The Dynamics of Change: Summary

Dr. Brian Allison

Last week Prime Minister Cretien made a major Cabinet shuffle. He made the change in order to govern Canada more effectively. Similarly, we are to seek change in order to be more effective. We are to seek change in order to be more productive and fruitful as unto God. That which will help us to achieve positive behavioural change is understanding and applying the seven preconditions of change, namely, understanding, confession, belief, hope, desire, willingness, and commitment to action. The account of Josiah's religious reformation (2 Kgs. 22:8 - 23:23-27) provides us with a clear example of the demonstration of these seven preconditions or dynamics.

King Josiah was a good king of the southern kingdom, ruling over Judah. In his eighteenth year of reign, he ordered the repairs of the temple. He wanted to beautify the temple and enhance the Levitical worship. He appointed Hilkiah, the high priest, as supervisor of the work crew. Now, as they were repairing the temple, the book of the law of God was discovered. It contained the commandments, ordinances, stipulations, and statutes which were given by God to Israel as the covenant people. Essentially, the book of the law contained the nation's legal, ethical, and religious codes. Apparently, while this book had been lost, Israel did not receive the proper direction and instruction, and thus religiously strayed.

The book was taken and read to king Josiah. Accordingly, Josiah and the nation of Israel changed from a state of religious complacency and covenantal unfaithfulness to one of true devotion to God and sincere commitment to pure religion. Why is it that Josiah and the nation of Israel experienced positive behavioural change? Josiah (most likely unself-consciously) conformed to the seven preconditions of change.

The need for understanding

First, understanding helped to bring about change. We read, "Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, 'Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.' And Shaphan read it in the presence of the king. And it came about that when the king heard the words of the book of the law, that he tore his clothes" (22:10,11). When the scribe read the book of the law, Josiah gained insight into God's truth. He acquired understanding about God, about himself and Israel, and about their situation. Now, we know that he gained this understanding because of his dramatic reaction to the reading of the law.

Josiah, first, acquired understanding about God. He realized that God requires covenant faithfulness and obedience. He realized that God judges idolatry and rebellion – "Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched" (22:17). In summary, Josiah acquired the understanding that God is holy and righteous, and that Israel must serve and worship Him alone.

Josiah, second, acquired understanding about himself and his people, Israel. He realized that he and his people were covenant breakers; that they had disobeyed God; that they had been unfaithful – "because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us" (22:13b). Josiah understood that he and his people were living in the very midst of flagrant idolatry, and thus sharing in the sins of their forefathers.

Josiah, third, acquired understanding about his situation. He realized that their situation was grave; that impending judgement (i.e., punishment) loomed. God was ready to vindicate His glory and His holiness – "thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read'" (22:16).

Again, the understanding required for positive behavioural change is threefold: God, yourself, and your situation. If you lack understanding, you will not change. I taught a rather bright student a few years ago. He was arrogant, haughty, and overbearing, but he did not realize it. He was unaware of the image that he was projecting. He appeared to be a know-it-all. One day he was graciously informed about his negative disposition, and he gained understanding. He realized that he had a problem, and in that realization, wanting to conform his life to the image of Christ, he began to change.

The need for confession

Second, confession helped to bring about change. We read, again, that Josiah said, "Our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us" (22:13b). Further, God said to Josiah through the prophetess Huldah, "[The inhabitants will] become a desolation and a curse, [but] you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you" (22:19b). When king Josiah heard the reading of the book of the law, he felt the pangs of conscience. He realized that he and Israel had done something drastically wrong; that they had sinned against, and had disobeyed, God. They had become unfaithful. Josiah subsequently acknowledged – confessed – their guilt, by tearing his clothes (an act of remorse and affliction). He humbled himself, wept in shame, and dispatched a delegation to inquire of the Lord.

If you are going to change, then you will have to confess. You will have to acknowledge that you have a problem, that you have made mistakes, that you have done something wrong, that you have sinned. Before you change, you will have to identify your failures, your shortcomings, your hang-ups, or your transgressions. Accordingly, you will have to be ruthlessly honest. You must have the courage to confront yourself and your situation, and to admit that a change is necessary. Now, that can be a scary business, can't it? But even though it is a scary business, it can often be a freeing business. Often you need to be hurt by the truth in order to be healed by it. You must first 'come clean' with God before God will clean you up. Be humble before God in order to be exalted with God.

Do you need to make confession? Maybe you need to confess that self-trust. Perhaps you have an unhealthy reliance on yourself. Maybe you need to confess your problem with passions. Apparently, you just cannot keep your lusts under control. Maybe you need to confess that bitterness that you have been harbouring for the past three or four years. You have difficulty forgiving that insensitive person. Maybe you need to acknowledge the fact that you have fallen out of love with your husband. Perhaps you have even wondered whether you should leave him. Maybe you need to confess the sin of laziness. Apparently, you waste so much time in a day. If there is no confession, if there is no acknowledgement, of the problem or sin, then you will not change. In fact, confession pinpoints what you need to actually change. I know a young man who entered marriage with significant emotional 'baggage.' Consequently, he was intensely jealous and possessive of his wife. That resulted in continuous tension and heartache. The home atmosphere was characterized by suspicion, mistrust, and criticism. The marriage, of course, suffered severely. The wife felt helpless and discouraged. He was always reacting against her because of his own insecurities, accusing her of things she did not commit. Eventually that Christian brother came to realize that he had a very serious problem ('paranoia'), and having confessed his sin, having acknowledged the damage and pain that he was causing, he was then able to take the appropriate steps in order to bring about positive behavioural change. He is happily married today.

The need for belief

Third, belief helped to bring about change. We read that God said to Josiah, "Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD...I truly have heard you" (22:19a,c). In hearing and understanding the contents of the book of the law, Josiah believed those contents. The reason why he became a broken man was simply because he did believe. He believed that God would fulfil His threat of judgement, and thus he sought to address the grave situation by dispatching a delegation to inquire of the Lord. Josiah said, "Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all of Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us" (22:13a). Because he most certainly believed God's word, he most definitely acted as he did. His belief was self-propelling.

Before you change, you too will have to believe certain things. Generally speaking, for instance, you will have to believe in the goodness and faithfulness of God, that He is able to address your particular situation and problem. You will have to believe that you can really change, as you appropriate the necessary means and resources at your disposal. You will have to believe that God has made you worthy in Jesus Christ of His love, and that He really will help you. Again, if you do not believe certain things, you will not change. A struggling couple came to see me for counseling a few years ago. As is the case with many couples who seek counseling, the counselor is the last stop before separation or divorce. One thing that impressed me about this couple was this: they believed that God wanted them together. In the strength of that belief, they persevered. At last report, they apparently were doing fine. The power of belief helps to bring about positive behavioural change. Do you believe? Do you believe that God cares? Do you believe that it is still possible to change, and that God can change you? If you are going to change, then you will have to believe.

The need for hope

Fourth, hope helped to bring about change. We read that the Lord made a promise to Josiah because he had believed the Lord's word and had humbled himself. The Lord said, "Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, neither shall your eyes see all the evil which I will bring on this place" (22:20). Josiah was given a gracious reprieve. God spoke to him a message of hope. Josiah realized that he would not be personally visited with judgement.

God is good, and is faithful to His word. In hope, Josiah moved to bring about religious reformation. If you lack hope, you will have great difficulty in changing. Hope propels you forward to the anticipated goal. You need to expect that tomorrow will be a better day. You need to trust in God 'to come through' for you. You need to see that life indeed is worth living, and that an improved situation is worth fighting for. If you have no hope, you may as well 'roll over and die.' Have you ever tried to help someone who feels very depressed, defeated, and debilitated? It is difficult to reason and talk to a person in that state; they do not 'hear' you. The absence of hope makes one numb to reality. A few years ago, a young anorexic lady came to see me. She was in a pitiable state. She weighed about 95 pounds. She had had a rough upbringing, lived in an austere, authoritarian, and critical environment. She lacked self-worth; she had no self-confidence, but she was a Christian. Now, one of the things that aided her in successfully moving through counseling was the fact that she had hope in God. She rested in the promises of God. Hope will save you; despair will destroy you.

The need for desire

Fifth, desire helped to bring about change. We read, "So they brought back word to the king. Then the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem" (22:20; 23:1). Josiah wanted to make things right with the Lord. He desired that the nation of Israel return to the Lord in order to faithfully serve Him. Thus, he wanted all the people to assemble before him in order that he might propose to them the appropriate course of action. Obviously, he wanted Israel to respond to God's gracious overtures. He clearly wanted change.

