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How hard it is to change! How we all struggle to break bad habits, establish good ones, turn our lives in new directions.
Self-improvement is a multibillion-dollar industry pumping out books, infomercials, videos, attracting legitimate professionals and quacks alike.
The COVID-19 crisis is pouring gasoline on the self-help blaze, exploiting our individual and collective sense that things in the world are not OK. We crave “normal” again.
But a lot of personal and relational damage has been done during the past year amid restrictions, isolation and a toxic sense of having lost control (as if we ever had it in the first place).
Lately, change is in the air, but for it to be healing and lasting, we need to look inside ourselves and see what needs “cleaning up” there first …
Nature Abhors a Vacuum
As is written in Luke 11:24-26, “When the unclean spirit comes out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it then says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they come in and live there; and the last condition of that person becomes worse than the first.”
I used to believe that if I wanted to change any of many bad behaviors it would be sufficient to simply STOP doing the bad stuff. Trouble is, it never worked. This was not because of anything wrong with the aspiration itself, it had to do with my total powerlessness to pull it off.
Everything depended on me and that is where it broke down.
After all, it was ME who wanted all the bad stuff in the first place, so how can ME get rid of it? Each time I “cleaned up and swept out,” I only managed to stay out of trouble while my willpower held out, then Bang! The door of my inner spiritual life would get kicked in and a “home invasion” proceeded.
Those familiar evil impulses would storm in, each time seemingly worse than before.
In most self-improvement and recovery programs, it is common practice to concentrate on getting rid of harmful things, which is proper as far as it goes.
But, as the passage above explains, there is danger in stopping at the “getting rid of” stage. This explains why most addiction recovery programs have such low long-term success rates.
“The therapeutic community claims a 30 percent success rate, but they only count people who complete the program … the other 70 percent to 80 percent have dropped out by the 3-6 month marker,” according to an American Addiction Centers report.
Note: I am not faulting various addiction recovery programs or Alcoholics Anoymous per se, far from it. Such programs are a great start on the long road to lasting recovery.
But do not stop there. Press on until you connect with Jesus Christ, come to faith in Him for salvation, and receive the Holy Spirit. Then you will not be merely behaviorally reformed (from the outside) but will be transformed (from the inside).
Biblical Approach to Self-Improvement
As is written in Ephesians 5:17-19, “And do not get drunk with wine (the “get rid of” part), in which there is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…”
Not settling for just getting rid of things, we are to fill the resulting void with the vital, literal presence of God. It’s not enough to attend ceaseless recovery meetings, make new resolutions, apply more willpower — while not necessarily bad in themselves, they just require more of YOU and your efforts again.
Don’t bring a slingshot to a gunfight for your soul. Instead, be filled with the only power on earth strong enough to bring about true recovery — to fill the aching vacuum left when all those “false friends” and crutches of booze, drugs, overeating, etc. are removed.
As described in Colossians 1:8-10:
“be filled with the knowledge of His (God’s) will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Physics tells us that coasting (especially spiritually) is a downhill process. So, don’t just sit there, do something!
But to “get busy” in external activity at the expense of feeding your inner spiritual life in the Holy Spirit is a sure-fire formula for relapse.
How About You?
Are you trying to change something in your life? Doing it by yourself? God’s power is available if you ask — but don’t bother with some imaginary “higher power” or your similarly afflicted human friends.
Go directly to Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Then you’ll be bringing serious divine artillery to the fight.
— D.C. Collier is a Bible teacher, discipleship mentor and writer focused on Christian apologetics. A mechanical engineer and Internet entrepreneur, he is the author of My Origin, My Destiny, a book focused on Christianity’s basic “value proposition.” Click here for more information, or contact him at [email protected]. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.