Tuesday, November 9, 2010

how we change (13) a lifetime of change

What do you expect when you pick up a book like You Can Change? Two years ago, when I started reading, I hoped that certain sinful patterns would be broken.

I chose a "change project" I'd been avoiding for years: perfectionism. As I read and worked through the exercises, I thought about self-improvement and proving myself, changing from the heart, grace and legalism, false beliefs and idols, choices and obstacles to change, disciplines and accountability. By the end of the book I'd made some breakthroughs.

It's over a year later, and where am I at? Still fighting perfectionism, that's where! Like all temptations, it's powerful, and it hasn't lessened with time. I have a better understanding of why I struggle and how to fight. Best of all, I've learned to flee to the cross. But I haven't found victory. Every day, I take up my weapons and fight again.

Which is why the final chapter of You Can Change is a great way to finish the book. In it, Chester reminds us that, like a puppy at Christmas, change isn't for a day - it's for a lifetime. "It's a marathon, not a sprint." My sinful nature won't die until the day I die. Until then, every day, every moment, I'll be fighting. There are no days off in this war.

Once, when I found change this hard, I would have despaired. I would have tried a thousand sets of rules and resolutions, and despaired as I watched each one fail. I would have given up, because if I'm not going to change, then why bother? I needed a new motivation for change (grace, not proving myself); a new way to change (grace, not rules); and a new hope for change (grace, not willpower).

Which brings me to the other reason I love the last chapter of You Can Change. It doesn't just remind us that change takes a lifetime; it reminds us that we can change, for we have God's grace. There are two images of God's grace that stay with me from my time reading this book:

  • An image of God's grace surrounding and upholding me like an over-soft mattress (like our rather old mattress, in fact). I'll never forget the night I lay in bed and realised, more deeply than ever before, that I can't do anything to earn or change God's grace: I can only rest in it.
  • An image of a stone rolling downhill. Chester pointed out, back in chapter 3, that change is less like pushing a boulder uphill and more like a boulder rolling downhill. It's harder to stop change than to keep in step with how God is changing me! Change is irrevocable and inevitable, for God's purposes don't fail.
Change is slow, it's up-and-down, and sometimes I can't see it; but it's happening, because God's grace forgives and transforms me. I'll never stop sinning during this life. Every day, I fight for faith and repentance all over again. But God has given me everything I need to change. However often and terribly I fail, I needn't despair. I can change, because God is changing me.

We needn't and shouldn't despair...Sin is never the last word for the children of God. Grace is always the last word...There is hope for change. That hope is not in counsellors or methods or rules. That hope is a great and gracious Saviour who has broken the power of sin and placed his lifegiving Spirit in our hearts.

images are from stock.xchng


Deb L said...


Valori said...

Amen, Jean. You've probably heard this before (and it may even be in Chester's book), but I once heard David Powlison describe the change process as kind of like a yo-yo -- up and down -- but a yo-yo in the hand's of someone who is walking upstairs!