I picked up a book at a conference last year called You Can Change: God's transforming power for our sinful behaviour and negative emotions. It sounds like another of the worst kind of self-help book: the thinly-Christianised-self-help-book-with-lame-biblical-proof-texts. But it’s not.
The book is written by Tim Chester, a church planter from the north of England. The video introduction to the book is clear that he didn’t set out to write just another self-help book. Instead, what he’s written is a book that robustly and practically applies the gospel to dealing with our sinful behaviours and emotions. Chester leads us to Scripture to reflect on the heart change that we need rather than simply behaviour modification. The heart change we need is offered to us only through the work of the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the tips in this issue of Growing Faith is about the importance of parents and carers to be modelling the Christian life to their children. In that light, this book is a helpful resource for ourselves as we seek to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
On another level though, this book gives some helpful principles to apply when we think about our role in discipling our children in Christ-likeness. A danger in our discipline of children is that we can settle for behaviour modification that leaves the heart unchanged. How many times have I told one of our children to ‘say sorry to your sister’, and then hear them say ‘sorry’ with that tone of voice that makes it obvious that they’re not really sorry!
When we talk about ‘changing our children’ it may sound like a domineering plan to limit their individuality and mould them into whatever suits the parents’ wish-dreams! Instead Chester’s book begins with the question ‘what would you like to change?’ and focuses our attention on being changed into the image of Jesus. As I think about that chapter for the way we raise our children, I’m challenged to think about the sort of goals I have for them. We can desire a lot of things for our children and want them to change in all sorts of ways. Chester has reminded me to think more carefully about the aspects of godly character that I want to encourage my children to pursue.
In chapter 2, we’re challenged then to think about why we want to change. When I think about this question in relation to my children, I must admit that a lot of the reason why I want my children to grow in godliness is so that I would look good! ‘Won’t people be impressed when they visit our place and our children pray trusting and thoughtful prayers?’; ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to visit friends and have them compliment us on how well behaved our children are?’ Chester very helpfully points out the reasons for change that unhelpfully put ‘me’ at the centre of the change project. Instead, the great news is that God justifies us and our children in Christ – we don’t need to prove ourselves, and they don’t need to prove themselves to anyone. Instead, our role as parents and carers is to help them enjoy the freedom we have in Christ and the privilege of being children of God.
Chester arranges his book with 10 questions about change. Here’s my edited version of his chapters applied to raising children:
- What would you like your children to change?
- Why would you like your children to change?
- How are you going to help your children change?
- When do your children struggle?
- What truths do your children need to turn to?
- What desires do your children need to turn from?
- What stops your children changing?
- What strategies will reinforce your children’s faith and repentance?
- How can your family and the church family support one another in change?
- Are you and your children ready for a lifetime of daily change?
If one day in your local bookshop you see a version of Tim Chester’s book called something like Your Kids Can Change, make sure you tell them you heard it here first!
Tim Chester, You Can Change: God's transforming power for our sinful behaviour and negative emotions, InterVarsity Press.
208 pages, Paperback