Change Requires Choices

Proverbs 2:1-5 NRSV>
My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;

if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures —
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.

I was having a discussion with a woman online one day. She was explaining that she had this (sinful) compulsion and had dealt with it over and over again. She wasn’t really distressed about it, just simply saying that this was who she was.

I thought about it awhile and wrote back to her. The crux of my conversation was basically this: “Why aren’t you working on fixing or changing this sinful behavior? Why do you continue to choose to do this?” She spit back quickly: “God will change me when He wants me to change.”

To be honest, I was taken back by her reply. But then, when I began to think about it, I realized that a great many of us think this way. We think that we might as well continue in what we’re doing, in who we are, because until God flicks His wrist and miraculously changes us, we don’t have any other options. This is a fairly new belief within the Church. As I was growing up, there were a lot of teachings about striving to live a righteous life. Then things changed. Church got more casual and life got less serious. Suddenly all of that morphed into the idea that God will change us when He wants and, until that time, we might as well just settle back in our sin.

I do not believe that’s what the Bible teaches. Yes, we are changed through the power of the Holy Spirit, but we must participate in that process. There are so many verbs in this passage in Proverbs that speak to our participation, our “doing”:

  • accept my words
  • treasure up my commandments within you
  • making your ear attentive to wisdom
  • inclining your heart to understanding
  • cry out for insight
  • raise your voice for understanding
  • seek it like silver
  • search for it as for hidden treasure

This doesn’t seem to me like something passive, where we wait on God to change us and meanwhile practice our sin. This seems very deliberate, very all-encompassing. In fact, if I were practicing this in my life, it doesn’t seem that I’d have much time to do anything else!

  • Accept my words, treasure up my commandments within you

You know, there is a lot more to “accepting” than simply acknowledging. Even in English, those two words are very different. The word in Hebrew is extremely active and requires that the person do something. If we accept the words, it’s more than reading them, more than saying we agree with them. It’s actually living them out in our lives. It’s making them a part of who we are.

The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary gave an interesting example that I think might fit here. “A surface that will not accept ink.” Marble surfaces are like that. You can write on them and, if you don’t touch it, the ink will stay there. But if you even gently wipe, the ink comes right off.

Scripture can be that way in our lives. It seems like it’s there—on the surface—but when adversity comes and rubs us the wrong way, the scripture just disappears. We need to “accept” the words. I think about Psalm 119: I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you(v. 11, NRSV). When I treasure something, I embrace it; I cling to it; I do everything not to lose it. That’s what I think of when “accepting” the Word.

  • Making your ear attentive to wisdom, inclining your heart to understanding

There definitely appears to be a choice here. The opposite would be allowing your ear not to be attentive. And, to be honest, if I have to make something do a task, then the automatic or natural thing would be to not do it. In other words, if I need to make my ear be attentive, then the natural inclination of my ear is to not be attentive.

I can’t trust my own desires, my own inclinations.

This is an active choice. I don’t feel like it, it doesn’t come naturally, but I need to decide to be attentive. Likely, being attentive to wisdom isn’t comfortable. It probably won’t, at least initially, be something I enjoy. But it is something I can choose to do.

  • Cry out for insight, raise your voice for understanding

The only times I “cry out” are the times when I think the person I’m talking to can’t hear me. I certainly don’t “cry out” in a meeting when I want to speak to my husband. I lean over and quietly whisper to him. But, when he’s outside and I don’t know where he is, I “cry out.” When my students are all talking and laughing (and are on the verge of being out of control), I “cry out” to get their attention.

God always hears us. But there are times when we “cry out” to Him. And in these cases, I think it’s more about our efforts than His ability. In other words, are we serious about what we want from Him? Do we really want insight? Because, if we get it, very likely we’re going to have to change something in our lives.

  • seek it like silver, search for it as for hidden treasure

One of my favorite movies is National Treasure. I just love the idea of a treasure hunt with clues hidden all over! What fun.

Obviously, there are things of God that we must truly work to find, truly dig deep for in order to understand. And there must be a desire, a drive, to find it. Our Lord Jesus taught about just this thing:

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:7-11 NRSV

In this scripture, there is actually a sense of continuing. “Keep asking… keep searching… keep knocking.” It’s not a one time event, but something that we do over and over again. There is that same sense with hunting for hidden treasure. It’s something we continue to do. I think as Christians that we often become weary and discouraged from trying to do the right thing. Paul tells us specifically to guard against this: So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 NSRV

Obviously, it’s about our own choices. Are we motivated to become more and more what God wants us to be? Obviously, we can only do this in the power of the Holy Spirit. But He cannot change us without our participation, without our desire. We must seek. If we do, He will provide.