well. Maybe more prone to forget. So, either way, good or bad, we should turn to the Lord (James 5:13). If I’m thankful because I don’t loss it when I get mad, feel like I had a productive day, or do something well my tendency is not to thank and praise God but to be proud of myself. And God knows that. God knows us and knows our struggles. He knows that we are quick to forget that He is the giver of all good gifts (Acts 17:24-25).

So, God says, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” That is let him or her be happy but let them not forget who it is that brought that situation. God did! Paul reminds us to give thanks for everything God gives (Eph. 5:20). So God is reminding us not to forget Him in the midst of our good times. God is telling us to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and praise.

It’s amazing how helpful and practical it is when we cultivate a heart of praise and thanksgiving. If we cultivate a heart of thanksgiving then we won’t be drawn away from the Lord when something good happens. And when something bad happens we’ll remember how good and gracious God is. 

How do we cultivate a thankful heart? It says, “giving thanks” (Eph. 5:20) and in other places it says, “sing praise” (James 5:14). So there’s active intentionality. It’s not passive. It doesn’t just happen.

That’s typically why we pray before meals. Why? Because we’re giving thanks to God and acknowledging that it’s Him that provided it. This was Jesus’ practice. He gave thanks before meals (Matt. 15:36; 26:27; Jn. 6:11, 23 cf. Acts 27:35). In this way we infuse mundane activities with worship. In whatever we do we are to glorify and give thanks to God (1 Cor. 10:31).

How can we purpose to praise even with seemingly “run of the mill” things? I think it’s important that we look for things to be thankful for or realize what it is that we’re enjoying and then intentionally thanking the Lord for that. First of course is Jesus our Savior! But a few other big things are my family, outside, food, and being able to serve at my church.

It can be tempting to wonder why we’re thanking God for our meals. Why? Because after all, didn’t we buy the food? Didn’t we make the food? Didn’t we set the table? Yes we did. But all of that is a gift from God! We are so liable to forget that!

It’s sometimes strangely difficult to be thankful. So I think it’s also helpful to tell others about things that we’re thankful for. That’s part of what it means to sing (James 5:14), right?

What practical impact does having a thankful heart have?

Having a thankful heart changes the way we look at things. If I’m upset with my wife about something but I’ve been cultivating a heart of thanksgiving then I am in a much better place to handle disappointment. If I am cultivating a thankful heart and something happens to me, my car breaks down, someone offends me, I stub my toe, or whatever, I am in a much better place to handle the situation. 

Thanksgiving is even an antidote to sin (cf. Eph. 5:4). Partly because sin is often a form of ingratitude. Actually, to neglect thanksgiving is sinful (cf. Lk. 17:16-18; Rom. 1:21). Ingratitude is one of the things that characterize wicked humanity in the last days (2 Tim. 3:2). Instead, we should give thanks continually (1 Cor. 1:4; Col. 2:6-7; 4:2), in all circumstances (Phil. 4:6), to God through Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17).

Thanksgiving should be more and more a characteristic of our lives and as it is we will be empowered to fight against our various nagging sins. We will see all God has given us and see sin for what it really is. 

Questions to consider: 

1. Do you struggle with being thankful?

2. Why does God want us to have a thankful heart?

3. What gets in the way of having a thankful heart?

4. How can we grow in thankfulness? How can we be intentionally thankful?

5. What practical impact does it make when we have a thankful heart?

6. What’s wrong with being unthankful?

7. What are some challenges you have to work through for you to be thankful?

8. How can cultivating a heart of thanksgiving have a positive impact on your life?

 

Book Released! Gospel-Centered War

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My book Gospel-Centered War: Finding Freedom from Enslaving Sin just got released! Here are a few of the things people are saying about it.

“As the title of this book makes clear, a gospel-centered approach is, in the long run, the only effective way to combat sin and addiction. Any resource, like this one by Paul O’Brien, which helps us fight our sinful compulsions by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ is one I recommend.”

—Dr. Donald S. Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Gospel-Centered War is for those who struggle with life-dominating sin and for those who counsel them. Instead of simply addressing behavior modification, Paul O’Brien gets to the heart of the matter. This book addresses the issues that provide freedom from destructive, self-defeating behaviors by helping the reader understand how God can change their heart and passions. Read it, devour it, and then be changed from the inside out.”

