Change Brings Change but There is an Idea that Keeps Us Chained

Change brings change, but there is an idea that keeps us chained.

When I was 30, I went through an early mid-life crisis.  I liked my job.  I liked my co-workers.  I liked my boss.  But I kept feeling that God wanted to do something else with me.  Along with that feeling, I also felt like I was locked into a job and could not change.  I had to be willing to change and overcome that sense of fatalism that held me back.

Change brings change, but there is an idea that keeps us chained.

That means that when we change, God changes his course of action.  Unfortunately, the idea of fatalism keeps us chained down to the ineffective life we sometimes find ourselves in.  Fatalism is the idea "that all events are predetermined by fate and are therefore unalterable."

At a previous job, I had friends that were really into astrology.  In astrology, your fate is locked in by the placement of the stars and your location on earth when you were born.  My friends were enslaved by their astrological readings that they received from their astrologer.  I don’t know what introducing a 13th star sign will do to those that base their lives on this line of thinking, but we can be assured that no fate can lock us into a future.  We must be willing to toss those chains that try to ensnare us aside and go after who we know God wants us to be no matter what the cost.

Throughout history people have found themselves locked into situations where the excuse they have used for what they are doing is that God wills them to live the way they are living.  It's when we think that we are doing everything right that we do not evaluate whether we can do things better, but the honest truth is that we can always change and do things better than we currently are.  There is always room for improvement.  We never reach the place of perfection in this life.  The relationships we are part, the organizations we serve in, and the communities we live in can always be improved.  Change is always an option to make things better.  

Do you ever struggle with the idea that you are locked into a situation?  Don't.  You can change.  God waits for people to change to bring about the change He desires.

Our church found ourselves in that place, we were doing things the same way that we had done them for 48 years.  And we were getting ineffective results.  A lot of good-hearted people were spending time in wasted service.  We had to change to get different results.

It is easy to find yourself in a similar trap where you think that you are doing all that you can and that your destiny is not yours to control. 

Let me be clear.  This is not an attack on God’s sovereignty.  He does work things to His will.  And He does promise that He will work all things for the good of those who love Him.  We can be assured that whatever He wants to happen will happen. 

But let's look at the Bible to get a clearer understanding.

As individuals, you might find yourself in similar situations as these Bible characters.

This story picks up with Moses on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments.  While on the mountain, the people below, with Aaron's help, build a golden calf and begin to worship it.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
God says that He is going to destroy the people He rescued out of Egypt because of their disobedience.

We struggle with the problem of thinking these stories are fairy tales.  Here we have Moses communicating with God.  He was a regular person like you and me, yet God tells Him what He is going to do.  Then Moses tells Him that He doesn't want God to do it that way.  What's that do to our theology?

But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ”
“And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (ESV).

“So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (NASB).

“And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (KJV).

The word literally means repent.  It means turning away from a course of action and doing another.  The Bible says that God repented.  Again I ask, what's that do to our theology?

It wasn't like Moses presented a new idea to God that God had never thought of.  We can't present God with a new idea; He had thought of all the ideas.  He knew all the options.  It appears that God was waiting for a person to be faithful and willing to lead His people.  Moses' courage and boldness showed God that Moses was that person, and God relented from the punishment that He said He would do.  God changed His mind.  When Moses changed, God changed, and the people were unchained.

Change brings change but there is an idea that keeps us chained.
And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.
excerpts from Exodus 32:1-26 (ESV)
People have choices.  They always have choices.  Moses had a choice.  The tribes of Israel had a choice.  The question is how do we respond when it is asked, "Who is on the Lord's side?"  Because if you listen carefully, God is still asking that.

When in a battle between church tradition and Scripture, Scripture should always win.  We can develop all sorts of beliefs about God when we abandon Scripture and start thinking in the ways of the world around us.  Fatalism is a consequence of that approach.  It dominated the church during the Enlightenment.  If you want a rational, reasonable god, then you would create a  god who does not change his actions based upon our actions.  This god would no longer directly interact with humanity except through providence.  The Christian world became less vibrant and less committed to living out the works of God because they created a reasonable god that preordained their salvation.  For nearly the last four hundred years, reason was king in our society and the church discarded Scripture for their well-thought out yet unscriptural fatalism.  We were ensnared by the prevailing thoughts of our time.  We must always come down on the side of Scripture when there is a battle between church tradition and Scripture.

