Sometimes when I point out that we really cannot keep Jesus’ commands like “forgive 70 x 7” and “do good to those who despise you,” someone will suggest that we still need to try our best and then continually repent of our shortcomings. But I don’t think repeated cycles of defeat and repentance are the answer here. Jesus wants us to come to Him to receive what we need in order to become the kind of people who are more able to live as He desires. I mean, if Jesus could actually change my heart about that person at church I can’t stand, then I would not have to try so hard to be nice — it would simply be in my nature to be kind to him.
Once we learn how to engage with God in ways that allow Him to speak into our life, we no longer have to live in this perpetual state of beating ourself up for the same old sins day after day, year after year. One by one, we can bring these things to God and work with Him to bring about the kinds of changes in our heart that we need so we can live differently.
I used to have a lot of trouble trying to manage other people’s perceptions of me. One time I received a substandard grade for a book review and I nearly lost my mind. It was as if the grade could mock me and expose my defects to the world. I was nearly tied in knots for hours. Finally, I tried talking to God about it and within seconds a light bulb came on in my head. The problem was not just the fact that I got a low grade, it was because a professor had dismissed my thoughts and, in my mind, thought less of me. What dawned on me was that I had spent a lifetime of trying to impress pastors and teachers, so they would approve of me. I had some notion buried down deep that if they could approve of me, it would override my family’s disapproval of me. That was the beginning of a healing process that is changing how I now respond to comments that are less than flattering. These things no longer toss me around like so much paper in the wind.
This same process can be repeated over and over in any area of our life where we are routinely defeated. God can speak into our life and make us different, so that we can life differently. It may be an area of obedience just as easily as an area of emotional weakness. The point is to go to Him instead of trying to make it happen on our own.