If you are going to change, you will have to desire certain things. Now, you may realize that you need to change, but if you have no desire to change, you will not change because desire provides the impetus for change. How often have you said that you should change, but that you have no desire to change; and as a result you did not change? Generally speaking, you need to desire to please God. You need to desire to make things right. You should desire the things that God desires; and that will only happen by spending much time in His presence. A middle aged woman, whose presenting problem was outbursts of anger, came to see me a little while ago. On one occasion, her anger was turned inward and she became very depressed. At that time, she said, "It is kind of comfortable being depressed. I think I will just stay here." She had no desire to change, and she did not change until she acquired a more positive, realistic attitude.

The need for willingness

Sixth, willingness helped to bring about change. We read, "And the king went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant, which was found in the house of the LORD" (23:2). Josiah was determined to do something about the grave situation. He called a meeting of all the people and, as a faithful and strong leader, he squarely addressed the problem. There was no skirting of the issues, no soft pedalling of the crisis. He was resolved to bring about change. No doubt, as the king, he realized that he had a responsibility to do something. He and the people were accountable to God. Josiah chose to act, and he chose to act swiftly; he made a self-conscious decision to return to the Lord. As the king, the buck stopped with him.

Accordingly, if you are going to change, then you need to be willing to change. You need to be determined to change. You choose to act or you choose not to act. It is a choice; even your indifference is a choice. Life consists of choices. The point is that you can make good ones or bad ones. Positive behavioural change will not happen automatically. You need to take some personal initiative and assume your God-given responsibility. God is not going to wipe your nose when he has provided you with the handkerchief. You need to come to the point where you say, '"Enough is enough. I am not going to go on like this anymore. I have had it!" Like belief, willingness is self-propelling. A couple came to see me on one occasion, and right from the start I emphasized the need for responsibility. I said to the husband, "You need to be responsible for your actions. You need to be responsible for how you treat your wife, and you need to treat her in a godly manner. Quit skirting the issues. Quit saying, 'She made me do it.' Quit passing the buck and blaming someone else for your own sin. If you are not going to be responsible, then I cannot help you." Unfortunately, he did not come back to counseling. People do not want to assume their responsibility. They want someone else to carry out their commitments or to cover for their mistakes. They depend on others to fix the problems for them. However, you are responsible for what happens in your life. You are responsible for your change. Do not wait until your spouse changes before you change; do not wait until your children change; do not wait until your colleague changes; you change because you are responsible before God, and He will hold you accountable.

The need for commitment to action

Seventh, commitment to action helped to bring about change. We read, "And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book and all people entered into the covenant. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the door keepers, to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel" (23:3,4). Josiah was obviously committed to action. He was serious about bringing about reformation. He was prepared to take the necessary steps in order to change a bad situation. He was willing to do what it takes to bring about reform. He had goals and objectives. His goal was simply that he and Israel would turn wholeheartedly to the Lord and worship Him alone. His objectives (flowing from the goal) were, first, to have Israel enter into a covenant to follow the Lord and, second, to purge the land of idolatry. Accordingly, the appropriate and resultant strategy was, first, to rally the people and, second, to physically remove all traces of false religion. The action plan (flowing from the strategy) was to burn all pagan and idolatrous icons and images, to remove the idolatrous priests, to destroy the cultic houses, etc. (see 23:5-25 for the other aspects). Thus, Israel changed.

Before you will change, you must have a commitment to action. Belief alone is insufficient. You may believe all the right things, but if you are not prepared to do anything about your problem, you will remain as you are. Hope alone is insufficient; willingness alone is insufficient; desire alone is insufficient. You need to be ready to act. I have a pastor friend who approached me awhile ago about one of his personal problems – he lusted after women. He said to me, "I want you to hold me accountable." Do you know how humbling it is to confess that kind of a problem to someone? But he was prepared to do what it takes to change because it was the right thing to do in the eyes of God. Change does not just happen. By God's grace, you make it happen; and if you are not doing anything, nothing will result; things will remain the same.

So, Josiah and Israel changed. They changed from religious complacency and covenantal unfaithfulness to true devotion to God and sincere commitment to pure religion. Are you prepared to change? Be honest now. Carl T. Rowan insightfully remarked, "We emphasize that we believe in change because we were born of it, we have lived by it, we prospered and grew great by it. So the status quo has never been our god, and we ask no one else to bow down before it." Are you prepared to change? God wants you to change; ultimately He wants you to change into the image of His Son. Is that what you want as well?