As I’ve been thinking and praying about our church’s youth Workcamp this July, an old Steven Curtis Chapman song from the late 90’s called “The Change” came to mind – and it really struck me. I hadn’t heard the song for years, and it just popped into my head. It’s a fun song to listen to, it’s catchy. If you were to hear it you may even desire to dance and move your body to the music if the setting permits. Go ahead, look it up on iTunes and play it. You can dance if you want to. Don’t worry, nobody is looking. And even if someone is looking, just go for it.
I looked it up and listened to it for the first time in years. I loved hearing it again after all this time, and I love the message in it. With regard to the Christian life, the song asks these questions:
“What about the change?
What about the difference?
What about the grace?
What about forgiveness?
What about a life that’s showing
I’m undergoing the change?”
What an important question. What about the change? Am I undergoing a change? Do we see a transformation in our lives? Do we have a story to tell? I hope we do.
Scripture says we are to be ambassadors of Christ, we are to be witness. But what are we witnessing about? What does that look like in our lives. In order for a person to be a witness, they need a testimony right? Our Christian testimony is the story of the change God has done in us, but often we forget it is also about the change he is STILL doing in us. An understanding of the change God has done, and is doing, in hearts and minds over time.
When I say the word “testimony”, I’m not referring to some elaborate explanation or poetic telling of how you first came to faith in Christ. Although those stories are wonderful, our lives aught to be living testimonies of a God who is at work in a person long after they first become a Christian. A testimony is not merely a chronological list of the church activities that person has been involved with. The true testimony, the kind our world is desperate to hear and to witness in a life, is the ongoing story about who that person is becoming because of God. There needs to be a change, a transformation. A changed person, not just a changed schedule or calendar of religious events.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I want to be able to look back at my life and see the difference. I want others to be able to see the difference too! And I want to tell others about it. Not for my sake, but for God and His Kingdom’s sake. If who I am now is no different that who I was 3 years ago in my walk with the Lord, in my capacity to love, forgive, and to be patient, to have joy, demonstrate kindness and self-control … if I (and others who are close to me) aren’t seeing a change in who I am and what I am like… then there’s a problem.
In the same way an athlete, a musician, or an artist grows from year to year in their field.. so should be the case for us Christians. Our main benchmark for growth, the one God gives us, is how well and how intentionally we love others (John 13:35). Also the fruits of the spirit are a wonderful guide to what the metamorphosis in the life of a Christ follower can look like (see Gal 5:22). In almost all other aspects of our life where we have investment and involvement and passion (athletics, music, art, hobbies, etc) we expect to see and experience change over time in our life. We desire it! We work hard for it. We sacrifice for it. Do we, in a similar way, expect a change to be evident in us as followers of Jesus? Do we even desire that kind of change?
I ran track in High School and competed in the hurdle events and the high and long jump events. If during my senior year I was still only clearing 5’4″ on the high jump and I was still kicking over hurdles, falling on my face, and failing to hurdle with a good rhythm (three stepping).. I would NOT be satisfied. I’d know there was a problem. What a shame it would be to learn about my lack of change and growth four years in! Learning I had been oblivious to my lack of growth and change during that long period of time would be hard to take. The sad thought, “I wish I had been told sooner.” may cross my mind in that kind of moment. But, in athletics – this would never happen. A coach, a parent, a peer… SOMEBODY would grab me by the shoulders and say “what are you doing!? If you take being on this track team seriously, you need to grow as a track athlete.” Now, if in that moment I confess, “well, I don’t really want to grow or change… I just like being on the team. It makes me feel good.” … how do you think that response received?
If after 4 years of playing the piano a musician experience NO growth as a musician, they would not accept that – or they would quit and may even denounce their status as a musician. If an artist kept painting the same piece OVER and OVER again and never learned anything new, never innovated on the piece they learned, never understood how to create new pieces of art, never learned new techniques… they would not accept that. You’d think at some point they’d sign up for a class, seek evaluation, try to become a better artist!? After the same painting and the same technique year after year, without change or growth.. they would get bored. They would probably call it quits. And nobody would be moved by their work. They would know in their heart and mind “something is wrong. I’m not growing. I’m not seeing a change.”
Like a plant… we’re often growing towards life or we’re withering… we rarely just stay the same. Often what we thinks is “just staying the same” is actually an erosion… and a slow and and steady deadness is secretly creeping in. We just get used to it… The truth is, we’re always changing… the questions is: What direction are you changing? Are you growing towards life and light as a Christian, or are you spiritually slinking away and sliding towards a spiritual apathy and deadness.
Maybe the musician thinks “but, I still performed for people every once in a while! Some people like that one song I know how to play. That counts for something, right?” Or maybe the artist thinks, “Well, I can draw that one thing really well. So that’s better than nothing.”
As Christians, maybe for us this line of reasoning sounds like, “Well, I do go to church when I can. I’ve done a soup kitchen or two. I’ve even been to camps and retreats. I open doors for people and I try to be a nice person. That’s good enough, right?”
