Unchanging Change

Change is constant—there’s no escaping it. And our changes in life can range from profound to unsettling—though most land somewhere in between.

Nothing we experience in a given moment will ever return in exactly the same way. Our bodies grow and then decline and finally give up. Our primary relationships emerge in the heyday of life, flourish, and then begin to fade in old age. The cycles of birth, childhood, puberty, social emergence, family, career, retirement, and death are constants of life.

Change comes especially in our social settings. Childhood dependence shifts into interdependence as we become adults. A complex and shifting web of family, friends and colleagues surrounds us and in some measure defines us. Our choices both open and close options for us as they define who we engage and how we reach new opportunities.

In the process we grow and mature. This all reveals our collective desires, personality, and character—and this profile is what meets and engages others. We take on a discernable presence and trajectory that will eventually be eulogized at our funeral.

And this reminder of a coming end underscores the moral quality of growth and change. Some people change in ways that are productive and attractive; others reveal an unattractive brokenness. Some are selfless and others are selfish. Some respond to Christ while others prefer autonomy. Some wear garments of glory; others are clothed in humility.

So each of us is a work in process. Yet our changes are often so gradual we don’t notice how we look to others. Yet it’s easy for others to see and describe us so we may be able to catch reports about our current shape and trajectory. And we may or may not like what we hear.

Here’s a practical question, then. How do we change for the better? What sets up the direction of change, whether for good or for ill? If we hope for maturity with honor, how do we get there?

The Bible language of “heart” is a starting point. We read in Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” This is not a one-off aphorism. The Bible language of heart is regularly repeated in speaking of our motivations. David, for instance, was contrasted to King Saul as being a man “after [God’s] own heart.” The great commandment starts with a love for God with “all your heart” in its every expression.

The heart is said to guide our thinking and choosing, and not the other way round. Jesus affirmed this in Mark 7:21: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts [and choices].” And in Psalm 139:23 David recognized the heart as his point of moral contact with God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

The heart is properly called the defining center of the soul: the unique “us.” Yet it is also shaped by our relationships. So others move our hearts. We respond to lives that touch us: as a son to a father; as a wife and mother to a husband and children; and so on. We respond to others and we stir others. And, as believers, we love God because he first loved us.

So how does our life as a responder connect with the ebb and flow of life-change?

Life is too complex—too full of prior conditions—to suggest any one-for-one links in what changes us. Each moment is woven with innumerable threads. Yet there is an affective explanation that is greater than any particular causes. Think about the heart.

First the heart sets out a direction of travel. We all follow our heart-desires—doing what we “want” to do. Call these our priorities. So if God’s love, poured out in our hearts by his Spirit, draws us to his priorities, changes will follow after his ways. The Spirit uses Scriptures and his people in this process.

If, on the other hand, our heart is shaped by a vision of personal success, comfort, entertainment, and more, our choices will follow a self-focused track. It’s what we want.

Second, a heart drawn by God’s love allows us to hear other hearts. We move beyond the limits of our own concerns. Compassion and affection for others emerge. We can see things from another point of view—not just our own. And this is what God’s love always does: it draws us into the love for others we were made to enjoy.

Let’s return to David who had a heart aligned with God’s heart. He was called to be a shepherd to the nation of Israel as a man who loved God. So we aren’t talking about a tautology here. The ultimate source of change is God’s presence in our lives. And in Christ he offers his love to all.

So the great question of life—the question we will still be asking for the rest of eternity—is how were we moved by Christ’s love? For all who want Christ we will be privileged to learn more of his love for the rest of eternity. For those who ignore him—living in favor of self-interests—there will be an alternative place: the eternal cul-de-sac of autonomy.

It’s not to late to change. Even if we love autonomy right now, we still have an alternative. We have time to start listening to the Spirit’s whispers of love. It changes everything.

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2 Comments

  1. Lonnie Rae

    Students have returned or are preparing to return to classrooms throughout the country. What if, along with all the other back-to-school preparations, the message to “keep their hearts with all vigilance” was emphasized. We prep them for physical, environmental, financial, and mind-set musts. If we’ve, for the most part, neglected the most important of all elements, their hearts, isn’t the inevitable most likely. Head strong, educated, autonomous individuals whose trajectory appears successful only to fall short of His plan resulting in life as you describe: focused on personal success, comfort, entertainment, and a self-focused track. As part of my practice, I see individuals preparing for college or life’s transitions. When I mention guarding or caring for their hearts the question is, most often, “What do you mean?” It’s as though I’m speaking a foreign language. I then describe doing just that by illustrating with roots of a tree deeply planted in rich soil which brings forth strong healthy limbs and contrasting that with roots and limbs that are produced with unhealthy soil. Pictures speak well into their hearts. Maybe a common analogy but highly effective in getting the conversation started.

  2. R N Frost

    I’m encouraged by the work you’re doing, Lonnie. The language of heart is, indeed, rare outside the Bible. Yet the reality of a heart-based anthropology is on display in many settings. Thanks.

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