Do you like change? Even those who are the most habit-driven and change averse people would welcome certain changes. There are persistent habits we all desire to see changed in our lives, relationships we would love to have restored, and situations we wish were different.
One of the easiest yardsticks to measure change is our New Year’s resolutions. Even in October there is no better way to gauge what changes our society values than considering what New Year’s resolutions we commit ourselves to. One site on the internet did an informal survey and found that the following were the top ten resolutions made:
8. Quit Smoking
5. Get Fit
3. Save Money
2. Manage Debt
1. Lose Weight
I imagine this list covers a lot of the types of things we would like to see changed in our lives. Maybe we could add to that list some spiritual changes: perhaps reading the Bible daily, praying regularly, tithing, volunteering in your church.
As 2010 was ushered in, one friend’s Facebook status summed up the feelings of many: “My New Year’s resolutions for 2010 are going to look a lot like 2009’s.”
One research study showed that while 52% of participants in a resolution study were confident of success with their goals, only 12% actually achieved their goals.[ii] 12%! Yikes. That’s worse than our current and former Presidents’ approval ratings. Worse than Shaq’s free throw percentage. Worse than my beloved Royals’s chance at winning another World Series before I die (alright, alright, you get the point!). An 88% failure rate can be rather de-motivating, there’s no two ways about it.
Do we have a 12% chance to change? It sure feels like that a lot of the time. I’ve spoken with many for whom their High School or college days still remain those golden days of faith that they feel like they will never be able to return to. They feel as though the daily, monthly, and yearly changes that have come about in their lives over decades have slowly pulled them further and further from God and the kind of life they wish they were living.
There’s a grain of truth to our pessimism: this side of heaven we will not experience the full sanctifying work of Christ. And yet, Paul promises this in the first letter to the Corinthians: “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” Praise God that kind of change waits for us in the presence of God.
But don’t believe the world’s lie that change is impossible this side of heaven, that we are who we are and that’s that. The kingdom of God is populated with former alcoholics, liars, sexual deviants, misers, swindlers, and cheaters. Just read the gospels. There’s Matthew and Zacchaeus, there’s Mary Magdalene and Peter. Read Paul’s story in Acts. These were the world’s greedy, corrupt, devil-filled, sexually perverse, and murderous. These were also the first proclaimers of the gospel of hope and power.
So what makes change possible? What’s the magic pill? We all know it’s not the turning of a new year, we all know it’s not the mere desire to change (although that’s a good start). There is no magic pill, but there is a power for whom the world cannot account: the Holy Spirit indwelling the heart, giving new affections and new will to a person contrite in spirit and ready for the Spirit.
Change happens, but only when the winds of change are blowing and breathed out by the Spirit. And when these winds blow, one can scarcely believe the changes that will follow. Let’s pray that those winds would blow in our hearts, in our churches, and in our country.