… “That’s good enough, right?” This is entirely the wrong question. Jesus makes this clear to his followers in many places. In Matthew 7 Jesus describes to us that many will read off their “religious resume” to Him at the end of our days – and be sadly surprised to find Jesus’ concern being the lack of relationship he has with them. He even calls their actions evil.
In another place in scripture, Jesus makes it very clear to the rich young ruler (Mark 10 & Luke 18) what this word “good” is really all about. This rich young man runs to Jesus, falls to his knees, and asks Him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer is astounding. He replies, “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone.”
Jesus, of course,is God. He is Good. But this young man’s interest was not about knowing God and his goodness, it was getting something from this God. He, like the prodigal son, was interested in his inheritance. He wanted God’s stuff, not God. He wanted Jesus to give him a to-do list that resulted in receiving the prize of eternal life. If we’re more interested in getting form God – doing “for” God… if we’re more interested in these things than we are about knowing God – we’re in trouble.
Part of being a Christian is recoginzing that the only Good in us is Good that God has placed there. For me, this is such a relief! In Genesis when we learn that God created Man and said man was good… luckily he never changed his mind. God made us in His image. We have his mark, and it is only because of this that we are good.
We get this so wrong. I’ve gotten this wrong so often in my life as well. Our bible studies, our church attendance, our serving, our giving, our religious resume and spiritual diciplines… none of this makes us Good or acceptable to God. They are often very good things to do, but they ultimately do not transform us. Involvement in these things does not automatically cause life change. Faithfully attending a class about how to be patient does not automatically produce a more patient person.
Our spiritual disciplines often do good, and can do good for us and for others… but they do not fundamentally make us changed or different. They do not make us Good. Nothing we can DO can. The image of our Creator which we reflect as His creation, the blood of the cross… these make us acceptable and Good in Gods eyes. That’s it. And, it is when we recognize our need for relationship with this God, for his strength and wisdom to “put His words into practice” (Matthew 7) .. it is only then that we begin to have a life of transformation. Because then, we’ll actually desire it. When we start to get to know God (often this can happen through spiritual disciplines) – we find that want to be more like Him. The change, then, is not only present and occurring in your life over time, but you cannot help but tell others about it!
When I was a sophomore high jumper I was very excited about the start of the new track season. The previous year my average high jump cleared 5’4″ – 5’6″. I knew I could do better, and I worked my butt off and did plyometrics, leg lifts, I ran, I did a lot of strength training and I sought out help from my coaches to improve my approach and my jump form and technique. I wanted to have improved, to have grown, my ability to perform the high jump as a sophomore.
My very first jump as a sophomore – I cleared 6’2″. I was ecstatic!
I would have been happy with 5’11”. 6’0″ would have been great! 6’2″ was a dream. It felt so good to look back at the work I did with my coaches and my teammates and be able to see the training pay off like that. It was a pretty remarkable moment for me at the age of 15. It was the first time in my life that I desired a change in my life, worked hard to gain wisdom and training… and was able to recognized a change when it happened. And you want to know what I did after that track meet? I TOLD EVERYBODY who knows me and loves me! I told them about it! I celebrated it! I wanted to tell them my story. Not to brag, but to allow others who care about me to share in the joy of it. I wanted them to know how I was able to experience the fruits of my labor as an athlete.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 reads: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run an in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
To be a Christian with a testimony is to be able to describe what your race is like. So, the prerequisite is to be IN the race! .. to know what the prize is, to train, to desire God in this way. And the prize? The prize is Jesus. Not heaven, not inner peace, not a good feeling. The prize is knowing Jesus, experiencing his truth, his forgiveness, to experience his friendship. To be in relationship with the one who fully and without condition – loves us.
To be a good witness, you need a testimony. It aught to be as exciting as telling someone about a race you’re in! If someone asks you why you are a Christian, if someone asks you to tell them about why you go to church… what will your answer be? Will you be excited and say, “Yes! I love telling about what God has done and what he is currently doing in my life! Here’s where I’m at… Here’s what God is up to… You wanna race with me? This world needs more runners.”
Can you think of a time in your walk with God when you allowed him to do some work in you and after a period of time you experienced life change? This is the kind of testimony the world needs to hear from followers of Christ. Because our world is asking us: Where is the change?
Steven Curtis Chapman goes on to sing “cause if God’s spirit lives inside of me – I’m gonna live life differently”. And this difference aught to go far beyond the things we sign up for or attend through church. It aught to go far beyond a religious resume of activities and attendance. What about the change? Do you desire it? Have you experienced it? Do you desire to tell the world about it?
Whether you’ve been a Christian for fifty years or fifty minutes – you’ve been invited to run. To be His witness. To have a story, a testimony, to tell. You have a God who wants you to know that you can do all the good things there are to do, but that only He can make you good. Only He can cause real change in you. Only He can call out the best in you. So, desire to have a story about life change and about what the mighty power of God can do to transform a human life, to transform a church community, to transform a city, to transform the world. God expects nothing less from his people. So, whatdya say? Can we be running partners? 🙂