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January 30, 2014

MAY: Spiritually transformed

— We have been looking at how many of us make resolutions at the beginning of the year. Surveys and studies show that most of those resolutions don’t last through the month, let alone the entire year.

Why is that true? What goes wrong when we resolve?

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul hints that there are four agents that are at work, trying to influence change in life. First we change when we are motivated on a personal level — from within, our “self” if you will. The second agent at work for change in our lives is the network of people who influence us — sometimes people that we know, and sometimes society as a whole. We used to call this agent “peer pressure” — it is the presence of a social influence. The third change agent is the structure around us — circumstances, media, physical surroundings. Finally there is a spiritual level which attempts to influence change.

How does that work in the real world? Let’s say that my new year’s resolution is to control my temper — to not lose it so often, or to display less angry outbursts when I do. I turn first to my “self” and I work on my motivation to be a more controlled individual. I may learn some coping skills and more appropriate ways to release my angry feelings by reading a book or taking a class.

Next, I try to control the people around me that have the greatest influence on my behavior. I quit hanging out with Bobby Knight — we all know the temper problems he has had — and I spent more time with folks like Ghandi and Mother Teresa.

Third, if I want to control my temper, I begin to control my surroundings and the structure of my life. I get more sleep so that I am well-rested and less agitated. I change my traffic patterns so that I am not on the Kennedy Bridge during rush hours. OK — I completely stay out of my car during the hours of 4 to 6 p.m.

I have worked on so many things in my life. There is no question that there is an improvement, but there are times that I still want to throw a chair across the gym floor of my life. Why haven’t I been able to completely kick the bad habits? It is often at this point that I become discouraged. Disappointed with myself, I give up the resolution. For me, it is usually around Jan. 9.

My attempts to change may not have worked because I neglected to see that I am in a spiritual battle. That’s why the fourth agent of change that Paul hints to is so important. If I am going to truly change — to be transformed — I have to work on strengthening my spiritual side.

Paul tells us that we aren’t just wrestling against flesh and blood, but against something that is much bigger, much more sinister that we can possibly imagine. We are actually standing toe-to-toe against Satan — the Devil — who has been anticipating this specific battle since before we were born. He has plotted, schemed, manipulated, gritted his teeth and dug in his heels for this very moment. He is prepared.

And then the battle rages. The Devil peppers us daily with temptations, pinging at us like grains of blowing sand along the ocean’s shore. Most of the temptations are no more than an annoyance — a twinge of pain, an opportunity to shine, a sin to avoid. And most of the time we avoid the temptation.

But there are seasons in our lives when the breezy wind becomes a category five hurricane. The whisking sand is no longer an inconvenient nuisance but instead a razor sharp scalpel slicing away armor and flesh in its path of destruction.

Sometimes the hurricane blows sands of specific vulnerable circumstance. To the alcoholic the mere smell of liquor provides a temptation of near insurmountable odds. Need. Desire. Addiction. Pleasure. Escape. And one sip can start a spinning downfall into the depths of sin and despair.

Sometimes the hurricane blows sands of specific time and endurance. The loss of a job is followed by the death of a spouse. Before stability can be established, a child announces a drug problem or an unhealthy lifestyle choice. One temptation after another after another pelts our resolve, our perseverance, our spirit. Slowly, gradually, under the relentless attack, our foot loses hold, we reel backward, our balance upended. The hurricane force wind has not only impeded the greater progress, but perhaps also left us broken and shattered, wondering how we will ever regain what has been lost.

Nail the plywood to the windows. Cover and seal the openings around the door. Surround yourself with positive people. Go back to church even when you don’t feel like it. Nurture the spiritual side of your life. Be teachable. Put on the whole armor of God. Realize the hurricane is coming.

And let the wind blow.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com

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