Friday, January 9, 2015

Nothing Will Change Until God Changes Us

I tend to get a weird kick out of parents who buy a dog for their child so that the child can learn responsibility, only to see the exercise in responsibility falling to the parent! I’ve listened as these parents seriously and ever-so-earnestly attempt to convince me (and perhaps themselves) that the sole stipulation for getting the dog is that the child take care of the dog. 

Because I am a parent myself, I know exactly how this puppy experiment is going to play out. Sure enough, a week or two later, whom do I observe walking the puppy but the mom. Months later, the mom or the dad continue to be the only ones exercising the dog.

I take it all in, knowing full well that if I had ever allowed a dog in the house, I would have been the one standing outside in below-zero weather, waiting for the pup to do its duty while my kids slept in.

I used to wonder, those times I would implement a new grand scheme for the family, why, after only a few days, the new system wasn’t working? Why wasn’t the chore chart being filled out, or the kids attaining the goal of 30 minutes a day on the treadmill? Why were we not following through? What does one have to do to effect change in oneself or in another?

And the answer, I came to understand, is nothing. We of our own volition and good intentions can do nothing to effect change in ourselves or anyone else.

I have a relative who, out of sheer determination and staying really busy, managed to stop drinking for about 15 years. She worked two jobs and took up piano among other things. And then she began drinking again.

If a treadmill is what we put our hope for new life in, or a diet, new clothes, new car, new kitchen, new hobby, new house, new job, new life not being married—then any newness of life that comes will be precarious indeed. My record for change through sheer determination is 3 months. And then I went right back to the old ways.

We all know this, don’t we? We should, because we’ve experienced failure at change often enough. But there is something that continuously deceives us by saying, “This time, things will be different.”

It’s also really easy to decide to do something without actually doing it, but then feel like we did. 

When my kids were still young, I decided to look online for parenting books. I spent days conducting research. It felt good to be accomplishing something. I was on my way to being a better parent! I finally ordered the books. Boy was I making progress! I spent the next week looking forward to and putting my hope in the books’ arrival. When UPS dropped these tomes at my doorstep, I was invigorated! Wow, look what a great parent I’m already becoming, just by having these books! I’m on my way, taking the steps to effect change! I placed the books in the bookcase. They looked so good, so fresh, so new. A better parent had arrived and was now resting on the shelf. Which is where it stayed until I donated those books, unread, to Goodwill ten years later after my kids had both left home.

See, the act of deciding and then taking steps toward change is so fulfilling, and much easier, than actually making the change.

To be honest, even if I’d read those books, I doubt very seriously that my parenting would have changed. Because I was still leaving the change up to me; putting me in charge of me. It’s as I always say, “How can I change me if I am the problem?” And I can add to that, “How can I change someone else if they are the problem?” or “How can I change this relationship if both of us is the problem?” And finally, “How can I change someone else who does not want to change, or doesn’t even see that they need to change?”

Change takes place in the heart via the work of the Holy Spirit. If we don’t believe this, and don’t want to believe this, we can stop right here and continue on in the pride of believing that we are the greatest thing since sliced bread at effecting change (when the facts clearly prove otherwise).

If, however, we have failed time and time again to change of our own volition, perhaps we might want to humbly consider the work of the Holy Spirit. This requires an act of the will submitted entirely to God, in full repentance that we have been trying all this time to do it on our own.

Dr. Grant Richardson, author of the book, Certainty, writes:

“The Holy Spirit produces in the hearer a conviction from the force of a sovereign move of God, the Holy Spirit.”

This isn’t based on feelings. Richardson continues:

“The concern is in responding to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit’s testimony to the objective Word of God. There is a norm, or standard, of truth that confirms the Holy Spirit’s convicting work. That is what Scripture warrants or justifies. This is coming to understand what God wants us to know deductively.”

In other words, the work of the Holy Spirit is based on knowing God, first through Christ in salvation, and then in the ongoing process of becoming Biblically mature (also called sanctification). This ongoing work is accomplished via the Holy Spirit through the reading of God’s Word, prayer, faith and trust in the author of that Word and obedience to the conviction we receive.

We can’t stop short of this. It has to be our sole motivation: to please God and Him alone. Who better knows how to please God than the Holy Spirit? And so the Holy Spirit’s desire must be our desire. We must desire to please God and not ourself. We must desire to please God and not someone else. We must desire to take pride in God making the change in us and giving Him the credit, versus wanting to make the change ourself so that we can give ourself credit and boast about our own accomplishments.

Richardson writes,

“The conviction of the Holy Spirit transcends our opinion or the opinion of others. No human system can evaluate the testimony of the Spirit.”

“Paul explains (in 1 Corinthians 2:5) why he rests his case in the demonstration of the Spirit; he did not want to depend on human faculty but on the power of God. Paul came in the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’ rather than in the power of his speaking ability, that ‘faith might not rest in the wisdom of men.’”

“Only demonstration from the Holy Spirit can break through to the soul. Faith comes from Christ, not from the ingenuity of philosophy, oratory, or human persuasion.”

“The testimony of the Holy Spirit transcends the finite world of beliefs and perspectives. He is superior to philosophy and reason.”

The Holy Spirit will break through our finite understanding, our self-determination and self-reliance. 

We’ve been told all our lives that we “can do whatever we set our minds to.” This is a tragic lie. Only the Holy Spirit knows what it is we need to do and only the Holy Spirit can equip us to do it. When we finally submit to that truth, change can then begin.

copyright Barb Harwood

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14: 15-17

“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

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