by James Rudy GrayOne thing that seems to never change is change. It is inevitable. It is designed into our world in myriad ways. Even the Christian life itself is about change. Healthy change can be measured to some degree by how it relates to God's truth for our lives. We may refer to the process of Christian change as sanctification.
How can we help a Christian in distress embrace needed and important changes? We begin by recognizing our place in the process. We are not the high priests of change but tools of change in God's hands.
What motivates persons to want to change? It is likely that they have some degree of discomfort, conviction, or pain that is influencing what some secular psychologists may call a "contemplative stage." A Christian would likely refer to this stage as the conviction of God's Spirit. When someone comes to us with a problem, it is most likely an opportunity to help that person make the change that God is calling him to make. As counselors or ministers, we need to be sure we cooperate with God's Spirit and not impede what He is doing.
We must also help people recognize that each individual is responsible for his or her behavior. We are a culture that has developed the practice of labeling (diagnosing) to a fine art. However, what is at the core of most bad behavior is not sickness but sin. It is not a condition that can be cured with medication. For example, the idea that schizophrenia is a brain disease and must be treated with medication is almost universally accepted. However, according to Dr. Al Siebert, research indicates "from 20 to30 percent of the people who go through a so-called schizophrenic experience eventually recover from the condition and can do so with no medication."
Most emotional or mental problems that lead a person into change are not helped by medication but by changing how we think. That typically involves repentance, since repentance is basically a change of mind. The Christian life is a journey in which we will repent many times.
Christians are at various stages in their spiritual development. What we all share is a call to a lifelong process of change. Often that change is precipitated by difficulties in our lives-problems that our sovereign God uses to prod us to change. So when a person comes to us with a problem, we may very well have an opportunity to be a tool of change in the hands of God.
There are two practical keys that we can use in helping people. We can help them see change as a process, which has two identifiable markers: a decision to change and the confidence and ability to maintain the change.
Viable change is often the result of old habits being replaced with new habits. A new habit can begin to replace the old one in around 30 to 45 days. The actual and lasting change in the person may take six months or longer. When a person is involved in changing something about himself, it is very often a process that may include relapses. These do not invalidate the change, but emphasize the need to strengthen the ways a person can build confidence and maintain the change.
The foundation for wholeness (holiness) is found in a growing, developing, and genuine relationship with Christ. Through that relationship, we do not become perfect in this body, but we do grow and change. We learn and develop. We overcome and endure. We develop persistence and confidence. Often, along the journey, we need some help in order to change. Counselors and ministers can be those instruments of change in God's hands.
One of the most beneficial facets of counseling is the opportunity to give a person hope. With that kind of confident expectation abiding within a person, God can work positive and lasting changes in that person's life.