A Recipe for Personal Growth and Change
Do you like everything about yourself? Have you outgrown any need (or desire) to improve or change?
You could be flawless… or delusional. There may be a few people reading this who believe they are a model of perfection, and who have never had a negative narrative about themselves in their mind.
I do think it’s good to be confident and to see ourselves as unique expressions of God’s image who are dearly loved by our Creator. Scripture teaches that those things are true. But it also teaches that we need a process for transformation and becoming more like Christ, who is the only truly flawless, perfect person to walk this planet. All of us have areas we can improve in; only dead things stay the same, but live things will continue to grow and change.
We can be confident and secure with who we are while also pursuing transformation. To experience true personal growth, we have to experience changes in the core of our being, from the inside out.
So let me pose the question: “How do we experience lasting transformation from the inside out?” Do we just read our Bible more? Do we will our way to change? Do we watch everything we can find on YouTube about self-improvement? Do we just (as some have said in the past) “Let go and let God”?
I propose the answer is found in a combination of change agents. In other words, the recipe for personal growth and change has the following seven ingredients, which all of us can access.
Ingredient #1: The Holy SpiritWhen Jesus, having been resurrected from the dead, was about to ascend into heaven, he promised to send the Holy Spirit. This Spirit would indwell his followers, guide them, and produce certain characteristics in them (called the fruit of the Spirit). This is by far the single most important catalyst for change.
God is our Creator. He knows us best, and he can indwell us and produce the changes we need. It’s a little like the creator of a finely tuned sports car not only knowing (and delighting in) everything about the car, but also being the best one to drive and take care of the car. If we aspire to change, the Holy Spirit is always the best starting point. We can talk to him, be guided by him, and be empowered by him.
Ingredient #2: PeopleOne of my favorite books is People Fuel by John Townsend. In it, he states that there are at least 22 relational needs that we experience at various times—and people are the sources for meeting those needs. These are consistent with biblical teachings, which point to 52 “one another” actions (loving, building up, encouraging, serving, etc.) that help us.
Bottom line? We need people. We are made to be in connection with people. Yes, people can hurt us, but there is no getting around the fact that we need people. People are part of the change process. When we engage relationally with people, we can receive encouragement, support, counsel, feedback, wisdom, and more. If we choose to live in isolation, we miss out on those things and we choose to stunt our own growth.
Ingredient #3: GraceThis is the secret sauce for growth. We need grace from God, grace from others, and grace from ourselves. These three sources of grace combine to make an incredible environment for change. In his book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” author Phillip Yancey shares one story after another about the power of grace. Grace produces the ability to move ahead and pursue growth. Grace gets us unstuck from self-condemnation. Grace frees us to from guilt, shame, and failure. Perfectionism is a killer of growth, while grace moves us further and further toward health and improvement. It acknowledges that it is OK to not be OK. When we apply grace to ourselves, we can both accept ourselves and move ahead toward growth.
Ingredient #4: TruthScripture says you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Truth is a word that gets thrown around a lot. My guess is you’ve heard someone say, “That’s your truth, but my truth is different.” (That would be called a belief, not a truth. If a team loses a game, the losing team may believe they are winners, but the score shows a clear winner and a loser, no matter what the teams choose to believe).
Jesus stated that he is the truth. God inspired people to write the scriptures, and there are multiple references to the Bible as being true. Without getting into a philosophy paper on truth, let me just say that I do believe truth exists, and it is something we need and ought to seek after. God typically delivers truth into our lives through the Holy Spirit, through Scripture, and through people. Change happens in our lives when we seek it from all three of those sources.
Ingredient #5: TimeSo many music artists sing about our relationship to time. Pink Floyd sings about it. The Rolling Stones sing “Time is on My Side”; Cher sings about turning back time, and Harry Chapin reminds dads everywhere that time with our kids is limited in “Cats in the Cradle.” Time is something that is both precious and frustrating. But the reality about lasting transformation is that it takes time. We can’t produce giant trees in seconds, grow amazing vegetables from seed overnight, or will ourselves from being children to adults instantly. Life doesn’t work like that. The sooner we give ourselves grace and allow for time to take its course, the better chance we give ourselves for change.
Ingredient #6: PracticesNow comes the myth buster to “time healing all wounds” and to “letting go and letting God”: we do need to do things to experience personal growth. John Mark Comer has shared extensively about nine practices that we can engage in to experience change. I highly recommend his stuff. These practices can be traced all the way back to the days of Christ walking the earth. Prayer, solitude, silence, fasting, and community are just some of the ancient practices that people have engaged in for thousands of years to experience connection with God and others.
I am not naturally what I would call a contemplative —and yet I can contemplate any sport or church strategy for hours every day. Most of what I naturally contemplate doesn’t produce positive change in my life, so I am exploring more deeply the practices that Jesus modeled for us. It is through these practices that we can hear God, let truth soak into our minds, connect with others, and experience change over time.
Ingredient #7: ExperiencesI hate to write this, but I strongly believe it. Pain and suffering seem to be one of the most significant catalysts for our transformation. We see this idea throughout scripture, and I have certainly seen this to be true in my own life. My guess is that you would say the same. As one song by Kelly Clarkson goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
Over the last seven years, I have experienced four major traumas. A trauma therapist would agree with that count. I wish I could say my trust in God just grew as I spent time in prayer, solitude, and reading scripture, but it would be more accurate to say that the traumas drove me to my knees and proved that my typical bag of coping skills were insufficient for those times. I have a long way to go, but I am much more aware of God’s presence today than I was seven years ago. Will I sign up for another chance to suffer? No. Will I suffer again? If I am alive, the answer is yes, for me and for you.
We could add many other things to this list, but these seven ingredients combine to make a potent recipe for growth. How are you doing with these ingredients? Can you identify one that is lacking in your life and talk about it with a friend? You’ll likely discover a way to incorporate it into your life and set yourself up for more growth. If this is all new to you, don’t try to implement everything all at once. Give yourself grace, start small, and gain momentum over time. I pray for and wish for continued growth and transformation as you live and lead.
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