How Can I Ever Change?

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If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Most of us are interested in change. Moreover, God wants us to change. A life that is never willing to change is a great tragedy — a wasted life. Change is a necessary part of a growing life, and we need change in order to remain fresh and to keep progressing.

But often the new ideas we gain from books or seminars just don’t seem to last. Maybe we will be different for a while, but then discover that the new methods do not have a permanent effect. The main reason for this is that we work on the exterior, our outside behavior, instead of on the interior, our motives. Any lasting change must begin on the inside, and that is a work of God.

In the story of Jacob we can see the process God uses in helping us become the kind of person we have always wanted to be. The situation recorded in Genesis 32 was a turning point for Jacob and serves as a dramatic example of how God can change us.

The Four-Step Process

Jacob was a somewhat shifty fellow. Even his name means “cheater” or “schemer” in Hebrew. But a life-changing experience transformed him into a new person, and he became Israel, the man after whom the entire nation of Israel was later named. After that experience Jacob was never the same again.

In this story we have a clear expression of the four-step process God uses to help us become the kind of people we want to be. It is a truly encouraging message — a message that says we don’t have to stay in the rut we are in, that God will help us to change, to overcome that weakness or sore spot in our life. We just have to let him. So how do we let God do that?

Genesis 32 relates that while Jacob was alone one night, someone (an angel, according to Hosea 12:4) appeared and wrestled with him until daybreak.

When the man [the angel] saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, Let me go, for it is daybreak. – Genesis 32:25-26

You may be asking, what does a wrestling match with an angel several thousand years ago have to do with changing me today? There are some important insights in this incident that show clearly the four steps required for transformation.

These four steps or phases are crisis, commitment, confession, and cooperation.

Crisis

The first step is crisis. Jacob had a long wrestling match with an angel, and the angel was struggling, but it was a no-win situation for them both. By daybreak the angel was getting tired of the struggle because he saw that he could not win. It was a situation beyond his control.

The lesson we see in this is that when God wants to change us, He starts by getting our attention, by putting us in a frustrating situation that is completely beyond our control. We cannot win, and we just keep getting more and more tired in the struggle. God uses experiences and problems and crises to get our attention.

If we are experiencing a crisis right now, it is because God is getting ready to change us for the better.

We never change until we get fed up with our current situation, until we get uncomfortable and discontented and start feeling miserable. When we become uncomfortable and miserable enough, we finally are motivated to let God do something in our lives.

We won’t change until our fear of change is exceeded by the pain we are experiencing.

Commitment

The second step in being changed by God is commitment.

When the angel asked to be let go, Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Jacob was committed; he was persistent; he stayed with the situation until he worked it out. He was in a situation he didn’t like. It was frustrating and it was getting him down, but he was one hundred percent committed to staying with the situation until God turned it around for good.

Here is the lesson we learn from this: After God gets our attention with a problem, He does not solve it immediately. He waits a little longer to see whether we really mean business.

Most people miss God’s best for their lives because they give up too soon; they cop out; they become discouraged. When God allows a problem in their lives, instead of hanging in there and saying, “God, I’m not going to let go of this until You bless me, until You turn it around,” they give up and end up missing God’s best.

Even if we really want to change, we need to remember that we didn’t get into our present mess overnight. Our attitudes and actions and habits and fears and weaknesses took years to develop, and sometimes God has to remove them layer by layer.

Usually it takes a while for God to change you.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. There is hope. Hang in there. Be committed to getting God’s best for your life.

Confession

The third step in being changed by God is confession.

The angel asked Jacob, “What is your name?” And he answered, “Jacob” (Genesis 32:27). What was the purpose of the angel’s question? It was to get Jacob to acknowledge his character by stating his name, which means “cheater” or “schemer.”

Jacob remembered the heartache he had caused by his scheming against his brother Esau, so when the angel asked, “What are you really like? What’s your character?” Jacob’s reply was saying, “I am a cheater. I am a schemer.” Jacob admitted his weaknesses because even though he was a cheater and a schemer, he was also honest with himself. When he identified himself as “Jacob,” he was admitting his character flaws.

This is an important part of God’s process for changing us, because we never change until we honestly face and admit our faults, sins, weaknesses, and mistakes. God will not go to work on our problem until we first admit that we have a problem. We need to say, “Lord, I’m in a mess. I have a problem, and I admit I made it.” Then God can go to work.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to make excuses for our problems? We become experts at blaming other people and may say something like “It’s not my fault, you know. It’s really the environment I was brought up in — my parents caused it.” Or we might say, “The situation I’m in right now is caused by my boss at work.” Why do we act and talk this way? Because it is hard to admit fault in ourselves. And it can be scary to ask for help.

