Monday, September 16, 2013

Practical Process for Inner Transformation

A lifestyle of peace is an inward change before it ever shows in our actions.  Naturally it will show in our actions.  I'd be utterly derelict of my duties if I didn't share with you my dear friends a practical and simple approach for inner transformation.  Of course this isn't something I came up with on my own, but a tried and true method developed in 1939 and perpetuated by 300 or so 12 step programs across the entire planet with millions of members in their various areas of focus (depression, overeating, gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction, life, etc).

 I'd like to share this process with you, in the hopes that it will assist you in the revolutionary way it did with me.

This process is simple and straight forward, it's practical application of scripture in fact.  These are the twelve steps and their Biblical comparisons:


1) We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors. That our lives had become unmanageable.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18)

2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1)

4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD. (Lamentations 3:40)

5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)

7) Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

9) Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out.
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. (Colossians 3:16a)

12) Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and practice these principles in all our affairs.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

[source: Celebrate Recovery]

The process of these steps is incredibly powerful.  The process of thoroughly working these steps has changed countless lives.  Naturally I can't force you to go through this process.  But I can explain it briefly, in the hopes that some knowledge of it will provoke action.

If you have deep resentments, trouble with negative thinking, depression, or you just don't feel happy inside your own head, then this process will assist with that.  If not, that's awesome.  But if you know someone who does, then share this process with them!

For most of us Christians, we've been through the first three steps.  The first step is surrendering to a higher power, and that means God, through Jesus Christ.  We admit that we can't take on life alone, it didn't work for us that way.  So we surrender, and ask God to guide our actions.  Step one is just admitting that life us unmanageable apart from God.  That one was easy for me.  Step two is really the process so many beautiful and courageous seekers are in right now.  

I love seekers, and Jesus really loved seekers.  People who are earnestly seeking some sort of higher power or understanding of spirituality.  They desperately want to know the truth and they desperately want to find a way to be good people.  That is a beautiful thing to see, someone out there researching, learning, listening, and studying.  I love love love seekers.  Perhaps because I used to be one.

Step three for me was realizing that there was a God and he was the only one hands down who could help me through life.  Specifically for me, God was the only one who could help me out of my depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, and constant tendency to make poor decisions.  My case was and is extreme, but for many of us, we grew up knowing we needed God and always stayed with him.  High five if that's you, but for some of us raised outside the established church, or coming from condemning churches, we had to seek it out in the world.  That isn't all that fun, yet, it was so very intriguing at the same time.  

Steps four through seven are the ones I'd like to tell you about.  Let me say now, I don't claim to be part of any particular fellowship, and I don't claim to be an authority on the 12 steps or God.  I'm just a guy, trying to share something that helped him.  

Step four is: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 
Link to a worksheet for step four: Step four pdf

Christianity is really all about living out the mind of Christ.  Too many, far, far too many Christians are living as a poor representation of the faith.  And as we see, when we fail to live the example day by day no one takes any interest.  Our neighbors don't convert as we seem just as miserable and jaded as ever.  This is dereliction of duty.  I can hardly fault people for failing to live out the mind of Christ though, as so many preachers have abdicated their duty to preach a practical message.

Tell me if this was your experience at church, because wow it was quite certainly mine.  I was told over and over what I ought to be like, holy, loving, caring, forgiving, moral, supporting, and evangelical.  Unfortunately, I was never told how to be that.  And I imagine a lot just stop there, and assume that there must be something wrong with them, that they aren't measuring up to being a Christian.  So they just leave church, because it's too hard.  Their heart aches as the minister shouts and provokes them to be better than they are, but for some reason they can't seem to see that change happen.  They know who they ought to be, but the minister skipped such a vital step: self examination.  We must inwardly change before we can even hope to outwardly change anything effectively.

