Change is very difficult. Whether it's changing a habit or attitude or job or city - change is always a challenge, and change is even more difficult when it's imposed on us suddenly or without our approval.
For example, change in health, or change in a relationship because of death or divorce. There is always an element of pain in change - even when the change is for good. Like when a new and better job in a new city means leaving friends and familiar places behind, and this is painful. It's for this reason people naturally avoid or put off change because they want to avoid the pain that usually accompanies change.
Of course we know that not all change is good. There are many changes in life that are both painful and sad because the change that takes place is for the worse, not better. And then there are changes that change nothing like people changing careers only to find out that their new jobs don't make them any happier than their old ones or couples divorce thinking that this change will solve their problems and they find out that the divorce only brings them new problems to solve.
But my lesson is not about these kinds of changes. My lesson is about the challenges that positive changes create and how we can meet and overcome them.
Biblical Examples of Change
Now the Bible is filled with stories of people who had to experience the pain associated with change in order to receive the blessings that positive change brought into their lives.
Example #1: Abraham
1 Now the Lord said to Abram,
"Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father's house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
Note the change that Abraham had to make. Leave his country and go live in a foreign land that he didn't know. Look at the pain involved in this change.
- The fear of living in a different culture, language, traditions.
- The pain of leaving his relatives, his home, his friends behind for good.
- The risk of leaving the security of his home for the unknown place God was sending him to.
Look at the blessings associated with this change.
- His name and family would be great.
- God would give him many descendants.
- The world would be blessed through him.
Abraham considered the change and examined the pain and decided that the blessings were worth it. Today, Abraham is called the father of all those who have faith, as Paul says in Gal. 3:7:
Therefore be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
What a blessing to be remembered in such a way.
Example #2: Mary
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." 34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
- Luke 1:26-38
Look at the change that God put before her. She had to change her concept of what God could do (miraculously enable her to conceive a child, something that had never been done before). Of course, there would be pain involved if she accepted this change in her state ... not just the suffering associated with normal child birth but also the possible loss of her reputation and future husband. Also the fact that she would always be "different"; she would always live with a knowledge and experience that no one else could fully understand. After all, how do you share your feelings after the miraculous conception of a divine being -- who could relate? She faced the pain of loneliness (solitude) in her future life because of her special experience. But Mary also saw the blessings attached to this change.
- She would have favor with God, a special favor not given to another.
- She would be the mother of a king, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Mary changed her mind about what God could and couldn't do and God blessed her in a way no woman has or will be blessed again.
Example #3: The Rich Young Ruler
16 And someone came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" 17 And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." 18 Then he said to Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 20 The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?" 21 Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
- Matthew 19:16-22
Note the change facing this wealthy man. He had to change his value system. He valued the Law and one's ability to obey it. He valued money and the security and prestige that it gave him. Jesus meets this man and challenges him to change his core values.
- From the self-righteousness derived for obeying the Law to righteousness that will come from believing in Him.
- From the comfort and assurance that wealth provides to trusting that Jesus will provide for Him.
There would be pain here:
- The pain that comes from swallowing his pride and allowing his relationship with Jesus to be the thing that makes him perfect, not his ability to know and obey the Law.
- And also, the pain one experiences when you have to rely on someone else for all of your needs instead of yourself.
These were not things that cause physical pain but the psychological and spiritual discomfort of these changes were very great. And yet, there was a great reward to be had for making these changes. Jesus personally asked this rich young ruler to come, and follow Him. Just as He had personally asked James and John, and Peter and Matthew - who all changed their lives, their beliefs, their jobs in order to follow Jesus as His Apostles. I believe this man could have been an Apostle if he would have made the changes and followed Jesus. We could be reading one of his gospels, or epistles today. We could be talking about the miracles he performed or churches he planted … but instead he will always be remembered as the one who went away from Jesus, how sad, because he wouldn't change.
Well, all of this discussion about change brings us to a change that I would like to challenge each of us with. The change I would like to lay before you concerns our faith. Here's the challenge:
I want us to decide if our faith is going to be "a part" of our lives or if our faith will become our lives.
Let me explain the difference. When faith is part of our lives, we control it. When faith is our life, it controls us. For example, when faith is part of our lives, we do just enough not to feel guilty or to keep our membership active in the church. But when faith is our life, we can't do enough for God.
