The Dynamics of Change: Understanding - #1

Dr. Brian Allison

Do you resist change? Do you resist personal transformation? When I was in high school, I played on the football team. I played the halfback/fullback position. When the quarterback handed me the ball to run for yardage, I would run upright through the offensive line. On various occasions, the coach would exhort, "Allison, you have to put your head down and pump with your legs. Burst out of your stance low, and knife through the appropriate hole." No matter how many times the coach instructed me on the proper way to run, I would inevitably return to upright running because of personal preference. I paid the heavy price of brutal tackles for resisting change. E. B. White (1899-1985), an American author, once said, "The only sense that is common in the long run, is the sense of change – and we all instinctively avoid it."

A number of years ago, I enrolled in a computer course. One of my classmates was a middle-aged man, an editor by profession. He wanted to learn and employ the latest technology in order to make his work easier. On one occasion, during class, he cynically bemoaned, "This will never do; I will never learn the computer. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks." John Steinbeck (1902-1968) insightfully remarked, "It is the nature of a [person] as he [or she] grows older to protest against change, particularly change for the better."

Are you prepared to change? As you consider your life right now, you may identify areas that need to be changed; for example, a jealous disposition, a habit of idleness, a critical attitude, an unhealthy relationship. I have heard many bemoan, "I will never change; it will always be the same. Why even bother?" But are you prepared to change? Do you want things to 'get better'? As a Christian, you ought to be concerned about, and have a desire for, change, because change is essential to really following after Christ. As a follower of Christ, we are called and commanded to be holy and righteous, that is, to be Christ-like, which necessitates that we change. So, the call and command to be like Christ is similarly the call and command to change.

I have often heard people say that they 'get stuck;' they want their lives to be different, to improve, but they are not quite sure how to bring about that difference; they have the best intentions in the world, but how to translate those intentions into concrete action, they fail to discover. Let us thus consider the very foundations of change, that is, what makes change even possible. In other words, let us consider the preconditions of change, that is, what is required, what needs to be apparent, in order for change to actually occur. What must be evident to make behavioural, spiritual, emotional, or psychological change attainable? What factors are necessary in order to set the stage for real change?

The Bible presents various stories that reveal, teach, highlight, and illustrate the dynamics or preconditions of change. Often we are very theoretical and abstract when we discuss human experience and behaviour; and we walk away from such discussions, thinking that the ideas are very interesting, but are not quite sure how they work out in our lives; we are not sure how to apply them. Hence, as we consider the dynamics or preconditions of change, we will do so by seeing how they are demonstrated and expressed in the lives of different Biblical characters.

David experiences radical change

In considering the first dynamic of Biblical change, let us focus on the account in 2 Samuel 11, 12. This story concerns David's heinous sins against Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah. In being overcome with lust, David fell into adultery with Bathsheba, and then he tried to cover up his immorality by perpetrating the murder of Uriah so that he could then legitimately take Bathsheba to be his wife. David was apparently unaffected by his sins; he seemed to be indifferent. This indifference was soon to change. Now David undergoes two movements of change in this account. First, David changes from a state of indifference and denial to one of confession, humility, and self-abasement. So we read, "When the time of mourning was over, David sent and brought her [Bathsheba] to his house and she became his wife; then she bore him a son" (2 Sam. 11:27a). David seemingly is unmoved, undisturbed. At this point in his experience, he was not ready to confess (nor does he seem to even feel the need to confess) and to make amends. He was in a state of denial. However, we read further on that when his sin was exposed, "David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground" (2 Sam. 12:16). David, in humble self-abasement, prostrated himself before God. Second, he changed from a state of confession, humility and self-abasement to one of peace and acceptance. Thus we further read, after the child died, "So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate...And he said, 'While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, "Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live." But now he has died; why should I fast?'" (2 Sam. 12:20,22f.). In this article, we shall consider David's first movement of change – from denial and indifference to confession, humility, and self-abasement.

