Monday, August 10, 2009

how we change (5a) how are you going to change?

We are all legalists.

Left to ourselves, we try to make it to God on our terms. We try to earn our way to God through our own goodness. And this doesn't stop when we become Christians. We expect God's blessing when we've been "good". We expect God to make things go badly when we've skipped our quiet times or been grumpy with our families.

We approach growing as Christians in the same way. When we want to change, we resort to rules and regulations, lists and programs, vows and promises. We're like the Galatians, saved by grace but trying to grow through law (Gal 3:1-5). We forget God's startling words:

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Col 2:20-23

Think back to the last time you tried to change. Maybe you decided you wanted to eat less, or pray more often, or manage your temper. How did you go about it? What lists and promises did you make? What self-denials did you subject yourself to? What rules did you draw up for your obedience?

Did it work? How long did the change last? If you're determined, maybe quite a while! But vows, rules and programs only go so far. It's not long before we're over-eating or missing quiet times or over-spending again. Believe me, I know. I'm an expert in this kind of change.

A few years after the chaos of motherhood had begun, a couple of good friends and I read a book about biblical womanhood. My friends made a few sensible changes to their lives. I made detailed plans for all the things which were going to change from now on.

I decided to wake up at 6.00 and pray and read the Bible for an hour every day. I developed a household management centre in my home, complete with personal organiser, calendar, and monthly, weekly and daily "to do" lists. I committed myself to loving my husband and children in specific ways. I am an obsessive perfectionist, after all!

I tried it for a couple of months. I'd wake in the mid-winter darkness, drag myself to a chair, and sit trying to concentrate on the Bible. My personal organiser went unused. My "to do" lists became dog-eared and confused. I became overwhelmed, stressed and felt like an utter failure. I couldn't even succeed at this simple program for becoming a better wife, homemaker and mother! I developed a lasting aversion to books about homemaking.

I also developed a lasting aversion to vows, rules and programs for change.

Yes, there is a place for self-discipline. Chester says, "Many of these things are good in themselves ... But our rituals and disciplines can't change us." Rules and disciplines can only change our external behaviour. They can't change our hearts.

So what is the secret to change? This post is already too long, so I'll wait till next week to talk about that! In the meantime, maybe you'd like to share with us the story of a time you tried to change through rules and disciplines. How did it go?

If you'd like to see or use my seminar How Change Happens, which is based on Tim Chester's You Can Change, please contact me.

quotes are from chapter 2 of Tim Chester's
You Can Change

images are from stock.xchng


sandra j said...

Not sure if we're all legalists in our relationship with God to the same extent. Personally, my tendency is to be more like Jonah - expecting & receiving God's grace to me, but treating other people legalistically! Hmm...

Jean said...

Yes, Sandra, I'm sure some of us are more legalistic than others. Although you do realise that treating others' legalistically is itself a form of legalism? In a day or 2 I'm posting a description by Ed Welch of some different kinds of legalism. See where you find yourelf on that!

How do you try to change, do you think? Does legalism have a place anywhere there?

Sarah B said...

This isn't answering your qs Jean, you don't need to post it....I grew up in a house of rules as well as unspoken expectations so I have worked hard at avoiding them in raising our boys. Instead, God has used various forms of sickness over 14 yrs to change me (the last 12 months I have been relatively healthy). I think it's great that God meets us right where we it's needed, to make us more like Him.

Jean said...

I posted your comment Sarah (I hope you don't mind!) because I think it's such a helpful observation - God changes us through his sovereign grace as he uses suffering and other circumstances to help us grow. When we try to do it through rules, we're choosing them over confidence in him and the gospel. Thanks for the reminder.