Now, let's look at the story of Jonah.  Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh and preach that destruction was coming their way because of their evil ways.  Jonah did not want to do it, but through a series of events, he found himself reluctantly prophesying to Nineveh and hoping for their destruction. 
The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”

Jonah 3:6-4:1 (ESV)
This story carries a similar theme to Moses' story in Exodus.  God tells the people of Nineveh that He is going to destroy them, but the king of Nineveh calls the nation to repent of their evil ways.   God sees their repentance and changes His plans.  People change, God changes.  Imagine if the Ninevites believed that they were predestined to be punished (because God actually said He was going to punish them) and that they could not change their fate from God's "plans."

Change brings change but there is a thought that keeps us chained.

Here is the passage where the Bible says that God does not change.  It is in the middle of the context of God removing Saul as king and appointing David.  That's a change in case you missed that, so God says that He does not change in the context of making a change.  Now, we can either assume that God appointed the wrong person on purpose when He appointed Saul.  This argument would be that God wanted to teach the people a lesson in appointing a king over them who would fail to be faithful.  Or we can conclude that God had hope that Saul would be the king He destined Him to be, but that Saul stumbled and failed to live up to God's plan. 

Saul's changed and his changes brought about changes in God's course of action.
The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.”

Saul said that he did it to offer sacrifices to the Lord, but Samuel stated, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king…And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”  Excerpts from 1 Samuel 15:10-35 (ESV)
"He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind”  [1 Samuel 15:29 (NIV)].

God changed his course of action, but who God is never changes.  He is unchanging even when His course of action changes.  This was emphasized in the story of Samuel because the people would begin to think that God is wishy-washy when He removed Saul, the king He appointed, for David.    

Let's move from the historical times in Scripture and look at the benefits of throwing off the idea of fatalism.

•    Prayer Matters
Prayer not only changes us, but what we pray for influences the actions of God.  Prayer matters.  It's a meaningful conversation with the creator and controller of the universe, not some empty ritual that we must go through to become more of who He wants us to be.
•    You Can Change
You are not stuck into some fatalistic, predestined future.  God does have a plan for you, but you have to change (and you can change!) to reach it.
•    The Evil Around Us Is Our Fault
If God is in complete control, then all the evil that happens around us is His fault.  If evil is the consequence of our fallen decisions that have created a fallen world that we live in, then when bad things happen it is our fault, not God's.  Now, if fatalism was the view that Scripture taught, then God is big enough to live with the responsibility of all the wrongs committed in the world.  But fatalism is not the view of Scripture, so there is no reason that we have to go around and defend it. 
•    Your Actions Matter
Your actions matter.  God is waiting for faithful people to bring about His will.  There is a great disdain for good works in fatalism, but Paul wrote in Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith for works.  We are saved for works.  We need to never get that confused with being saved by works, but, in this context, we are talking about how we can be total disciples and who God wants us to be.  We can choose to do more for the Lord than we are already doing. 
What do you think of when you hear the name "Nobel?"  More than likely, you think of the Nobel Peace Prize.  We probably wouldn't even know the Nobel if Alfred Nobel did not read his own obituary while he still had time to change his life.  When Alfred's brother died, the papers mistakenly thought Alfred had died and ran his obituary.  Nobel had a unique experience of opening up the morning paper and reading what people actually thought of him prior to his death.  He was not happy with the impression.

What would your obituary say that your life was about?  Is it about the things of God or the things of this world?  Have you really made any difference?

Nobel's obituary showed that he would be remembered for inventing dynamite and being a weapon's dealer.  And that is not what he wanted to be remembered by.  So he set up a trust to promote world peace.  Every year, we have the cause of peace promoted through the Nobel Peace Prize.  Nobel made a lasting impact because he changed his actions.

Most of us will not be fortunate enough to read our obituary and have time to change our lives.  But we don't need that wake-up call.  We just need to respond in faithfulness to God and do whatever He wants us to do.

That broken relationship that you are in, you can love the other person.  You can change.

That co-worker that needs to know Jesus, you can impact their life if you focus on investing in them.  You can change.

The community that you live in is just waiting for a group of people to bring about God's will.  It's not where God wants it to be because God lacks power.  God has all the power and can make His will happen, but He has chosen to work through us.  Our community is not where God wants it to be because His people lack faithfulness.  May we be the people who are willing to change to bring about the will of the Lord.

The truth is that God doesn't love you the way you are; He loves you despite the way you are. That's grace. But God loves us too much to not guide us away from the fallen way we are. God is all about change. And we can change, through the strength He provides. We can be more faithful and grow in Him so that we can become more of who He wants us to be.

You can change. Your church can change. Your family can change. Your town can change. Your nation can change. This world, it too can change. Everything is actually always changing. The question is whether we are working with God to change it for the better.

Change brings change. If we change, God's course of action will change and we will be in His blessings.  But there is an idea - fatalism - that prevents us from really changing.  Let us throw off the concepts of this world and live in the power of God.  Let's change!