The Role of Spiritual Training in the Transformation Process
From the series Yes! You Really CAN Change
Just like physical training develops muscle and endurance, spiritual training develops godly character and victory over destructive habits. Chip looks into the role of spiritual training in the transformation process.
This broadcast is currently not available online. It is available to purchase on our store.
Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
Yes! You Really CAN Change Resources on sale now.
About this series
Yes! You Really CAN Change
What to do When You're Spiritually Stuck
Is a "changed life" really possible? If we're honest, most of us would say no. Maybe you've tried numerous programs that promise big changes, but in reality, they deliver very little results. You long for transformation, but don't know where to begin. There's good news for you! Life change is possible! God created you to grow, to change, to experience intimacy and adventure. In this series, from Ephesians 4, you will learn how true life change can happen to you. You'll be able to identify the barriers that have held you back from receiving God's best and you'll also learn how to break out of a destructive lifestyle so you can become the person you've always longed to be. This fresh approach to spiritual transformation is designed to move you from the frustration of failure to the freedom you have in Christ.More from this series
Despite some of the radical transformation that happens early on in most people’s Christian lives, there are these nagging areas. There are areas that you try and try and try and try and try, but they don’t change. Some of the outer big stuff sometimes gets cleaned up, but those outbursts of anger, or the workaholism, or pleasing people, or codependency.
Or there are just people that, you know what? You just find yourself – you really love God, you’re sincere, you’re actually reading your Bible, you’re praying, you’ve joined a small group, but there are just pockets, or closets, in your life that you want to change, and you have tried very hard, and you’re stuck.
And what I want you to know is that we all have areas like that. And the reason this is so important is because how we think about that, and how God actually works to transform those things, are different, and most people don’t understand how that works.
In fact, I would say, probably, the first ten years I was a Christian, I made some progress in some of those areas, almost by random chance, but I couldn’t articulate what happened, or why, until I had a situation with one of my sons. My youngest son Ryan – he gave me permission, and this bench is going to tell a story.
I can still remember sitting on the floor, and my son had what an older translation says is “a besetting sin.” He was a young guy, loved God. At ten, eleven years old, he was getting up, reading the Bible; he was leading worship by the time he was in junior high. Although he didn’t like school, and he wasn’t very disciplined, he was this young guy, with a great heart.
But this besetting sin was – every little kid goes through a season of lying – at least, my four did. But they usually grow out of it. But Ryan – this shortcut, this besetting sin was, whether his homework was due, or he was supposed to do that, he got into a pattern, he got into a habit, of lying.
In fact, for, like, four years. And he was really good. He would lie so much that – he actually would tell me later, “Dad, I lied about everything so much, I became convinced of my own lies.”
And then, I would ask him, “So, is your homework done?” “Oh, yeah, I got it taken care of.” And then, his report card would come. Or, “Have you talked to so-and-so?” Perpetual, besetting…
I disciplined him. I rewarded him. I grounded him. If you’re a parent, and you’ve ever had one of these things – I did everything you can do as a parent. And I was just frustrated. And it put a real breech in our relationship, because then I never knew if I could trust him.
And three years of this, and I have done everything I can do. I’m literally sitting on the floor, he’s sitting on his bed, and a breakthrough came, because as I am sitting on the floor, and, literally, tears coming down my eyes, and tears coming, “Ryan! You just keep lying and lying and lying.” And I remember him looking down at me, and he says, “Dad, Dad, I’m trying as hard as I can! What do you do? I’ve prayed. I’ve memorized a couple verses. I’ve asked God. I can’t stop. What do you do when you try as hard as you can, and you just can’t change?”
And I remember, in that moment, I thought to myself, Number one, I’m his dad, and he wants a really good answer from his dad. And number two, I’m a pastor, so I should have a good answer. And I’m thinking, I don’t. What do you do when you’re trying as hard as you can, and you really love God, and you’re doing what you know to do – you’re in the Scriptures; you’re renewing your mind – but certain things won’t change?
And as he said that, and I’m feeling this overwhelming inadequacy as a father, and as a pastor, to give a good response, I’m praying one of those super quick prayers in your mind, Oh, God, give me wisdom. Give me wisdom. Give me wisdom. And he’s crying and bawling, and he’s looking at me like, “Well, Dad?” And God brought something to my mind. I’d been studying it privately, but all the pieces came together in that moment.
I said, “Ryan, relax.” “What?” I said, “Relax. I’ve got the answer.” “You do?” I said, “Yeah. I’ve got the answer. Here’s what I want you to do. I’ll pick you up after school tomorrow. Load your gym bag – I want you to put a pair of sweats, your tennis shoes, everything in a gym bag. I’ll pick you up.” Because what I had to teach my son was, there are certain things that no amount of trying harder, as sincere you can be, will bring about change. Certain things are going to require training.