—Pastor Mike Wilson, Lincoln Heights Baptist Church, Mansfield, Ohio

“Paul is a genuine man of faith who has dedicated his life to Jesus and his calling. As a former heroin addict who was mentored by Paul, I had the privilege to witness his passion for Christ and his desire to help people through God’s word. This book shows that same passion.”

—Ricky Upton, Louisville, KY

What Forms and (Re)forms You?

Introduction

First off, this in many ways is the prequel to “Are You Mindful of Your Mind?” It is also very related to “The Fight of Faith: How we are Transformed” but from a different vantage point. In the future I hope to put the three together in a more substantial article.

We’re shaped by a whole host of things—constitution, genetics, socioeconomic factors, health, education, culture, upbringing, etc.; and we are (re)shaped by a few, consciously and subconsciously. Therefore, we see the importance of understanding how it is that we are transformed. For when we know how transformation takes place we can make a better conscious effort at transformation.

We’re shaped by one of two Gods, one of two voices. The god of this world (Jn. 12:31; Eph. 2:2-3; 6:12), or the one true God. There are two masters with two different sets of commands, we will obey one of them (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). We will be slaves, that’s inevitable (Rom. 6). The question is to who? And with what result? Life or death (Rom. 6:23)? We’re shaped by one of two kingdoms. Our kingdom, informed by Satan; or, God’s Kingdom, informed by God.

This post is not concerned with which kingdom we should desire. It is assumed that we should desire the Kingdom of God. This post is concerned with helping us understand how we are (re)shaped or transformed to desire the right Kingdom. This is a more difficult task than it would first appear. However, if you know Scripture, and indeed your own heart, you know this is a difficult task. Yet, it is terribly grave and important (e.g. think of Judas desiring his own kingdom and thus betraying the Messiah and the true Kingdom).

We are being shaped. But how? And by what?

Definitions

Putting things in categories, like putting things in containers, is helpful. However, their strength lies where their fault lies: they keep things that naturally run together from running together. With food this is helpful for taste, with thoughts it is helpful for understanding, but, when it’s all said and done, we must realize that containers like categories do not finally keep the contents apart. They are helpful, and perhaps necessary, but in the end affect (and yet assist) precision. Our categories are: 1) knowledge, 2) worship, and 3) practice. Below is a figure that shows their interconnected relationship (Figure 1).

The Interconnectedness of Knowledge, Worship, and Practice in Transformation

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Figure 1. The Interconnectedness of Knowledge, Worship, and Practice in Transformation. 

Knowledge

By “knowledge” I mean worldview or view of our chief end or “the good.” Worldview deals with more then what we see as “the good.” However, it does, or should, also shape what we see as our ultimate goal as well. A worldview answers questions and tells the story of our existence, but it must also tell us where, if anywhere, that story is going or should go.

Notice also that it’s not just the intentional thinker or the Christian that is shaped by a worldview, by knowledge. We are all shaped and informed by what we know, or think we know. For instance, the sex addict and gangster are shaped by a worldview, even if it is a sub-conscious and unarticulated form of hedonism or nihilism. However, I do believe that one will be shaped more when one’s knowledge or worldview is more explicit. So, perhaps a sex addict who is also a convinced and proud naturalistic hedonist will have less restraint when it comes to illegal sexual practices (e.g. rape, prostitution, etc.); rather, for him it is more a practical matter of will he be caught, than a question of whether such and such practice is ethical or not.[1]

Worship

What then is “worship”? Worship here is the (often purposeful and artistic) ingesting of “the good.” This definition equally applies to the sex addict watching porn, the gangster listening to rap, and the Christian singing songs, meditating on Scripture, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Worship, as you can see, very clearly incorporates both the two other categories. Worship is, you could say, the conscious (and also subconscious) practice (our second category) of thinking about something (our first category).

Therefore we see that many things that we would not typically consider worship are in fact worship under this definition. Television, the mall, the radio, and innumerable other things shape and influence our view of the good life or our view of “the good” and thus are a form of worship. They move and inspire us. They shape us to a certain end. And this clearly happens subconsciously and consciously. Just as if we feed upon something or imbibe food through a different means it becomes part of us through the metabolic process. What we feed on, intentionally or unintentionally, shapes us into who we are and thus also greatly shapes what we do.

Practice

Practice is the conscious and subconscious practices that shape our life.[2] What some have explained as thick and thin habits or practices.[3] These habitual practices have greater or lesser affect upon us depending upon their significance.

What we do has an effect upon who we are and what we will be. So, for example, when three different types of men see an attractive lady jogging on the side of the road they will have three different responses because of their conscious and subconscious practices which are ingrained in them through their “knowledge” and “worship.” Yet, their practices, as we’ll see, serve to further their worship and knowledge.

