The PIC Approach – The Power of Personal Convictions
By Lea Carawan
Rolfe and I were speaking at a marriage retreat recently and a woman approached me after one of our sessions. We had asked everyone to break up into groups and consider the question, “Is praying together as a couple a universal principle, helpful instruction or personal conviction?”
She had tears in her eyes and began to relay a breakthrough she had just experienced with her husband during the discussion time. “My husband is a Christian, he loves me, and loves the Lord, but we don’t pray together like that,” she started. “Every marriage retreat we have gone to the speakers have insisted that Christian couples must pray together. So, I have repeatedly pressured him to pray together because I feel like we are failing as a couple. When I just asked him why we don’t pray together, he said he just doesn’t think to do it, and isn’t comfortable praying out loud.” She realized she had put her (and others’) personal convictions on him. She went on, “If instead this had been presented as a helpful instruction, rather than a requirement or principle for good marriages, I would have thought about it differently.” She apologized to her husband for putting pressure on him, because what she had been saying to him was, “You’re not measuring up!”…and he felt it.
In the previous few blogs, we described the PIC Approach and the difference between principles, instructions and convictions. We defined principles as things that are true for everyone, everywhere, every time. We described how instructions can help a person apply the principle in their unique situation. Once I understood and embraced a universal truth, I welcomed helpful instructions that helped me start living it out within my own circumstances. I found that as I applied the principles and instructions, I naturally formed personal convictions. These were deeply held beliefs that dramatically impacted the way I live and think.
In fact, my convictions were so true to me that I often confused them with actual principles that applied to everyone. Even though these convictions were often informed by the Bible and by the leading of the Lord, or my life’s experience, it didn’t mean they applied to everyone else. Whenever I tried to impose my personal convictions on others, they were rarely life-giving. And sometimes they were just plain wrong. It took time and practice to discover that when asked for advice, principles proved far more valuable.
Convictions vs. Preferences
It is important to understand that when we are referring to convictions, we are not simply describing preferences such as liking chocolate rather than vanilla or desiring a clean workspace vs. a messy one. Personal convictions are much more far-reaching. They generally produce three results: 1) People make decisions based on them. 2) They can’t be ignored in good conscience. 3) When a person believes they are from the Lord, it’s an act of disobedience to disregard them.
Expressing my beliefs as absolute truths brought many unnecessary “oughts” and “shoulds” that hurt my relationships, especially with my family.
I frequently expressed my personal convictions or instructions as if they were principles before I learned their differences. The result was legalistic judgments. Expressing my beliefs as absolute truths brought many unnecessary “oughts” and “shoulds” that hurt my relationships, especially with my family.
Early in our marriage, I had read the story about how Corrie Ten Boom’s father used to bring out the Bible at the end of dinner and read a portion to the family. Then he’d add his thoughts and insights to encourage his family to walk closer with the Lord. That’s what I thought a godly husband and father should do. When my husband didn’t show any signs that he intended to do this, I began to drop subtle hints. All that got me was an eye roll or head shake. When he didn’t take those hints, I came right out and let him know that if he wasn’t even willing to do after dinner devotions, I didn’t think he was doing his part as a godly father. Though he dearly loved the Lord and was trying to follow Him the best he could, Rolfe wasn’t doing it the right way - my way. However unintentional, that made my husband feel judged rather than loved. It caused arguments and unnecessary distance in our relationship. When I put my personal convictions on Rolfe, I ran the risk of alienating him.
Recently I was talking with a woman who had served in ministry within the church for years. She had just heard me teach about the PIC Approach, and the difference between principles, instructions and convictions. She came to me excitedly, “When I heard you talking a light bulb went on regarding one of my friendships that has been strained for the past few years.” She went on, “You see, several years ago I began to see a negative impact on my children who were in the public school system, and the Lord began to speak to me about homeschooling. It was so life-giving for my kids that I really believed every Christian should be homeschooling and I said as much to my friend. Since then, there has been a wall between us, we are still friends, but it is not the same. When I heard you describe principles and convictions, I knew I had created a principal from my personal conviction and imposed it on her. She felt judged and I didn’t see it. I don’t think she even knew how to articulate how she felt. I have to go back to her and ask her to forgive me for judging her.”
Conveying personal convictions
There are times when expressing personal convictions is very helpful. I have found that one-on-one is the best way to pass on personal convictions. I try to preface my advice by letting someone know that it is a strong personal conviction and why. It is helpful at times to include what has informed my conviction, the Bible or simply best practice, then they can decide if they want to embrace the same conviction. They tend to feel respected and take more responsibility for their choices when they don’t feel pressured to believe as I do.
I remember having a conversation with a woman about my practice of reading the Bible. She had been taught repeatedly that a Christian is supposed to read the Bible every day, and carried a great deal of guilt if she missed a day. I asked her if she thought this was a principle, instruction or conviction? She was a little surprised I would even question this well known teaching.
She humored me and began to articulate what she believed was the principle around reading the Bible. She struggled a bit, but when I rephrased the question and asked her what was true for everyone, everywhere, she stated that the Bible is the living Word of God and that it reveals God to us.
Then I asked her what the Bible tells us to do because of that reality, how should we then respond to this truth. She thought of the Instructions that are given in in Joshua 1:8 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and stated boldly, “We are to meditate on it day and night, write it on your doorposts, read it daily or all the way through in a year, memorize it, teach it to our children.”
“Wonderful,” I said, “So what is your conviction about the practice of reading it daily?“ “Well,” she concluded honestly, “I think I need to spend a little more time on that. I haven’t really formed my own personal conviction, I have simply been copying what others have told me should be my conviction, that I should read it every day without fail.” She went on, “I think reading it daily is a great practice and probably a helpful instruction, but I really need to consider what my conviction is about how to best apply this principle.
It is so common to hear teaching that incorporates principles, instructions and convictions with little or no delineation. For example, I was having a conversation with my daughter about Mathew 5:23-34, where we are told, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” When my daughter read this Scripture, she first thought that if she was at church and wanted to pray at the altar, and there was anyone who had issue with her, that she should literally leave right then and make it right.
She wondered if she should feel guilty about being at church when she knew that some of the challenges she was working through with folks at work or home were not fully resolved. They may have been in process, they may have been related to frustrations with her leadership, but just the fact that anyone might be upset with her, caused her to feel like she shouldn’t be at church. She took this statement as the principle rather than looking for the principle of God’s design behind this statement. What was God revealing about relationships, about the power of unity, about forgiveness. God was describing what it might look like, and how serious He was about repairing relationships if you can.
Consider a conversation you had with a friend, spouse, child or colleague this week. When you think about what you were expressing, which category fits the information that you were passing along? If a personal conviction, how did you express it? How did the person receive it?