January 6, 2019

Lasting Change Can Only Come From Working Inside Out

First published in The Times Newspaper 6th January 2019...

If I’m honest with myself this time last year I had the same hope, and the year before and the year before that. The new year full of resolutions - to shed a few pounds, sort out that relationship, or change my work situation. The problem is the needle didn't really move and I’m left with a niggling sense of failure and questioning whether I should even bother trying again.

As we enter 2018 with specific hopes for the year ahead there is a hesitation for us all because we’ve been here before. After a few days or weeks we have reverted to old patterns and behaviours and so instead of a new beginning we plough on with life as usual.

The ‘self help’ movement often claims that if we discipline ourselves in a new habit for 21 days we will be changed. Others explain that this is a misunderstanding of the original research and it actually takes 66 days to establish a new habit. Either way its not easy to simply change behaviour.

So how do we go about creating lasting change in our lives? Lasting change actually starts in our inner world of attitudes, beliefs and values rather than in our outer world of habits, discipline and behaviour. Our outer world is a reflection of our inner world not the other way around. So if we want to see lasting change its our attitudes, beliefs and values that need to change which will result in a change of behaviour.

God specialises in lasting change. The Apostle Paul explained to the church in the city of Corinth, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation the old has gone and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If we follow Jesus he will change our life inside out.

In nearly every family, neighbourhood and workplace there are people who have a story about how Jesus has changed their life inside out. It doesn’t make people perfect but it does does make them a better version of themselves. Pew Research says that in 2010 there were 2.19 billion people worldwide, or 31% of the worlds population, who follow Jesus Christ.

When I first met someone who talked about ‘following Jesus’, I found it strange and uncomfortable, yet I was interested and intrigued. Still unsure of what would happen, one day I simply said, “Jesus, I want to follow you” and began reading about Jesus in the Bible and hanging out with other Jesus people. There was nothing particularly ‘wrong’ with my life but I severely lacked self confidence and so when I discovered that Jesus not only loved me but also liked me my world was transformed inside out.

Recently I visited a social business at Causeway Compassion in Coleraine, Northern Ireland and met a man who was working there on day release from prison. I listened to some of his life story, that in places was completely devastating and would crush the strongest of us. He then smiled from ear to ear as he said that he had begun to follow Jesus and that his life was changed.

Whether we are a person who on the surface seems to have everything together or someone for whom life has had some more obvious glitches Jesus offers us the opportunity for lasting change - inside out.

The opportunity God provides for a new beginning is not limited to us as individuals. In the New Testament whole families decided to follow Jesus and their family life was transformed. Jonah tells the story about how a whole city respected God and was changed and transformed. The book of Chronicles explains that if we humble ourselves and pray to God he says,“I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2Chronicles7:14).

It is tempting to blame politicians for the state of family life, for our cities and nation. We do well however to remember that the most effective change is not outside in. Legislation is important but it is not the best mechanism for change. Transformation happens inside out when the hearts and minds of men, women and children are renewed.

So as we begin the year let’s not just reflect on the changes that we would like for our own life. Let’s consider the changes we would like to see in the life of our family, our city and our nation. Whatever our hopes or resolutions for 2018 the best chance we have for achieving them is through changes that happen, inside out.

Matt Bird

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