How to Experience Lasting Change
Most people I know would like to change something about themselves. When I was a young pastor, I learned this full well. I found that the richest people I knew (most of whom were self-made millionaires), the most beautiful people I knew (male and female models and beauty queens), and the most creative and accomplished (skilled artist, artisans, scientists and inventors) all had insecurities about personal characteristics that they would change if they could. One of the most creative people among them said he had a difficult time sustaining conversation. One of our state’s beauty pageant queens said she was always self-conscious about her feet, that they were too big. One of the richest people I know said he would love to get better sleep but nothing has helped his insomnia from a young age. One scientist I knew said he never has been satisfied with anything he has ever done. And, the list could go on. In fact, I could add some things about myself that I would alter if I were recreating me.
No matter how accomplished, disciplined or successful we are, we seem to think something about us could be better or more satisfying. That drive makes us human. Between the part of human nature (our fallenness) that makes success and satisfaction hard and our inability to understand the role that frailty plays in our success and understanding the difference between them, complete progress seems to allude most people. The mechanisms we have within us do not seem adequate to the task.
So, how do we experience lasting change and how long can it last? Perhaps the second part of the question is the most important. If I were able to make substantial change on my own, how long would it remain effective? As long as I maintain my physical health? Mental health? Have resources to support it? Have the relational and emotional support to maintain it? Have the will to continue in it? As long as I live in this body? Those are all qualifiers and most of them apply to most change that we can muster. Lasting change is an oxymoron of sorts.
The seed of lasting change cannot come from within, despite what self-help teachers proclaim or lifestyle gurus promise. We are only as strong and capable as the weakest and most susceptible part of us: mental, emotional, physical, etc. Our mortality punctuates whatever change we might enact. Put another way, whatever change we put in place ends when we end. So, it typically works from the most temporary and immediate (my will to change) to the ingrained habit (maintenance of change) which makes it longer lasting and more durable (fruitful living). We enact change by starting now and maintaining it or increasing it over the long haul. And then we are finished; the change ends.
Real lasting change works the other way. It starts by making an eternal change and works backward to the present. However, we cannot enact that by ourselves. It must start with God. When it does, the change actually works backward from eternity to the “now.” Lasting change ironically starts by acknowledging our inability to initiate, complete or even conceive lasting change by ourselves. Lasting change starts with surrender. It follows then with a life of faith in the one who embeds the change in our actual life.
Surrender is very different than independent self-reliance. In some ways, surrender is much easier than self-reliance. It signals an end of effort that has produced nothing or has at least been unsatisfactory. In other ways, surrender is much more difficult than self-reliance. Every fiber of our being is trained to never give up. But, the right kind of surrender is not giving up at all, but getting started the right way.
That kind of surrender is at the heart of the good news Jesus talked about, died and was raised for. The Bible speaks of dying to self and yet living more powerfully beyond dying- both in the here and now and the evermore. Ironically, lasting change starts by getting things settled forever and then allowing the power that created forever to change the now.
Faith in God and surrender to him leads us to desire to do His will. And, just as he has the power to save us for eternity he has the power to enable us to live according to His will which in the long run is the change that is transforming, lasting and, in fact, permanent. That is lasting change.