Manual How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth

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While they are critical of a one-size-fits-all approach to human suffering, they do prescribe a combination of prayer, Bible study and regular contact with a "growth group" for virtually every problem they address. The growth groups they describe are populated by healthy, vulnerable people who are willing to confront each other lovingly and own up to mistakes and failures. Cloud and Townsend argue persuasively that such groups facilitate dramatic changes in individuals' lives, but leave the logistical problem of finding such evolved folks to the reader.

Perhaps the most radical message of the book is that failure is the norm, even for the most devout. Not only do the authors repeatedly give examples of the best Christians committing the worst sins, but they also insist that such wrongdoing never warrants condemnation from God or other believers. Instead, they argue, sinners must experience total acceptance and love before true repentance and change can occur. We were to remain innocent and not even know that we were innocent. The roles were clear. God designed life the way it was supposed to be and the rules on how to live it.

We were to obey them. God did not consult us on setting up the rules and the design of life. He did not ask us if our ruling over animals was a good idea or not. He did not ask us if he had chosen the right trees to give us to eat or not. He did not ask us if we thought man and woman was a good idea. He did not ask us whether having to work was a good idea or not.

He just made the reality and then told us to obey it. The Whole Package If you think about it, this was pretty much the life everyone is looking for: a great place to live, the perfect mate, lots of good things to occupy your time, and a job that fits your makeup. If these things had remained in place, there would be no need for this book. We would still be in the garden experiencing life as it was designed, and we would not even be aware of what life would look like any other way.

But this did not happen. Instead of remaining the innocent crown of creation, we took a great tumble, which brings us to Act Two, where we try to gain independence, take control, become the judge, and make our own rules.

HOW PEOPLE GROW: What the Bible Reveals About Personal Growth

Adam and Eve did not continue in the design that we saw earlier. Specifically, in one fell swoop they reversed the entire created order. The Tempter came along and got them to undo the entire created order by rebelling against what God had said. He questioned the truth of what God had told them and told them they would not really die if they ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In fact, they would do well by rebelling against God.

They would become 33 paradise lost like God himself. In essence, they could ascend the throne. They could live apart from God, have control of their own lives, and have it their own way. They could be to themselves all that God was to have been to them. But, as we all know, this was a lie. The man and woman did not become like God at all. Instead, in trying to become God, they became less of themselves. And this is why we need spiritual growth.

We have become less of what we were created to be. In the Fall, Adam and Eve became separated from Life and missed the mark of all that life was created to be. In short, they lost it all. They lost themselves, each other, and the life they were created to have. They overturned the entire design. And look at what happened. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they moved away from God and tried to gain life apart from him.

They were trying to become like him, to possess godhood for themselves and gain life outside of their relationship with God. They thought they could get knowledge and wisdom apart from the Source. They no longer needed him and had taken a step away from their role of dependency. In addition to becoming independent from God, they lost their relationship with him as well as with each other.

This is what death is. When God said they would die, he meant that they would be separated from him who is life. The relationship and intimacy they had with their Creator was lost; they had become separated from him. Their intimacy and vulnerability had been lost, and their ability to trust each other and have good relationship was lost also. From that point on, we see humans trading trust, fairness, love, and honesty with each other for alienation, unfairness, adversarial relationships, and dishonesty.

Love became much harder to find and sustain. In the creation, God was on top, and Adam and Eve answered to his authority. He was the lord, the ruler. But in the Fall, humans tried to usurp that structure and become their own lord. They wanted to be on the throne, so they rebelled against his authority over them. In short, they became self-sufficient, controlling people who were judgmental and lived by their own rules. Here are the roles as God created them: God Humans God is the Source God is the Creator We depend on God We are the creation and cannot exist unto ourselves We have control of ourselves We are to experience life We obey the rules and live the life God designed God has control of the world God was the judge of life God designed life and its rules In the Fall, humans tried to reverse this created order in their attempt to become like God.

We, as the offspring of Adam and Eve, stopped depending on God and tried to become the source of life for ourselves. We stopped seeing ourselves as creatures and acted as if we could live apart from our Creator, independent of him. We desired to control things we could not control, including each other, and we lost control of ourselves. We tried to become the judge, and we ended up being judgmental instead; we lost our ability to experience life and each other by exercising the very judgment we desired. In trying to become what they could never be—God—they lost their ability to be what only they could be, themselves.

And we have been searching for ourselves ever since. Here is a snapshot of how the roles changed after the Fall: The Desire We are the source We are the creator We have control of the world The Result We depend on ourselves We exist unto ourselves We try to control our world and each other, losing control of ourselves We judge ourselves and each other and cease to be able to experience ourselves and each other We live any way we want to We become the judge of life We design life and the rules So life began with a particular plan, and this plan was usurped by rebellion against God.

