I’ve seen a few fights in my time over change. The worst of them involved religious traditions or institutional reorganizations.
It is hard for men and women who believe they are doing God’s work to understand that he might have something new and different in mind for them. It is easy to confuse God’s work with God and tread the same path over and over again until it becomes a rut.
We like to “master” our tasks and circumstances. We enjoy knowing what it is that we are about. The flesh is tempted by comfort, not discomfort.
The prospect of change hints that we might not know everything and our mastery is inadequate. So we resist change, insisting that our good is good enough.
Running in place can get your heart rate up and strengthen the legs, but do it long enough and you will wear a hole underneath your feet. Faith always says to us, “Move on” (Heb 11:13-16).
Jesus tells us that satisfaction in the world to come requires a hunger and a thirst for righteousness in this one, not contentment here and now (Mt 5:6). He also says that the new wine of the gospel requires fresh and supple wineskins to hold it, not old, rigid ones (Mt 9:17).
Change, it seems, is the way of our Lord. The word “repentance” means a change of direction. How, then, can we know when a change is from God? We gain an insight from a story of the early Christians told in Acts 5.
Peter and some of the apostles take the opportunity of their arrest and imprisonment to tell the entire Jewish leadership the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They end with a stirring call for the repentance of Israel from its sins.
Their audience is the religious elite of the nation who take umbrage at the suggestion that they have done anything for which they would need to repent. Hating the message that the “old-time religion is not good enough,” they want to kill the messengers.
A wise, old Pharisee, a respected teacher of the law named Gamaliel, stands up to the outrage with a convincing argument. Messianic cults are not new to Israel. He reminds the council of the failed movements of two men, Theudas and Judas the Galilean, now dead and their followers scattered and vanished. They went the way of all human movements and eventually failed
If the new Jesus movement is of human origin it too will fail, reasoned Gamaliel. But if God is behind these followers of Jesus you won’t be able to stop them and you will be fighting God if you even try to do so.
Gamaliel convinced the council members not to kill the apostles. We are the beneficiaries of his courageous, Spirit-led stand for tolerance in the face of religious bigotry.
What does this story tell us about how we are to accept change? We would find change far easier to accept if we knew God was behind it. How can we know that?
We must examine our hearts and motivations to see if we are condemning change just because we are comfortable with the way things are right now. It is a very human thing to become trapped in spiritual complacency.
The solution is prayer and thoughtful study of God’s Word that will divide the leading of the Spirit from what is merely emotional in us with scalpel-like precision. The Word is the standard for judgment of the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Heb 4:12).
If we still aren’t sure, then we can follow Gamaliel’s reasoning and simply wait and see what happens. “Be still and know that I am God” is the most profound of Spiritual instructions (Ps 46:10). If the change is of human origin, it will fail as all human conceptions eventually do. If God has conceived the change, he will empower it, and nothing in heaven and earth can prevent its progress.
Ultimately, how we think about change will depend on whether or not we believe God is sovereign. We are not required to be certain about every change that confronts us. We are called to be certain about God. “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rom 8:31).
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” Ps. 34:8)
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.
Kent and his beloved Patricia are enjoying their 31st year of marriage. They are the proud parents of Andrew, a college student.