The Dynamics of Change: Commitment to Action

Dr. Brian Allison

This past Tuesday, while I was driving my children to school, I was listening to the radio. The broadcasters were mentioning that that particular day marked the fifth anniversary of the commencement of the Gulf War. In August 1990, Suddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The world's superpowers reacted with unprecedented haste, and clear unanimity, to denounce the Iraqi aggression. There was obviously a clear commitment by the nations to act in order to change the grave circumstances at hand. The United States, along with other nations, immediately dispatched forces to protect neighbouring Saudi Arabia from the possible invasion of Iraqi troops. The nations were apparently prepared to do whatever it would take to frustrate and reverse Suddam's plans. Unfortunately, Suddam refused to bow to this international pressure. At the end of November 1990, the United Nations Security Council threatened to use force if Iraq did not withdraw its troops by the date of January 15th. Again, the world's nations were committed to action; they were prepared to execute a plan in order to bring about change. On January 16th, less than 17 hours after the Security Council's January 15th midnight deadline, the first air and missile attacks were launched in Iraq and Kuwait.

Commitment to action is a precondition to change. It is true on the international and political level; it is equally true on the personal and individual one. In order for positive change to occur, there must be a readiness and a resolve to actually do something, to be prepared to carry out a plan. Preston Bradley wrote, "I've never met a person, I don't care what his condition, in whom I could not see possibilities. I don't care how much a man may consider himself a failure, I believe in him, for he can change the thing that is wrong in his life any time he is ready and prepared to do it. Whenever he develops the desire, he can take away from his life the thing that is defeating it. The capacity for reformation and change lies within." The account of Zaccheus, the chief tax-gatherer, clearly presents this dynamic of the commitment to action for bringing about positive behavioural change (Lu. 19:1-10).

Clear goals and defined objectives

Commitment to action entails a number of factors. First, it requires that the achievable goals be clear, and that the accomplishable objectives be defined. Jesus was making his last trip to Jerusalem. En route to Jerusalem, "He entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, there was a man called by the name Zaccheus; and he was a chief tax-gatherer, and he was rich" (vss. 1,2). The name Zaccheus means 'pure' or 'righteous,' which was ironic, because as a tax-gatherer he was considered a crook and a traitor. Tax-gatherers were notorious for extorting funds. The common Jew hated them.

Now, this visit by Jesus sparked deep interest in this man Zaccheus – "And he was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature" (vs. 3). Apparently, at this point, Zaccheus had one simple goal: he wanted to actually see this man Jesus who was creating a stir. Maybe Zaccheus had heard of Jesus' miracles; maybe he had heard of His teachings and wisdom. Jesus' arrival at Jericho obviously created a commotion; the crowd was celebrating and following Him. So, Zaccheus' goal was to personally see this Jesus. We know that he had this particular goal because of the subsequent action that he carried out. He was prepared to take certain steps in order to achieve his particular objective.

Accordingly, if you are going to be committed to action, then you need to determine what are the desired (or required) goals and objectives of change (i.e., you need to define exactly what you are 'going after'). Goals and objectives provide meaning and actual direction to change, as well as provide the impetuous for actually achieving change. As you clearly articulate your goals of change, and as you specifically define your objectives of change, they in turn have a way of drawing you to them because you have clarified what you are going after. Goals and objectives themselves actually determine the nature or kind of change you desire. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), the former Prime Minister of India, said, "Action to be effective, must be directed to clearly conceived ends." So, goals and objectives provide clarity to the nature of change needed; and in focusing on the goals and the objectives, endeavouring to reach them, change will inevitably occur.

Now, if you do not have goals and objectives, if you do not know what you want to accomplish, then the issues will be fuzzy and confusing, and the result will be that you will not change. Joshua, after attacking Ai and suffering defeat, initially did not have any further goals or objectives. After his victorious campaign against Jericho, Joshua sent three thousand men of Israel to capture Ai. Thirty six Israelites were killed. What was Joshua's response? He became confused; he did not know what to do. Rather, he mourned with the elders of Israel, sitting down in the dust, and complained, "Alas, O Lord God, why didst Thou ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?" (Josh. 7:7). Joshua was in a predicament, a rather critical situation, and he had no clear goals or defined objectives. In his confusion, the Lord announced to him, "Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them" (Josh. 7:10f.). God told Joshua to find the sinner who had occasioned His wrath. Joshua now had a clear goal, and that goal defined his action and gave meaning and significance to his subsequent behaviour.

You can believe that God will help you to change; you can hope in God to bring about change; you can deeply desire that God enable you to change; you can be willing to follow God's way for change; but if you are not clear on the actual kind of change you want to achieve, then you will not change. Let us, for example, consider the problem of inferiority feelings, the feelings of inadequacy and incompetency. There are many Christians who feel that they are utter failures; that they have no sense of self-worth; that they lack self-confidence. I wonder if that was something with which Zaccheus struggled – he was a man of short stature.

