Transformation, Not Will Power

Two women smiling

By Dr. Timothy N. Setzer, Senior Pastor, The Village Church

Caring for aging parents is a labor of love. Our parents have given so much of themselves to us and it gives us great pleasure to give of ourselves to them as they grow older. It may require great sacrifice on our part, but we are more than willing to give our parents the assistance they need. We would not have it any other way.

Even though it is a labor of love, I think we all would admit that caring for aging parents can also produce its share of frustrations. As with any relationship, our relationship with our aging parents requires much effort at times. Our parents grew up in different times and often see things differently than we do. Their sense of responsibility and appropriateness does not always match ours. When we add illness that can often debilitate and confuse, the health of our relationship with our aging parents can be strained. This strain can stress and stretch us to the point where we lose our patience and find ourselves acting towards our parents in ways we deplore. It can be a fairly simple thing like how to use a remote control or play a DVD that pushes us over the edge. Or it could be their willingness to be frank with us about something in our lives they disagree with. Our love for our parents certainly does not change, but our attitude can often need an adjustment.

If we find ourselves becoming frustrated with our aging parents, the solution is to spend more time in spiritual training, not more determined will power.

The truth be known, we all struggle with loving others, even our parents, as we want to be loved. As we approach a new year, we may be examining ourselves and determining to set a course towards self-improvement. We are determining to not allow these little things, or even big things, to push us into behaving in a way that we do not like. I believe Paul described succinctly the person we long to be: loving, joyful, peaceful, forbearing (patient), kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. You probably recognize these as the fruits of the Spirit. Since the primary work of the Spirit is to point us to Jesus and to conform us to His likeness, we can say that these are also the characteristics of being Christlike. If the Spirit dwells within us, we long to be like this. Being like Jesus is the answer to all our relationship struggles.

If we are like most people, our New Year’s resolutions are seldom fulfilled. Our experience with resolutions should give us a clue that self-determination, or will power, is seldom strong enough to produce the change we desire. This is true with diets or other personal goals and it is especially true of spiritual growth goals or character changing goals. We simply do not possess the power to change ourselves.

If we cannot change ourselves, then what is the solution? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:17–18 (NIV), “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Notice it says we “are being transformed.” Something or someone is acting upon us to transform us; it does not come from us. This someone is Jesus Himself through the power of the indwelling Spirit. We mentioned the fruits of the Spirit earlier. These are not fruits we produce, but fruits the Holy Spirit produces in us. Spiritual change will not happen as long as we focus on ourselves. Spiritual change happens as we surrender to God and allow Him to work in us. Again, no amount of will power will make us loving, kind or patient; only God, the source of everything good, can produce these in us.

This is not to say that we are off the hook, or that we have no responsibility in this transformation. It is our responsibility to open ourselves up to the Spirit’s work within. It is our responsibility to exercise spiritually so that the Spirit will have full sway in our lives. I Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.” Living as Jesus lived does require effort, but the effort is not focused on the result but on the One who gives the result. If we want to be like Jesus, we must spend time with Jesus and allow Him, through the Holy Spirit, to change us. This means making the effort to spend time in His Word, prayer, worship and fellowship with other believers. As we invest in these we will see change that no amount of will power can produce.

If we find ourselves becoming frustrated with our aging parents, the solution is to spend more time in spiritual training, not more determined will power.

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