Why should we confess our faults to God — to let Him know what’s going on? No, He already knows. When we tell God we have sinned, it is no surprise to him; He knew our problems all along. We confess to him because he wants us to say, “You are right, God, I have a problem. I’ve blown it.” It is humbling to admit our mistakes, but once we do, God gives us all his resources and power to help us change for the better. At this point we can start becoming the persons we have always wanted to be.

If we don’t learn the lesson now, we will have to learn it later, because God is going to teach it to us one way or the other. We can save ourselves a lot of trouble by responding properly when the crisis first comes along.

Cooperation

The fourth step in being changed by God is cooperation.

God began changing Jacob as soon as he admitted who he was and began to cooperate with God’s plan. Jacob called the place where he wrestled with the angel “Peniel,” meaning “the face of God” (Genesis 32:30). Jacob had come face to face with God.

Every one of us must eventually come face to Face with God, and when we do that, God can change us.

God said to Jacob, “Now we can get down to business. I want you to relax. Just cooperate and trust Me, and I will make the changes that you want made, and I will bless you.”

God didn’t say, “Jacob, try real hard and use all your willpower to become perfect.” That doesn’t work, and God knows it.

Willpower simply does not make permanent changes in our lives.

That is attacking the outward circumstance. It is the internal motivation that makes the permanent changes, and that is what God works on.

Let God Do It

God always knows how to bring out the best in your life, and He knows how to do it better than you do. If you let Him, He will use whatever is necessary to accomplish this goal, because He doesn’t want you to waste your life.

Do you want God’s blessing on your life? Take the situation that is making you miserable right now, commit it to God, and say, “God, I am going to commit it to You. I am going to hold on to You until You turn this problem around for good.” Then confess the errors that you need to confess, and cooperate with God.

The Bible says, “The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:31). While they had been wrestling, the angel dislocated Jacob’s hip, and as a result Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. This is significant, because that thigh muscle is one of the most powerful muscles in the human body. When God had to get Jacob’s attention, he touched him at a point of strength. When we start thinking, “This is what I am really good at, this is what I am really strong at,” God may have to touch that very thing to get our attention.

Don’t Run, But Stand

Jacob often got himself into trouble because he was a cheater, and he often reaped what he sowed. But every time he got himself into a mess, he ran away from it. He just copped out. Finally, God said, “I know how to take care of that temptation — I’ll put a limp in his walk.” Never again could Jacob run away from a difficult situation. For the rest of his life he would have to stand and face his problems — not in his own strength but in God’s strength. God often puts an obvious weakness in people whom he blesses, and often the weakness is some kind of physical problem.

Do you want God to change your life? He will — in His own way. He will use the processes of crisis, commitment, confession, and cooperation. And when He does the changing, it will become permanent. You will not have to worry about your willpower and staying with it because you will be cooperating with God, relaxing and trusting Him.

Maybe you have been limiting God by making excuses, blaming other people, or rationalizing. It is hard to drop your mask and say, “God, I have a weakness. I have a problem.” Until you do this, things will just stay the same as they are now. When you do this, you are changed for the rest of your life.

The good news is this: Beneath all those things you know about yourself that you do not like, God sees an Israel. He sees the prince or princess in your life. He sees what you can become. He sees your potential, and he wants to change you from a Jacob to an Israel.

Let God do His changing!

Check out the God’s Answers To Life’s Difficult Questions Bible Study Video

Excerpted with permission from God’s Answers To Life’s Difficult Questions by Rick Warren, copyright Zondervan, 2014.

Your Turn

What is the one thing you would most like to change about your life? Think through each step in the change process and how you can apply it to your current situation. Come join the conversation on our blog! ~ Devotionals Daily

Rick Warren

As founding pastor of Saddleback Church, Dr. Rick Warren leads a 30,000 member congregation in California with campuses in major cities around the world. As a theologian, he has lectured at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, University of Judaism, and dozens of universities and seminaries. As a global strategist he advises world leaders and has spoken to the United Nations, US Congress, Davos Economic Forum, TED, Aspen Institute, and numerous parliaments. Rick has also founded the global P.E.A.C.E. plan, which Plants churches of reconciliation, Equips leaders, Assists the poor, Cares for the sick, and Educates the next generation in 196 countries.

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