When Change Seems Impossible – Part 2

phil-1-6If you are waiting on heart change to take place in yourself or another believer, the wait can be long and tiring.  You will be tempted to become discouraged and angry, pull away, grow cold, numb, lose hope, and walk away.  As we talked about in part 1, heart change is messy business, especially when there is habituated sin involved.  But God is in the business of heart change, so we can rest assured that positive change can and will eventually take place in the life of one who belongs to God.  It might not come today, it might not come tomorrow.  It might take years, and even a lifetime.  So, what are we to do while we wait?

Here are some encouraging words from Scripture to read, meditate on, pray through, and act upon as we wait for the change that only God can bring:

  1.  Trust.  Be confident of this: “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” -Phil. 1:6.  This is a verse that I share regularly with women who are waiting for change to happen.  I ask them, “Who is it that began the work and Who is it that will carry it on to completion?”  Knowledge and understanding of this is key in the change process.  No, this does not mean that the person needing change is a passive bystander waiting for God to act. Change does require human repentance, and an act of the will to change thinking patterns, habits, and turn from sin.  According to this verse, though,  God IS already acting (carrying it on to completion) on behalf of the believer, and we can be assured that He will keep His promise.  So, the deeper questions to examine are, “Do you believe God is trustworthy to do this work?” “Do you believe He is capable of bringing about change even in the most impossible of situations?” “Do you trust Him completely to bring about change in His way and in His timing?” “Do you believe He is good?” “Do you believe all He does is right?” “Do you trust in His sovereign control over all things, including the messy work of heart change within a person?”  “Where are you struggling with unbelief?”  If you find that you are having a hard time trusting God with the change process, pray right now for God to help you in this area.
  2. Love.   “Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:7-8  It can be hard to love while we’re waiting on change.  Instead of bearing with the failings and weaknesses of the sinner, we can become judgmental, angry, frustrated, and bitter.  Instead of believing that God is at work, we may write the person off as a lost cause.  Instead of hoping for the best, we may become cynical and give in to despair.  Instead of enduring all of the pain, hardship, and suffering that comes with waiting (excluding situations where physical abuse is involved), we might find ourselves creating distance, pulling away, and giving up on the person whose change is not coming fast enough for us.  What do we do when we struggle to love as we wait?  We remember the Gospel.  We reflect upon the awesome love that God showered us with while we were still steeped in our sin – a love that reconciled us to Himself through the precious blood of Christ shed on our behalf.  What kind of love is that?  Let’s let this Graham Kendrick song put it into words for us…My Lord, what love is this
    That pays so dearly
    That I, the guilty one
    May go free!

    Amazing love, O what sacrifice
    The Son of God given for me
    My debt He pays, and my death He dies
    That I might live!                                                                                                                            Jesus commands us, in John 13:34 to “love one another as I have loved you.”  So, as you wait, ask yourself, “Am I loving as Jesus loves me?”