And so, I picked him up after school, and we started in the car. He goes, “Dad, we’re not heading home.” I said, “No, we’re going to go someplace different.” At the time I had a good friend; he was Mr. Universe for a number of years. His name was Dave Draper. And he owned World Gym there in Santa Cruz, and he gave me a free membership.
And so, we walk into World Gym, and, “Hi, Dave. How you doing?” And Dave’s like Dave. Now, please hear, this is a gym, not a spa. There is no Spandex anywhere. In fact, there are guys with big leather belts, like this. And there are not a lot of machines, and there are just a few cardio areas. This is, like, free weights, big guys, lots of grunting, probably a few steroids in the back room. And they’re, “Ugh!” and then they drop the weights, and they go, Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And these guys look like they were born on these weight machines.
And so, I walked in, and I said, “What do you think, Ryan?” “They’re really big.” And naively, I said, “Do you think they were born that way?” “No, Dad.” I said, “I don’t, either. Well, come here, son.”
We’d been lifting in the garage, with his older brothers. I had him lay down on the bench press; we got warmed up. And I knew what he could lift, and so I took about five to seven pounds on each end, beyond what he could lift, so I knew he could hold it, but he couldn’t lift it.
And so, I said, “Get down, son, will you?” And so, he gets down. I said, “Okay, are you ready? Let’s do a few reps of this.” “Okay.” And, “Okay, here you go. Okay, you ready, son? Okay, okay.” Press, press, press, press, press. “Okay, ready? Let it down. Okay. Okay, now, press it up.”
And if you’ve ever done a little weightlifting, you know when you start to shake? So, he’s shaking. And now, it’s coming down closer and closer to his neck. Closer and closer to his neck. His mother would not be pleased at this moment.
And so, as he’s lying down there, and his face is red, and it’s coming close to his neck, I get over him. And I’ve got my hands ready, in case – I don’t want it to hit his neck. And I start screaming, “C’mon, Ryan! Try harder! Try harder! Try harder!” And finally, it’s, like, inches from his neck, and his arms are shaking. He goes, “Dad! I’m trying as hard as I can!”
I lifted it off. I said, “Never forget that, son.” Then, we sat there together, and he was, like, overwhelmed, and sweaty. I said, “Ryan, let me ask you something. You see all these guys? How do you think they got the way they got?” “Well, I think they come here a lot.” “I think you’re right.”
I said, “Well, let me ask you, if I would take maybe ten pounds off each end, and you did three sets of eight or ten today” – and it was a Monday – “we come back Wednesday; you do three sets of eight or ten, and we come back Friday, you do three sets of eight or ten, then next week we come back, and you do three sets of eight or ten, and maybe we add a pound or two, do you think, in three months, you could lift that extra five or seven pounds on each end?” “Oh yeah, Dad, I’m sure I could do that. That’s no problem. My older brother Jason, he could only lift about a hundred and thirty or forty pounds, and he does almost three hundred now” – he was a wrestler.
I said, “Ryan, listen carefully. You have everything in your body to lift that weight. But no amount of trying hard will lift that weight right now. You have to go into training; you have to develop what God has given you.”
And here’s what I want you to know. Some of your anger issues, some of your addiction issues, some of your people-pleasing issues, some of your alcohol and prescription drug issues, some of your workaholism issues, some of the issues that we all have that we all keep over here, and you’re stuck, and you really haven’t seen change, I want you to understand, no amount of trying harder. And going to go into training.
We’re going to talk about five habits that cultivate holiness from the heart. See, there are certain things that when you go into training, they literally become habits. You have spiritual, supernatural responses to certain things that, right now, are besetting sins.
There’s a study done by Duke University. Do you realize, forty percent of all your behavior, you don’t think about? It’s called a “habit.”
Think about it. How many of you really thought through, very specifically, how to brush your teeth this morning? You’ve got it down. It wasn’t like you got up, Okay. Now, I think you pull the brush out, this angle, carefully take the tube off. Okay, now I’ve got to work. And see, I want just enough here, put the water on lightly to sprinkle under it, begin with the molars, up and down, forty-five degree angle.
Does anybody think about any of that stuff? Now, when you teach your two- or three-year-old to brush his teeth, you do all that.
Habits. The power of habit. Research tells us that every habit has a cue, or a craving. There’s a routine, and there’s a reward. Your besetting sin has become a habit in your life.
It’s just like when God wanted to do an amazing, miraculous thing with the children of Israel, certain things – He has this big deliverance, and so, you see His power. And then, there’s a process and a journey, where your character gets developed, but there’s a grinding it out, and doing things over time, that becomes a habit.
So, when God takes the children of Israel, what happens? What’s He do? The miracle: the Jordan parts. Jericho – dramatic – falls supernaturally. And then, for decades, what do they do? For decades, they get up, and they go into training, and they do battle. And inch by inch, they take more and more territory. And that’s a good picture of sanctification, what happens in our lives.
And so, I want to help you begin to break some of those habits that you don’t even think about, begin to analyze what’s really going on. And as you do these, they are very critical.
First and foremost, here’s training station number one. The bench-press of spirituality is this: It’s, be honest. Speak the truth in love.
Paul picks up where he talked about in verse 15, where he says, “Speaking the truth in love, we’re to grow up into all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ. Therefore” – verse 25, then, he’s going to make the application – “laying aside falsehood, speak the truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”
Spiritual training station number one is honesty. Personal integrity. This isn’t just your speech, but all aspects – honesty, integrity, how you live, what you say. But, especially, you’re going to put off falsehood. Your training command is to speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth, but doing it in love. Not speaking the truth to hurt people. Speaking the truth to build relationships.
The training action is, you put off falsehood. And this word, falsehood, is well beyond – this isn’t just lying. The word falsehood has the idea of speech, deceit, exaggeration, the falsehood that comes from white lies, the falsehood of silence. Aren’t there times where someone’s saying something, and you completely disagree, but in your silence, you communicate that you agree with them? It says, “Put off falsehood.”
Then, notice, the renewal is, you recognize your shared membership in God’s family. Put off falsehood, but notice the difference in thinking: “with your neighbor, for we are members of one another.”
See, at the end of the day, the reason why Ryan lied to me was because it always produced short-term relief, and then long-term consequences. “I didn’t do my homework, but I lie about it so I’m not in trouble right now.” But the one thing that it did in our relationship was – what? It violated trust.
The commodity of every human relationship, whether it’s parent to child, whether it’s your marriage partner, whether it’s a friend, whether it’s a roommate, whether it’s a business – the commodity of every relationship is trust. Once trust is gone, you have no relationship.
Once you lie to me a few times – one, I will not trust what you say in the future, and, number two, I will not vulnerably reveal anything about my life, because what I know is, you can’t be trusted. When you lie, when your life is falsehood, either by your speech or your actions, you can’t be trusted. Relationships can’t grow.
The apostle Paul is using, like, the human body, and he says, “Just as we’re members of one another in the body of Christ,” think about if your hand, and your eye, and your foot begin to lie to your brain. If something was hot, and your hand got on something hot, and it told your brain it was cold, what’s going to happen? Pain!
And he’s saying to you, “You have to rethink.” You are thinking only about yourself when you lie, when you have less than the truth in relationships, when you exaggerate, when they’re these little white lies. What you’re doing is, you’re avoiding some front-term pain, but what you’re doing is, you’re eroding trust. And little lies in marriage end up, over the years, big lies.
And when your words say one thing, and your behavior says something else to your kids, they say, “I not only don’t believe in you, but I don’t believe in your faith.”
At a certain time – remember? You have to make a decision: delete. Then, you have to run a new program. And the new program is, “I’m going to be honest in everything, all the time.” And then, you have to go into training to become an honest person.
Now, some of you are thinking, Well, I’m an honest person. I don’t do any big lies, and I’ve actually reported everything on my taxes, and… Well, let me probe a little bit on some of the exaggeration, and some of the white lies, and some of the small ways, because Luke 16:10 – you might jot that in your notes. It’s a financial passage, but it’s a timeless principle. It says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing will be faithful also in much; but he who is unrighteous in a very little thing will be unrighteous also in much.”
How many times have you left late for something, and there’s a little bit of traffic, and you walk into work, or you run into someone, and you say, “Oh, well, the traffic was really heavy”? Well, the traffic was really heavy but you’re late not because the traffic is heavy; you’re late because you left fifteen minutes late. Well, that’s just a little lie.
Or how many of us exaggerate? We just exaggerate, a little bit here, and a little bit there. Little lies, little exaggerations, what I can tell you is, we have all grown accustomed to doing that at such a level, we just give one another a pass. Truth. Integrity.
See, what we then do is, we lie to ourselves: I don’t really have a drinking problem. I don’t really please people that much. I don’t think I’m a workaholic; I just have a lot of energy. I don’t think our marriage really is in trouble. I think she’s just going through a season where she needs more attention.
Lie, lie, lie. When you don’t ruthlessly say, “I’m going to go into training to be honest with God, honest with myself, and honest with others, a hundred percent of the time” – when you do that, I will tell you, it will bring about transformation in those besetting sins.
I was early married, and I happened to marry someone – not all positive, and she would say this – whose integrity is off the charts. In fact, so literal, at times, that she misses the point.
And I’m one of those big-picture people, and big-picture people have a tendency to generalize. We don’t call it “lying”; we call it “generalizing.” We call it “rounding.” If you’ve been around – hey, by the way, I love you, but people in sales, people in leadership. So, you frame things in a way that’s just a little…
And so, we were in this little church; we had just started out. There were, like, thirty-five people in the church, and we got all these neighborhood kids in a club, and we had them over on a mid-week, had a little mid-week thing on Wednesday. And I was announcing to the church the progress of God, and how encouraging it was, and said, “We had, like, sixty-two kids last week and, or something like that.”
