By Larry E. Banta
As a rare breed of psychiatrist (Christian, former missionary, ordained minister), I have been a bit of a renegade. I will be bringing you some thoughts on a regular basis, from a unique perspective that I hope will be of some encouragement in your daily walk.
The holidays are over and now we are starting into yet another year. They keep going by so fast. Many of us look at the new year as a time to make some changes in our lives. We may want to make a new start, restore a relationship, be a better parent, wife, husband, get a better job, or make other needed adjustments. Sometimes we try to change things on our own. We try hard to be better people. We work harder and maybe seem to get nowhere. We start out so well and then go back to the old habits. How do we turn over a new leaf, start afresh, make positive, lasting changes?
I know I am powerless over the influence of the world, temptations, making changes. I need power I do not have on my own. The power for lasting change comes only from God, from His Holy Spirit working in our lives. We can try and try but will make little change, especially in the areas that really matter.
The world wants us to look inward and find our inner self which is like a god and can make us powerful. It is not real. If I really look inward using the lenses God gives me, I see only an imperfect sinner, desperate and hopeless without God. However, with Jesus, I am redeemed, full of hope only because of Him, not me. He says in Isaiah that even my righteousness looks like filthy rags! (Isaiah 64:6)
To make lasting change, the first step is to recognize who we really are. If we do not know Jesus, we are without hope, without a secure future, really in desperate straits and are likely going to keep failing as we try on our own to make changes. We must fully accept Him. We must recognize we are sinners, confessing Him as Lord and Savior, accepting Him and following Him completely. Then we are ready to see what God can really do, if we truly allow Him to do it.
Psalm 100 gives us some guidance that is something I need to remind myself of frequently.
A psalm. For giving grateful praise.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
So, what are the steps the psalmist tells us?
- Praising and worshiping God – The psalm begins with giving praise and worship. What does praise do? It does not change God, it changes me. I start seeing God more as He really is: high and lifted up, holy, glorious beyond description and worthy of all of my praise. I can see God more as He really is and reorder my thoughts accordingly. Worship puts Him back on the throne in my heart. As Lord, He is the boss. We are to be worshiping the Lord with gladness and joy, knowing that God has me in His mind, He loves and cares for me and sent His Son for me. I look at Him by praising and uplifting Him.
- Seeking humility – Then the psalm has me look at myself and see that He is the one who made me. This is humility: seeing myself as God sees me. I am a redeemed sinner, made by Him to serve and honor Him. I need to vacate the throne in my heart which is meant for Him.
- Having gratitude – The next verse follows with thanksgiving, recognizing all good things come from Him. We need to remind ourselves of this quite often so we do not become proud and proclaim that we provided all this – we made the food, we worked hard, it is from my efforts alone. In my family we have always stopped to pray for our food before eating at home, in a restaurant, at the amusement park, anywhere we would stop to have a meal. The reactions have been interesting.
The next step to allowing lasting change is to allow God to purify our mind, bringing our thoughts to be in line with His will.
In Matthew 5:8 near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
As we seek purity in ourselves through the Holy Spirit, He clarifies our vision. It is like wearing some powerful HD glasses. God can clean the lenses as we confess those things that are standing between us and Him. Then we can see what God is doing. We can appreciate the beauty around us, the intricacy and complexity of creation, and the beautiful things He is doing in the lives of those around us. This puts us in AWE of God, something we seem to lose over time.
So far, we have uplifted God, humbled ourselves under His mighty hand, renewed our sense of gratitude, and cleaned our spiritual lenses so we can see. We have restored our sense of awe for an awesome God. Now we need wisdom which God will amply supply if we only ask.
James 1:5 tells us: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
As we see ourselves a bit more like God can see us, it allows us to take a sort of inventory of what needs to change. What are the habits that are not good? Do I suffer from an addiction or continuing sin that I cannot conquer? Am I struggling in a relationship with a spouse, children, employer, neighbor? Or do I just need better spiritual habits, regular reading and study, more faithful attendance at church, small groups, power to talk to others about Jesus?
As we put God on the throne, recognizing Him as our Lord as well as our Savior, we can humbly come before Him and pray for those things we need to change. He will answer but we must listen. Sometimes He answers by sending others into our lives to help. We have to be humble enough to accept the help. Lasting change comes gradually. Old habits and addictions can go away. We can draw ever closer to God. We can become more like what Jesus wants us to be, but Satan does not want us to change. It is a daily spiritual battle that we can only fight with God on our side.
Dr. Larry Banta is an author of several books, a retired psychiatrist, and a former missionary. He served in India, Mexico and Kenya. He and his wife, Evelyn, a counselor, travel together to provide consultation and training in various international locations.