Having enjoyed and learnt much from reading When People Are Big and God is Small last year, I returned to another book by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) this year and similarly have been greatly encouraged and challenged by How People Change.
It’s hard to quantify exactly how much this book has changed my thought processes and resultant action. It started when a friend presented a seminar last year which really challenged me to look at my heart in all things, rather than externals. Of course, you say, we all know we are supposed to do that. Yes, we do – but how do we actually do it? Her main thinking had come from this book.
How People Change is one of the few books I have read that clearly identifies the issues that face us in life, shows us how often we respond sinfully, and yet leads us to see that with the truths of the gospel shaping us, we can change to grow in godly responses and living. It is not a self-help book. Rather it is an examination of what drives us, how we live in response and how God working in us can change us.
The overarching idea is that our lives are full of heat - the various aspects of our lives that will produce a response; be it suffering, hardship, blessing, prosperity or anywhere in between. The response the heat produces can often be thorns, that is, ungodly responses to such situations, such as complaining, anger, materialism, narcissism, etc.
What Lane and Tripp drive us towards is the cross: how we can see what Christ has done for us in overwhelming and abundant grace, and how we let that become the focus and centre of our hearts and life. Like using a scalpel on your heart, they lead you to identify your deepest motivations and desires and then realign them according to what Christ has done. After that, because Christ dwells in us, instead of thorns, we can produce fruit.
In this second half of the book, which clearly identifies each of these stages, there are questions that you can work through for yourself. In identifying where the heat is in your life and which thorns you are likely to produce, you are then ready to come back to the cross in true repentance and humility, joyful that Christ brings about true, lasting change and fruit.
In the weeks that I was reading this book I found it practically applicable in many ways:
- As I thought about my own ‘thorny’ responses to life situations & was challenged because of what Christ has done to make them more ‘fruitful’.
- When I spoke with friends about their particular challenges and the decisions that led them there.
- When I led a seminar on a Christian view of reading and challenged us all to examine our hearts when we thought about what we read.
- As I worked through some personal issues with one of our children and tried to get them to see how their behaviour was coming from their heart and showed what they valued most.
For years I have heard people say things like “you have to come back to the cross”, “it’s all about letting the gospel shape you” or “it must change your heart”. While I fully agreed with the sentiment, the practical how of doing that always left me a little bewildered. How do I respond to my children according to what Christ has done? When is rest or relaxation just a good gift and when it is starting to become something I value more highly that Christ? I felt that this book helped me start to answer those questions and think about a way forward.
This is highly recommended reading for all Christians. All of our lives are full of situations that demand a response – but do we bear thorns or fruit in them? How do we change from a thorny response to a fruity one? How do we make sure it is Christ and his work in us that is what changes us, not just a desire to look good?
In addition, this book would be especially helpful for those who are in mentoring, pastoring and counselling roles. It made me so keen I went on to investigate the CCEF counselling courses online - perhaps a goal for another year!