  3. Forgive. “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?” – Matthew 18:33  Forgiveness and love go hand in hand while we wait.  As we learn to love as Jesus loves us, we also need to stand in the same attitude of forgiveness that Jesus stood in towards us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).  When we realize how much sin we have been and will continue to be forgiven of by God, we need to extend that same forgiveness while we wait.  Rick Thomas calls this “pre-forgiveness”.   He says, “This idea called pre-forgiveness is a word I manufactured as a way of communicating the heart of Joseph before his brothers came to him to ask forgiveness. This was also the spirit of Christ before you came asking for His forgiveness. Being ready and willing to forgive the sinner is essential if you want to reconcile.If you have not done the preparatory work in your heart to forgive someone, when they do ask for forgiveness you will have a hard time forgiving them.”  Ask yourself, “Am I ready and willing to forgive?”
  4. Bear with. “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1  Believer, we’ve been given a great and wonderful responsibility here.  We, who have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us have a duty to come alongside our brothers and sisters, in an attitude of tenderness and sweetness to help in the process of change, bearing with them the weight of their difficulties and aiding them in their distress.  Our tendency is to want to punish and treat the offender as an enemy, but this is not the way it should be for believers.  Every one of us will be in the same position, at some point, in desperate need of change and correction.  Even on our best days, we’re still in desperate need of change.  What better place is there to display our imperfections and brokenness than in the church where we can bear with one another as we struggle with sin and suffering?  Ask yourself: “How am I helping bear the weight of  sin, discomfort, and hardship during this waiting period?”  “In what ways can I be a helper and encourager?”  “What can I do to help restore the person?”
  5. Pray. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” – James 5:16  This should probably be number one, but I have it here because I think that if you are solidly pursuing the things above, then your heart will truly be in a position that desires to pray for the person you are waiting on to change.  What a privilege we have to intercede on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ as we are waiting upon God to bring heart change!  “God’s friendship to us and ours to others go hand in hand”, says Andrew Murray.  “It is when we draw near to God as the friend of the poor and the perishing that we may count on His friendliness; the righteous man who is the friend of the poor is very specially the friend of God.  This gives wonderful liberty in prayer.  Lord!  I have a needy friend whom I must help.  As a friend I have undertaken to help him.  In Thee I have a Friend whose kindness and riches I know to be infinite; I am sure Thou wilt give me what I ask.  If I, being evil, am ready to do for my friend what I can, how much more wilt Thou, O my heavenly Friend, now do for [my] friend?” (Murray)  Ask yourself: Am I helping my needy friend by taking to prayer for her, believing that God is willing to act? “What is the aim of my petition?” (Murray)  Is it merely for my own comfort and joy, or is it that God be glorified, that my friend be restored, that I grow in love, trust, patience, and endurance as I wait?
  6. Confront Self. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5  When waiting on another person to change, we can get so focused in on and consumed by their sinful behavior that we fail to see how we may have become an offender, ourselves.  Our failure to love, forgive, pray for, and bear with the other person demonstrates that our relationship has experienced another sin; now we, too, need heart change. We need to take a good, hard look at the ways we may have become an offender.  Have we been judgmental, harsh, gossiping, angry,  and punishing?  Perhaps we’ve been ignoring the other person, or denying there’s a problem?  Have we been blaming the other person for the way we are behaving?  We need to take responsibility for our own part in conflicts and work to repair any harm that we may have caused.  David Powlison says, “Only if you face up to your sin and your resistance to God can you see clearly and act gently, helping others to face up to themselves as well.”  Take some time, now, to create a “log list”  and identify possible faults of your own that you have been blind to.  This always helps establish a proper heart attitude before approaching another brother, the next step.
  7. Speak truth. “…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15  There will be times that we must confront error.  Biblical love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).  Being willing to confront error and sin is the most loving thing we can do for another brother or sister in Christ.  But, the goal truly must be restoration.   Confrontation is hard.  It makes us uncomfortable, but if we’re going to steward our responsibility of loving another believer well, then we must be willing to do the hard work of speaking the truth in love.  Ask yourself:  “Is there something that I need to speak up about?”  “How is my reluctance to speak the truth in love contributing to the problem?”  “Is there a lack of love in my speech?”  “Am I motivated by a desire to see restoration take place, or by a desire for my life to be more comfortable?”
  8. Wait. “Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9  Waiting can be the toughest part in all of this, but waiting, according to this verse, is not passive – it’s not sitting back and waiting for God to work His “magic” on the person we’re waiting upon.  It’s an active waiting that keeps up the “well-doing”; it’s a waiting that keeps trusting, loving, forgiving, bearing, praying, confronting, and speaking.  It keeps hoping and believing.  It keeps encouraging and waiting in eager expectation for Him who began the good work to bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.  Ask yourself: How have I been waiting?  Impatiently?  wearily?  or Actively?  Am I worn out and exhausted? Why?  Have I thrown my hands up in frustration and stopped all of the well-doing?  What can I do to be a better waiter?

Live and walk in the light of the truth and by His Spirit as you wait upon God in faith to bring change.  Welcome it as a gift from God in your own sanctification process.  Only God can change the human heart.  That change begins at the moment of salvation, and it continues throughout the believer’s life until the day of completion when we reach glory, and the battle for change no longer rages on inside of us.  Until that day, will you stick by that person you’re waiting on change for as close as Jesus continues to stick to you?  Will you come alongside this fellow saint for the glory of God and the maturity of the Church?  I hope that your answer is, “Yes!”  I pray that you will be blessed beyond all measure to catch a glimpse of God’s handiwork in the life of a fellow sojourner as you await, together,  heart change that comes from God alone.

Wonderful books on the topic of change:

The Process of Biblical Change, by Julie Ganschow

How People Change, by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp


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