A couple of years ago I met a man named Victor in Uganda who had married a woman who he had met in the Christian revival of Uganda in the 1970’s. They had met at a service and worship project that they commonly did where a bunch of youth would show up at a person’s house and serve that family, maybe weeding in their garden all day and then they would spend the entire night awake singing praise songs and telling stories of faith. In the morning they would go to their own homes, and apparently, some of them would go home in love. As time went on, however, Victor’s relationship with God grew and his wife’s didn’t. She would run a few errands in the day and then would check out for the rest of the day. She would never pray or study the Bible using the excuse that she was too tired or too busy. At first Victor was angry about it and tried to change her by being forceful or harsh with her verbally, and guess what, that didn’t change her.
Is Change Possible?
Can people change? Can I change? If so, then how? The first thing to understand is that if you’ve received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have changed. Fundamentally, seriously, down deep changed. You have a new identity if you’re in Christ. You didn’t just slap on a new label, you’re not just hanging out with a new circle of friends, you’re not just adding something to your life. No, yours is a radically new way of life compared with your old life. Because look…
“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” Ephesians 4:18-19
How to Remain Unchanged
In other words? People who aren’t Christ followers have their minds made up. Set in concrete, rusted over, rigor mortis. And here’s how it happened according to this text.
A) They harden their hearts against God like Pharaoh hardened his heart against God in the Exodus. Don’t like him, don’t want him, hard pass.
B) They’re minds are darkened and stupefied and they won’t think about things right. They think that strength is for self-promotion and sex is for entertainment and foolishness seems wise. But their minds are made.
C) They can’t sense anything anymore so they abandon themselves to sensation. They can’t feel anything, so they give themselves over to just feel something! Why do people throw their lives away by careening deeper into alcoholism or drugs or sex or acquisitioning? It’s because they need an outside influence to make them feel some way that they don’t, in themselves feel. Numb the bad, elevate the good. They need to feel alive!
How to Make a Real Change
Why do people do such stupid stuff? This passage says, it’s because they are stupid! Why are they stupid? Because their minds are made, because their spirit is turned against God!
This is so important! So, how do we fix peoples bad behavior? How do we reform society? How do we help our kids to do right? Policy? Punishment? Public humiliation? Prison or flogging? None of that ultimately works. People need God to renew their spirit or they won’t think right, so they won’t act right. The most effective things that we can do to help people wake up are to pray for the hard-hearted and tell them about their need for Jesus! The character cannot be reformed of the heart that is not transformed. Heart, head, habits. In that order.
So here’s an action point: instead of getting upset at someone for acting according to their nature, pray for them and share with them their need for Jesus. Once they’re a new creation, the old is gone and the new has come! (1 Corinthians 5:17)
A Success Story
Victor from Uganda decided to pray about his wife and ask him to change her because he had no success in the endeavor. He made a commitment to God to pray and fast for forty days that his wife would become his partner in prayer. You have to understand that Victor is a pretty small guy to begin with, 130 pounds at most so this was a real health risk for him. At first it wasn’t so bad, but there was no change in his wife. When he got a few weeks into it he says that he couldn’t stand up without falling over and that his skin was growing tighter and tighter. Finally about a week before the end he realized that he was going to die. Somehow he made it to the street where he was going to go get some juice and start coming out of the fast, when he saw a friend who, when he finally recognized him said, “Victor! What’s happened to you?” Still he wouldn’t tell anyone about his fast. Right before he bought the juice he remembered his wife and a strong conviction came over him and he said to God, “No! You still haven’t answered my prayer! If my wife will not become my partner in Godliness than I would rather die!” The next morning he felt as if he was renewed in strength and purpose and soon his fast was over. A couple of weeks later he was given a new job and his family moved. His wife began praying and studying and worshipping. She would wake up early in the morning and go to bed late at night to pray. She would wake him up in the middle of the night to pray with him. That was decades ago and they’re still strong partners in Godliness.