Later this month will mark the two year anniversary of me and my family arriving at Cobblestone. After we made the decision to move across the country, the next questions were “What do we do now? What do we actually need to do to move all that we own across the country?” We knew where we were going, but we just didn’t know how we, along with all of our stuff, were going to get there. This feeling of confusion can happen to all of us when we begin a journey of growth. Whether you’re somebody who is just wanting to be less angry, or if you are a Christian and you see certain commands that you would like to follow, deciding where you want to go is not as hard as figuring out how to get there. So how do we get there? The best way to get where we want to is just like accomplishing any major goal, one small step at a time. But what is that first crucial step?
This first step is often ignored to our own detriment. This results in either burn out or recognizing that failure is imminent before we even start. Many of us, when we want to grow in character, begin by simply doing what we want to become, and this occasionally works. For example, if we decide we want to be more grateful, we start practicing gratitude, and if we are able to stick to it over time studies have shown that it works. However, if we try to grow in areas that are a bit more challenging, let’s say forgiving people who have deeply hurt us or loving our neighbor, we will typically stumble and fall. We may get up and try again and again and again, but more than likely we will get exhausted from all this effort and give up.
Other times when we want to grow we just know we are going to fail from the beginning, and so we don’t even try. We don’t even try to be better neighbors because, if we are honest, we don’t actually like our neighbors. We don’t want really want to forgive because we get a little pleasure from our anger towards those who have hurt us.
The first step is simple; it almost sounds too simple to state. We are to ask that God would change the desires in us to be people who love our neighbors or who actually want to forgive those who have deeply hurt us.
For those who are Christians we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourself and, once again, if we are honest when we look at that command we just know that we cannot do it. Knowing that we cannot do it leads us either to not even attempt to do it, or to summon enough gumption to grit our teeth through it, which may work for the short term, but will fail over the long haul.
In the book of James in the New Testament he writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” The wisdom that James is talking about isn’t some type of mystical intuition, it is simply knowing what is right and having the power to do it. God loves to give generously to all so ask him to change you and to enable you to be the person you desire (and He desires) for you to be.
This small prayer may seem trite but it will begin a process that is much bigger than we can imagine. C.S. Lewis gives a great illustration. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew these jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of… You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself…. The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.”
This message of the sometimes painful transforming grace of God is in James’s letter that we will be looking at for the next several weeks.