My wife had her hands over her face, tears streaking down the sides of her cheeks. She was sobbing. "You have to file for divorce and move on with your life." The counselor told her. "Think about your children. At this point in his life, he will never change. I've seen this scenario hundreds of times and they never change. If you take him back, it will all be the same" That was 15 years ago...
I stared at the guy as he sat looking down at the ground shaking his head. After an uncomfortably long silence he finally looked up "I know I need to change these destructive habits, but it's too hard!" He yelled at me. "I don't even want to pray about it because God may give me opportunities and I don't want to deal with this!"
How do people change their lives? How do you move from desperation to happiness? How do we get unstuck and move forward?
For the past 10 years, I have written, spoken at conferences and events, and talked with people about helping them change areas of their lives. I'd develop compelling speeches filled with logic, research, and facts. I'd use personal stories filled with good and bad teaching points that resonated with my audience. I would motivate and guide people, showing them that change was the path to greater happiness, a better marriage or raising confident children. People would get excited, they'd shake their heads in agreement. They would laugh and sometimes even cry. They would walk away saying "Yes, I can do this!"
But within a week, they'd be back to their same routine and doing the very things they swore they wouldn't do.
I can look back over the past 10 years and think how foolish I have been. How many hours I have wasted and how much of my life I've spent trying to motivate people to change. I'm foolish because I thought that somehow, I could change people. I could turn on the lights for someone in the audience.
But ultimately, neither you nor I can change people. Only God and that person can change themselves.
We make resolutions. We make promises. We buy a gym membership. We walk in front of a church, pray and give our hearts to Christ but then our lifestyle bears little fruit or difference from those who call themselves "not religious."
I've seen friends come to church every Sunday and attend a small group each week for years. They've been walking with Christ for some time but after a lot of prayer and multiple tries, they remain unchanged from some of their destructive habits. We all have something, something we keep locked up deep inside. Something we are unwilling to fully surrender.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2 ESV
The world, the media, the internet, late night infomercials and even friends will all try to sell you ways to change. Work. Willpower. Discipline. Ignoring. Distractions. Denial.
The reality is that we need God to change us, and we need a Savior. If we didn’t need a Savior, God would have just given us some self-help books or the latest gadget.
I have run into people like my friend above who just don't want to change even though they know they need to. I've also run into people who are motivated to change but don't know what steps to take. Lastly, the most challenging are people who are self-righteous and don't even know they need to change or they are unmotivated to even try. We all have something we want to change about ourselves and you may think you can’t change on your own. Well, you’re right! You can’t. That's why self-help is an oxymoron. If you could change yourself, you would have already.
15 years ago, my wife was on the verge of divorce from me. I was selfish, I was manipulative and I was emotionally abusive. I thought my needs and personal happiness were the most important (and only) thing in the world. Everyone told my wife to file the divorce paperwork and be done with it. But my wife did something else, she prayed... and prayed... and prayed some more... and had other people pray for me too.
Meanwhile, I hit rock bottom. I lost my family, my job, my car, and almost my apartment. I even almost went to jail and ruined my whole life permanently.
But one night I found a Bible that I had received as a boy and I read it for the first time in years. It was at that point that I realized that I was responsible for all my pain, my problems and my situation. I caused it all and I was holding on to my pride and ego because I did not want to admit my fault and personal responsibility in my mess. That night, I prayed and literally cried out to God that I knew deserved all this mess I had gotten myself into, it was all my own doing and fault. I accepted full responsibility for my situation, my decisions and my actions. I told God that if he would somehow get me through this mess, I would make it up to Him and everyone else I hurt along the way.
Did my whole life change overnight? In some ways it did but other ways took years. But I did get my wife and family back. I got my life together and to this day, I am still working to keep my promise to God.
How do we change ourselves and others?
- Repent for any part we had in the situation or problem.
- Surrender it all to God.
- Ask for forgiveness from God and others.
- Pray for God's will (not ours) to be done.
- Read the Bible everyday for guidance.
- Find someone you can be honest with and who will hold you accountable.
- Take personal responsibility for every decision, word you say and action you make.
- Stop any habits that tempt you from changing.
- Start show grace and give forgiveness to others, regardless of merit.
- When the change comes, give God the glory not yourself.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV