Change For The Better
How do we change for the better? In order for us to change, we have to know what to change. Many of us are not aware of what we are guilty of, and we often deny the existence of such possibilities of defects in us. We often deny things when concerned people point out to us what areas of improvement we need to work on. We tend to live life based on our own earthly and selfish desires, with no real direction. Without God in our lives, we end up making lots of mistakes.
In the words of Jesus, through Mark 8:34, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” If anyone, man or woman, wants to follow Jesus, to be his disciple (be a “Christian” we tend to say), then he must do two things. He must “deny himself” and “take up his cross.” When Luke tells this same story, he clarifies that we are to take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23). What does this mean? The answer to this question shows why the path is so different form the world.
To “deny” yourself means to say “No” to yourself and “Yes” to God. Paul is not talking about asceticism — forgoing earthly possessions and hygiene, not eating certain foods, ignoring the world, etc. To say it differently, the process of denial is “to humbly submit my will to God.” It is to go through life repeating the words that Jesus said the night before he died. When he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane, he said to God his Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” It is what millions of Christians have prayed for centuries when they repeat what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.” “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”
( Matthew 6:10).
What does it look like to live out this prayer? Someone hurts you. Your natural reaction is to lash back, to get angry. But the path of discipleship is “not my will but yours.” It is humbly submitting my will to God’s will. Instead of getting angry, we realize that God is calling us to forgive even our enemies.
What does it mean to “daily take up your cross”? The cross in Jesus’ time was a horrid symbol of pain, shame, and death. A person hung on it, naked, until his skeletal structure collapsed and he suffocated to death, without air and with his body drowning itself in its own fluids. Every day we are to live in such a way that it is apparent to everyone that we have died to ourselves, to our selfish ways and ambitions, and live for God.
To take up our crosses, we have to stop making short cuts in life. If we do something wrong to others, we have to start being honest to them instead of lying. We have to stop lying our way out of certain tough situations, and start being honest and face the consequences of our actions. Just as Jesus did not go through any shortcuts nor save Himself from all the suffering He went through, we should also let things happen in its natural way, without any sinful intervention. If justice is due, then face it like a man, and not burdening others.
In the face of trials, we should also remain faithful and believe in the sovereignty, the goodness and the perfection, the wisdom, and eternal love of God. If we do believe in all these, we should believe that no matter what trials we face, something good is bound to happen, and there is a reason why we are undergoing such trial. For whatever reason we are going through all these, we don’t know, but God is on our side, and we should have nothing to worry about. This is where our faith is put to the test. We can never have faith if we don’t trust int the Lord. Faith involves trust and belief. We need to be optimistic and believe that God will never abandon us.
Noah, Abraham, and others all acted on faith. They didn’t even ask questions, but rather went ahead and did what they were told to do by God. They were blessed in return, and God kept His promises to them. It might have taken forever for some of His promises to them to be fulfilled, but nevertheless God kept His promises in His time. We should remain positive, hopeful and believe in God no matter what. In Jeremiah 29:11, God says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This is what we should believe in.
Now that we have been constantly denying ourselves of our selfish and sinful lifestyle and start living for the Lord, as well as we build a foundation of faith in God, we can now start to explore ourselves. What do you find in the deep taverns of your life? Is there anything to get rid off, or is there light within the darkness?
Is there anything you need to change?
Sometimes for positive changes to happen we need to get out of our comfort zone and get to the effective zone, to be able to make that change. Nothing will happen if you know you are guilty of something, yet you don’t make an effort to explore new ways of doing things to avoid making the same mistake. You have to try new things to get a different result. It may be scary at first, but you’ll get used to it. Do not be afraid to explore.
Once you have pinpointed the areas which you need to work on, you are now in a position to make a commitment to change.
We often get side-tracked, so how do we avoid this? We have to always put ourselves in check. Stay focused, be persistent, pray regularly, read the bible regularly, and don’t forget to give back. Many people, once they are blessed by the Lord, they forget to thank the Lord nor share their blessings with others. In fact, they forget to pray.
2 Kings 7 tells a fascinating story of four lepers who sat at the gate of Samaria at a time when the city was under siege. Things had gotten so bad inside the city that women were eating their own children to survive. But Elisha the prophet had predicted something that seemed utterly impossible, that the next day food would be plentiful and affordable in Samaria.
Meanwhile, the four lepers evaluated their dismal situation. If they stayed at the gate of Samaria, they would starve. If they went over to the enemy camp, they may be killed, which would be no worse than starving. But there was the outside chance that the enemy would take pity on them and give them some scraps of food. So they took their chances and went over to the enemy camp.
When they got there, they were shocked to find the camp deserted. The Lord had caused the enemy to hear the sound of a great army of chariots and horses so that they fled in a panic, leaving all of their supplies behind. The four beggars ate all that they could eat. They hauled away and hid several loads of silver and gold and clothes.
But then their consciences began to gnaw at them. They said, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent” (2 Kings 7:9). So they went and told the starving city where they could find abundant supplies to satisfy their needs.
That story illustrates the main message of Zechariah 8, summed up by the Lord’s words in verse 13: “I will save you that you may become a blessing.” God’s people are blessed to bless others. God pours out His grace on us so that we will slop it over on others who are starving and dying without hope.
Because God has promised to bless us abundantly, we should be a blessing to others.
Always remember, our life is not about us. It’s always about others. Everything that Jesus did in this world was for our sake. Never did He do things for His own sake. Matthew 22:37-40 summarizes the commandments of Jesus, which covers practically everything indicated in the 10 commandments given to Jesus: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” We are being taught by Jesus to love one another as you love yourself, and not yourself above others. In other words, He is telling us to be loving, concerned, and generous to others, just as we would be to ourselves.
The Lord blesses us not so that we would be happy alone. It’s part of what He wants to happen, but it’s not the main reason why He blesses us abundantly. We are abundantly blessed so that we may also share these blessings with others who might be in need.
We have to remind ourselves that whatever blessings we receive is not a result of our hard work, not do we deserve them. It is by God’s grace that we are blessed. Leviticus 27:30 states that “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.” and in Malachi 3:10, it says “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” We are expected to give back to the Lord so that others may be blessed.