A moral inventory is a very simple thing.  Is it particularly easy?  I'm not going to say that it is.  This involves a process of looking through ourselves, and seeing where we need changes made.  Many would rather face misery and destruction then look honestly inward.  I'm asking you today, to be brave in this process.  Get a mentality of whatever it takes to serve God.  Ask God to help you through the process.  Ask him to place it on your heart until it's done. 

How It's Done:
We make four lists of highly personal information: resentments, fears, harms to others, and sexual harms.  Intense right?  I know!  I love how intense it is.  True change is facilitated by utter honesty and willingness.

Here is what it looks like, make five columns:

1:Resentment                   2:the cause                     3:instinct                  4:What did I do?      5:Defect

Put on a sheet of paper these five columns.  I'll explain them.  First column will be the resentment in question, or the fear, or the harm I caused, or the sexual harm.  Say I have a resentment against my dad, I would put "my dad" in the first column, and it's as simple as that.  A resentment is really a thought that I have over and over about someone, like my dad, because I'm mad or sad about he treated me in the past.  Every time I replay that resentment it causes pain in my spirit, and that's no good, I need to get that out of there so it can be replaced with love and compassion.  God does so much of his communication with us humans within our minds and thoughts, and if we have all that garbage in our heads, he can't communicate effectively with us.

Column two is the cause of my resentment, or the cause of my fear, or for harms or sexual harms it would be what I did to harm the individual.  So if in column one I put "my dad" in column two I would write out what is in my head that's upsetting me about what he did.  So I might put something like "he didn't spend enough time with me when I was younger."  And it's as simple as that.

Column three is called "instinct" or "the instinct that it affects."  Bill Wilson, the creator of these twelve steps indicated in his writings that humans operate on three basic instincts of life.  These basic instincts are called the security instinct, the social instinct, and the sexual instinct.  The security instinct refers to caring for myself.  My security instinct includes my need for safety, my need for shelter, my need for food, really the basic needs of human survival.  My social instinct refers to my interactions with others.  My social instinct is really the instinct I have to have friends, to be in communion with family, to be around other human beings.  My sexual instinct is my desire for companionship with a female, including physical pleasure, intimate connection, and procreation.  Bill Wilson indicates that we all tend to operate by attempting to fulfill our needs in each of these categories.  I search desperately for a job when I'm unemployed because it threatens my security instinct.  I maintain my friendships because I have a craving that is basic, my social instinct.  I search relentlessly for the one true love of my life because I'm attempting to fulfill my need for female companionship, the sexual instinct.  We can break down all of our actions, and at the core is one of these three instincts.  These instincts are good and right, and God-given writes Bill Wilson, but when one of them gets out of whack, we act out and trouble in our lives and the lives of others is the inevitable result.  So with "my dad" being in the first column, and "because he didn't spend enough time with when I was younger" is in the second column, what would I put for the instinct that is adversely affected?  Well that thought, resentment, affects my social instinct.  So I would put "social" or "soc."  I'm not done there though, because this resentment also affects my security instinct, as such a thought affects my self esteem.  So I would put "soc, sec" in column three.

Column four is the big one.  What did I do?  As I replayed that resentment over and over in my head, over the years I've changed and altered it.  That's completely normal for us as humans to do.  We slowly alter the resentment so that it seems like we didn't even do anything to cause it, and play up the part the other person did.  So what did I do to get the ball rolling in this resentment against my dad?  Well I never really tried to make time to spend with my dad, and that pattern has continued over the years.  We didn't really have much in common anyway.  He was very busy with work a lot of the time.  I'm not a judge, I can't sit back and say this is the exact amount of time a dad should spend with his kid.  He was doing the best he could.  You see how through this process we can start to see the truth of situations and resentments in our lives?  In the fourth column that resentment or fear tends to begin to disappear.  By seeing it plain and simple on paper we start to see what's really going on.  We start to replace angry memories with compassion and understanding.