And life was lost. But God did not allow things to stay that way.

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He had another plan. He was, and is, bringing it all back to the way it is supposed to be. He redeemed, or got back, his creation and is putting it all back in place. How did he do this? God paid the price to gain it all back. The holy God required the death penalty for the sin of humankind.

And as the Bible tells us, he laid all of this sin upon Jesus Isa. This paved the way for God to have it all back and return everything to its rightful order. And this is what redemption does for each and every human who applies it to his or her life. God is the one who adds life. Also, we find that God is the source of healing and growth. How many self-improvement paths end up in despair until someone finds God? In redemption, we find that God will be the source of healing and growth if we will turn to him. When we realize that God is the source, we realize that we are impoverished, and this puts us into a position to receive from him.

So redemption helps us get to the end of our attempt to provide for ourselves. Instead, we turn to God for strength, truth, healing, care, correction, and a whole host of other things that we will see later. But none of these are available to those who are still trying to provide them for themselves.

Return to Relationship To return to the created order means to get back into relationship with God and with each other. As Jesus said, all of the commandments can be summed up in the two greatest commandments of loving God and loving others Matt. Everything in life depends on these two relationships. Redemption puts us back into those two relationships. First, it reconciles us into a relationship with God through faith and forgiveness and the re-establishing of a connection.

Second, redemption brings us back to the rightful restoration of connectedness with others as it stresses love, identification with each other through the Golden Rule, caring for one another, forgiving one another, healing one another, teaching one another, correcting one another, and so on.

Without restoration of relationship with each other, we would still be in a state of alienation and not able to have the connections that provide the things we need to live and to grow. Redemption reverses our alienation and isolation from each other and gets us rightly reconnected. As Jesus said, the first and the greatest commandment is to love God first. It is the commandment that makes all the others work, for it is the one that ensures I am going to do it all his way. And if I do it his way, life will be better. To reverse the Fall means to live under submission to him and to reverse the rebellion against his rulership in my life.

Ask God to help you see these issues in your life. Determine how important it is for you to understand the whole of the Bible and what God is doing. Determine how those overall ideas relate to your belief system and your life. Determine if that view fits in or is inclusive of what God is doing in the whole cosmic story. Being redeemed, I listen and obey. And since this is difficult on my own power, redemption gives me two new sources of power to help me in this newfound obedience. I have God as a source of power, and I have others to support me. It is no longer just me and my sinful, rebellious nature.

I have a new nature in me, one that is empowered by God to follow God and submit to him, and I have a body of people to help me to do that as well. For the first time since the Fall, I am in a position to obey God and submit to him. This gives me the power to stop ruining my life. To disobey God is basically to ruin my life, for to disobey him means that I by definition am doing something destructive.

If God says to be kind to others and I disobey, I will ruin my relationships. If he says to be honest and responsible and I am a liar and a cheater, I will wreck all that I try to build. Return to the Roles In the Fall we reversed the roles of humankind and God. We tried to fulfill his roles and then lost our ability to fulfill the ones we were created for. In redemption we reconcile things to the way they were supposed to be. Also, we regain control of what we were created to control in the first place, which is ourselves. So, by not being God, we are free to be who we truly are and allow others to be who they truly are as well.

For example, God 39 paradise lost designed marriage, but humans rewrite the rules to make cohabitation or serial monogamy a new design with disastrous consequences. What God does in redemption and in our growth is so simple. At the same time, it is complicated and profound. What does it look like to be in control or to be the judge or to make up the rules and change the roles?

How does that destroy a life or a marriage? That is the question we want to answer.

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In the next chapter we will take a look at a real-life situation that illustrates this for us. For ten years he had shepherded enormous growth in this church. From the outside, all was well. He asked if I would see Rich and his wife, Stephanie, in marriage counseling. I had read articles Rich had written on marriage, so I was surprised to find out the trouble their relationship was in. And the trouble was not small. While keeping a full preaching schedule and fulfilling his other duties, Rich had been able to find time to devote to a growing sexual addiction.

At the same time, the distance 41 paradise lost between him and his wife was growing. All that was holding the family together was their three kids, for both parents were highly committed to the children. But this commitment finally was not enough for Stephanie to stay.

Since they both had problems with each other, there had been enough blame to go around. So she decided to separate. I agreed to see them for an evaluation and to help them make a plan. I did not have the time to take on a new couple, so originally I was going to see them for only a few sessions. In addition, I had seen my fair share of leaders who were popular on the outside but who had little or no relational abilities to make a marriage work, and I did not have the energy to deal with such a leader at that time.

They were a lot of work. But I could at least make a good referral. All of that changed, however, after a few sessions. I did not encounter what I had expected to encounter. Instead, I felt deeply for them and their misery, and I felt much empathy for how hard they had both tried to make their life together work. This couple, who had led many others through discipleship and spiritual growth, were unable to make it work for themselves, and I could tell it was from no lack of effort.

They had become believers in their early twenties, met in the church, committed themselves to ministry, married, and set out on a path they were passionate about. The early days of finding out about God and growing spiritually had been so invigorating that they looked forward to a lifetime of leading others down that same path. The future was going to be bright.

Then, as they poured themselves into the ministry, the skies darkened. They worked hard over the years. They started programs that helped many people. But as time went on, they were not finding the life they were communicating to others. They were becoming disillusioned and distant from each other, and they were anything but happy. They began to feel hypocritical. Their spiritual life had consisted of standard evangelical fare: prayer, Bible study, spiritual warfare, and worship. They could talk about faith, avoiding sin, and the importance of the Bible.

They had diligently 42 how the big picture affects the small walked paths of spiritual growth for twenty-five years. If they were to take an exam on the basic Christian life, they would have passed with flying colors. What saddened me about all of this was that, although they had for a number of years grown spiritually and helped other people grow, they had ended up in such a mess.

They expressed very little real love or affection for each other. Their relationship was anything but a safe haven; in fact, it had gone from a battleground to detached co-existence. As I got to know them better, I saw their growing disillusionment with the faith they were professionally administering. They had little positive feeling about God anymore and little faith that his ways were going to be the answers to their problems. They had followed him and had ended up in a miserable place.

In fact, at that point they had little personal connection to God at all. Rich was avoiding God, as the guilt over his behavior was making him feel unacceptable. Stephanie was so into her pain and disappointment that God seemed a million miles away, and she felt that, although she was praying, God had done little to help. And while it is too long a story to tell in detail, the good news is that Rich and Stephanie came back together and are now living the marriage they had always wanted. They are also very fulfilled in their work, and his teaching is thriving.

What their story will reveal, however, is how healing occurs when we do what we talked about in the previous chapter: reconcile life to the way God created it, to the created order. The Fall reigned in their lives. They were not overt, rebellious sinners—far from it. But the growth processes they had been involved in—Bible study, prayer, and the rest—had not done enough to reverse the problems of the Fall in their lives.

Much biblical growth was missing. God as Source Rich and Stephanie had certainly begun their spiritual journey by seeing God as the source of all life. In the early days they lived a momentby-moment faith and turned to God for everything. Humble learners, they depended on him for everything. But slowly something happened. Without realizing it, they turned away from depending on God as the source of everything they needed toward depending on themselves instead.

Subtly, the Spirit was slowly shut out. But they stopped turning to God and depending on him moment by moment for everything they needed. They did not, for example, leave an argument and ask God to show them what had happened and how to resolve it. Rich and Stephanie were cut off from God in other ways as well. Rich, for example, was not acting out sexually in a vacuum. He was 44 how the big picture affects the small under huge pressure from his denomination to be a leader, and he feared that he was not going to make it as big as he wanted.

He was a visionary, but some leadership weaknesses put him into situations in which he was in over his head. He turned to his wits over and over again, but not to God. He prayed to God for the whole of his work, but not for the little day-to-day things he struggled with. In the pressure of it all, he turned for relief to sexual gratification, when he could have gotten strength, comfort, and answers from God. In the sexual area, Rich was not leaning on God either. He knew that what he was doing was wrong, but he did not see God as a partner in helping him to rid himself of the behavior.

It never occurred to him that he could turn to God to show him the source of his behavior and heal him of it. This was to come much later. The best thing they had going for them was that Stephanie was praying for their relationship. She knew they were in trouble, and even though she was not plugged into all that God had for her day to day, she was asking him to heal their marriage.

But as a couple, Rich and Stephanie never got down on their knees together as a main strategy to ask God to heal their relationship, believing that he could or would. They were connected to a lot of people, but their relationships were not changing them or helping them to grow up. Most of the time they spent with others was in Bible study or prayer. While these things were important, they lacked other relational ingredients that both of them needed for growth. They did not see friendships with others as a key ingredient of the growth process.

They saw them as a context for ministry. The model of growth operating in their lives was one of learning more truths and working hard in ministry. If people were involved in 45 paradise lost some kind of Christian service, or attended Bible studies or conferences, or taught a group, people assumed they were growing.

