The winds of unwelcome change blow harsh through all our lives. Last week we looked at the challenge of negotiating the changes that come our way. Today I want to continue that theme, and reflect on the relationship between change and personal renewal.
Long ago the psalmist wrote these words:
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so I long for you, God.
I thirst for God, the living God (Psalm 42:1-2a)
We all know what it feels like to long for something, or someone. We may long for change in our lives too, or long for an impending change to be diverted, or long to be done with the changes we presently experience.
Changes may be good or bad, happy or sad. A good change brings a sense of renewal, and renewal often brings further change. It’s not good to grow set in our ways, unwilling or unable to change for the better.
It’s not good to go on doing things the way they have always been done, relying on tradition for tradition’s sake, afraid of innovation because of the uncertainty, complexity or diversity it will bring.
Not all change is good, but there are seasons in our lives that unveil a fork in the road, a stark choice between continuing with the status quo or embracing change – perhaps unwanted, unwelcome, burdensome change.
The Bible places great weight on the importance of traditions as well as change. The grand story of redemption in which we participate by God’s grace through faith requires an investment in tradition, and a certain kind of conservatism, in order for us to fully appreciate its power, glory and promise.
The gospel story does not itself change – it grows and flourishes like the mustard tree in the parable Jesus told. But we who have become part of that story must change if we are to grow and flourish with it.
How do we grow? In part through participation in spiritual disciplines, through rolling up our sleeves and getting involved in the beautiful messiness of ministry with people, through embracing change that brings renewal and wisdom and fresh insight into the world in which we live, and the people journeying with us.
One of my favourite verses is Romans 12:2, which indicates that every one of us has the capacity to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit deep within. And this prepares us to “discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” To know and do God’s will is to embrace change. Not tolerate change, but embrace it as a gift from God.
Renewal takes many forms. It takes effort and discernment, and may involve pain and sacrifice. Important change is rarely easy. God never gives us easy tasks. He never says, “Perhaps, Rod, if you have the time and interest, you might like to consider doing this trifling effortless task that won’t stretch or challenge you.”
No. When God engages with us, and reveals his plans for us, he can be intrusive, demanding, even exhausting. Jesus warned that life as his disciple would be hard. At its best and most fruitful, it is. Add change and renewal to the mix, and the life of discipleship doesn’t look all that promising – at least on the surface. It’s not an easy vocation.
But as John Ortberg observes in his book Soul Keeping, the Bible apparently uses the word “easy” just once, when Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28f).
Ortberg adds: “The soul was not made for an easy life. The soul was made for an easy yoke.”
The winds of change, both good and bad, blow harsh through all our lives. Embraced with care, change brings renewal, and renewal change, but both come at a high cost unless we are well prepared – unless we have found that “rest” for our souls that Jesus spoke of, and woven it into the fabric of our lives.
Let us pray.
Lord God, who brings both change and renewal to grow and strengthen us, and prepare us for what is to come, we ask you to be at work in each of our lives, drawing us to yourself and transforming us, that we may magnify your name, follow your lead, and help to sustain others. Amen.
Rod Benson is Research Support Officer at Moore Theological College, Sydney. He enjoys preaching, cooking, snorkeling, and reading a good book. This talk was presented as a staff devotion on 22 February 2021.
 John Ortberg, Soul Keeping (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 126.
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