Let’s face it, change is difficult, even when we know we need to change, because it asks us to alter our habits. We are wired to resist change. We are wired to survive, and doing new things brings uncertainty and uncertainty is never a good feeling. As Rob Ketterling, in his book, Change Before You Have To points out, “A known bondage is more comfortable than an unknown freedom. The longer we avoid change, the more comfortable we grow with struggles.”
We have a persistent desire to travel along old, familiar and successful paths of the past. They are well-worn paths of behavior.
We have a tendency to drive in ruts and our brains have a tendency to think and behave in ruts. Just change your route to work or change a piece of furniture in your house and try and walk around in the dark. Stewart Black calls these powerful mental maps that tell us how to act and make choices (Leading Strategic Change: Breaking Through the Brain Barrier).
Rob Ketterling remembers his doctor telling him was how difficult it is for people to change even when they are suffering from the effects of what they need to change. “For example, my doctor told me that he would take smokers around the hospital and show them the horrible things that might happen to them if they continued to smoke. The experience would be an eye opening one, for sure. But the doctor admitted that it rarely created true, lasting change.” (16)
But change is possible. As the Apostle Paul writes, If the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead, dwells in us, he will quicken our mortal bodies as well. We can be new creations in Christ. We can live differently and experience His abundance here as well as having hope for eternity.
You see, God wants us to live in health: spiritually, physically, relationally and yes, financially, but in order to do that, some of us need to make serious lifestyle choices that involve change.
This is our basic premise: God has in incredible plan for our lives, and in order to experience it, we are going to have to make significant changes. We have to stop doing some things that are hindering our progress and start doing the things that lead to the incredible future God has for us.
There is a path that people who change will follow. It is helpful for us to be aware of that path as it gives us insight into some of the challenges we face in our quest for change.
1. Recognize the need for change.
We read in the Hebrew Scriptures that one of the Kings of Judah was Josiah. He was eight years old when he became king. Under his leadership, the nation experienced one of the greatest spiritual reforms in history. He recognized that the nation had fallen into great apostasy and he systematically cleansed the land of idolatry and restored the worship of the one true God – Jehovah.
In the same way, we need a holy discontentment. We have to let go of our position of pride and take a posture of humility and the willingness to acknowledge that the path we are currently on will not lead us to a better life. Pride does not have a happy ending.
2. Define reality.
We must do the base-line assessments in order to make adjustments. To do this we need to get a check up physically, take our spiritual temperature, review our relationships, and look at our budget. We can’t go to where we want to go if we don’t know where we are now. This is quite often the most difficult part of leadership because it forces us to look not only to the long term future, but set purposeful next steps. We did this as we looked at our present situation in kid’s ministry. We have wonderful volunteers, but we were limited in our capacity. If we were going to make the difference we believe God wants us to make, we had to step it up in this area. Defining that reality helped us make the choice to hire a children’s pastor.
3. See a different future.
We have to see it before we see it. I had the opportunity to visit a church I pastored in West Virginia years ago. When I arrived that morning, I drove to the place on top of a hill where I envisioned the future over twenty years ago. I saw the buildings, the ball fields, and the parking lots long before they became a reality. I saw how God would use this property to make a difference in the community.
When we see a different future, we will have new hope, new and fresh ideas, new attitudes, new relationships, new convictions and we will create new environments and experience new adventures.
I am always reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when talking about seeing a different future. It was his dream for equality that drove him to leading the change that we celebrate today.
Ketterling said, “Change occurs at the intersection of hope and opportunity”
4. Believe that change is possible.
We have to believe that in Christ all things are possible. This is not self-help but Holy Spirit empowered. We have to believe that God has a great plan in store for us. Let’s camp at a letter written thousands of years ago to a nation that was living in captivity. It is a promise written by “the weeping prophet.” This is the message from God:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." (Jeremiah 29:1-14)
This is an incredible promise, and they were instructed to live their lives based on the promise and God is saying to you the same thing: “I have a plan for you. Stop listening to the enemy in your head, the voices of discouragement and lies. There is hope for your future. Keep seeking me. It’s going to take a while, but I am in control.” We may have been waiting forever for something to happen but God knows the future.
We have a belief system that assumes a particular outcome. It is made up of experience, culture and what we have been taught. Stewart Black gives us insight into this. We don’t try new things because we believe we will be bad at it. That’s why we have a hard time believing we can learn a new language, or build new relationships, or witness to our neighbor, or play an instrument, or speak in public. We see ourselves as making a fool of ourselves. A salesman might not sell a new product because he might be asked a question he can’t answer. For some, it is not changing the amount of time they spend with our kids because we imagine a negative outcome.
Which leads us to the next step in our path to change.
5. Replace the lies with truth
Sola scriptura" is a phrase from the Latin: sola having the idea of “alone,” “ground,” “base,” and the word scriptura meaning “writings”—referring to the Scriptures. Sola scriptura means that Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian. The Bible is complete, authoritative, and true. Sola scriptura was the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church had made its traditions superior in authority to the Bible. This resulted in many practices that were in fact contradictory to the Bible. Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran Church and father of the Protestant Reformation, was publicly rebuking the Catholic Church for its unbiblical teachings. The Catholic Church threatened Martin Luther with excommunication (and death) if he did not recant. Martin Luther's reply was, “Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me! Amen!”
The lie was that we can only have a relationship with God through a relationship with the Catholic Church. The truth is that salvation is found in Christ alone.
