Dan Rowlinson - Pastor Disciples of Christ, California
If you have held to your New Year's Resolution, you are now finishing your third week of attempting to change. There is an old saying that if you can maintain a habit for 21 consecutive days it will become permanent. It's superstitious nonsense but let's keep a good thought.
By now, if you've been going on sheer will power, you are beginning to see some glaring weaknesses in your plan and some hidden strength in what you're trying to change. Hang on tight! The whiter the knuckles, the tighter the grip! Try to learn from your mistakes. For those of us who have tried and failed so many times we've lost count, we have come to understand that we need help.
Back in the days when America was a small number of scattered coastal settlements, an English poet named John Donne wrote something that is still remembered and quoted today, "No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." His sentiments echo something found in the early chapters of the book of Genesis in the Bible, "It is not good for man to be alone."
Any lasting change of significance will require the help of others because it will affect the lives of others. This need for "help" requires you to be humble. Humility has a great many advantages that we will explore for the next two weeks of our discussion about lasting change.
Humility allows us to seek the grace of God. Without the grace of God, there is no lasting effect. What we call "permanent" is usually something that will last long enough for us to forget about it. I remember a brand of tools that was "guaranteed forever," meaning that it would last until you misplaced it. I'm looking for change that will last as long as I do. In the Bible, Jesus asked a haunting question in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Many answer this question with the cheap, easy and temporary. Significant change is hard and costly, but with God's Grace, it can last forever! You will need God's Grace to accomplish anything of significance in your life. Man-made changes can last for a lifetime, perhaps even several, but they begin to lose their significance as the passage of time modifies the changes.
In the years surrounding the birth of the United States of America, there was great effort, great difficulty, and great pain as desired changes resulted in conflict and controversy. Eventually that society gathered the best of their generation to forge our Constitution, a document to define how they would govern themselves and guide them in the forming of a new nation. Their efforts rewarded them with a significant change of their lives that lasted for 72 years. I would note that the generation that struggled for this change, treasured it until the day they died. Their children did not see it with the importance of their fathers. The children struggled through a time of civil war to accomplish their own change.
Although we, as a nation, still operate under the same Constitution, I have serious doubts that any of its authors would imagine how it is understood today. Even the best of man-made changes cannot last much beyond the lifespans of a generation unless they are renewed by succeeding generations.
Another sentiment of John Donne's was "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." This idea was greatly embraced by my grandfather's generation, whose duty to society guided them through the deprivation of the 1930's, the global conflicts of the 1940's and the economic prosperity of the 1950's. Unfortunately, it has been rejected by my own generation as demonstrated by the protests of the 1960's the immorality of the 1970's and the greed of the 1980's. The changes of a generation belong to that generation and so are not lasting.
The grace of God brings an eternal permanence to our change that we cannot hope to achieve alone. While I will admit that even temporary changes can have a benefit for us, the effort and struggle involved in significant changes encourage me to find a way to make them last as long as possible. I don't want to go through this again! I want God involved in any significant change I undertake so that I have the strength needed to accomplish the task, the encouragement needed to stay on task, and the power to make it a lasting change. Humility allows me to recognize that my limitations can be enveloped by His Grace and I welcome the help!
You may be thinking, "Wow, Pastor Dan sure got preachy today! I just want to lose a little weight and get in shape!" If that's all you're after, you're not attempting anything of significance and don't expect it to last. In that case, an insignificant suggestion would be to eat less and exercise more. It's simple, ineffective, and not serious.
Significant change is serious; "lifestyle" changes are serious; there's nothing simple about them; and you want them to last forever. For significant change you will need God's help. If your resolution is to "drink less," try to limit your partying to one day each week. If your resolution is to finally gain freedom from an addiction to alcohol, you will want that freedom to last forever and you will need God's help to get that done.
Still unconvinced? Let me leave you with these questions: "How long can you enjoy your freedom once you have gained it?" and "What kind of freedom do you expect to enjoy ten thousand years from now?" I'm not sure I would consider a cold grave to be much improvement over a prison cell, would you? I want a freedom that will last. I want the significant changes I make to last!