Change requires an understanding

Now this kind of change (from denial to self-abasement) is not one that is particularly appealing, but it is very medicinal and quite beneficial. Now how do we explain this movement in David's behaviour? What made change even possible? No doubt, a number of factors may have contributed, but one certain factor was acquired understanding or realization – an essential interior dynamic or precondition of change. When David understood certain matters clearly, he was prepared to change, and to change for the better. David's experience was similar to that of the prodigal son (Lu. 15:11ff.). When the prodigal son "came to his senses," his situation became hopeful and he was prepared to change, and he actually did change for the better. In acquiring understanding, fresh insight, a pivotal point occurred in the prodigal son's life, and a new direction of life commenced, which led down the road of personal recovery. Such was the case with David – understanding initiated change for the better. Now David's acquired understanding had three focal points – his situation, himself, and his God.

David understood his situation

David realized that his situation was serious, though he tried to deny and cover up the truth. Through God's revealing of the truth (by Nathan the prophet), David received insight. He recognized that the innocent life of his infant son was in peril because of his own self-centred actions. He realized that death knocked at the door of his son, not because of natural circumstances or events, but because of God's judgement against his sin. We read, "Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David so that he was very sick" (2 Sam. 12:15). Nathan had previously prophesied this tragedy, "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die" (2 Sam. 12:14).

Further, David realized that the judgement of God was not only revealed in the death of his son, but that it would be revealed over the whole of his life, affecting not only him, but also his family members. Thus Nathan prophesied, "'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your own eyes, and give them to your companion, and he shall lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed, you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.'" (2 Sam. 12:10-12). So David clearly understood the reasons for his present dilemma, as well as the consequences of his inappropriate actions. Divine judgement fell because of his sins. David understood his situation.

David understood himself

David realized that he had sinned by breaking God's moral law. So, we read, "Then David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the LORD'" (2 Sam. 12:13). He was a covenant breaker. He realized that he had committed sins worthy of death. David stood before the bar of God as an adulterer and a murderer. His lust drove him to violate another man's wife. His pride of image and prestige, and his fear of exposure and scandal, drove him to take the life of the man whose wife he had violated. His lack of reverence for God caused him to cover up his crimes.

David understood his God

In acknowledging that he had sinned, David, in effect, realized that he had offended a holy and righteous God. For example, we read, "But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD" (2 Sam. 11:27b). What is presupposed? What is implied? Simply, that God is holy and righteous. David also realized that an offended holy and righteous God revealed Himself as a displeased Judge. So, David realized something of the character of God, which really engendered his brokenness and penitence. He realized that God hates sin.

David also realized that God was a God of mercy and grace, who may turn away His judgement, which served to impel him to seek the Lord. He knew that God delights in pardoning and forgiving, especially those who are humble and contrite. For example, after the child died, inquiries were made of David as to why he changed his demeanor so suddenly from one of sorrowful abasement to that of quiet acceptance. David replied, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Sam. 12:22,23).

David had an understanding of his situation; he had an understanding of himself; he had an understanding of God; and with this threefold understanding, he was prepared to change – moving from a state of denial and indifference to one of confession, humility, and self-abasement. We read, "David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them" (2 Sam.12:16,17).

Some test cases for understanding

Are you prepared to change? You won't be prepared to change unless you first have some understanding. My step-father was an alcoholic for a number of years and he created much disharmony and disruption in the home. Many nights I would stay awake in bed listening to his yelling and screaming upstairs. He finally came to the point of realizing that he was doing the family damage and doing himself damage, and that it was time to change. Only in understanding the facts of his circumstances and the consequences of his actions, as well as believing that things could be different, was he ready to change.

Let us consider some specific test cases in which this particular dynamic of change may be observed.

a. Pornography

Are you hooked on pornography? Do you find that when you go into the corner convenience store that you are browsing through the pornographic material? Do you find that when you are at home behind closed doors that you will put on X-rated movies because you are hooked on pornography? Is that where you need to change? Again, change requires that you understand at least three things. First, understand your situation. Maybe you need to realize that you are polluting your mind, and that in that pollution you are separating yourself from God. Maybe you also need to realize that the consequences of being preoccupied with pornographic material is that your view of sex has become totally distorted and, further, that this preoccupation with such material helps to explain your compulsive, and possibly addictive, behaviour.

