Christ calls us to be agents of change in the world. We should be salt: preserving and adding spiritual flavour, and light: leading the way through our own example. But how are we to be agents of change for the world if we do not change ourselves?
Certainly God is involved in this process of change, for it is He that brought about the greatest change in our lives when we invited Him into our hearts and He “made us a new creature in Christ.” However, like all things with God, He is unwilling to do for us what we need to do for ourselves (He is, after all, the wisest of parents). So He leaves the rest of the changes we need to make in our hands.
Some of those changes are pretty clear-cut. I can still remember the first time I read the scripture about my body being the temple of the Holy Spirit. My immediate thought was “Then God doesn’t want me to smoke.” After a dozen years of being a one pack a day smoker, I quit that day without any further struggle. But other changes are more subtle.
When I hit fifty I began to run into all kinds of trouble with my back. I spent more time with it going out then I did with being fit. I had two choices: spending the rest of my life in some kind of pain, leading to increasing incapacitation, or getting fit. I went to a physiotherapist who laid out a program of exercises that I have been following ever since. I started a program of losing weight and went from 165 pounds down to around 140 over a period of a couple of years and have maintained it ever since. When I hit sixty I noticed that I went through another slide physiologically. My routine was no longer keeping up with my age. Time to up the ante. I bought a bike and started cycling, and recently have changed my morning routine to include a warm-up on a striding machine and thirty laps in the pool.
By no means do I intend you to think by this that change has to be all physiological. I am just using that as an example; something that is near at hand and not too personal to talk about the change process. As someone who has gone through a lot of change I would say that these are the factors to consider:
- Willingness. In order to change there has to be a recognition that you (no one) is perfect, and that you are willing to change in order to be better.
- Listening. Listening to your body, to God, to your spouse, to your friends, to circumstances. An ability to listen to what is going on is a fundamental necessity to change.
- Wisdom. You need to decide what needs to be changed and what needs to be left alone. Your friends could be suggesting changes that you know would be harmful. You need to decide on a course of action for change to occur without damage to yourselves and others. Change requires planning, and planning takes wisdom.
- Flexibility. Not everything you try is going to work. You may need to adapt your plans, tailor them to unforeseen circumstances, move your schedule around, and miss out on certain things. Your daily and weekly planner may look like a mess for while until you get it sorted out.
- Perseverance. Change is work; in point of fact change is just about the hardest work there is. You are going to encounter resistance, not only from others, but most especially from yourself. No lasting change will ever come about without perseverance. Change is not for the weak-spirited or the lazy-minded.
- Commitment. This is not the same as perseverance. Perseverance happens inside yourself; commitment comes from outside yourself. You will not succeed unless you are committed to a higher ideal than just yourself. It has to be for others; it has to be most particularly for God. You must get a sense of His purpose for your life and commit yourself to accomplish that purpose or you will never succeed at the change that is needed to get there.
- Love. This may seem like an odd one, but I would hold that this one is the key. You need to see that you are the object of God’s love, that His purpose for you is kind, that His desire is to bless. Once you get a hold of that, it does in fact become easier to change. This is what worked for me all those years ago when I gave up smoking: I realized that God loved me too much to want me to be enslaved by that thing. His love made it easy.
This list is not exhaustive, and there may be other lists out there that are more useful. This is just some personal reflection on a lifetime of change. God isn’t through with me yet either, so that means that more changes are ahead. I would be disappointed if it were any other way.