Transforming From the Inside Out
Have you ever tried to learn something that didn’t come easily? Like a language, an instrument, or even a hard math equation?
I don’t like doing things I’m not good at. No one does.
Following Jesus doesn’t come naturally to me, and it doesn’t seem as though it came very naturally to the first guys that followed him. Regularly Jesus is chastising them for their ignorance and/or disobedience, but they stay at it. It isn’t just that they don’t quit. They adapt and learn. They are willing to change to become like him and learn how to walk in his ways. They can hear correction and adapt. They grow to be more humble, gracious and kind. I think one of the best examples of this is John.
John is one of the guys in the gospels that has an anger problem. He and his brother are called “The sons of thunder.” Quite a nickname, and I’m sure they earned it. Take this story for example:
“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.”
Can you imagine saying this to Jesus? We want to call fire from heaven on them? What in the world were they thinking?
(Jesus is nicer than me here. I would have told them to try it, just to watch them flail around awkwardly.)
Near the end of his life, this same John is Mr. Love. Listen to what he says in one of his letters:
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
It is completely different to grow and change than to simply obey religious rules. Most of us who enter into life with God do so because we have some kind of need, then we work hard to change behavior, and then realize that we can’t do all of this very well, so we redouble our efforts (or find convenient ways to avoid examining ourselves) and keep cycling through this loop. I always thought that those that were well behaved were more spiritual than me. I often felt weak and impotent in my life, and I realize now many years later that it’s simply because I don’t have very much will power.
I’ve met people that do. They can train and run up mountains. They practice and are amazing musicians. They discipline themselves to eat certain things and avoid all of the foods I love (like wings). They seem to do so reflexively.
But me? I’ve started more books than I’d care to admit. I’ve had a hard time staying on a work-out schedule. I have often not been a very good friend because I don’t keep tabs or remember to check in from time to time. Discipline and self-control haven’t come easily to me, and frankly I’ve had a hard time managing my temper. Probably the most controlling sin of my life is anger, and for most of my life my anger helped me overcome things that I didn’t think I could without it. My anger showed most when it came to impulse control. I’d suddenly be a passenger in my own life, yelling and raging, or just quietly seething in the corner.
That’s why I’m so encouraged by John. Somehow his life with Jesus helped him to move from anger as his impulse to love as his impulse. He was trained from the inside so that he didn’t just TRY not to be angry. He LEARNED how to love.
Once I stopped trying to change behavior and started trying to live into the love of Jesus, things actually began to change. I learned to obey Jesus from a place of transformation, not just willpower. I applied my will to seeking him and his affirmation, and as I did Jesus began to crowd out those other feelings from my heart. I learned to depend on his love to overcome, not anger to dominate and overpower. I’m still learning…but the truth is:
His ways are easy. It’s easier to be transformed than to pretend.