Spiritual growth is not automatic. Change is a matter of choice. We can’t just passively sit around doing nothing and expect to grow. We must make three choices if we really want to change.
First, we must carefully choose what we think about. Proverbs 4:23, in the Good News Translation, says, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” Someone once said, “You’re not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.” That is, if you are going to change your life, you have to change your thought patterns. Change always begins with new thinking.
How does a person become a Christian? By repenting. Repentance is often a misunderstood term. I used to think of it as a man standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “Turn or burn!” However, the Greek word for repentance is metanoia, and it means to change your mind or perspective. When I became a Christian, I changed my perspective on many things. Romans 12:2 says that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds — not by willpower.
The Bible teaches that the way we think determines the way we feel, and the way we feel determines the way we act. So if you want to change your actions, you have to go back to the source and change the way you think. Sometimes you may act resentful. Why? Because you feel resentful. Do you know why you feel resentful? Because you are thinking resentful thoughts. The same is true for anger and worry and many other kinds of destructive thought patterns.
Imagine you have a speedboat and the speedboat has an automatic pilot. The boat is heading east, and you decide you want to go west. You want to make a 180-degree turn. There are two ways to do that. The automatic pilot is heading the boat east, but you can grab the steering wheel and turn the boat around by sheer force. Now the boat is heading west, but the whole time that you’re forcing it by willpower to go west, you are under tension. That’s because the boat is naturally inclined to go the other way. You are tense and uptight, and soon you become tired. You know what happens then. You let go of the “wheel” and … you go off the diet, or you start smoking again, or you stop exercising, or you slip back into your old patterns of relating to your family. The truth is, trying to force yourself to change by sheer will-power seldom produces lasting results.
The other way to change the direction of your boat is to adjust the automatic pilot. Now, the “automatic pilot” in your life is your thoughts. Remember the question I asked in chapter 1? How did you finish the sentence “It’s just like me to be ________________”? Once you finish that sentence a few times, I will be able to tell you what the automatic pilot in your life is set on.
But you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Don’t focus on your actions. Don’t focus on your feelings. People often say, “I’m going to be more loving” or “I’m going to be happy if it kills me.” But forcing a feeling doesn’t work. Simply focus on changing your thoughts.
When you change your thoughts, you also change the way you feel. Stop thinking the thoughts that are getting you into trouble and start thinking thoughts that will get you where you want to go.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). When you base your life on truth — when you live with the right kind of thoughts, not misconceptions or false beliefs, and you base your life on right thoughts out of God’s Word — you will be set free. You will find your old habits, feelings, and actions falling away.
God gives us his Word, but we have to use it. We have to practice biblical meditation. When I use the word meditation, I am not talking about sitting in a yoga position and chanting “ommm.” You don’t need transcendental meditation or yoga or any of those other techniques based on Eastern religions. Stay away from them. Meditate on God’s Word. Read through the book of Psalms and see how many times David speaks of meditating on God’s Word.
Rick Warren, God’s Power to Change Your Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
We have just released a new Bible study on based on Rick Warren’s book God’s Power to Change Your Life.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #1
The Power to Change Your Life
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #2
God’s Part and My Part in Changing Me
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #3
God’s Power to Make You More Loving
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #4
God’s Power to Make You More Joyful
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #5
God’s Power to Give You Peace
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #6
God’s Power to Develop Your Patience
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #7
God’s Power to Develop Your Kindness
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #8
God’s Power to Develop Your Goodness
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #9
God’s Power to Develop Your Faithfulness
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #10
God’s Power to Develop Your Gentleness
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #11
God’s Power to Develop Your Self-control
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #12
A Productive Life
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