I don’t remember when I learned how to walk. I wouldn’t be here, however, if I hadn’t learned to change direction relative to obstacles I met. I do remember learning to ride a bicycle and learning to drive a car. The skills were essential then, too. I had to remain alert to static or moving objects that would force me to find my way around the obstacles. Most of us have become experts at dodging seemingly inevitable barriers in our life journey.
Skills for Change
An essential skill that requires us to navigate change is found in the more proactive process of planning ahead. We set a goal for ourselves and plan the steps that it will take to get there. As we plan the day, the month, the year, the task, we come to the realization that we need to anticipate obstacles to our goal and build into our planning the changes that we need to make preemptively.
Change is a fact of life. It is inevitable. But sometimes too much change overwhelms us. Most of us would rather develop a routine that allows us to decrease the stress of having to alter our plans, our schedules, our habits, and our presuppositions. We know that change is inevitable, but how necessary is it?
We know from Scripture that the God we serve does not change (Mal. 3:6). We also know that Jesus, “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3), is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). So how do we, as constantly changing beings, relate to an unchanging God? Perhaps this oft-told story will help us imagine the essential nature of change in the light of an unchanging God.
The captain of a ship looked into the dark night and saw a light in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” He promptly received a reply: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”
We must change because God doesn’t.
The furious captain sent another message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south. I am a captain!” Soon another reply was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north. I am seaman third class Jones.”
The captain sent a final message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south. I am a battleship.” The reply: “Alter your course 10 degrees north. I am a lighthouse.”1
While it is true that much of the change that we are subjected to is caused by unforeseen circumstances, there is change that is required by the nature of who we are and the choices that we make. God so loved His created ones that He endowed them with the power of choice. Lucifer exercised that choice to introduce a radical change in which, cultivating self-centered pride, he claimed for himself the glory belonging exclusively to God. This change in his thinking and behavior brought a catastrophic change in his destiny and that of his followers (Eze. 28:12-17; Isa. 14:12-14; Rev. 12:7-9; Luke 10:18).2 Adam and Eve exercised their power of choice to make the same sad change, elevating Satan’s influence above God’s (Gen. 3). Cain, enamored by the value of his own productivity, continued in that vein, despising the idea of ceding credit for his salvation to God, and choosing to murder his own brother in an unrighteous rage (Gen. 4:1-10).
Throughout the ages human beings have chosen rebellious change in the face of their unchangingly loving God. Their efforts to change His rules and boundaries are choices to perish instead of enjoying His protection and safety. To their every choice to rebel, God responds with a call for change again and to be reconciled to Him who, with open arms, invites us to repent, to choose to change our direction, and to find life and peace with Him.
Unable to bear their suffering, God orchestrated an exodus for His people, who were enslaved by an Egyptian pharaoh; He was committed to bring them to a place they could call their own. Through a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night His presence provided them protection all the way (Ex. 13:17–14:31). Yet they invented reasons to rebel against Him. His response to their rebellions was to call them to change their spiritual direction and turn back to Him. In Kadesh Barnea, at the borders of Canaan, God’s people evaluated the Promised Land and decided that they could not muster enough resources to conquer its inhabitants. Not considering that God’s promises bring with them His power, they chose not to enter (Num. 13; 14; 32:8-13). The result? You guessed it—40 years of needless wandering, contention, and complaining, change upon change.
But the grand, cosmic reality of change is perhaps most broadly seen through the prophecies of Daniel, God’s minister in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. The king’s dream was troublesome, but its God-given explanation was even more troublesome. Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to forestall the prophesied succession of human empires came to nothing. Change in human power continues through our own day until the eternal kingdom of God will succeed all human authority structures (Dan. 2; 3).
After centuries of nations striving for supremacy and human choices that threatened to alienate people from God, when the fullness of time came, God provided the fullest representation of His character through the ministry of Jesus (Heb. 1:3). John the Baptist, echoing the call of God’s prophets through the ages, pleaded with those who gathered to hear him in the Jordan Valley: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 3:1, 2). Turning his attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees in his audience, he warned them of the coming Messiah, who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (verses 11, 12).
John the Baptist anticipated Jesus’ ministry as one of judgment. But Jesus Himself later clarified to Nicodemus that God did not send Him “into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). While in prison John received reports of Jesus’ ministry of healing, teaching, and preaching in the streets of Galilee from his disciples, and wondered if His ministry was consistent with the messianic mission. He sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:2). Jesus minced no words, decrying evil and forcefully calling for repentance. He was establishing a kingdom of grace; a ministry that would reveal the true character of God and His kingdom; a ministry that, in the light of His grace, would woo sinners to surrender to His love, to repent and change their ways in preparation for the kingdom of glory to arrive at His second coming.3
But Jesus’ ministry and passion were confoundingly contrary to His disciples’ presuppositions (Matt. 16:21-28; Mark 8:31–9:1; Luke 9:22-27). Only after Christ’s resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did Christ’s followers get the point of His incarnation. At Pentecost the voices of Peter and others rang loud and clear contending to the crowd that the Jesus they had crucified was now their risen “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, KJV). Through Him every good thing was now possible to those who were willing to change: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (verses 37-41).
For the apostle Paul, that saving change makes an unmistakable, observable difference: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the
knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). And by contrast with Lucifer, we give God the glory that He deserves: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (verse 7). And we look for the ultimate and irreversible change, knowing “that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself” (verse 14).=
So is change necessary? Our daily dealings with mundane obstacles that call for change are inevitable. The call to change intentionally in the light of God’s changeless and loving character is an invitation to eternal life and eternal heavenly values. This change is absolutely necessary.
Gaspar Colón is a retired college professor and administrator.