So, for example, the sex addict will undress the attractive jogger. This will in part be because of his worship and knowledge and will yet undergird and inform his worship and knowledge. He will in a sense say to himself subconsciously that his knowledge of things is justified by the image of this woman and his worship is also justified. The gangster will have a similar response. But, perhaps to a different end; he may think of all the money he could make with her body. The Christian man also informed by his knowledge and worship will pray for the jogger; or, perhaps, not look at her so as not to be tempted.

Whatever the specific example, we see that our knowledge, worship, and practices have a very real impact on us and how we are shaped. Each aspect serves it’s purpose, yet it is closely tied to the other two. We cannot neglect any aspect or the fact that they are closely interconnected.[4] Now that we have defined each category, we will look at each aspect in more detail.

How are we Transformed?

In Aristotle’s terms our view of “the good” is reshaped by knowledge.[5] And, in catechismal terms, if our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever[6] it will necessarily have a specific impact on our lives. That is just the way we are as humans. We all, without exception, live towards our chief end, our view of the “good life.” However, this is messy, there are many things and ideas which vie for this place. Thus the importance of knowledge rightly directed (i.e. wisdom), worship, and habits; all of which inform, play off, and undergird the others (see figure 2 below). Notice also that it is not just the Christian that worships, all men do (e.g. the gangster has a certain type of rap music that glorifies his view of the good life).

The Reciprocal Transforming Relationship of Knowledge, Worship, and Practice_______________________________________________
Figure 2. The Reciprocal Transforming Relationship of Knowledge, Worship, and Practice.   

It is clear then that right and good worship is vital because it exalts and holds before us our chief end. If our worship has as its object the wrong thing we will thus go wrong in innumerable ways (cf. Rom. 1:18-32). Because of this, the reformation of our lives is a slow, and often painful, process. Witness the fall (the body of the book) and rise (the epilogue) of Raskolnikov from Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.[7] If we dig ourselves into a ditch we do not magically rise out of it (cf. Prov. 26:27). We have to dig ourselves out of it. Of course, as Christians we do believe that the Spirit assists us (e.g. Jn. 14:16). Yet, the fact remains, transformation is difficult and does not finally occur here.[8]

Scripture and reality are not at odds. We are shaped by what we know, worship, and do (and these are all interrelated). Scripture tells us to know the LORD, worship Him, and serve Him and thus be transformed. We see this same type of thing when we understand the relationship of faith and works, and the relationship of indicative and imperative. We know/believe God’s truth (faith) thus worship and have corresponding actions (works). Again, when we (rightly and supernaturally) understand God’s truth (indicative) we will worship, which in turn will change the way we live (imperative).

In Scripture we see huge importance placed on listening to He who speaks wisdom, the LORD, and not to the father of lies, Satan. We see this especially in the beginning. Eve listens to the serpent’s words and disregards the LORD’s, and chaos and curse ensue. However, notice that she did not just receive information/knowledge or believe the wrong source. Her desires were also wrongly informed. Because Eve listened to the serpent she saw the tree as delightful. She saw the tree as desirable (Gen. 3:6). Thus she fell.

As the Scripture says, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). We, thus, resist the devil by being firm in the faith. We, like Jesus, fight off wicked desires with God’s Word. Satan would have us be reconstituted by his words, wicked untruth, yet we combat his lies by teaching ourselves to desire good things by the implantation of God’s words, the truth (e.g. the place of Prov. 7:1-5 in the larger context of Prov. 7). When we feed on the Word of God the metabolic result is a healthy representation of God. God would have us (re)shaped into His image, the image of His Son. Conversely, Satan would have us formed into what C.S. Lewis called the “unman.”

Our thinking and our beliefs play a large part but we are tempted not by thinking and believing but by our desires (recall James 1:14-15 from above). I do think, however, that thinking and beliefs are the atmosphere in which desire lives. They are the soil and habitat; they’re the ocean in which desire can swim. Thinking and believing are not unimportant. Eve would have never sinned had she not heard Satan’s “knowledge” and believed him. Yet, we are understanding Eve, and ourselves, wrongly, if we don’t also realize that she desired (again, recall Gen. 3:6; also Eph. 2:3 says that we also once carried out the desires of the flesh).

