Have you ever met someone who was exactly the same over time? 3, 5, 10, 20, or 30 years pass by and very little, if anything at all, is different. Same habits, same conversation topics, same anger and emotional baggage. Down to microscopic idiosyncrasies, nothing is new with the passage of time; an unchanged individual reigns as ruler of his or her Lilliputian world of predictable (and dysfunctional) patterns. There, this person experiences a semblance of control and comfort.
Countless Christians are as described above.
I wish this weren’t the case, and feel bad (and sad) that it is.
This debacle is truly baffling—how a Christian can go multiple decades and stay exactly the same. Yes, I understand change is hard, nobody really “likes” it. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. Most people (if honest) are downright hostile toward change–they abhor it. Stable, consistent comfort is, well… more comfortable. It’s easier to digest and live with patterns of the same old stuff. But how are Christians called to live?
Getting down to brass tacks, Christians are definitely not called to remain the same over time. Certainly not in a state of denial or unchallenged comfort zones. To sign the Christ “contract,” receive His loving acceptance, then reject the call to obedience, discipleship, and transformation, is an anathema. Christ said it bluntly in love: “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15). Change is not optional or conditioned upon how you feel about it. If you love God, you will undergo change, obeying Him throughout seasons of stretching, discomfort, and growth.
Christian Guys’ Groups
For a decade I’ve witnessed this aversion to change firsthand among groups of Christian guys. Typically in men’s groups, there will be a little pre-established cliquish structure in place, most of them sharing similar interests. They prefer “shop talk,” stats and numbers, performance at work, etc. They are very much concentrated on what they can control, polishing head knowledge or “intellectualizing” intimacy. Intellectual or cultural topics and commonalities are used as a way to relate and identify with one another. It’s a noble attempt and there is nothing wrong with being intellectual or cultured. The issue at hand is the heart. Ten years could go by and they would still be in a circle discussing the exact same aforementioned themes, playing it safe. Discussing weaknesses or anything emotional? Nope. Vulnerability? Not a chance. Sensitivity? Oops, it’s considered debility to be sensitive. David, Goliath slayer, was very sensitive, and exemplified an extraordinary vulnerability of heart with his God. (See book of Psalms). Did that make him a weakling? Today’s Christian men usually display niceness at a highly controlled ten foot distance, no closer. You encounter a hand in the “stop” position if you attempt to get any closer, or sometimes a fist.
What’s up with that?
Imagine for a moment yourself talking with Christ. Do you tell Him about all you’ve mastered? How proud you are about your performance in life? Read off a list of things you have under control? I would certainly hope not. How on earth do you plan on interacting and engaging with a God who has an unfathomable mind, who already happens to comprehend everything known and unknown (to us) in the created universe? Earth to man … uh, breaking news, real relationship happens from the heart, not from intellect or activities disconnected from personal spirit. This God has grace sufficient to make meaningful relationship a reality.
Now, here’s an example that highlights the necessity of change and openness to the process of change.
The American Church
If the following words offend the Sunday faithful, I will understand entirely. Please hear out my reasoning. During certain seasons of life I stopped attending church regularly, down to about once or twice a month. I “get it” that to be able to worship freely is no small blessing in a country where there is freedom from religious persecution. However, during these seasons, when going to church, I could barely stay awake. In fact it’s embarrassing to admit, but I slept through the entire sermon so many times. The worship was so un-engaging, and the sermon just sounded exactly the same every Sunday … different words, same monotone, emotionally restrained spirit behind words. The whole time spent in what is supposed to be a sanctified place of worship would fall totally flat. The people were all very nice, but I was so bored by it all and could think of a hundred other things that would be a better use of time. In contrast, once while viewing a famous worship band, my arms spontaneously raised themselves in exaltation. I thought, “wow, this is the point of church, to really encounter God and interact with Him!! What a difference it makes when you find life in the Spirit!”
I am not advocating fulfillment of some personal exigency, emotionalism, nor to get “my fix” for a day. Rather, to taste Christ within a community. The common accepted definitions of church have turned Sunday gatherings into a lifeless, programmatic exercise that feels like a duty rather than a lighthearted joy. This should not be.
