How Do We Change, Anyway?
“How will things ever change?” It seems as if we live in a constantly unchangeable universe.
People will hurt us.
We will fail the ones we love.
The Cubs will lose games.
Okay, so perhaps the last one isn’t applicable to you but the others (as well as a host of questions I didn’t mention) strike at the heart of what it means to be the convoluted, poetic mess than is a human being.
So how do things change?
We see Jesus, we hear promises about “life and life to the full” and “rivers of living water” and “rest for our souls” but we see so few examples of where that is actually, concretely happening in the real world.
My heart beats rapidly and voraciously for people to experience spiritual transformation through Jesus Christ – by knowing Him and therefore knowing His Father, by listening to His Spirit and finding our way in the dense jungle of the everyday world. That is a life that, for most of us, is but a vision in mist at the present moment.
So how do things change?
James Bryan Smith, in his powerful and helpful book The Good and Beautiful God, gives four key things that have to be planted deeply in the soil of our lives before change – real and significant spiritual transformation - can happen.
We adopt the narratives of Jesus.
The critical step we have to make in spiritual transformation is to believe in the same God Jesus knew. To love the God of the prodigal, the God who directed His son to wash feet and heal lepers, the God who called Jesus “beloved” and speaks of us in the same terms as we follow Him. We shift our narratives from the antacid-chomping, legalistic divine destroyer and begin to live and believe in a God who is for us through His Son Jesus.
We engage in soul training exercises.
Just as you don’t run a marathon by going out and running 26 miles one day, you also don’t change the destructive cycles in your life by simply trying harder. We engage in soul training – spiritual disciplines, some call them – as a way to work indirectly on the problem areas that God desires to flood with His grace. For example, people who deal with anger need to practice the discipline of Sabbath. It’s hard to be angry when you are actively giving up control (which is the root of anger, as well as other things) in order to rest and rely on God. Soul training doesn’t earn God’s favor or salvation, but simply clears out room for Him to rescue more and more of our lives through His grace.
We participate in community.
We need other people to help us make commitments, practice disciplines, and learn rhythms that can open doors for God’s grace to actively flow through our lives. Community encourages us, corrects us, inspires us and trains us to be the disciples we need to be. We learn key concepts like forgiveness, generosity, bearing one another’s burdens, peace, patience, and all the attributes Jesus expressed to others in His life.
We do all of this via the empowerment and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps that seems like a no-brainer but when we hit the ground of real transformation, wading through the muck of complicated relationships and face to face with our own brokenness, we will need the guidance and wisdom of the Spirit of God dwelling within us (see John 14 & 16 on this) to help us see spiritual transformation come to pass.
As you read through these areas, which one is the greatest struggle for you? Which one has been an area of life and joy to you lately? How have you changed as a result of living out these four critical pieces?