Wednesday, February 10, 2010

how we change (10) what stops you changing?

You might remember last year's series on change. I blogged my way through 6 chapters of Tim Chester's You Can Change, and we talked about grace, legalism, and how to identify our false beliefs and idols. Today my series (finally!) continues with a post on how not to change ...

I'm an expert on how not to change.

For over 10 years, over-spending was my besetting sin. I woke in the dark, sick to the stomach about my spending, and lay there creating elaborate plans for change that I never followed. Every conversation with my prayer-partners was peppered with confession. I sat in church and cried because I wasn't making any progress.

So what stopped me changing? Here's Tim Chester's list of proven ways not to change.

1. Proud self-reliance

We're often more interested in our personal victory over sin than in pleasing God. We're mad at ourselves because we keep sinning. At the root of this is the belief that we can - or should - be strong enough to overcome our sin!
Proud perfectionist that I am, this sums me up nicely. But 10 year's struggling with the same sin brought me to the end of myself. At this point there are only two steps to take:

If you're frustrated at your inability to change, then your first step is to give up - to give up on yourself. Repent of your self-reliance and self-confidence. Your second step is to rejoice in God's grace: his grace to forgive and his grace to transform.
I had to despair of myself. I had to realise I was never going to get it right. I had to stop relying on my own programs for change. I also had to realise that there is a cure for despair: God's grace. God really does forgive me, and he really does promise to change me!

2. Proud self-justification

Excusing sin

I felt defeated by my sin. I felt overcome, helpless, despairing. I never dreamt I was excusing my sin. But that's exactly what I was doing:

When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me. We may, in fact, be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey.*
Minimizing sin

"True repentance grieves over sin; it never minimizes it." I'm not sure I minimized my over-spending - my heart was grieved by it (although perhaps not for the right reason, as we'll see). But these days, when my over-spending is more intermittent, I easily ignore it - and fall into old patterns of sin.

Hiding sin

"It is one thing to make a resolution; it is something completely different to repent, diligently seek counsel, and, in concert with others, develop a plan that is concrete and Christ-centred."* ... Are you confessing your sin to a trusted Christian? ... Have you told those, such as your spouse, who are affected by your sin?
I was always open about my sin, which won't surprise any readers of this blog! But I think my honesty was actually a way to keep others at arms' length (because if I accuse myself, you won't have to). My honesty wasn't really a way to seek help to develop a plan for change. I remember a friend saying, "Why don't you just get rid of your credit card?" I squirmed uncomfortably and ignored her advice. Which leads us to the next point ...

3. Hating the consequences of sin, but not the sin itself.

Often, we don't change because we don't really want to. ... We often want to change the consequences of sin, but not the sin itself. ... People ask me to help them sort out the mess of their lives, but they don't really want to change the behaviour that's creating the mess. ... We need to be violent with sin. If we hold back, it's almost certainly because we don't want to be violent towards something we still love.
Yes, that was me! I wanted to avoid the consequences of sin without having to avoid sin. Although in my case it was the consequences of sin - a very large credit card debt - that forced me to change. At this point, I would have done anything! I cut off the things I loved: I kept out of shops when possible, and bought nothing unnecessary for months, until spending was no longer a habit.

I still struggle with besetting sins (don't we all!). I'm still tempted to despair when I can't seem to change. But if God helped me overcome 10 years' addiction to spending, he can help me with anything. So I move forward with greater confidence, knowing - from personal experience! - that there is hope for change. I can look back on yesterday's failures knowing I'm forgiven, and I can step into today knowing that God is transforming me through his grace.

All quotes are from chapter 7 of Tim Chester's You Can Change; asterisked quotes are cited in this chapter, and are by Jerry Bridges and Ed Welch; emphases are mine.

images are from stock.xchng except for third image which is by baking_in_pearls from flickr

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