And I get in the car, and my wife’s really quiet. I said, “What’s wrong?” “Why did you lie today?” “What do you mean, lie?” “Well, you said there were, like, sixty-two or sixty-nine kids, and there were, like, fifty-some.” I said, “I rounded.” She said, “Well, how do you round from, like, fifty-eight to sixty-two?” I said, “Up.”
And what I found was, in little numbers, and in little ways, or, “I’m going to be about five minutes late,” and it’s fifteen minutes late, or, “This is what happened” – I found that I exaggerated – well, I’m a young pastor, and I’m just starting out. Every week, for the first six or eight, or ten weeks, she’s really quiet. In every message, there was something where – and she would, “Why did you lie?” And I’m just thinking, Is this going to be the rest of my life?
And then, God says, Well, probably, if you keep – why do you have to exaggerate? Why do you have to try and make Me look better? Or is it really about making you look better?
What would happen if you were ruthlessly honest in every area of your life? How many times has someone said something to you and, “Hey, we really ought to get together,” and, “This is a great idea; I think you’d love to do it,” and you say something like, “Yeah! Let’s really get together sometime,” and, “Yeah, I think that’s a winner,” and down deep, the moment they walk out of the room, you’re thinking, Man, I would never do that, and I don’t want to take that person’s phone call in the future?
But what you did was, you did a little covering, and you acted like you were interested, because it would take a lot more courage to say, “You know, that’s an interesting idea. I don’t really think that is for me, and I’m not really interested, at this point in time, with my other priorities, in being involved in that.”
And so, we lie all the time. We say things we don’t mean. We present ourselves as better than we are. That’s falsehood. But when you do that – I want you to know, it’s a disease, and it grows. And deception happens in your own heart, and then, pretty soon, you don’t see yourself the way you really are, and you don’t see God the way He is, and things get more cloudy.
And the problem with these kinds of things is, they grow, and things that are little, little – ten, twelve, fifteen years later, they’re big things. And so, God says, “Go into training.” And so, you put on truthful speech, and authenticity.
Well, how do you do that? How do you make the break where that really occurs?
In this same season, God hammered me on this, and it was really life transforming. When I said that I learned this by random, God brought some circumstances into my life where I learned this training apparatus. And the training apparatus here, literally, is: practice confession.
It was during the same time, and I was pastoring a little church, and I was finishing up seminary. And I was in seminary, and as I walked the halls of seminary, being the basketballholic I am – in the halls was a 6’11” guy, and I found out he played at West Virginia. There was a 6’8” guy from Wisconsin, there was a 6’7” guy from Illinois, and there was a 6’4”, 6’5” guy from New Mexico State. They all played college basketball. We all played hoop together, so we formed a little team. It was the most formidable intramural team you’ve ever seen. And we had a blast.
And I got a call from the head of what was called “Sports Ambassadors,” and I’d been overseas, playing them throughout South America, and then, I did one stint in the Orient. And Bud Schaeffer, who’s the head of it, he goes – this was when China was closed, many years ago, you couldn’t get in China – “We have an invitation to go to China. We’re going to get to play all their national teams; we’re going to play in all the major provinces. And in small areas, they’re going to allow us to share the gospel. Chip, I’m looking for two guards. Are you in shape?” “Yes!” “Well, how many points?” “I’m playing league right now!” “Oh, yeah? Well, how many points?” “Oh, ten or twelve points, six or eight assists, probably three or four steals.” “Wow, that’s great. Well, I’ll get back to you.” And I hung up the phone. And the peace of God just dissipated. It was gone.
See, the fact is, in that little intramural league, we didn’t have a scorekeeper. No one was keeping track of points; no one is keeping track of assists. I just rounded. Up. I so, desire, here’s how habits work: The cue is: I want to get something. I want approval. I want this. The routine is: I exaggerate, white lie, present myself falsely. The reward is: I get it, occasionally. It’s a habit.
So, I said, Oh, Lord, I’m sorry. Because I’m in seminary now, and preparing to teach God’s Word to people – the truth. That’s ironic, isn’t it? I’m preparing to teach the truth, as I lie to this guy about getting on a ministry team to go teach the truth. Weird, huh? Well, look in the mirror, and it won’t be quite so weird. And so, there’s no peace.
And so, it’s, “Okay.” Well, I know the verse, “Confess your sins and He’ll forgive me,” so I confess my sins, Lord, please forgive me, and I hope I get on the team. Two days later, still, I can’t pray effectively, and I just have this guilt. There’s still no peace.
And God whispers, I want you to call Bud Schaeffer, own your stuff, confess your sin, and apologize. Oh, Lord, surely You jest! I’m in seminary! Do You realize how embarrassing it is for a seminary student to say he lied about a ministry opportunity?
