Test yourself before you read this piece by thinking about how you think about those you would like to see change. If your motives and practices are wrong, the change you hope for probably will not happen.
- Are you impatient toward the person you want to see changed?
- Are you frustrated, critical, un-forgiving, bitter, or fearful about the person you would like to see changed?
There are more questions, but these attitudes are enough to help you assess your heart about those you care about and want to serve. If any of these things are in your heart, then the first thing you need to do in order to help them to change is begin changing yourself. You need to learn how to more effectively cooperate with God in the transformation of others.
Ask the LORD to help you to follow Paul’s advice (1 Thessalonians 5:14) by carefully considering the people you are motivating to change and how you are motivating them. They are not like you. They are different from you and it would be helpful to understand their differences in order to adequately come alongside of them.
A case study
Joe knows how to get things done. He is a successful guy. His reputation and business is well-known in his community. People like him and come to him to learn the secret sauce for his success.
On the surface there is nothing wrong with what you see in Joe, but once you begin to look a little deeper, his secret sauce is not something you want to partake. Joe is a controller who demands his employees do things his way.
His methods work because his employees need a job. They are willing to put up with Joe as long as they are paid well. Joe keeps churning along, raking in the dough. Though he is a “success” on the business front, he is a frustrated and unsuccessful husband, father, and friend.
The methods he implements in his home do not bring about the same results. His preconceived ideas of who his family members should be are not being received well because they are more forced than nurtured. This confuses Joe because he knows he is right; he wants a loving wife and obedient children.
“What’s wrong with that? This is what God wants.”
It may be what God wants, but God does not force righteousness on anyone. The LORD creates contexts of grace and then invites people into those contexts, while motivating them by His grace. The law, the way Joe is implementing it, does not motivate people to change in sustainable ways. It does the opposite by discouraging and exasperating people.
Within God’s framework of grace, we choose righteousness. He does not demand it or foist it upon us because the process matters to God, not just the results. The LORD keeps the end in mind as well as the methods that lead to that end (Romans 2:4).
Plant, water, change
Our loving, heavenly Father could have accomplished His purposes for us without us. I suppose. He could have made us righteous, but by doing so, it would marginalize what our relationship with Him would be like.
Relationships would be more robotic than human. This is how Joe treats his employees. They are like robots hired and wired to accomplish his goals–a strategy that does not work in his family.
Employees can leave, but children cannot “quit” the family because they are young and his wife is not willing to “quit” (divorce) the marriage–at least not at this time. This places Joe and his family between a rock and a hard place.
He wants them to be a certain way. They are resistant to what he wants and he cannot legislate his mandates for how things ought to be. The tension in the home moves between tense peace and combustible anger. It has yet to occur to Joe how the outcome was never meant to be his to determine. (See 1 Corinthians 3:6)
God has not called us to determine the outcome, but to trust Him for the end result, even if the result is not to our liking. What God has called us to do is to faithfully and gratefully work the process, while leaving the outcome to Him. Not Joe. Not you. Not me. The problem is that Joe wants to plant, water, and control the growth. James called this arrogance. (See James 4:13-16)
A man who tries to control the process and the outcome does not need God because he is god. There is no room in Joe’s world for God because Joe has everything under control–at least this is the illusion he wants to perpetuate.
Joe is not a good god because many of his employees are angry with him, his wife is angry at him, and his children are growing in their resentment toward him, which will turn into teen rebellion once they become courageous enough to share their true thoughts with him.
I know how things ought to be
This is what happens in many marriage and family debacles when one person in the family–usually a parent–believes he/she knows how things ought to be. Based on what they believe to be right, they try to mandate or legislate the outcome. This inevitably leads to disaster.
Caveat – In many of these situations, the parent is right in what they perceive to be wrong and how things should be made right. The problem is when the parent tries to mandate righteousness on the children. They are sincerely trying to avert dangers and disasters they see brewing, but legislating morality is a multifaceted problem. In such situations the…
- Parents are not omnipresent, meaning they do not have God’s full mind on the problems (Isaiah 55:8-9).
- Parents do not understand how God can use sin sinlessly to accomplish His good purposes (Genesis 50:20).
- Parents do not want to trust God because they typically lean toward self-reliance rather than God-reliance (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
- Parents do not want those who are close to them to suffer, which is an impossible conundrum to avoid (Genesis 3:7-19).
Joe could get away with his tactics and strategies at work because his employees would either double down and do things his way or they would leave.