The amount of service someone did was equated with his or her level of maturity. This model of growth, however, left out something fundamental: Rich and Stephanie needed people in their lives to connect with them not only for spiritual fellowship and activities, but also for growth and healing. We will look into this much more deeply in chapter 7, which deals with the role of the Body of Christ, but suffice it to say here that this couple was not getting the things that the New Testament says we should be getting from each other. Much of the quarreling in their marriage came from insecurities each had from childhood.

Rich had come from a particularly harsh background, and he strongly feared criticism. Whenever Stephanie criticized him, he would react so defensively that nothing good could follow. If he had been getting loved at a very deep level from others in the Body of Christ, these insecurities would have been healed. In addition, he would not have had the shame he had about his leadership weaknesses or his sexual temptations. If there were others with whom he could have shared these parts of himself, he could have been healed James , and the marriage crisis very likely never would have happened.

Stephanie had come from a chaotic background, and she feared not being in control. When she felt as if things were spinning out of control, she would get very controlling of those around her, especially of Rich. If she had related deeply with others and had been in a community where she could have shared those fears, she would not have been so controlling of Rich.

But her insecurities drove her to be anything but loving with him, and he ran to other women for comfort. He saw her as a source of distress, not companionship. Deep, abiding, healing relationship was not part of their growth model. Their relationships revolved around studying the Bible and ministering together. This kind of healing community could have saved them as individuals and saved their relationship. They had given their lives to him and were doing their best to obey his call.

There was little doubt in their minds to whom they answered. The problem was that they submitted very little to God in their dayto-day internal lives. In the midst of their disconnection, or in their attitudes toward each other, or in the way that they handled their own stress, they pretty much answered to themselves. They indulged attitudes and patterns they knew to be wrong, if only out of desperation. I do not think there is enough love between the two of you to make your relationship work.

But they both finally nodded. I think they thought that they were admitting the marriage was over and the next call we made would be to the attorneys. Is that true? Are you still committed to God, if not to each other? If you do what God wants you to do for him, then you will find each other again, and your marriage will be good.

But it will have to be an obedient act of faith.

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You will have to let God be the boss and do what he says. God had 47 paradise lost asked Adam and Eve to obey without knowing why or how their obedience would be significant in their lives.


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Rich and Stephanie did not know how obeying God was going to be significant in their marriage, and they would have to do it on faith. From that point on, when I asked them to make tough changes, they had a foundation on which to make them. They did it for God. They allowed God to be boss in their lives, and they obeyed him. As a result, their marriage was saved—and so were their lives. God as Boss ultimately made everything else possible. They did not depend on God, and they basically tried to run things themselves. But they had also assumed an independent role in other aspects of life.

Remember that we were created finite, not self-sustaining. Therefore we have to look outside of ourselves to get the things we need. This includes depending on God for everything and depending on others for what we cannot give ourselves. In the beginning of their Christian life, Rich and Stephanie were dependent and growing.

Older, wiser people discipled and mentored them. Maybe because they were new believers, they thought it was okay to look to others for help.


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They were caught up in the business of all they had to do, and as a result, they failed to carve out time to lean on others and get their own needs met. And they both had significant needs. As is often the case with leaders, talent and abilities can be confused with maturity. Rich and Stephanie had real unfinished parts of themselves that were in grave need of healing and growth.

They did not really have people to nourish their souls 48 how the big picture affects the small and sustain their lives. They did not have anyone to call on when they were afraid, tempted, or hurting. When they hit the wall in their crisis, this had to change. We designed a system that returned them to their proper human role of dependency. Both of them had to plug in to a small group of people who would be there to meet their needs.

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We structured it in such a way that it could not be a social club, but rather a support group in which they could share their deepest fears, hurts, and temptations. They could be vulnerable with the areas in their lives and souls that needed healing. Although I was still available to help them, I referred both of them to individual counselors who supported this spiritual change, and Rich joined an addiction support group.

Being involved in this group was a major turning point in returning Rich to a dependent position in life. He learned that it was impossible to stay clean without remaining in a humble, dependent position. This is the way addiction recovery works. He did not have to resist temptation by himself, as he had once thought. He could get help, even in the moment, by a phone call, and his support group members would understand.

And meeting at regular intervals during the week provided him with the stability and sustenance he did not have within himself. In the same way, Stephanie depended on her own support system, learning to lean on them and work through her anxieties without bringing them into her marriage and acting them out on Rich. The life that they were getting from outside themselves was beginning to supply them with the resources they needed for their lives and marriage. In short, dependency saved their marriage. In the beginning it was difficult for Rich and Stephanie to see that they had to depend not only on God, but also on these support systems.