And this is the organization, and I’ve done things with them before, and I want them to think well of me. And I’ll never forget the phone call. I called, I said, “Bud, this is Chip. And I want you to know, those statistics I gave – they don’t really keep statistics, so I made those up, and I lied to you. And I’m guessing you probably don’t want someone on your team who lies, as a representative to share Christ in China.”
And, see, he was a great leader. He didn’t gloss it. “Chip, thanks so much for your integrity in coming clean. You’re exactly right. We really don’t want players that habitually don’t tell the truth. But I think this is a great step. We’ll be looking for a couple other guards.”
You know what I did? I went into training. And I made a vow before God that when I lied, when God made me aware that I’d lied, in little things or in big things, to my wife, to another person, in a sermon – I would confess it, and actually go to whoever I lied to, and tell them.
Now, I’d like to say that that was twenty-five, thirty years ago. I can tell you, I’ve had to do that in the last two weeks. Because I’m in training! And you’re in training. But I will tell you what – by and large, I broke the power of deceit in my heart, and I broke the power of lying, because for thirty years, I’ve been in training to be honest about exaggerating, and white lies, and presenting myself.
The second training station is not the bench-press. But over here, if you go to the gym, they always say, “Okay, we’re going to work on your bis, and tris, and, here we go, now. We’re going to do some curls here.” This is emotional control.
If there’s any area in the world that destroys our relationship with ourselves, with God, and others, it’s anger. It’s when we either blow up, or when we stuff it, or we leak it out, and the emotional side of anger can absolutely destroy our journey with Christ.
And so, training station number two is, be angry. Deal with anger appropriately. Verses 26 and 27 he says, “Be angry” – that’s a command – “yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” – well, why? – “and do not give” – or, “lest you give” – “the devil an opportunity” – or, literally, it’s, “a foothold,” or “a crack,” or “an opportunity” in your spirit, and in your life.
Put it, where it says, “Be angry,” the first word, put a box around anger, or angry, and write “number one” above it. And then, where it goes on, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” put a box around it, and put a “number two,” because these are two different words. There are two different kinds of anger.
Our spiritual training session, number two is the goal: emotional control. In other words, we all deal with anger. How do we learn to go into training to appropriately deal with our anger? Our training command is “to be angry, and yet do not sin.”
The first word for anger here, that’s a command, is – it’s the idea of anger, which is a settled habit of the mind that is aroused by certain conditions. A settled habit of the mind. There are certain conditions that would cause you to be angry. Condition: injustice. Condition: evil. Condition: a child abused. Condition: graft or greed that hurts other people in the company. Condition: Someone abuses their mate, and you find out about it. Condition: disharmony or disruption in a small group or church that’s unrighteous, that’s bringing division. Condition: the present sex trade.
Or, in my case, the condition: when Christians don’t live like Christians, and people outside of Christ look at the general body of Christ and say, “You guys don’t live any different than us.” And they then think that God isn’t really God, and they turn away from Him because of how we live. It makes me angry. By the way, anger is a healthy, positive emotion to motivate for life change.
Jesus was angry with those in the Temple because of the evil, and the injustice, and the graft. He was angry at the Pharisees because of their hypocrisy, and He wasn’t Jesus, meek and mild, when He said, “You brood of vipers! You snakes! You whitewashed tombs.” And His disciples turned and said, “Jesus, are You aware that You’re making them very upset?” And they didn’t know the half of it. You’re to be angry. When we’re supposed to be angry, we’re often not. We’re passive.
And when we’re inappropriately angry – the second word for anger, here, means “irritations; exasperation; bitterness; resentment.” This is the unhealthy anger. This is the kind of anger that you have when you don’t get your way, or people cut you off in traffic, and you start down this process in your mind. This is the anger that you have when one of your kids isn’t responding in the way you want them to, or you don’t get the promotion. And all of a sudden, you start brewing, and there’s this resentment and anger.
This kind of anger is when your mate lets you down, and she or he doesn’t do what you want them to do. This is the kind of anger when you have “X” amount of dollars, and the stock market does that. And you just start getting bent out of shape, and you’re mad, and angry, and exasperated, and resentful. And it begins to eat at your soul. And you become a negative, critical person.
We all have anger issues, but most of us think only people that blow up have anger issues. Anger is expressed in three primary ways. Some people are what I call “spewers.” They explode. This was my father. Part of my journey with my dad that made me afraid – my dad was an ex-Marine. He was a big guy; he was a strong guy. And when he got mad, it was scary. He’d, “RARGH!” and boy, that just exploded.
And we think that that’s anger that’s wrong. We’ve all been around people who have exploded. It creates distance. We’re afraid of them. We withdraw. We don’t have trust.
A second way that people express anger – some of you learned, even from some of our churches, unfortunately, that all anger is wrong, and all anger is bad. So, whenever you had angry feelings about something that was unjust, or wrong, like, “How come my brother or sister is being treated like this, and I’m being treated like this?” Well, that’s anger.
