In the physical sense, we could come up with the answers rather easily. Recently someone who had not been to Providence for several years told me that I could not be the pastor who was here before. That pastor, they said, had dark hair rather than the white hair they saw on my head! I was glad they did not go on to mention that he was much slimmer as well!
Most of us can point out ways that we have changed in outward appearance, but what can you say has changed about things not easily seen? Are you different spiritually than you were three or four years ago? Have you made any progress with the personality traits that you have wished you did not have? What unhealthy attitudes have been abandoned and which new ones have been cultivated?
If we as believers aspire to grow to maturity in Christ, as we certainly should, we must be aware that such growth requires change. Change usually does not meet with an enthusiastic response for most of us. Therefore, if we expect to be different in the days ahead, we need to recognize some factors necessary to overcome our natural resistance to change.
Few of us are honestly satisfied with the way we are and so we need to know what it takes to make a difference in our character, in our behavior, in our lifestyles, or in any other area where change is necessary for us to become what Christ would have us be. As obvious as these things may be, permit me to mention four things every growing believer must have.
1. A Desire to Grow and Mature in Christ. Without a desire to grow, failure to do so is virtually guaranteed. How often do you find that you have not even considered your rate of growth in Christ for months, even years at a time? If it is not on your mind and heart, if no internal motivation compels you forward, you will be stalemated and your lack of progress cannot be disguised.
Only a genuine passion to be conformed to the character of Jesus Christ will result in the kind of impetus necessary to press on in spiritual growth. Whether we express it like the psalmist (who longs for the Lord like a deer panting for water) or Paul (who was willing to forsake all else that he might gain Christ), next year or the year after will make no difference in our lives relative to personal maturity in Him until we have a desire to be like Jesus.
2. A Willingness to Discover, Admit and Yield My Weaknesses. If changing means that all I have to do is enhance what is already strong, I can live with that. But when I realize that the Lord wants to delve into my weaknesses, I struggle with whether I really want to be different than I am. After all, coming to grips with the ways I have failed forces me to face matters I would prefer to avoid.
Therefore, if I am willing to get at the weak areas of my life, I have to agree to do two things. First, I have to develop the habit of asking questions about myself. I need to learn how to ask and answer those questions of myself. Then I have to branch out to ask others to assist me in identifying my weaknesses, my blindspots, which are hidden from me but readily apparent to others.
Second, I have to take a different approach to the Scriptures by looking at them as a source for the Lord to reveal His Son to me, and as a place where He reveals to me what His Son sees in me. In other words, I must apply the Scriptures in such a way that I see how far away I am from the Father’s design for my life.
3. A Commitment to Change. Once I have seen what the Lord wants me to see, I have to choose between remaining as I am, or allowing Him to change me into what He wants me to be. Here is the watershed for most believers. Discovering our weaknesses, or acknowledging that the Lord wants us to be different in many ways, does nothing unless followed by a commitment to do something about the problem. In the book of James, we are exhorted not to be like one who looks in the mirror, sees what is amiss and then chooses to go away without doing anything about what he saw. Those who long to grow in Christ must be committed to be different after He shows us what He wants to do and how He wants us to change and become more like Him.
That commitment to change needs to have both practical steps and regular means of measuring our progress. Are we more like Christ today than yesterday? The answer is difficult to know. But if we set out some practical, measurable steps by which we can see the milestones as we go by, then we can rejoice and give thanks that Christ is producing in us His wonderful character. Some progress you can monitor yourself (Did I have time to read the Bible and pray today? Was I kind to my enemy today? Am I still talking too much about others…or perhaps too much about myself?) Other progress will need the evaluative insights of honest, close friends. Assess where you are and determine that by the grace of Jesus Christ you will refuse to remain the same. You are committed to grow, to change, to be different as you become more Christ-like.
4. A Perpetual Process. The process never ends this side of heaven. We could be easily discouraged were it not for His promise to continue the work until it is complete. The old saying goes, “Yard by yard, life is hard; but inch by inch, life’s a cinch!” Little by little, day by day, the Lord wants to transform us. What a wonderful and perpetual goal it is for us to anticipate the hand of the Master shaping us and molding us to make us worthy of His presence!
What three things do you think the Lord would like to change in you today? Why not begin right now to seek the answer to that question and then allow Him to do whatever it takes to make you different for His glory?