The obvious goal of one who suffers from inferiority feelings is to acquire a positive or good self-image. Some of the particular objectives (i.e., specific purpose statements) that may flow out of this goal are: 1) to acquire a Biblical evaluation of the self or the person; 2) to learn to accept yourself, being content with who you are, though continuing to pursue legitimate self-development; 3) to be free from the need to conform to the expectations and standards of others. Of course, when we consider goals and objectives, those goals and objectives must be Biblically-informed and Biblically-shaped. We must ask the question: What does the Bible say concerning our goals and objectives? We must be Biblical Christians, not humanistic ones. Thus, as you think about bringing about change in your self-image, you must not simply focus on your self-image in isolation, but as a Christian, you should understand that your self-image should really be defined in terms of the Christ-image. As you endeavour to develop a positive self-image, you can only do so by developing the Christ-image. So, we read, "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him" (Col. 3:9,10).

Proper strategy and action plan

Second, the commitment to action requires a proper strategy and action plan. With his goal being that of seeing who Jesus was, Zaccheus "ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see [Jesus], for He was about to pass through that way" (vs. 4). The obstacle of a large crowd initially prevented Zaccheus from reaching his goal. Apparently, being a resourceful man, he devised a plan in order to accomplish his goal. His strategy was simply this: to get higher in order to see Jesus. Accordingly, his action plan was simply: to run ahead of the crowd in the direction in which Jesus was moving, anticipating a likely rendezvous point, and station himself in a tree that was higher than the crowd. Thus, Zaccheus ran down the road and climbed up into a sycamore tree and waited for Jesus to pass by.

So, if you are going to be committed to action, not only will you need clear goals and objectives, but you will also need a strategy and action plan in order to achieve your goals or objectives. View goals and objectives as the target or the destination (i.e., what you want to achieve or the actual change) and view strategy and the actual plan as the means or the vehicle for reaching the target or destination (i.e., the 'how to' in bringing about actual change). Let us again consider the example of one suffering from inferiority feelings. For example, the strategy for bringing about change may consist of the following: 1) to do a Bible study which seeks to evaluate the self or the person. You will discover, among other facts, that you are a creation of God, made in the divine image, and therefore you have value. Further, Psalm 139 will teach you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and thus that you have intrinsic worth. Moreover, you will read that you are a child of God, and so you are a special and dignified person; 2) to make a realistic and honest self-appraisal, noting both your strengths or gifts and your weaknesses or limitations, realizing that God created you with certain gifts and talents, and that you do not have all of them; 3) not to compare yourself with others. So, for instance, we read, "For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding" (2 Cor. 10:12); 4) to set attainable, personal standards, which means that you clearly recognize your limitations. Hence, we read, "For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith" (Rm. 12:3).

Now, the action plan flows out of the strategy. So, in thinking about doing a Bible study (trying to acquire a Biblical evaluation of the self or the person), your correspondent action plan may be that you set aside 15 minutes a day to actually do the Bible study, coupled with reading helpful Christian books that deal with the subject. With the strategy of listing your strengths and limitations, the correspondent action plan may be that you list your strengths with a view to praising God for them, considering also how you might develop them; and that you list your limitations with a view of accepting them by giving them to God through prayer. With the strategy of ceasing to compare yourself with others, you may want to note each time you catch yourself comparing yourself to others – saying, for instance, "That person is more attractive than I; or stronger than I; or smarter than I" – and identify such comparison as sin, and subsequently confess it in light of 2 Corinthians 10. With the strategy of setting attainable, personal standards, you may want to refuse to be so demanding on yourself, recognizing that God has given you certain gifts and a special calling. Again, as with the goals and objectives, the strategies and action plans must be Biblically-informed and Biblically-shaped. So, for instance, with setting attainable, personal standards, you should see the means and resources for attaining Christ-likeness as central.

Immediate readiness to act

Third, commitment to action means that there will be an immediate readiness to act when opportunity presents itself. We read, "And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, 'Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house'" (vs. 5). Zaccheus probably did not bargain on what happened. Jesus had a preordained meeting with Zaccheus; Jesus came to call out the elect. He came to the spot where Zaccheus was and commanded him to descend. Jesus presented Himself as Master. This is ironic when we consider that Zaccheus' position was that of a master. There were only three tax offices in the land of Palestine: one in Jericho, one in Caesarea, and one in Capernaum. As the chief tax-gatherer (the only place in the New Testament in which this term is mentioned), Zaccheus was probably a man of prominence and status. He had a position of authority. Jesus as Master confronted Zaccheus; and Zaccheus responded as the servant. We read, "And he hurried and came down, and received Him gladly" (vs. 6). In being a man who was committed to action, Zaccheus did not delay when the opportunity presented itself. Henri Bergson (1859-1941), the French philosopher, said, "Think like a [person] of action and act like a [person] of thought."