Column five is the tool that helps us to break the pattern of resentment, fear and harm.  Column five is called "defect" or "character defect."  There is no need to beat up on ourselves for having a defect.  All that matters is that we can now remove it.  We don't have to shout from the roof tops, "look at me with this defect!"  But we can change it inwardly.  And that's a brave process to go through.  It's an honorable and God honoring process to go through.  Column five is where we put what character defect is holding us back from God's best.  The primary defects that Bill Wilson lists are: selfishness, self seeking and frightened, inconsiderate, and dishonest.  "self seeking and frightened" refers to attempting to gain something due to fear, in a wrongful manner. 
There are many others that we can list as well like "pride, greed, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, impatience, self pity, suspicion, etc.  For my dad, and my resentment regarding not receiving enough attention, which affects my social and security instincts, the defects involved here I'll put down will probably be: self seeking and frightened (wanting affection, adjusting the resentment over time), selfishness (holding onto the resentment for years damaged my relationship with my father, thats just selfish) and I could also put dishonest and inconsiderate. 

This simple process of five columns, and seeing that we were doing is incredibly profound.  Resentments, fear, and harms that have held us back for years in our thoughts, things that have dogged us day and night can be removed and diminished so very simply.  You know it's of God when it's infinitely simple, yet powerfully complex and wonderful in it's results!  I beg you to try this.  Think about what's holding you back.  What goes on in your mind?  I know a lot of the resentments that we put down, we will feel like we didn't do anything and that we're justified in holding on to them.  Well, when it first happened it was very hurtful and they did hurt us.  But when we replay it in our own head, we're hurting ourselves.  And maybe we want to hold onto these resentments and problems because then we can use the resentment as justification for a poor situation.  Well if you truly want to honor God and you truly want to have a lifestyle of peace, this is a powerful and simple way.  Just try it.  I think you'll be astounded by the results. 

The resentments sheet, and the fears sheet will look exactly like those five columns, just list them one by one.  Say for my fears sheet, just like the resentments sheet I'd put down a fear, say "of talking to people I don't know."  Next column, "because I don't know them and they might hurt me or be rude".  Third column, "social and security instincts" Fourth column, "because I've been hurt in the past by friends and family, because I tend to see the worst in people, etc."  Fifth column, "self seeking and frightened, fear, self-pity, suspicion."  And it's just that simple, fear by fear, I can clear out a lot of unneeded fear in my life. 

With the harms and sexual harms sheets, the columns will look a little different.  More like this:

1 Who did I harm?   2 How did I harm them?   3 Instinct (soc, sec, sex)  4 Where should I have done?  5 Defect

So the 1st column would be say my friend "John Smith."  The 2nd column would be "I made fun of him to my other friends when he wasn't there."  3rd column, which instinct was out of whack?  My social instinct, and maybe my security instinct, if I did it because of low self esteem.  "Where should I have done?" Well, I should have not been talking behind his back, and I should have come to him directly with any issues I had.  5th column, what was the character defect?  Probably self seeking and frightened.

So that's step four in a nutshell.  Most of us will probably come up with 10-20 pages of stuff, for me it was a lot longer.  Others might only have a few pages.  It all depends on the person.

Step five is:  5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.

By going through this fourth step we've admitted to ourselves our resentments, fears and harms.  Now we take this information to another human being.  For most of us being Christians, this will be our Minister or Pastor.  Confession is a biblical principle, and it's something we have to do.  By going through all of this stuff with someone, we unload it from our spirits.  A great deal is healed from just going over it ourselves, but that just isn't enough.  If you're a member of a church and you wouldn't want the preacher you see daily to know some of these things, then set up an appointment with another minister or a Christian counselor somewhere in your area.  If you have a therapist you see, you could request to do it with them.  If you have a close friend you can also do it with them.  Step five is huge, because it cleans out our spirit.  We've kept many things to ourselves for years, and it's time to unload it from the spirit.  Trust me on this one, it's worth it.

