There is nothing more exciting in a church than to see transformation take place. Pastors live for it. When a marriage that is falling apart is restored everyone wins. When an addict can turn away from their addiction and trust in Jesus alone it’s a thing of beauty. When a dad no longer shouts and screams at his kids the whole church rejoices. When a young teenager fails in a suicide attempt and then finds meaning, hope and purpose the world is a nicer place. Churches thrive on transformation. So why doesn’t it happen as often as we would like? Why doesn’t it happen in our lives as much as we would hope for? There are primarily two reasons, laziness and fear of success.
A key ingredient to growth is grace. We need God’s grace flowing through his people to change. A huge misconception with receiving grace is that there is nothing for the receiver to do. That’s simply not true. Peter implores his readers “to make every effort” to add to their faith (1 Pet. 1:5-9). Paul, in 1 Tim 4:7, encourages Timothy to train himself to be godly. Both Peter and Paul teach, preach and breathe grace and yet they encourage their readers to act, to make an effort. Grace is not opposed to effort. Receiving grace is a gift, that is, you cannot earn it. But receiving it requires effort. And many simply aren’t willing to make the effort.
Many Christians desire to be more like Jesus but they are lazy. The pain of effort is too much for them to change. Internally they lack the motivation to change. Two things will help them. Firstly, they receive such an incredible vision of what they could be like if they made the effort that the motivation to overcome the pain of change occurs. It could be a verse they read in the Bible that inspires them, or a sermon, or hearing a testimony of transformation. They get a vision that motivates them to their core. People need vision and if you can help them see what they could be like, how being more like Jesus will bring life and wholeness to their life and relationships then cast the vision. The second thing you can do is let them suffer.
Allowing others to suffer is difficult but Proverbs 19:19 reminds us that rescuing people from their poor behaviour doesn’t help them. For many, the pain of staying the same needs to become worse than the pain of changing and then transformation happens. It’s incredibly difficult watching people you love reap the consequences of their actions but sometimes it’s the only way to bring about their motivation for change. You can’t force motivation upon people – they either have it or they don’t.
The second reason people fail to change is the fear of success. Discipleship changes one to be more like Jesus. Jesus was a man of love, of compassion, of holiness – and this scares people. To be like Jesus, powerful yet compassionate, fearless yet approachable, holy yet associating with sinner, brings enormous responsibility. To be like Jesus is to be his ambassador. To act on behalf of Jesus, to speak on behalf of the Kingdom of God; this a terrible responsibility to place upon mortal man but alas it comes with being like Jesus.
Many yearn to be like Jesus but they don’t want the responsibility of being like him. Teenagers desire the benefits of being an adult but they don’t want adult responsibilities. Likewise, some want the benefits of being like Jesus but they shirk from the responsibility it brings. They fear what it would mean to bear such a burden. To be a person of love would mean forgiving my enemies, loving my enemies, seeking the good of my enemies. Success in maturity would mean discovering my unique gifts and talents and then using them to extend God’s kingdom. Involvement opens me to criticism and failure. Fear leads us to believe that it’s better to remain a Christian infant who gets to watch others from the sideline of life than to try and fail and hear the sniggers and laughs from others.
God’s grace is available to all who want it. Some don’t see the benefit in making the effort. Others are too comfortable. Others fear the responsibility the change will bring. Love those who are struggling to grow. Love them with casting vision. Love them by letting them suffer. Love them by taking their hand and facing their fears together. Perhaps the greatest struggle with growth in Christ is wanting it for those you love more than they want it for themselves. If only the drunk realised the joy of sobriety. If only the adulterer knew the delight that comes from faithfulness. If only the hater knew the freedom of forgiveness.
What are some other reasons that people don’t grow? What have you done for others that helped motivate them to make the change? How do you minister to those who are resistant to change in your ministry? What are you working on right now to be more like Jesus?