Second, understand yourself. You may need to realize that you have been enslaved. Perhaps you have been self-deceived, believing that through fantasy and imagination, your deepest needs will be met – the need for security and intimacy in a relationship. Maybe you need to realize that you have exchanged the truth for a lie. You may need to understand that in your preoccupation with pornography, you are rebelling against God; that you have set up the idol of perverted sex in your heart; that you are serving lust rather than God.

Third, understand God. You may need to understand that God is holy and righteous; and that He has an all-penetrating gaze. He sees into the darkest place, which may be your mind, and He takes note of everything; and although you close the bedroom or washroom door, God is still there. His "eyes are too pure to approve evil," and He cannot "look on wickedness with favor" (Hab. 1:13a). You may need to come to the realization that God created sex to be a good thing when performed within the bounds of legitimate relationship and according to His Word.

Now the result of this three-fold understanding should help lead to confession, humility, and self-abasement. There will be no change without understanding; you will not seek forgiveness or restoration without realizing some critical, personal matters.

b. Self-ambition

Maybe you are struggling with self-ambition. In seeking to understand your situation, you may need to realize that you have worked long hours, that you have expended much energy, in order to ascend the corporate ladder. You may need to realize that you have cut corners and have made shady deals in order to forward your personal and financial goals. You may also need to realize the serious consequences of your actions, namely, the neglect of your family, the alienation of your friends and colleagues, the compromise of your moral values, and the deadening of your spirituality.

In seeking to understand yourself, you may need to realize that deep down inside you have a selfish thirst for status and prestige. You may need to realize that pride is ruling in your heart – you want people to think well of you and you want to be counted among the Jones' and the Smiths. Supposedly, reputation and image rank number one on your list of personal priorities. You may need to realize that self-recognition and power are the idols of your heart.

In seeking to understand God, you may need to realize that God will not give His glory to another. You may need to realize that God abases the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. You may need to realize that He alone should rule in your life, and that He demands contrition and humility. You may need to realize that your sinful actions are displeasing God. Now the result of this three-fold understanding should help prepare you to change, moving from a state of indifference and denial to one of confession, humility, and self-abasement.

c. Covetousness

Do you struggle with covetousness – an inordinate desire for certain things or certain people? Let us consider the case of a covetousness for money. What is your situation? You may need to realize that money really does control your actions and behaviour. You may need to realize that you think of money too much; that your thriftiness is really an expression of your greed. Is it the case that you are thinking all the time about money, planning and scheming to get money? Do you realize that even the kind of friends you make may have in view getting money? Maybe you only associate with the wealthy and you now have come to realize that you have many ulterior motives. You may also need to realize that your family is suffering because you are absorbed in the stock market, investment schemes, etc.

What is the insight about yourself? Perhaps you need to realize that you do have a preoccupation with money, that you have a stingy, hoarding disposition. You may need to realize, being honest with your own heart, that deep down inside there is a burning, uncontrollable desire for money, believing that the securing of money will prop up your sagging self-image, making you a somebody. You may need to realize that on the throne of your heart is the idol of making money, and that you justify your actions by saying that it is simply a matter of acquiring security. The truth may be that you worship the god of money. For instance, do you fantasize about winning a million dollars through such things as lottery tickets?

What do you understand about God? You may need to realize that God indeed identifies covetousness with religious idolatry (Col. 3:5). A carnal desire for women, for men, for fame, for prestige, for money is idolatry, and God hates it. You may need to realize that God demands your first allegiance. You may need to realize further that the Lord gives and it is He who takes away; that everything you own belongs to Him, and that you are simply a steward.

Now this three-fold understanding should help to prepare you to change. When the light dawns you will do just as David did – "David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went out and lay all night on the ground" (2 Sam. 12:16). But let us consider one more test case. You may say, "Suppose the case is not that I have done wrong, but rather that I have been wronged, then what?" The application of this truth remains the same, if change is required.

d. An Unloving Parent

Maybe your are suffering the pain and hurt of having lived with an authoritarian and critical parent. In facing up to the realities of your situation, you may find it difficult, and experience even more pain. Courage is required. You must be honest with yourself as you seek to overcome the emotional damage, which you experienced growing up, and become less fearful, less anxious, and more at peace with God, yourself, and your world. First, concerning your situation, you may need to realize that your family was indeed dysfunctional, and not perfect; though your family may have worked hard at conveying the image of perfection to the neighbours. You may need to realize that your family lived with many secrets. You may need to realize that your mother or father was unaffectionate, nasty, and critical; that verbal and emotional abuse was standard behaviour. You may need to realize that you were terrorized into action and conformity, which contributed to your timid, withdrawn disposition.