I think it also must be noted here that our desires are shaped by our thinking and believing but they are also shaped by less conscious things. I am quite sure, for instance, that quite a few Nazi Youth did not read Hitler’s Mein Kampf but yet were shaped by the very same image. This was because they lived and breathed and ingested it’s teaching, though not mainly consciously, but because it was the cultural air they breathed.

We have a lot of things externally and internally that seek to shape us. As Calvin has famously said, we are idol factories.[8] That’s why we see much emphasis in Scripture placed on loving God with our whole heart (cf. e.g. 1 Chron. 12:38; 28:9; 29:9, 19; 2 Chron. 15:15; 16:9; 19:9; 25:2; Ps. 9:1; 16:9; 86:12), not just a portion of it.

We temper our hearts variously through understanding (cf. Deut. 6:4-9; Neh. 8), worship (e.g. Ps.; Eph. 5:18-20) and practice (e.g. Lev.). That’s how we’re shaped biblically and practically. The more we have our chief end in view and the better our chief end is the better we will live.

For instance, Jesus reasons with us in Matthew 6:19-24 about desire. He shows that what is in our best interest, i.e. what we should desire, is laying up treasure in heaven. He tells us specifically in verse 21 that what we desire, i.e. “treasure,” will bring the rest of us along (i.e. “heart”). So, again, Eve was led into sin because she desired (“treasured”) the fruit. Our battle is thus the battle of treasuring, desiring. That’s why sex education doesn’t work, for example. You can show a bunch of kids images of a bunch of nasty things and tell them a bunch of bad stories. But, in the end, if sex is what they treasure then that’s what they’ll do. After all, that is what is glorified on the screen and in our culture. 

On the positive side, Paul lived the way he did, and died the way he did, not merely because of his cognitive understanding or because of his beliefs; but because of what he desired (though, as we have said, they are closely related). Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, tells us of the desire that fueled his powerful life. He drove on through thick and thin because he had counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus His Lord. For Christ’s sake Paul suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish, in order that he may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).

Truly, wherever our treasure (i.e. desire, view of “the good,” or our view of the good life) is, our heart (“heart” in Scripture has to do with our whole self; cognition, volition, emotions) will be also (Matt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34).

If we are transformed by knowledge, worship, and practices, how do you think they can transform us? How should our everyday life be different?

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[1] There is a transcript from Reasonable Faith’s podcast that shows the truth of my statement. Our worldviews have consequences, good or bad. R.C. Sproul shows this in his book The Consequences of Ideas. Friedrich Nietzsche even says in Beyond Good and Evil that philosophy always creates a world in it’s own image, it cannot do anything different. 

[2]“Certain habits stir up corresponding affections and appetites; certain core affections and desires are expressed in corresponding habits. You can’t separate desire from practice” (Michael R. Emlet, “Practice Makes Perfect?” 42).

[3] See James K. A. Smith’s insightful book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, esp. 80-85.

[4] Michael Emlet understands the complex nature of change. He says, “What we do flows out of who we are, but who we are is indeed shaped by what we do… We are changed by doing and we are changed by a self-conscious and iterative process that scrutinizes thoughts, affections, and actions of their faithfulness to a kingdom ethic, and then chooses certain actions and practices in response” (Michael R. Emlet, “Practice Makes Perfect?” 44).

[5] E.g. Aristotle says, “All knowledge and every choice have some good as the object of their longing” (1095a14 Page 4 for in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Trans. Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins [The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2011]). The glossary says that “Aristotle famously argues that all human beings do everything for the sake of what seems or is held to be good” (Ibid., 309).

[6] From the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

[7] “While God is always free to work miraculously and instantaneously, soul-change is typically a slow process that involves the replacement of old beliefs, affective responses, attitudes, and motives and patterns of relating to others with new ones, one at a time. Given what we know now of the neurological conditions of such change, it is not surprising why this process is gradual. Old neural networks must be shut down, and new ones must be constructed. None of this happens in genuine sanctification apart from the work of the Holy Spirt, but in this age most of the time God tends to work through the created order, and not take shortcuts. Though an incremental approach is sometimes hard for counselees to accept, such a stance, when grounded in justification, helps them to accept their present limitations and to be more realistic about the speed of their recovery, without undermining the ongoing call to grow in conformity to the image of Christ” (Eric L. Johnson, “Reformation Counseling: A Middle Way,” 26-27).

[8] Though I do not agree with everything, I believe “The Spiritual Experience of the Divine Truth of Transformation” is helpful.

[9] “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” (Calvin, Institutes, 97).

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