One of the challenges of biblical counseling is helping a counselee develop an action plan for change. It is very common for a counselee to tell me she has “prayed” or “memorized verses” or has “tried” with respect to a specific sin issue she is working to overcome.
While prayer is important and the Word of God are critical in renewing the mind for change, I find most counselee’s are content to stop there as though praying, memorizing, and trying are enough to effect change. This attitude makes spiritual disciplines into little more than fairy dust or some sort of a spiritual magic wand. Many counselee’s are long on knowledge and short on application.
There must be a balance in life of prayer, reading, studying and effort. Prayer is of course communication with God and sometimes when working out a sin issue prayer is beseeching, pleading, and crying out to God to change your heart. Humbly asking God to give you His perspective on your sin. Begging Him to help you see the sin the way He sees it, and to give you a holy hatred for it.
Scripture is in part how we are convicted of our sin and what needs to change. The Holy Spirit acting on the Word of God in the heart is what brings that conviction. The Bible is also the only unchangeable standard for the Christian. Thus sayeth the Lord is as true today as it was 6000 years ago. We need the Word to prick our hearts and consciences for the need to change and to instruct us in how to change.
God never tells us what to do without telling us how to do it. He never tells us what has to change without giving us the alternative attitude or action. Memorizing passages of Scripture to recall in moments of temptation and trial is important indeed, but it cannot stop there either! I have had counselee’s who are shocked that just knowing the Word is not enough!
When I ask what she has done with all the knowledge she has amassed and the verses she has memorized the response I often receive is something like, “I try to do better” or “I try but I have a long way to go” or “I try, but no one is perfect.” Often, further probing for what actions have been taken is met with a blank stare or excuses.
The process of biblical change is more than trying or praying! Prayer is essential along with meditating on the Word of God and asking the Holy Spirit to work within you. Change does not begin and end there those are the rudimentary steps; of course effort is necessary! Biblical change requires you put into action what you have learned. Make a plan for change, an action plan that incorporates ways that you will practice the new behaviors you have learned about.
Your action plan needs to be concrete and specific and include the old thoughts, beliefs, desires, and actions you want to put off and then the new ones you intend to put on. Concrete is important, and specific is important because if you don’t determine in advance what your plan is to overcome a sinful temptation you won’t have anything to put into practice when that moment arrives.
Develop your plan by starting with something that is a frequent sin area that needs to be changed, something you know is habitual. With pen and paper write out the details of how this sinful habit progresses. Think of where it usually happens, who you are with, what provokes you to sin, what specifically you say, do, and think. Think about the last time you sinned that way, even picture it in your mind as you write it out. Once you have done this, then write out what you will think, say and do the next time. Each time you fail, examine where you deviated from your written plan and make changes accordingly. It sounds so simple, but I cannot stress the value of having and working such a plan!
This will take perseverance and you can be sure the Lord will give you many opportunities to practice and succeed! I am reminded of what Paul says in Romans 5: And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
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