What you learned is, you don’t say that. You stuff it, you stuff it, you stuff it. So, experts tell us that about ninety percent of all depression is anger turned inward. So much of the depression that turns to migraines, that turns to ulcers, is anger that is unresolved, that’s stuffed down in here.
Then, there are other people that are called “leakers,” passive-aggressive. And this is when you deal with anger, and someone hurts you, or does something wrong, and you’re angry, but what you realize is, you don’t have the courage, or the tools, or the skill to deal with, I feel angry right now about what you just said, or what you did, and so you take it from this unsafe playing field that causes conflict, and you bring it over here to what you think is a safer playing field.
And so, you use sarcasm, and jokes, and you’re passive-aggressive. So, if this person wants everything done neatly, and on time, even unconsciously, you do it in a sloppy way, and you’re late, and there’s just something satisfying about watching them get all frustrated.
See, everyone in this room, we deal with anger. And anger is destructive in your relationship with God. And notice, what do you put off? We’re to put off anger that leads to sin and offense, and then we need to renew our minds, and recognize the dangers of unresolved anger.
I lived in Santa Cruz. There’s overt demonic activity, and New Age, and we actually had a witch and warlock across the street from the church, and they had a horse’s head on a pole, and we had people come that were all painted up. We had overt demonic stuff.
And I’ve been to India, and many places all around the world, but I will tell you, the great majority of demonic activity in Christians’ lives is unresolved anger. And it’s that you get angry because your spouse didn’t respond lovingly or kindly, or there was a sharp word said. And because you don’t know how to resolve it, and you don’t resolve it, then, pretty soon, bitterness happens.
And so, in my case, Theresa and I had no idea how to do this. Part of your family of origin teaches you this, so I came from an alcoholic family, and she came from an alcoholic family. So, when I was angry, I wanted to verbalize; I wanted to talk until we got it done. She came from – she withdrew.
And so, early in our marriage, we’re really angry, and so, you do what I called – you don’t talk about it, and you argue a little bit, and you hurt one another’s feelings; you don’t know what to do.
And so, I would put my hands behind my head, as we’re ready to go to sleep, “Huuhh,” and I’d bounce on the bed like this. This means, “Theresa, you still have time to apologize. The day’s not over.” And what I would hear from her is, “Prrrrrrrrrr, prrrrrrrrrr,” which is, “I completely withdraw and don’t like conflict, because I learned that early on. And we don’t have to worry about apologizing, because tomorrow, I’m going to pretend it didn’t happen. I’m not going to talk to you. I’m asleep.”
And so, I realized that, after the behind the head, I needed to go to what I called “the bounce and roll.” And what you do is, you sigh deeply and loudly, you bounce, and then you turn this way, so that your posterior is next to her posterior, with a slight bump that wakes her up enough to understand, “Things aren’t right, and you can wake up, and we can deal with this, and you can now apologize.”
Unfortunately, most Christians have conflict in your marriage, conflict with one of your kids, conflict at work, conflict in the church, a problem in a small group. We don’t understand, when unresolved anger isn’t addressed, you give demonic powers, that specialize in lying, a foothold in your heart and in your spirit, and it will destroy your relationships.
The great majority of divorces aren’t because some big thing happened. Here’s what happens. Your heart gets hard because you were hurt. And most of us, then, after – what Theresa and I did was, after two days, we pretended it didn’t happen, and we just acted like everything was okay. But a scar occurred. And it was sort of okay. And then another scar occurred.
And then, finally, after about two years, what you do is, you start looking through this lens, and you look at your mate through, every time they do this or that, you look at them through this unresolved anger and bitterness, and you begin to connect dots that really aren’t there. “She doesn’t really care. She’s insensitive. She doesn’t respond.” “Well, he’s like this.” And then, this is what happens.
And so, again, I’m in the midst of this, and I’m in seminary, and I’m realizing, Okay, first of all, I’m a liar, and I’m supposed to tell people about the truth. That’s not good. And so God brings this into my life. And now, I’m supposed to help people. I’m in a pastoral counseling class of helping people, and I learn about anger, and how it actually works. And I realize, We have no idea how to resolve it. It’s impacting every area of our relationship. So, I go to the professor and I asked for help.
And the long story is, he says, “You know, I have a brother who is a retired” – he had a heart attack. “He’s a retired senior pastor, really knows the Bible. He’s one of our best counselors. And you have very predictable problems from the kinds of families you come from. You have no business saying anything to anyone until you get these resolved. And so, we’ll give you a special student rate of eighty-five to ninety-five dollars, and you can see my brother for about twelve sessions. And we’ll – this is not rocket science – you can resolve this.”
So, I’m making a thousand dollars a month, with three kids, going to school full-time, working full-time. I’m going to tell you, that ninety dollars a week, for twelve weeks, it was the best investment I ever made. And we learned how to go into training to deal with our anger, and how to express it appropriately.