I am not at all anti-church. Nothing of the sort. In fact I am 110% pro-church: a supporter of vibrant, Holy Spirit-filled church gatherings. Am I suggesting that a church which focuses more on preaching the Word and has boring worship is doing all things wrong or invalidating the notion of God as a charismatic being? Not in the slightest. The issue is that I cannot seem to locate the Holy Spirit in the Church, and often wonder where He went. The Holy Spirit is God, and I’m on a mission to recover Him. He is alive in His Word, and in Spirit. So why is it so hard to find Him and why do people doze off in church rather than come alive?
This recovery mission is not about going to extremes, nor to reject the idea of church, rather, to strip away all the deadening protocol and unneeded structural nonsense that, quite frankly, kills life rather than sustains it. I know I am not alone in this expression and sentiment. But it will require change: cultural, spiritual, and lifestyle change. Recovering access to the Spirit of God in this part of the hemisphere’s Church is a gigantesque project for the undertaking, like building a city from scratch, or bulldozing an existing one and starting all over.
With a few beacon-of-light exceptions, the American Christian church, in an overly Gospel-saturated society, has lost Godly power and relevance. It is doing its job of “preaching” the word, but the American church is not doing its job of demonstrating, to the unsaved and saved alike, the likeness of Christ—who He is and what He looks like.
God is alive and present in everyday life, just as much on Monday as on Sunday; He’s not a religious idea. Many assume that somehow if we think hard enough about this idea and wax eloquent, we can wear the title ‘master Christian.’ The world is so tired of that example which the Pharisees immortalized, and sees right through it to the wickedness and total lack of transformation in people’s hearts. No wonder the world is disgusted and repelled by Christians. They are just as bad and sometimes worse than the unregenerate. So often I see examples of the unsaved who inspire me with their impressive display of love, gentleness, consideration for others then wonder why Christians don’t act like that? Why do they act more Christ-like than the very disciples of Christ? Shouldn’t the world be looking to the examples of Christ on this earth and be in awe?
So, how to discover and recover access to the relational, living God? The short answer: transformation into something better… it’s the whole point!
How do you enroll in the University of Transformation?
Listen and obey God through joyful seasons and painful seasons. There are no rocket science courses. But it’s not simple or quick, either. That’s why you will need Him as your navigator for an eternity. The goal is not greater and greater levels of control and pseudo-confidence. Transformation is a life-long process and it requires your participation and yes, change. You have to change in order to grow, decisively abandoning self-effort in favor of God’s strength (finding His strength in your weakness). This way, you’ll begin to imitate, and actually look like Christ, otherwise you are not really following Christ as you say you are. Redemptive suffering is mostly what qualifies one for high ministry responsibility and spirit flow, not degrees of activism, exclusive head knowledge, or holding varying lay service positions in church.
What do the beginnings of this process of change look like for you? It could mean…
- opening up socially when you are afraid to (facing and conquering fears)
- getting out of the house to explore when you’d rather stay a home hermit
- spending more time with family rather than escaping to work
- really listening when you’re accustomed to blabbing unceasingly about yourself
- asking others for help or direction
- practicing/exemplifying patience and kindness
- building up in word and deed (edification)
- dismantling and tearing down false or otherwise sinful structures
- working through negative emotions and resolving root causes
- considering others’ feelings above your own (this is called empathy)
- exercise in lieu of television
- remaining faithful
- persevering through a long, seemingly unending season
- facing disappointment responsibly
- receiving, appropriating, and imparting grace
- letting go of the past and refusing to let it define you
- not ignoring your past as though it didn’t happen
- planning for the future (responsible stewardship)
- abandoning perfected, burnished external ‘image’
- graduating from consuming milk to eating meat
- living from the heart! (not just the mind)
Without ever endorsing a granular or rigid formula, the general pattern of obtaining Christlikeness is characterized by decades, not a few days. It features seasons of suffering, not extensive self-indulgence. Fulfilled dreams, not fake ascetics. Transformed Christians who are serious about Christ and His commands actually follow Him and wholeheartedly embrace the processes and trials, not just describe them from a distance.
Going through and into life’s difficulties, not around, over, under, or avoiding altogether, is the recipe for transformed heart and renewed mind. The goal is to go through the fire and come out much better on the other side, not only purified, but completely transformed and made new! Then you will have something of supreme value to offer to others: beauty, (spiritual) life, and virtue! In a nutshell, Christ himself. Time spent with you will be considered a highly valuable commodity.
Aforesaid transformation per divine design is intended to occur to the extent that people genuinely taste and see Christ in and through you—no longer solely a gifted, but unchanged person.