They did not understand this to be the theology of change the New Testament supports. But gradually they came to understand that the Body of Christ is a big part of the delivery system of healing and growth that God has in store for people. We serve and give to others, but we also have to receive from them in a dependent role. For the Body to truly function in a healing way, we all have to reclaim dependency as well as serve. We were created to be dependent, on God and on each other. You really are controlling of each other. They had never seen themselves in that light before.

That is really controlling. Are you happy with that system? She almost left you. Good job. Their sheepish smiles let me know we had broken through. As I mentioned before, Stephanie had come from a chaotic background with parents who were out-of-control addicts and had a high 50 how the big picture affects the small need for structure. Rich was a creative, visionary type, and structure was not his strong suit. This is a common dynamic in couples where the wife has a high need for structure.

He would do the really important things and let other, less important things slide until he thought they needed to be done. Rich had his own control dynamic as well. He could not stand for Stephanie to think negatively of him, so he felt the need to control how she viewed him. He could not just let her be displeased with him.

At first he did not see this as controlling behavior. He thought she was the one with the problem. But gradually he saw how controlling it was to try to make sure that someone is happy all the time. Stephanie had to get to a point where she gave up her need for structure and let God have control of the chaos. She had to get comfortable with not being able to control Rich and to see how her actions were opposed to the created order itself. The real eye-opener was how out of control of herself she had become in trying to control him.

One day in my office, she lit into him. You should have known. I interrupted. You sound psychotic. Listen to your voice. I wish you could see the expression on your face. You look like a witch. It really is ugly. If you could see a video of yourself, you would be embarrassed. But, Stephanie, no one in her right mind would want to sound like you do.

Listen to how out of control your anger is. She went silent. No one else spoke. Stephanie sat there quietly listening to the echo of her poison in the room. We could all hear it, and for the first time Stephanie could see how out of control she had gotten. When I got her to focus on how she sounded, she was surprised she had been reduced to such a maniac.

In trying to control Rich, she had lost control of herself. As Stephanie limited her control behavior with Rich, took her anxiety to her support group, and trusted God to be in control of it all, she calmed down and backed off. But then something else happened as well. She got in touch with some of the sources of that drive to control and was healed at a deeper level than she thought possible. In the end, she became much less anxious. Rich was doing his own control work as well. As I mentioned, he was always trying to make her happy.

This attempt to control what she thought of him turned out to be tied to a fear that she was going to leave him. So, in effect, he had been trying to control her into thinking things were great so she would stay. We worked on this, and he began to give God control of what happened in their lives and their marriage. He saw that he could not control her into staying. If she wanted to leave him, she would, and there was nothing he could do to stop her. He had to give up control. Something incredible happened, as is always the case when we return to the way God created things.

When Rich stopped trying to control Stephanie and moved out of feeling as if he was controlled by her, he regained control of himself. When he gave up what he could not control, he regained control of what he was designed to control: himself. Self-control was the fruit of his giving up the God role and regaining the human role of yielding. Rich was also amazed that by giving up control, he was for the first time seeing victory in controlling his sexual behavior and other important areas of life.

He stopped his outbursts toward Stephanie and worked in a more disciplined way. He saw himself regaining the freedom to order his life in the way that he always knew he was supposed to. And as a result of his growing sense of autonomy and self-control, Stephanie trusted him more and tried to control him less. The grow52 how the big picture affects the small ing freedom both of them gained by giving up external control and regaining internal control revolutionized their relationship.

That is, until I remember how powerful all of the dynamics we have already talked about were. In reality, the Fall was complete, and all of the dynamics are present in every situation. We know that it has something to do with discerning the effects of sin firsthand. Jesus clearly told us that we are not to judge one another.

But what does this mean? First, we place ourselves above another as if we were his or her God. Second, we condemn another. And third, we create the standard for another. When we evaluate someone, we do not do these three things. First, we do not place ourselves above the other person.

Unpacking the practical and passionate theology that forms the backbone of their counseling, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend shatter popular misconceptions about how God operates and how growth happens. You'll discover -What the essential processes are that make people grow -How those processes fit into a biblical understanding of spiritual growth and theology -How spiritual growth and real-life issues are one and the same -What the specific tasks and tips are that will help pastors, counselors, and others who assist people in growing—and what your own responsibilities are in your personal growth Shining focused light on the great doctrines and themes of Christianity, How People Grow shows why all personal growth is spiritual growth.