Change is constant. We see it in the endlessly shifting shapes of the clouds, the swing of a pendulum, the current of a river, the often gentle, but sometimes violent changing of the weather, the beating of our hearts, and the way our chests rise and fall with every breath.
But sometimes change is not easy to see. A tree does not look much different from one day to the next, or even from one month to the next. But it, too, is constantly changing. Much of its change happens underground — out of sight — as it pushes its roots deeper to reach the life-giving nutrients and water in the soil. Over time, we can easily see the profound growth that begins with a small seed and becomes, as poet, Joyce Kilmer, puts it:
“A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.”
In the same way, it can be easy to miss the change that God slowly, but surely, produces in the lives of his people.
On a recent road trip, my wife Julie and I visited a friend from my high school days. Beth and I had not seen each other in more than 40 years. I’m sort of accustomed to who I am these days, but Beth is not. She remembered only the Dave from all those years ago, and, as we sat at dinner with Beth and her husband, Mark, she turned to Julie and said, “Wow, you have really been good for him.”
No doubt about that! But even that began with a change. It was the change from a single life to a life united with another human; that mysterious, challenging, and incredibly wonderful union we call marriage. (I’m writing this on our 32nd wedding anniversary.)
But the real change had begun a couple of years before our marriage, when constant negative and self-destructive forces in my life finally overwhelmed me.
In the desperation of that moment, I called out to the God I had met when I was a child. And God responded. I confessed my need for change and I pleaded with God to make that change in my life. And he did.
It’s easy to lose perspective when we get caught up in to the day-to-day routines of life. We all must deal daily with ever-constant pressures and demands, whether they are the needs of our family, the workplace, our relationships or our health. We’re too often tormented by our present and haunted by our past. We struggle with the need to change, the need to control our temper, to learn to set healthy boundaries, and the need to resist the destructive temptations that seem to be all around us.
We struggle every day with the need to rest in the peace God has promised. And when it feels as if we’re failing, we become frustrated and discouraged. We question the very core of our faith, and doubt our ability to ever truly be conformed to the image of Christ. And if we cannot, we wonder how God can possibly love us as we are.
It is at those times that we need to simply stop and look back at the road already traveled, and recognize the positive changes that have occurred. Although it’s true that we continually struggle and may feel as if we will never experience victory over our daily troubles, God has been at work all along.
My friend, Beth, for instance, was amazed to see the change that has redefined my life, as God has led me down paths I never would have found on my own. The troubled teenager she knew — the one who seemed bound to fail — is now a pastor, entrusted to spiritually lead God’s people. Amazing.
There have been times where God seemed to be moving quickly in my life, producing significant changes in short bursts. But overall, the changes have occurred slowly. I have been obliged to learn some lessons over and over again, and there is a never-ending supply of new lessons stretching from here to somewhere past the horizon.
But change has been a constant. It is difficult to see at times, just as the growth of a tree is almost impossible to detect on a daily basis. That reality can be a tremendous encouragement in our times of frustration over our common failures. It’s at those times that we should draw reassurance from Philippians 1:6:
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
Joyce Kilmer closes his poem “Trees” with this line:
Only God can make a tree.
In the same way, only God can make us Christ-like. It is not our own effort that changes us, but God’s power. So let us rest in his power to make that change, knowing that he is always active on our behalf.
Apple Valley, CA
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