As in every change there is pain connected with this kind of transformation. The pain that comes with removing self as the focus of every decision and making Christ the one you live for. There is also the inconvenience of making Jesus and His Church a priority over career, recreation, even family at times. There is also the uneasiness we feel when we unplug ourselves from this world and it's cares and riches in order to pursue the kingdom of God as our first priority in everything. And of course there is the embarrassment we feel when others begin to mock and even persecute us as "zealots" because our religion has become our lives.
People don't mind if religion is just part of our lives (like a hobby) but they get upset when it becomes our lives - Why? Because it threatens them. Oh, but there are blessings that come to us when this change is made:
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)
- Only those whose faith is their lives are hungry and thirsty for righteousness and they will be satisfied. When your faith is your life, you are at peace with God, satisfied in the deepest regions of your soul.
- I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. (II Tim.4: 7-8)
- Paul's life was his faith and when be faced death he was absolutely assured of his place in heaven. When your Christian faith is your life you are actually able to see and taste heaven here on earth so you have no fear of death, or leaving this world.
- But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of men came to be 5,000. (Acts 4:4)
- When an entire church is filled with people whose faith is their life - the impact on the community is tremendous.
One of the reasons why many congregations only have 100-200 members after many years is because they only expect the ministers to live for their faith but not the members.
Congregations always have many projects going on (seminars, outreach programs, mission trips, etc.) but realize that none of these programs would do much good if this change wasn't made first, because without more members making their faith their lives - these things won't be possible.
You see, the thing necessary to accomplish is not money. Simply creating a line-item for something in the budget process doesn't automatically make that thing possible. We need to understand that the most important thing necessary to accomplish these and all other plans and dreams that we may have as a congregation is changing from part-time faith to full-time faith because we cannot serve a full-time God with a part-time faith. Brothers and sisters if we accept the challenge of living full-time by faith, money will not be an issue because God promises to provide all we need if we believe all the time.
So, how will we know if the faith challenge has been accepted?
We know who accepted it in the past by their actions. For example, Abraham left his village and traveled to Canaan and Mary accepted the angel's word and conceived. We also know who didn't accept by their actions as well. The rich young ruler sadly rejected Jesus' offer and left, never to be heard from again.
In the same way, we will see if more of our number accept the faith challenge in this year. I'm not saying that no one is living this way - many are to one degree or another. My challenge to you is to up your game when it comes to faith this year.
This will be evident and easy to see because:
- There will be more people in Bible study and worship services because doing so is a faith thing.
- Members will be bringing more guests because people who do this are acting out of faith.
- Parents will make a point of having their children in Bible class because they are through faith investing in the future spiritual lives of their children by doing this.
- The offering will go up dramatically because giving sacrificially is a sign of a faith-centered life.
- More members will be active and involved. Some who have not done much beyond attending services will add to his by finding additional ways to serve or be involved. Others will find new ways to serve in addition to what they are doing now.
- Those who have been given responsibilities and have neglected them for whatever reason will begin again to do their jobs and even train others for service.
- There will be more love among members, more joy on the faces of the breather, more willingness to sacrifice, forgive, let go old grudges and hurts (all motivated by the power of faith).
God will not only add more souls to our number but He will also shower us with blessings both physical and spiritual if (as a body) we make Him the first priority in our lives through faith. He even challenges us to do this very thing.
In the book of Malachi, God speaks to His people through the voice of the prophet Malachi. The Jewish people had been slacking in their service to the Lord, holding back on their sacrifices, offering Him sick and injured animals instead of giving their best and trusting Him to provide. God challenges them to change this practice and lays out the reward for those who, by faith, would make the necessary changes. In Malachi 3:10 He tells the people:
... test Me now in this," says the Lord of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
So I ask, what change needs to take place in your life in order to make God the priority, and not just "part" of your life? Do you need to repent and be baptized or be restored? Do you need to step up your giving, your service or your attendance? Do you need prayer for your health, your marriage or your life in general - to be a greater man or woman of faith? Maybe the change necessary is one that only God can see, for example:
- Abandoning a secret sin, obsession or addiction
- Perhaps giving up a grudge or negative attitude toward some you who may have offended you
- Or maybe you need greater faith to enable you to persevere in a difficult situation or relationship
There are moments in life when a change is necessary or due. If your spirit has been stirred by this lesson's call to live a more faith-centered life please don't refuse or put off accepting and responding to the challenge of change.