How Can We Embrace, not Avoid, Transformational Change?
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
It’s often been said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting to get a different result. Deep down, I believe we all desire to live better lives, to have more abundant lives, more successful lives, happier and more prosperous lives. Change is the agent that brings us a better life and causes us to win in life! We make New Year's Resolutions to change in this area or that. But usually those efforts fueled by willpower are short-lived, and we feel frustrated and defeated.
We know what we have to do. To get different results, we must do things differently. To get something we really want but do not have, we must do what we have never done before! To think otherwise would be insanity.
If you want chiseled abs, you can’t keep eating doughnuts.
If you want a great marriage, you can’t keep shutting down communication.
If you want friends, you can’t keep being unfriendly.
If you want to get better at a particular skill, you can’t keep avoiding practice.
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There Are Many Different Kinds of Change
To get to that place God desires for you, sometimes you must radically change directions. Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18? The guy had it all: smart, young, successful. He had power and influence, but he wanted something more – he wanted eternal life. So he came to Jesus and asked:
“Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus famously answered: You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.
In essence, Jesus said what you need is to make a major change in your life.
But he couldn’t do it; he just couldn’t make the change.
We all resist change, for any number of reasons. Perhaps it's because we are stubborn. Like a toddler holding a sharp object as a toy, we can stubbornly hold onto harmful things, even after God asks us to change and let them go.
“Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule that needs bit and bridle to stay on track” (Psalm 32:9, MSG).
Or perhaps we resist change because we are trapped. We actually want the thing that is keeping us from true success and abundance. We hold onto it firmly, and can't see that it is actually holding onto us and preventing the change we need.
Then there are the people who are simply comfortable. Did you realize there are people who still have flip cell phones? Worse yet, rotary phones at home and dial-up modems for internet? Why? It's not because these technologies are better or more efficient, but because the individuals are comfortable. They know how to use these devices, and they don’t want to go through the mental stress and discomfort required to learn how to use new technology.
And of course, in many cases, we resist change because we are afraid. Afraid of success, and afraid of failure. Afraid of the unknown, afraid of looking vulnerable, afraid of actually being vulnerable.
So we resist change. It’s not that we don’t believe that the change will be better in the long run, but the change requires something from us, and we are just not sure if we can do it, because there is always a price for change.
No pain, no gain.
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Not All Change Is Created Equal
Life is all about change, but not all change is the same. Some changes are for our good and some changes are very bad. Sometimes change is voluntary, but sometimes change is forced on us through circumstances. And sometimes there is an overlap in good changes and bad changes. Sometimes they even happen at the same time! For example, you got a promotion and a raise, but the same day, your husband went into rehab for the fourth time. And there are those changes that seem terrible in the beginning, but in hindsight were a true blessing in disguise.
There is big change and small change. Moving, changing careers, getting married and buying a house are all big changes.
On the other hand are small changes: shaving your beard, changing your style, cutting carbs out of your diet. (Well, okay that last one’s big.) And then there are small changes that make a big difference, as everyone who has been embarrassed by autocorrect knows.
And lastly there are hard changes and easy changes: divorce, death, disloyalty, disease. ll hard changes that in many ways we don’t get a vote on. So how do we deal with the hard changes of life and still embrace and walk in the life that God wants us to have?
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It’s called grace, the power of God to carry us, to work with us and through us despite what’s happened to us. It's the power of God that lifts us, holds us, helps us and yes, empowers us despite the hard changes. It's the power of God that takes our test and changes it into a testimony, takes our mess and creates a ministry. Most of us want quick change in our situation and circumstances, thinking that's how we can experience a better life. We want to change what’s happening on the outside to us, rather than what’s happening on the inside of us. That kind of change, like a New Year's Resolution, is superficial and ultimately ineffective.
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Transformational Inside-Out Change
While it's true God can change our circumstances and situations, I believe He is much more interested in creating transformational change within us. However, He often uses the circumstances and situations around us to bring about the transformational change. Said another way, He is much more interested in changing our character than He is our circumstances! We want to see and experience change from the outside-in, but God wants to do it from the inside out. In the long run, this produces for us not just a better life, but the God-kind of life!
Transformational change causes us to win in life because it’s the only kind of change that can cause us to experience the will of God and understand:
- The why behind our lives
- The purpose behind our being and meaning behind our existence
- The motivation that led God to put us on this planet
- That which causes the hidden genius in us to emerge
Metamorphosis Is a Process, Bot a Destination
In Romans 12:2, the word translated transformed is a Greek word from which we get the word metamorphosis: the process by which a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It is symbolic of our process of transformational change toward spiritual maturity.
A caterpillar goes through six different growth stages before it emerges from a cocoon and becomes a butterfly, a process which can take up to a year. In the same way, transformational change for us is not a destination, but a process. From the moment we make a decision to follow Jesus, God begins to change us from within. With the leading of the Holy Spirit, the washing of the Word of God in our minds, and the faith and experience we receive from daily obedience, God helps us to be transformed into the image of Christ.
It’s a process.
You may look like caterpillar today, but you’re on your way to becoming a butterfly.
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Transformational Change Is a Struggle
As a caterpillar eats and grows, it sheds its skin over and over. After the fifth time, it forms a chrysalis (what we call a cocoon), which is a hard, restrictive shell. But imagine if we could hear the caterpillar's thoughts... Where am I?! I can't see anything! I can’t move... I’m paralyzed! My life is over... I’m going to die!
When life comes at you in such a way that you feel paralyzed, you can’t see God's hand, you feel like it’s over and think you're going to die... grace says trust the process, it’s just a part of transformational change.
But it's also God's grace that kicks in, gets your fight back, and strengthens you to join in the struggle against the obstacles in your way. It’s what causes you to say I’m not giving up, I’m getting up. I’m coming out of this cocoon! These obstacles, this struggle will not make me bitter, it will make be better. I will learn from it, grow from it, and use it to help others. My test will be my testimony, and my mess will be my ministry.
Worth the Struggle
A caterpillar in a cocoon is not simply resting; it is digesting itself, going through metamorphosis and becoming a butterfly. It's body releases certain enzymes which dissolve nearly all of its tissues. The only thing that survives this digestive process is what scientists call the imaginal discs, groups of highly organized cells necessary to produce each of the adult body parts needed to create a butterfly.
In the same way, when we go through the struggle of transformational change and remain committed, trusting in God's grace to get us through, God begins to remove all those things in our lives that are holding us back. He chips away at the character faults and unbecoming personality traits. He washes away anger and unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy, lying and deceit. All manner of ugly habits and hang-ups.
God uses the cocoons of life to remove all the worldly stuff that’s holding us back. And what’s left are only the things necessary to become mature sons and daughters of God. Like the butterfly, if we embrace the process of transformational change, we will become what we were truly designed to be.
The caterpillar's struggle leads to the development of wings and a whole new life perspective. In the same way, our struggle in the process of transformational change will bring out the best in us. Suddenly, we will discover we can fly and realize the outcome is worth the pain and the struggle! It may be hard, you may not understand, you may have to endure some darkness for a time. But never forget – your wings are on the way!
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Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.