One of the things that is hard for us individually and corporately is seeing and achieving change. Change does not come naturally- least of all in our own hearts and lives- let alone in others. 'Smile or die: How positive thinking fooled America and the World' is an example of the million pound industry that has developed out of our yearning for personal change. Failure to see change and growth in ourselves and others can really get us down and sometimes defeats us altogether. I think it's why so many give up on church and following Jesus.
How then does change happen? One word from Scripture sums it all up and that word is repentance. Luther entitled the first of his 95 theses he nailed on the Wittenberg door 'All of life is repentance' and I recommend this paper on the subject.
A story is told (in one of these sermons) of Charles Spurgeon who week after week preached messages on repentance until eventually a lady approached him and complained about it. "When are you going to stop preaching on repentance?" The great man looked her in the eye and replied "When you repent"
'I thank your Ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist preachers. Their doctrines are most repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks and to do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.’(Pollock, P.103)
So many people who have been following Jesus for decades, attended hundreds of church services, been members of home groups, been on Christian holidays, tithed their money, been in a prayer group and shown up at countless conferences are still stuck in exactly the same place struggling, grumbling and battling with the same old gubbins (anxiety, anger, self-pity, pride, porn, over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending and over-doing)- the same issue year after year after year. Who among us has not thought, "Am I ever going to defeat this?" exhausted by our efforts to 'try harder' (which is a complete waste of time by the way) or 'resolve better' as our methodology for personal sanctification and change. We can have been to Toronto, Tacoma and Torbay (and I've been to all three) to little effect. So why is it that so many in the church are quite patently not living in the joy and freedom that the gospel speaks so clearly of? Well, perhaps it is because most of us have not really understood what repentance is and, until we do, we will more than likely stay stuck in the same unfruitful spiritual mud we are currently in. I was certainly stuck there for far far far far too long and revelation on repentance reading Romans was (and still is) crucial to me.
A final word on repentance should perhaps go to Eugene Peterson. He says repentance is:
...'.deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbours and your world. And it is deciding that God, in Jesus Christ, is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realisation that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.'
These are not feel good talks and MacDonald is not a frightfully feel good guy (try and get over that if you can) but their content if you listen to them and apply this brilliant teaching is totally and utterly life changing. Once you've listened to them once- listen to them again. Pray them through. Make notes. Give them to friends. Talk to friends about them. Talk to your spouse about them. Teach and discuss these truths with others. These two hours may save you years of frustration, failure and pain.
You can podcast it here (I generally find talks easier to listen to than to watch) and you can get it through itunes. But you can watch also:
Process of change- Part One
Process of change- Part Two