And what I want to do now is, I want to give you that tool. Two tools. The training apparatus is “I feel” messages. “I feel” messages.
When Theresa would shut down, and I would talk, or get very, very angry, what we learned is, we couldn’t communicate. And then, it shut down everything in our life. And so, this feels a little unfair to me, but I’m going to try and deal appropriately with my anger, because at a time when I didn’t have any money at all, I paid ninety dollars a session to give to you, right now, for free, which doesn’t seem fair.
But what we learned – we put it on a 3x5 card, and instead of, “You ought . . . You should . . . You always . . . You never . . .” Those are angry words when couples, or roommates, or friends are fighting. “You ought . . . You should . . .” is how dads talk to their daughters, or how mothers talk to their sons. Those words are disallowed in a marriage relationship. “You ought . . . You should . . .” Or, “You always . . . You never . . .” Well, no one “always” or “never” does anything. See, those are labeling things. So, what you do is you attack each other. You need a tool so that you can attack the issue.
And so, what I learned in my counseling was to make, “I feel ___ when you ___.” We put it on a card. It was on the refrigerator; I put it in my Bible. And so, I had to learn, “I feel hurt when you give more attention to the kids than me.” “I feel disappointed when I spend this time making supper, and you’re always a half hour to forty minutes late. I feel like you don’t love me, and you don’t care.” “I feel disappointed when…” “I feel angry when you…” You get it? See, what it does is it takes those issues, and they come from your heart, and you identify how you feel, instead of attacking the other person.
We were learning how to do this, and I perpetually felt like my life was overwhelmed, and I would always – it seemed like if she made a special dinner, I would come home late. And I learned, over time – we always argued about this.
And part of it is the differences when you get married – like, when we were dating, I was adventuresome, and spontaneous, and exciting. And when we got married, I became irresponsible. When I was dating her, she was consistent, godly, followed through, structured. After we got married, man, she was rigid, unbending, no flexibility. And so, you start focusing on those things.
And so, she really wanted dinner at a certain time, and I would just blow through it, lose track of time. But I did it over and over and over and over and over. And so, eventually, I learned, when I’m really late, come in and be angry, pick on her early, because a good offense is better than a good defense. And so, I’d find something about her, and attack her early on, when I walked in. You guys are smiling. Some of you guys know this tactic, right? Okay. And so then, we would argue, and I’d feel justified.
And here’s what’s happening, by the way, in our relationship. And so I come in, and I’m ready to get mad at her, because, in the counseling – obviously, two or three sessions, it’s not helping too much, because I’m not obeying it yet. And so, I walk in, and everyone’s already eaten, an hour ago. There are two candles lit; the food is on the plate, and she’s seated. And I’m waiting for, Okay, come on.
And she was calm. She goes, “Here’s your dinner.” I’m just – I’m waiting for the attack. And she lets me get a few bites. And then, she looks at me very calmly, and she – her eyes are watery.
She said, “Chip, I feel like you don’t love me, when I spend the better portion of the day preparing something for you to express my love, and you disregard it and just come home an hour late. This was my gift for you. I feel like you don’t love me.”
I had never made the connection. To me, it was a power issue. That statement began – I just thought, Wait a second. I may fight with you, but I love you. If me being home on time says, ‘I don’t love you,’ I can change that. And, literally, very few times, ever, after that message…
Can I encourage you to begin to use “I feel” messages? Can I encourage you to write it on a card, put it on the refrigerator?
And here’s what I can tell you: You have anger issues. And some of you stuff, and some of you spew, and some of you, the reason you have an addiction is, that’s how you deal with your anger. The reason you eat is because of your anger. The reason you watch so much TV and play video games is because of your anger. The reason you stay at work is because of your anger. You have a habit!
And the cue is, you feel unrest, and difficulty, and pain. You’ve developed some routine, negative thing that gives you the reward of feeling better. Oh, I feel better; I ate for a while. I watched this movie. I went on Netflix. I surfed on this. I did that. I went out and helped these other people, because I didn’t deal with my own stuff. Those patterns are rampant in this room.
And God says, “Go into training! Go into training!” You go into training and say, “You know something? I’m going to be honest. And then, what I’m going to do, when I’m angry, I’m going to identify I’m angry. And it’s going to be hard, and I’m going to give an ‘I feel,’ message: ‘I feel hurt when you…’ I feel disappointed. I feel used. I feel angry.’” And you begin to address those issues: “I feel angry when we make a budget, and you spend money that we don’t have.” “I feel hurt when the attention is given to the kids, and I realize we haven’t made love in three weeks, and it doesn’t even seem to register.”