The issue is not so much about the results, but how he goes about making sure these things happen. He runs roughshod over people, without considering the people he is handling or, in his case, man-handling.
The result is his family is dysfunctional and he alienates himself from the people who could be his friends. Joe has bought into his culture’s view of success: win, while imitating their style of acquiring success: at all costs.
His way of doing things creates a blind spot he truly cannot see. He has three options: (1) hire robots, (2) change how he treats people, or (3) continue to live in work and familial dysfunction, while alienating himself from those relationships.
Robot for hire
If he hires robots for his work and marries one for his home, then he can program them to do exactly what he wants them to do. It would be a perfect world. It would be his world, a perfect one according to his rules, interpretations, and applications.
If there were anything he did not like about his Robo World or if he made a mistake (not likely) or came to understand things differently (an anomaly), then he could upgrade to 2.0, 3.0, 4.0. There are an infinite number of iterations he could make.
He would be able to accomplish his goals with little relational angst, effort, or challenges. Though this could work for him, it would not work for God. God wants relationships, even though He knows these relationships are messy because we will never be entirely sanctified.
Being imperfect seems to be okay with God because He understands the doctrine of progressive sanctification. He will take any person “just as they are” and relate to them in such a way that motivates them toward change. The LORD can patiently work the process of change without mandating artificial timelines for change.
Though the LORD is a bottom line person too; the process is not lost on Him. In fact, one of the blessings about the process with God is how it deepens our relationship with Him.
He repeatedly demonstrates His love to us, even while we are imperfectly following Him (Romans 5:8). He does not deal with us according to what we deserve, but He gives love, ad infinitum (Psalm 103:10-14; Romans 5:8).
Playing in the dirt
The word Adam can be translated as red man or man of the dirt (Genesis 2:7). We are dust. I am a dirt clod and you are too. The LORD knows this and He loves playing in the dirt. He knows His audience (John 2:24-25). He knows life cannot be about present perfection, but a mature and loving way of leading us through the process to the goal.
- Do you see dirty friends and family members as opportunities to be shaped for God’s glory?
- Are you tempted to manipulate them according to your preferences rather than trusting the LORD for the process?
Paul talked about this idea when he wrote to the Thessalonians. He wanted to make sure they understood how people are different and how you could not treat everyone in the same manner. Listen to his urging:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (ESV)
There are three people groups in this sentence: (1) the unruly, (2) the small-souled, and (3) the physically or mentally challenged. Then he closes his appeal by saying we should be patient with all of them.
Paul was not so much thinking about the end result as he was thinking about how we treat people who are imperfectly plodding toward an end result. Paul urges us to think about the people we are interacting with on a daily basis.
This is even more important when it comes to your wife, children, and close friends. Everybody is different and each person requires special and customized attention.
A major component of our lives is about cooperating with God in the transformation of others for His glory. If our focus is on the bottom line or our preferred goals and preferences that we have for others, then there is a good chance we are going to miss out on the blessing of engaging each other in the transformational opportunities before us.
Addendum: wives and husbands
Did you know your spouse is a double damaged individual? Your spouse was born in sin (in Adam) and was parented by people who were born in sin (in Adam). This means (1) your spouse came into the world broken and (2) was parented by broken people.
You received double damaged goods when you married your spouse. No matter how wonderful and great the parents were, they were not perfect. No spouse was entirely sanctified by their parents and more than likely there are some residual issues that were caused by the parents, as they are with Adam.
This makes it imperative for you to become a student of your spouse so you can continue the process of cooperating with God in the sanctification needs of your spouse. Too many newly married people marry a person and expect things from their spouses without carefully discipling those things into them.
There is a process involved in helping a spouse to become the person God is leading them to be and the one you want him/her to be.
Sometimes a wife will say something like, “This is not what I signed up for.” I must ask, “What did you sign up for? A perfect man or a work-in-progress?” Your husband is a dirt clod.
If you are demanding an end result without helping him get to the goal of glorifying God, then you need to rethink your strategies.
You cannot jump over the process to get to the goal. It does not work this way. Here are a few helpful questions to reorient your thinking about the process of change, which can also be applied to your friends, not just your spouse.
- How are you creating a context of grace in your home that is conducive to the sanctification growth of your spouse?
- What resentment, bitterness, or un-forgiveness are you still harboring against your spouse?
- Are you nagging or demanding your spouse to be something without entering into their complicated-ness?