Second, concerning yourself, you may need to realize that you are harbouring deep anger, bitterness, and resentment, which are affecting the quality of current relationships, and which need to be squarely addressed, confessed, and worked through; these emotions may be stunting and retarding your spiritual and personal growth. You may need to realize that you are quite insecure, being afraid of the world, people, and life itself; that you desire a perfect, peaceful world (which is actually unrealistic). You may also need to realize that you have deep longings inside (because of the neglect and rejection of your parents) for acceptance, love, and affirmation; and that these really have become your idols. Your need for intimacy and romance may be the real objects of your worship. You may need to realize that your hatred toward your father, for instance, has become generalized to all men; and now you feel uncomfortable, and even threatened to be near a man. You may need to realize that you are thus suspicious of most people. You may need to realize that you are sinning in your response and attitude toward being sinned against, and that the latter does not justify the former.

Third, concerning God, you may need to realize that God indeed is a God of justice; that He will right the wrongs; and that you must commit yourself to Him, trusting that He will care for you and heal you. You may need to realize that as God has forgiven you for your wrongdoings, that you, in turn, should forgive others who have wronged you. God does not excuse sin, even if it is a response to unjust actions. You may need to realize that God requires obedience and Christ-likeness, even in the face of cruelty and injustice. You may need to realize that God is a God of comfort and love, and that He is a 'parent' who sincerely and unconditionally cares. Now with this three-fold understanding, you are being prepared to change.

Understanding comes from God

God gave David understanding. This understanding came through revelation. God sent Nathan the prophet to reveal to David his situation, himself, and his God. Similarly, if we are going to be prepared for change, God must enlighten us. We are not to "lean on [our] own understanding" (Pr. 3:5b). Now God is pleased to give us insight (when we seek Him sincerely and humbly) through the reading and meditation of His Word; through the still, small voice in prayer; through the counsel and advice of Christian family, friends, and workers. The understanding that God provides is "pure and peaceable" (Jas. 3:17a). It produces good fruit.

We, therefore, should pray to God for understanding. The Scriptures read, "Give me understanding, that I may observe Thy law, and keep it with all my heart" (Ps. 119:34); "Thy hands made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Thy commandments" (Ps. 119:73); "I am Thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know Thy testimonies" (Ps. 119:125); "Thy testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live" (Ps. 119:144). The Scriptures are replete with such language (eg. Pr. 2:11; 10:21; 15:21).

Are you prepared to change? All of us need to change. Again, we, as Christians, need to change because we should all be steadily growing in Christ. Mignon MacLachlin said, "It's the most unhappy people who most fear change." With your acquired understanding, may God give you the courage to actually change.

My non-Christian friend, before you can change you need understanding too. You need to understand that you are on a dead-end street; that you are going nowhere fast; in fact you are going in reverse. You pride yourself on self-sufficiency; you pride yourself on independence – doing it your way, and yet, if you were honest with yourself, you would probably have to say that your world is empty and meaningless. First, you need to understand that the misery in your life is because God is absent. You have failed to acknowledge His claim on your life. Further, you need to understand that you are a rebel against God, that God expects you to turn from your sinful ways and turn to Christ in faith and repentance. You need to understand that you are a covenant breaker; that you have worshipped yourself, others, and things, instead of the living God. Also, you need to understand that God, the supreme Lord, expects all of your worship, and your primary allegiance, and that He will settle for nothing less. You need to understand that Jesus Christ died for sinners and invites you to receive eternal life. My non-Christian friend I invite you to the foot of the cross. I invite you to quickly respond to God with the acquired understanding which He has been pleased to graciously give you.