The other tool in anger is: make direct requests. Part of our anger is always around expectation. Expectations are that we think our mates think the way we think, or our friends think the way we think, and they can read our mind. And so, it’s like, “I’m going to be over here, and I’ve asked you to meet me, and I’m doing ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Of course you’re going to do at least ‘A’ and ‘B,’ right?” And they don’t. And then, we’re angry. And then, you say, “Well, did you ask them to do that?” “No.” You just expected it to happen.
And so, you make direct requests. So much of our anger is – even at work. You’re working with someone, and you’re doing this part of the job, and they’re doing that part of the job. And you just expect that, “Well, if I’m doing this, surely you’re going to do that.” But you don’t ask them to do that. And then, they don’t do it. And then, what? You’re ticked off. And then, you’re ticked off, and you don’t say it to them. You stuff it down, or it comes out in a meeting three weeks later. You would be shocked at what happens. And, again, it takes courage and grace, where you start making direct requests.
And so, back to our marriage world. You make a direct request. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you might say, “Honey, I’m glad, and I understand you’ve had a hard day, and there’s been a lot going on. But when you walk in the door, I want you to give me the first five minutes of your day, and then, rather than ESPN, or the Wall Street Journal, I need you to play with the kids for a half hour to give me a break.” Direct request. “Would you do that?” Because how long has that been making you angry?
Or you’re a man, and you say to yourself, I’ve been on the road four days. We have soccer, softball, basketball. Our weekends are blurred. We’re on this committee. We went to church. And you know what? We’ve not been together, physically, or had a romantic evening for – believe it or not, ladies, guys count the days – twenty-one days, seven days, sixteen days.
And you say – direct request – “I’d like to set aside one evening a week where we put the kids to bed early, and we have a romantic time of really talking and enjoying one another.” And the guys are going – I’ve always loved the body language, “Well, that’s not very romantic or spontaneous, like all the movies.” Well, how is your way working for you?
And you know what? Most women, knowing, Okay, that’s the request, they mentally think, Okay, that really matters to him. But here’s the thing: We don’t talk to each other that way. And if you don’t give “I feel” messages, and if you don’t make direct requests, you know what you do? You will stuff, you’ll explode, or you have these habits.
When you ought to be talking to God, or talking to someone you love, or doing something that’s profitable, you’re on Facebook. Or you’re watching meaningless stuff, or eating food that you don’t need. And in Christian circles, we create all these kinds of different ways that are “not really sinful.” Well, they’re not sinful, and they aren’t overtly violating some Scripture, but they’re sinful, in that you’re not being honest with yourself, you’re not being honest with God, you’re not being honest with others, and you’re not honest about being angry, and yet dealing with it appropriately.
Can you see what would happen in your life, if you said, “Okay, what’s the area that I’m really frustrated in?” What’s the area? You get real with God – you don’t have to tell anybody else right now – and you would say, “I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried – I can’t change.” And you said, “Okay. What’s the feeling I have? What’s the thing that I can’t change?”
And there’s a reward. There’s some reward you’re getting out of what you’re doing. It’s usually temporary, short-term ease, long-term pain and consequences.
And if you said, “Okay, for the next ninety days – I don’t know how it’ll impact – I’m going to be honest – little things, big things, with myself, with God. Any time I represent myself with another person, in speech, or action, that is not true, I’m going to go to them, as long as it doesn’t hurt them, and I’m going to confess it.”
You do that two or three times this week, I’ll tell you, you’ll be more honest than you’ve been in a long time. Because it’s painful, and ugly, and here’s the deal: It’s like when I had to go to marriage counseling. I still remember sitting in that room thinking, I hope no one sees me. Well, why? Because I’m proud.
The reason I don’t want to confess? My pride. The reason I don’t want to apologize? My pride. When you go into training on these things, God gets to the very core of the core, so that the life of Christ can be formed in you.
Question number three on your notes, you’ll notice here, it talks about, so what specific area, in terms of anger against others, yourself, has been an issue in your life? Application: Write on a card, and start using “I feel” messages.
Are you willing to go into training? Here’s the deal: We’ve been talking about transformation. The series is going to come, the series is going to go, and you can either begin to do some of these baby steps of training, you do this ninety days with me, I will tell you, things will happen in you that you never dreamed.
Trying hard, no matter how sincere, certainly won’t break the power of certain ingrained, habitual, besetting sins. You have to go into training. You have to go into training.
It’s like the person I knew, forty-two years old, had never run in her life, had a friend and said, “You know, I want to run a marathon.” She couldn’t walk three miles. She changed when she went to bed. She changed her diet. She walked three or four miles. Three months later, she jogged ten. Six months later, twenty-six point two, without stopping.
Everything she needed was already in her. She went into training, so that God could do in and through her what He had already deposited physically.
I want you to know, everything you need to become the Christ-like mother, father, student, brother, sister, worker is already in you, because the Spirit is in you. And He’ll use His Word, and His people, as you go into training, and ninety days from now, you will see a significant difference. My question is, are you willing to be honest and ruthless enough to spot, What’s the one area I want to do? And go into training?