Well, it’s Monday morning, and as I look back over my weekend, I have to say that it wasn’t a great one. I spent most of it feeling down and unhappy about an ongoing trial in my life that just won’t quit. Several times I have thought that I was “over” this particular heartache, but God keeps sending circumstances that rip off the scab, and I experience the pain all over again.
My initial response is often sadness and self-pity. I really want a permanent solution, and I am so weary of this suffering. But, as of today, God has not seen fit to provide it.
One thing He has provided, however is a strong desire in my heart to be rid of this sinful pattern of response to trials. I know that this desire to change can come only from the Lord, because I have been very comfortable in my pattern of response for most of my life. If I’m honest, I have to confess that I like the sympathy I get from expressing to my family and friends all the grief and pain I am suffering. An added bonus is that little is expected of me when I am in this state, and the reduced expectations of others provides a break for me from my responsibilities. This is sinful, and it has to stop. It doesn’t glorify God, it doesn’t edify the body, and it certainly does not help me to grow and become more like Christ. I must change. If you see yourself here in my story, perhaps you’d like to come along with me to study what the Bible has to say about this.
How do you change a behavior that has been a lifelong pattern? You know that a particular response to circumstances is sinful, and you know that this behavior is not glorifying to God. It damages your relationships and leaves the people you love at a loss for how to help you. God’s Word offers us the answer to this question:
…Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him…But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:17; 20-24, NLT).
If you and I are indulging sinful thoughts about our trials, giving in to self-pity and despair, we are living as the Gentiles do. I don’t know about you, but when I give in to this unbiblical thinking, I am hopelessly confused, and my mind is full of darkness. I have chosen to take the path of despair, and in doing so I have wandered from the life God gives into a life of my own making. Why would I make such an obviously foolish choice? Because I have closed my mind and hardened my heart against Him. Ultimately, I know that my trial is from the Lord, and because I don’t like it, I am angry. I don’t understand why He has ordained this suffering for me. It seems unfair and harsh.
But wait! That is not what I learned about Christ! I have heard about Jesus and I have learned the truth that comes from Him. I know that He is good, kind, loving and merciful. I know that He gave His life to save me from my sin—the very sin I am committing right now in accusing Him of doing wrong against me! I must put off these evil thoughts. I know that the Lord is good, and He desires to make me more like Him. I was created for His glory (Isaiah 43:7). Am I glorifying God right now with my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors? If I truly desire His glory, I must change. But how?
The next section of our passage tells us how: We must throw off our former way of life and our sinful nature. They are corrupted by lust and deception. We must confess to the Lord that we have lusted for our own way. We have desired to have what we want when we want it. When we don’t get it, we think we are entitled to feel sorry for ourselves, and to get others involved in feeling sorry for us, too. This is lust. My lexicon defines lust like this: “Desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden.” As believers, we are forbidden to indulge self-pity, and commanded to deny ourselves (Matt 16:24-25). We have deceived ourselves into thinking that we are entitled to our own way; to the comfortable life we desire. This is a lie. God has not promised us an easy life, or even a happy one. What He has promised is that He can be glorified through us. But we must desire His glory more than our comfort. This requires heart change.
Heart change is an act of the Holy Spirit, according to our passage. We must let the Spirit renew our minds. We do this simply by asking the Lord, in an attitude of repentance, to change our hearts. Psalm 51 is the perfect passage for us to meditate on as we ask the Lord for this heart change. This is a Psalm of repentance. As we read it, we can repent to the Lord of our specific sins: Self-pity, despair, doubt, anger. All of these have led us to our need for heart change. Central to this passage is verse 10: Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Our God is faithful, and He will do it. He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
As you begin to renew your mind, there are several passages of scripture that I have found helpful. First Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us to rejoice, pray and give thanks, because this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. We may not like our circumstance, but it is what God has ordained for us right now. Our trial is uniquely suited to our sanctification. This verse reminds us of God’s desire for us to be more like Him, so we can be thankful for His plan.
James 1:2-4 is another encouragement to be joyful in trials, knowing that they will bring about the qualities that God desires, making us useful to Him. Another passage that gives me great hope is James 4:7. Here we are commanded to submit to God. (This is not a suggestion!) Resist the devil and he will flee from you. The devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) but we don’t have to run from him. As we submit to God, the enemy will run from us! Our loving God will enable us to resist Satan’s attempts to draw us away from our goal. As we draw near to our Savior, He will draw near to us.
Lifelong habits of sinful responses are stubborn and require hard work, prayer, and much time in the Word. But when the Lord places a desire in your heart for change, nothing can stop you! Habits are born of practice, and new habits even more so. As you put off those old responses, become renewed in your mind, and begin to put on godly ones, you will see a new pattern forming: A pattern of change. It may not happen overnight, and you may still sometimes fall back into sinful responses, as I did this weekend. But with the Lord’s help, you and I will begin to see the change that God has in store for us when we trust in Him and obey His commands.