A few weeks ago, a Christian brother phoned me. He was emotionally wounded. Apparently, he had given some of his associates the license to say whatever they want to him, without any restrictions. He said, in effect, "If you have a problem with me, a difficulty with me, I want to hear it." (That is not always a wise thing to do; sometimes ignorance is bliss). Well, these people accepted this brother's offer and spoke very candidly. He was wounded by their honesty. Now, this brother has a commitment to action in confronting the source of the problem or difficulty and dealing with it directly. Accordingly, this brother immediately went and confronted these individuals who had spoken so openly, and the result was reconciliation and mutual understanding. So, a commitment to action means an immediate readiness to act when the opportunity presents itself.

Willingness to do what it takes

Fourthly, commitment to action means a willingness to do what it takes to achieve the goals and objectives. It means that there will be an understanding of, and a focusing on, the required action, and a determination to follow through. We read, "And when they [the crowd] saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, 'He has gone to be the guest of the man who is a sinner'" (vs. 7). The crowd recognized the type of person that Zaccheus was. Again, to be a tax-gatherer was a rather notorious position; how much more the chief of tax-gatherers. The crowd reacted to the gracious overtures of Jesus. Jesus, however, was not influenced nor affected by the opinions and sentiments of the crowds. He did not care what people thought. His concern was to fulfil the will of God, regardless of what that would take and what that would mean. Is that true of you? Are you concerned about the opinions, sentiments, and feelings of the group or the crowd so that you bend under its pressure?

Now, we further read, "And Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much'" (vs. 8). By this announcement, it is obvious that Zaccheus had become a converted man. He, first, addressed Jesus as Lord. He, second, pledged to distribute much of his wealth to the needy, as well as to make substantial financial amends to anyone whom he had cheated. According to the Old Testament, he was only obligated to give back an additional 20% with the base amount for that which he had extorted (see Lev. 6:4,5). Zaccheus, however, was willing to give back an additional 300% with the base amount. Now, Zaccheus had no obligation to perform such action. Jesus had not told him to do that. So, having committed himself to give away half of his wealth, he was willing to make sacrificial restitution with the amount that remained. That was quite a commitment. So, Zaccheus was willing to part with his wealth. It no longer was a priority with him. Obviously, his chief concern now was to please Jesus and follow Him. This great generosity and moral constraint were the natural expressions of his repentant heart. What is the clearest evidence of salvation, if it is not love? Zaccheus had indeed become a true disciple.

Now, the point is this: Zaccheus was willing to do whatever it took to achieve his goal or objective. To be sure, his goal here was different than that of wanting to see who Jesus was. His goal now was to do what was right and pleasing in Jesus' sight. Zaccheus was deeply seriously minded; he 'meant business.' Thus, Jesus responded, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham" (vs. 9). This phrase 'son of Abraham' refers to the elect. Again, Jesus had a preordained appointment with Zaccheus. That is why Jesus stopped under the sycamore tree and spoke as He did to him. Thus, we read, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost [that is, the lost of the elect]" (vs. 10).

Accordingly, if you are committed to action, you will be willing to do all that it takes to achieve those desired (or required) goals and objectives. You will be dead serious; you will mean business. You will be willing to pay the sacrifice and suffer the inconvenience. That is a challenge, is it not? We do not like to be inconvenienced these days. However, if we are committed to action we are going to be willing to 'go the extra mile.' A few years ago, a couple came to see me for marriage counselling. Apparently, I was the last stop before divorce. They both had their own agenda; that was the first problem. What we decided to do was draw up a marriage contract, listing and incorporating the respective concerns, needs, and expectations. The wife expressed her personal concerns, needs, and expectations; and the husband expressed his; and these points, with some modification, became the basic substance of the contract. The couple struggled with what was expected of them. They realized that they would have to make significant compromises and personal sacrifices in order to fulfil their side of the contract. They realized that they would be inconvenienced, and would have to abandon their personal agendas in order to bring about a positive change in their marriage, and thus achieve their desired goals and objectives as a couple and as a family. They were quite willing to do that. Are you willing to do what it takes? Are you dead serious about making change?

So, are you committed to action? Again, it does you no good simply to want change; it does you no good simply to be willing to change; it does you no good simply expecting change. It is only when you have a commitment to action to change that you will really change. Again, you need to have clear goals and defined objectives; you need to understand them; know what you are going after. Further, you need to have proper strategies and action plans. You need to know how to achieve those goals and objectives, how you will secure what you are going after. Further, you need to be immediately ready to act when the opportunity presents itself. Lastly, you need to be ready to do whatever it takes to actually achieve those goals and objectives. Is that true of you? If not, you will not change. You will be the same as you were last week, and the week before, and last year, regardless of how positive you feel inside, or how good you feel about a situation. Are you really ready to change?