We also have internal lies that keep us from change and what we tell ourselves is critical. We are consumed with our own past, which will either trap us, or it will propel us forward. We tell ourselves we can’t change. We will never be smart enough, never get out of debt, never repair our marriage, get that promotion, lose those extra pounds, not good enough, or disciplined, etc. But that is not the truth. The truth is that if God is for us, no one can be against us.
6. Map out the change.
Stewart Blake tells the story of a time when auto executives went to Japan to see one of their manufacturing plants. They noticed that the workers did not take a hammer and tap around the edges of the doors to make sure they fit properly. When asked about it, the Japanese responded, “We make sure it fits when we design it.” They engineered the outcome before they started.
It is certain that things will not go specifically as we planned, but a failure to plan the next step is a failure to believe in the vision. God may give you a picture of the future, but he rarely supplies the blueprints – except if you are building a tabernacle.
7. Confront the challenges head on.
We will have internal challenges such as pride and insecurity, which in my opinion are closely related dysfunctional cousins. We also have the external voices that resist us. Not everyone will jump on your bandwagon of change. Some people like the old you. Our friend King Josiah was met with a whole nation that wasn’t happy about the spiritual reforms.
When Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five thesis to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church condemning the selling of indulgences and calling into question the popes authority, he lost most of his friends.
He was declared to be a heretic and an outlaw. His literature was to be banned, and he was to be arrested. It also became a crime for anyone within the empire to give Luther safe haven. Further, the assembly sanctioned the death of Martin Luther with no legal consequences under the law. It was in exile that Martin Luther was able to translate the New Testament into German.
Most of us will not be called to go up against the Pope, but we will all face resistance, challenges and setbacks. The path will not always be smooth. There is never the perfect time and there are never enough resources. All the pieces will not be in place. Just remember who you are serving and keep moving.
8. Align your actions with your beliefs.
I can hear Bishop T.D. Jakes preaching now, “Get Ready. Get Ready. Get Ready!” I actually never heard him say it, but I can imagine it. I’m not talking about getting hyped up, I’m talking about actually preparing yourself. If you are going to continue your education, you should learn how to type, or speed read, or study. If you are going to be a missionary, you will have to learn the language of the country you are going to. Take a course so when you arrive at the place of change, you will be equipped to live there. For this, you have to create space in your calendar in order to learn.
9. Engage with some and disengage with others.
Most business books talk about getting the right people on the bus and getting other off the bus. The idea is that we need the right people on our team in order to accomplish what we are trying to achieve. Nehemiah might have built the Jerusalem wall in fifty-two days, but he did not do it alone. He engaged others for resources, encouragement and support.
At the same time, we have to regrettably disengage with others. We don’t have to be obnoxious about it, but there are some people that will keep you from moving forward. They are ones that breed discouragement or distraction or disunity. My caution, beware of the one who brings you gossip, at some point, you will be the target of their gossip.
10. Be accountable.
I hate to floss, but makes me do it is I know that every six months I sit in a dentist chair and the hygienist will ask one question, “Are you flossing?” This is before she looks in my mouth. I know this is silly, but I don’t want to disappoint her and I don’t even have the same one every time, and as soon as the dentist walks in, she says, “Mr. Edwards is taking care of his teeth and flosses.” I want the lollypop now. Knowing that we are with someone on the journey that will ask us from time to time how things are going is so important in our lives. Whatever change we are making, we have a greater chance of success when we tell someone that we will see again.
10. Stick with it.
Be persistent. When you are making a change of behavior, you have to be determined and relentless. For one a season of my life I was a church planting director for our network of 320 churches called The Potomac District. I’ll never forget when an eighty year old man, named Claude Qualls, whom we called “Pappa Qualls” showed up in my office saying he wanted to plant another church. He was not ready to quit. Unfortunately, his health could not sustain his passion and he passed away shortly thereafter, but he was not going to quit. He was determined to see a church in a community that had no church.
Far too many of us give up before we get a chance to see the fulfillment of what God is asking us to do.
12. Monitor the change and make adjustments.
A wonderful book on change is Who Moved My Cheese? by Spenser Johnson This is a simple parable that reveals profound truths about change. It is an amusing and enlightening story of four characters who live in a maze and look for cheese to nourish them and make them happy. Two are mice named Sniff and Scurry. And two are “little people” – beings the size of mice who look and act a lot like people. Their names are Hem and Haw. Cheese is a metaphor for what you want to have in life – whether it is a good job, a loving relationship, money, a possession, health, or spiritual peace of mind. The maze is where you look for what you want – the organization you work in, or the family or community you live in.
In the story, the characters are faced with unexpected change. Eventually, one of them deals with it successfully, and writes what he has learned from his experience on the maze walls. The third handwriting on the wall is “monitor the change.” He writes, “smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.” While we are going through change, we have to continually ask if what we are doing is actually working.
Sometimes this is a painful process because you made a decision you thought would work, but you find it was not a good fit, but the quicker we can change the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.
This leads us to the next stage:
13. Celebrate the change to make it stick.
We have to savor the new adventure and enjoy the journey. King Josiah sealed the spiritual reforms by reinstituting the Passover which hadn’t been celebrated as a country nearly 400 years. It was to remind them of what God had done in their lives and it sealed their commitment.
For the Christian church, we celebrate communion. It reminds us that God loves us so much that he sent his son to die on a cross and rise from the dead so that we can experience abundant life now and eternal life with God.
As we wrap this up, here are a few questions to reflect on:
- What are the things God is asking you to change?
- What change do you see and what is the benefit of that change?
- What has delayed you in making a change in your life?
- Who are the people you need around you in order to make that change?
A great prayer for us is called the serenity prayer: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.