6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Now we're to step six.  What does it mean?  What character defects?  The character defects we wrote down in column five of our moral inventory!  We see we've often been selfish, inconsiderate, prideful, angry, and fearful, among other things.  Are we willing to have these problematic issues removed from our thinking?  That is step six.  How do we become willing if we are not?  We ask God for help.  This is the prayer from 12 step literature:
Dear God, I am ready for Your help in removing from me the defects of character which I now realize are an obstacle to my recovery. Help me to continue being honest with myself & guide me toward spiritual & mental health. (76:1)

Step 7 is:  7) Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. 

We ask God in prayer to remove our shortcomings.  The prayer from 12 step literature is:
"My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good & bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you & my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here to do Your bidding." (76:2)

You can start to see why this process works when many others simply do not.  We rely completely on God to do much of the work within us.  Naturally God won't do for us what we can do for ourselves.  So be mindful after saying these prayers.  After I took the 7th step prayer I noticed how God brought me to books I needed to read, and to conversations where he spoke through the people around me.  Slowly but surely, he was removing my defects.  Another tool for this process is very important.  When we see our defects in the fifth column of step four, we look at them.  Then we try to see what the opposite of that defect is.  Here is a list:

Defect:                                   Asset:
Self seeking & frightened    Serving God courageously
Dishonest                              Honesty
Fear                                        Courage
Pride                                      Humility
Greed                                    Giving & Sharing
Angry                                    Calm
Resentful                              Forgiving  

It's helpful to have a list like this in front of us daily.  That way when we start the day we can think about how we tend to act, and mindfully try to practice the opposite.  So if I'm constantly afraid, I have to start trying to be courageous and figure out what that looks like in practice.  God will help us within our own minds and in messages in the world around us and from people to help us grow in the direction he wants us to.  

I'm just briefly going to talk about the rest of the steps.  I really wanted to share four through seven, as those are really powerful to me in my recovery, and my attempts to grow as a Christian.  I think you'll find it a powerful experience, not necessarily the most comfortable process, but great things happen when we step outside our comfort zone.

Steps eight and nine are about making amends to those we've harmed.  We look at the people and institutions listed in our fourth step under harms and sexual harms.  We then go to those people in person, and apologize for harming them, let them know we are actively seeking to live in a way in which we won't cause further harm to them.  We also offer to make amends to them, like paying back money we owe them, or promising to consider certain needs or spend more time with them.  Naturally we don't do this if it will harm the individual in question, or anyone else.  These two steps are really where a lot of the shame of past wrongs goes away, and self esteem is built.

Steps ten, eleven and twelve are about growth.  We pray and seek God, we continue to take moral inventory when we notice issues popping up, we also continue to make amends when we harm people along the way in this journey.  We practice the principles of a good Christian life in all our affairs, and we try to help others and spread the good message of Jesus Christ.  

By this process we fix the issue of not being able to live out the moral issues of the Biblical message.  We don't have to sit back frustrated that we can't seem to live up to the high standards of the Christian lifestyle.  Naturally we are all sinners and will continue to sin.  We know that.  This is not a perfect solution, and unfortunately we cannot become completely sinless people.  But we can tend to have much less sin in our lives, and feel a great deal more inner peace and serenity.  

When we work through this process of inner change we can then display the true example of Christianity.  With all that garbage removed from us, we feel a much deeper connection to God.  We start to feel his love for us, and start to feel genuine joy.  We start to care for others and we start to love people more completely.  We connect with God and start to think as a true Christian in terms of love, joy, peace, serenity, happiness, compassion, and forgiveness.  

One final note, if you've got some serious hangouts like food addiction, gambling problems, sexual misconduct, abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, or issues of the sort, seek out a twelve step recovery group in your area.  You can usually find listings in the newspaper, or by searching Google for groups in your area.  Sometimes we need the support of a weekly group and fellowship with others to support our recovery and growth as Christians.  Celebrate recovery is a program at many churches that deals with all these areas, and works off the twelve steps.  There are other programs to explore as well. 

Thank you for reading, and God bless you :)  Go in peace and love!