change happens on a chalkboard

How People Change: Grace-Driven Effort

You want to take off a few pounds, get better with time management, reduce stress, or stop chewing your fingernails.  It’s the New Year and you want a fresh start on overcoming some old habits.  But how can this be done?  Will power is so fickle, and you’ve been here before.  Perhaps many times.

I’m no stranger to this desire.  I’ve struggled with many bad habits over the years, including controlling my diet.  That one is still a battle I’m fighting.  I’ve counseled countless people in overcoming bad or sinful habits.  Allow me to offer some direction.

Grace Driven Effort

You are not operating under your own power in this.  You don’t have what it takes to change, at least not the kind of change God is after.  You may be able to succeed at behavior modification, but you will not succeed at heart transformation.  For that we need to power of the gospel working in us through the Holy Spirit.

This does not imply that we are passive in our transformation.  We are very much involved.  Change is not effortless.  But it is not an effort powered by our will.  It’s an effort powered by the grace of God and our love-response back to Him.  This is why I use the term “Grace-driven effort”.

One Habit at a Time

God is merciful and tends to only attack one issue at a time in our hearts.  Rarely does God come to us with a laundry list of issues to overcome all at once.  God is patient because He has forever to wait.  He knows He will get you there eventually, so there’s no rush.  He knows that you are easily overwhelmed.

Typically, the Holy Spirit will convict you specifically over a certain issue in your life.  He’s focused.  After a little thought and prayer, I always find that people know what that one thing is.  It’s usually the one thing you want to avoid dealing with the most!

Get to the Heart

Our behavior flows from the overflow of our hearts.  Behavior is a symptom, not a cause.  Before diving straight into behavior modification, seek God over what is going on in your heart (the seat of your motivations and desires) that is feeding that behavior.  You are looking for things that can be described with words like “pride, jealousy, fear, worry, anger, bitterness, etc.”

This often requires a trusted friend or counselor to dig out through talk and prayer.  But once your heart is revealed in this way, the fuel for that bad behavior is shut off and change becomes far easier.

Changing the Habit

This take accountability and planning.  You can’t just decide to stop smoking, you need a plan for how you are going to do it and you need some people around you involved in it with you.  The same is true of just about any habit.  You can’t do it alone (odds are, you’ve tried).

Talking it through with another person, seeking counseling and advice, and finding others that have overcome the same issue will go a very long way towards success.

Budget for Failure

If you think you won’t fail, you’re wrong.  Cut yourself a little slack by not expecting perfection!  Change is really hard, especially in an area where you have been bound for a very long time.  When you fail, apply the grace of God.  Preach the gospel to yourself.  Remember that Jesus died for you because you failed, not because you were perfect.

My prayer for you this year is that you not just become well-behaved Christians with good manners and good habits. My prayer is that your hearts are transformed into the image of Christ so deeply that you begin to act like Him.

How’s that for a New Year’s Resolution?

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