I used to wonder why it was so hard to change my behavior.
Somewhere I got this notion that because I knew Jesus–and knew about him–that everything about me I didn’t like would just sort of melt away and things would be so much easier. I wouldn’t have to struggle anymore. I would no longer doubt. And when that didn’t happen, when struggles still occurred, and doubt crept around every now and then to wind itself around me and winnow its way into my soul, it was like nothing made sense anymore. And I began to find reasons why God couldn’t be real. They were everywhere, it seemed.
While my faith may have been distant, and I allowed the white noise and madness of the world to drown out Jesus, I still had the awareness of my sin. And even when I was sometimes wracked with doubt or pain, and right in the midst of self-medicating, I wanted to change. I knew somewhere in me that I needed to. I didn’t want to be the person I saw myself becoming, because I knew in my heart the man God wanted me to be.
But it was just so hard to be him. I remember praying and praying for God to help me be better; a better Christian, friend, brother–you name it. And to help me stop falling into the same patterns of thought and behavior, time and time again. But it was like Paul said:
14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. (Rom 7: 14-17)
I knew my behavior was sinful (many behaviors, in many ways), but every attempt I made to change on my own met with abject failure, and it seemed temptation and opportunity were at every turn. Plus, it was easier to please myself than God.
So I did. And afterward I would feel terrible, and beseech God to help me never ever do it (whatever it was) again.
what’s going on inside of me
I despise my own behavior
this only serves to confirm my suspicion
that I’m still a man in need of a savior -DC Talk
But nothing changed, and any victory I won on my own was short-lived, at best. And I knew it would be. I would wonder why God would never change my behavior, no matter how earnestly I entreated Him. It wasn’t until the past year or so, after much healing, and much prayer, that I realized why:
God does not change behavior, he changes hearts. The transforming power of Christ works from the inside out, not the outside in.
Jeff talked about that last night at church, and again this morning. Changing from the inside out. It makes a lot more sense now than it did then.
I needed to change my heart. Or rather, I needed Jesus to change it from within. I needed Him to take away not the behavior that was drawing me away from Him, but to help me understand whatever was at the root of whichever base desire I felt the need to indulge at any cost. And to defeat that desire, and whatever lies the enemy would have me believe about myself and replace them with Truth.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
It was this realization that just…well, shattered me. I could apply it to so many parts of my life, so many struggles. Even now I think about it.
I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you.
So, it was possible to cast off the old man. It was possible for my self-made shackles to fall away like torn paper, and to rise from them free.
Struggling with lust, or pornography, or acting out sexually? Don’t just ask God to change your behavior, and take away desire. Ask him to change your heart, to reach into it and find that Love that transcends all other types of love, and all substitutes for it. There are so many people out there reaching out for something–for anything–that will make them feel whole. Because it’s so damn hard to go through life feeling like you were torn off from the one thing that meant you were real, and loved, and…seen.
It’s been my experience–and part of my struggle–that my own struggles with these things were simply that. A search for something to fill the void–the sucking chest wound–the perceived absence of love had created in my life.
I had to ask God to fill that dark vacuum with light. With Love. And it wasn’t until He did that I began–just began–to become the person He had in mind when He made me. Without that transformation, I would not exist as the person I am today, and my life would be…different. And likely not in a good way.
The funny thing is, there are so many things to fight–so many struggles. And no time to enjoy a victory before the next battle begins…
like my struggles with eating, or diet (which remain). Why is that so damn hard to change?
Maybe because, even though I know better, what I’ve been praying for is for God to change my behavior. To take away desire. To take away my tendency to do what I don’t want to do instead of what I do.
Not to find what is lacking in my heart that causes me to eat like a Roman at a banquet, and replace it with a desire for Him.
Not to find that part within me that causes me to want to please everyone and replace it with a desire to please Him.
Not to find that place within me I retreat to when it gets hard, and dark, and cold, and to speak truth to me there.
Not to find the real me, the ME God wants me to become within the person I am right now.
I want to be that person, and I want to do those things, and I want to struggle less with certain things, and I want to see God everywhere, because he IS everywhere. But to do that, I also need to to this:
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding; (Proverbs 3:4)
I need to trust in the Lord with all my heart.
I need to trust the Lord with all my heart, every part of it.
I need to be changed from the inside out.
And even though when I think about all the battles ahead, it almost makes me feel like it’s too much, and I can’t go on anymore, I remind myself there is hope.