Change: What’s your response?
Ever since I became a Christian, there has been this pressure from within the (Christian) bubble driving me towards change. I am in no way saying that change is a bad thing, just stating here that this pressure can breed the wrong sort of change: that is, change in appearance – as in a masking of the lack of change – rather than change from within. The more I grappled with the pressure, the more I realized that it came – not from above, but rather horizontally – from looking at my fellow ‘brothers and sisters’ and comparing my circumstances with theirs. I quickly forgot that my salvation was just what it was, my own, and I had to work it out with as much ‘fear and trembling’ as everyone else. (Phillipians 2:12) In my hay day, and even now sometimes if I’m to be honest, you’d be hard pressed to find a better Pharisee than me. The bible then – like my shirt and tie – had slowly become a means by which to separate myself from everyone else.
(Being someone who loves to read, I was quick to express how much of the bible I knew and had read – knowing that it would paint a picture of spirituality that was away from the realities that I have now come to embrace. For instance: though I don’t particularly find it hard to read or even understand, I find it tedious to read the bible regularly. In the early stages of my relationship with God however, trapped by that pressure to show an awareness of scripture, I made a ritual of reading and combed through most of the bible. The truth here being that, knowledge and understanding don’t necessarily bring change, it is the obedience to personal conviction in developing – or even retrospective evaluation of – circumstances that bring the change. I am, years after pouring over scripture, only now beginning to understand the life-changing power within it. This though, is more because I’ve began reading the bible to know God rather than to wear it’s wisdom like jewelry: God is more than just bling!)
Consider Matthew 7:21-23. Christ here points to a Christianity that is not horizontally (works/ God Bling) focused but rather one that is based on an honest vertical dialogue. Pointing here to the fact that works are no reflection of the depth of relationship one has with God.
(So though I wore the shirt and tie, quoted freely from Isaiah and Habbakuk, spoke in tongues when I prayed, stood in-front of God’s people and knelt down with my hands up during worship, my relationship with God was still not fully off the mark. When the doors were shut I found myself slowly dying within; struggling with lust, pornography, an unhealthy love of alcohol, and an extensive vocabulary of lies. These together kept me afraid of going before God and never allowed me to be honest with my friends for fear of being rejected. The truth here being that it would be in that moment of vulnerability in openness that I would find and understand the grace of God through Jesus, and it’s power to change from within.)
I think, the first steps we take as Christians are desperately delicate ones. Knowing that we are not where we would like to be, seeing the distance between where we are and that point, as well as seeing other people who seem to be halfway there creates an uneasy self-consciousness which is very hard to deal with. The step from sovereignty over our own lives to utter dependance on God is one that is hard to fully embrace. The tendency is to cover our crosses – forgetting that they don’t change in size the more you grow in God so that no one is less a sinner, or rather more righteous. Honesty is a powerful thing. So too is the vulnerable position that it places you in (Christ was killed for being the truth). “Christian BLING” like ‘fig leaves’ (Genesis 3:7) work to hide our state of utter nakedness from each other. The fear of being open creates distrust, the distrust disrupts relationships, and with the absence of relationships love is stifled and so too the healing that comes with it. Openness breeds humility, humility breeds repentance and repentance sets the stage for accountability which in turn allows for collective change.
“It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18)
(Consider James 5:16. I was very fortunate. I found Christ at roughly the same time as a few of my friends. In sharing our difficulties as we stepped into this new way of life, we were able to counsel each other; sharing our weaknesses with each other. The dynamic was such that we were balanced: where one was weak, the other was strong etc. It was in this open space – within which a love that wasn’t conditioned or ‘Blinged’ flowed – that the truth of God’s grace started to impact my life. Admittedly, the changes were not immediate. I still struggled with a lot of the aforementioned pitfalls. The difference here was that, I had a place where I could sit, ‘stuck in the mud’1 and still be loved without the pressure being placed upon me to move. In a sense we were all stuck. Change has been and continues to be slow, just as the intimacy I have with God has slowly grown. I no longer look horizontally for position, but rather for help as well as the opportunities to serve and love.)
Taking what I think are still early steps, it has and continues to be helpful to remember that I don’t need to be the best Christian or run away from looking like the worst. I will enjoy hearing his voice in my heart and walk in the hope of life that that gives me: letting change come, if it comes. The truth being that I cannot, by my own might change. Best to be the clod in the potter’s hands. (Jeremiah 18:1-17)
1 – A quote from a friend. She struck me with the analogy.
© Denis Adide 2008
Ps: Church is more than Sunday.