Encouraged by “You Can Change”

If you’re not interested in changing sinful behavior and negative emotions stop reading now.

However, if you desire change and want to grow closer to Christ I encourage you to read on and pick-up Tim Chester’s encouraging and practical book You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions.  

Chester will challenge you with the gospel and God’s grace which is where change begins. We often hear (or think) that change begins with us, but it must begin with God’s grace and His transforming power working in and through us.

“You Can Change” is a good book to read with others in a one-on-one discipleship scenario, accountability group, or small group. The chapters are laid out with direct questions. For instance:

“What would you like to change?” Why? “How are you going to change?”

“When do you struggle? What truths do you need to turn to? What desires do you need to turn from?”

We all struggle with something (sin, fear of man, negative emotions, or not doing what we know we should). This book helps us identify what we need to change and helps us deal with it by focusing on the truth of scripture and God’s grace.

Chester reminds us to speak the truth to ourselves and “hold every thought captive.” He quotes the famous preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself.” We should constantly remind ourselves of the truth (which sets us free).

He gives us four life changing truths that we must consistently preach to ourselves:

  1. God is great – so we do not have to be in control.
  2. God is glorious – so we do not have to fear others.
  3. God is good – so we do not have to look elsewhere.
  4. God is gracious – so we do not have to prove ourselves.

Chester points out that “the number-one reason why people don’t change is pride, closely followed by hating the consequences of sin but actually still loving the sin itself.”  “Often we don’t change because we don’t really want to.” He states, “we avoid responsibility for our sin by minimizing it.” Yet, “true repentance grieves over sin, it never minimizes it.”

He goes on to write, “give up – give up on yourself. Repent of your self-reliance and self-confidence. Your second step is to rejoice in God’s grace – his grace to forgive and his grace to transform.”  This is so counter to our culture of  self-esteem and self-help and it’s a refreshing reminder that our hope and joy is in the Lord and not our ability.

So, what do you need to change? Are there areas of sin and pride that God is uprooting in your life? “What truths do you need to turn to?”

Gleanings from “God’s Lyrics”

One of the books that has shaped how I think and write is God’s Lyrics: Rediscovering Worship Through Old Testament Songs by Douglas Sean O’Donnell.

O’Donnell’s helpful work examines 6 songs in the Old Testament:

  • Two Songs of Moses (Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32)
  • Song of Deborah (Judges 5)
  • Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2)
  • Song of David (2 Samuel 22)
  • Song of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3)

He then gives us four major themes found in each:

  1. The Lord is at the center; that is, our God is addressed, adored, and “enlarged.”
  2. His mighty acts in salvation history are recounted.
  3. His acts of judgment are rejoiced in.
  4. His ways of living (practical wisdom) are encouraged.

O’Donnell does a great job of reminding worship songwriters of where the focus of our songs should be. Is the song centered on God or man? Can we sing the song before Him? Who are we worshiping?

This doesn’t mean we can’t write and sing songs about our lives and what God has done in and through our lives. We shouldn’t  ignore the human element and how we relate to God and each other.  For instance, many of the Psalms were written about man’s struggles. Our songs can use first person pronouns. As O’Donnell points out:

“The problem is not the use of the first person pronoun, as many music critics claim. Rather, it is self-love lyrics! There is a subtle but significant difference between “The LORD exults in my heart” and “My heart exults in the LORD.” The latter perfectly balances personal references with praise for God.”

O’Donnell makes the case that the songwriting pendulum has swung heavily toward man centered lyrics (but not all). He compares the most popular Christian songs and hymns with these 6 songs from the Old Testament and it’s an eye-opening read.

The biggest impact this book has had on my writing is the simple reminder to keep the focus on God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The words we choose to use can make all the difference.  My goal is to swing the pendulum back a bit, but I’m sure I have written (and will write) lyrics that need improvement in this area.

The next time you’re writing a song, poem, prayer, or devotion, check to see if it passes the God centered test (you could also say the gospel centered test).

A call to create

Have you ever had the desire to create something? Do your creative projects never seem to go anywhere? Do unfinished projects hover over you like a personal rain cloud?

I recently completed Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge. This short book of inspiration is an encouragement for all to use their talents for God’s glory.

Altrogge reminds us in the first chapter “Created to Create” that we are the representatives and image bearers of the Master Creator. He makes the case that we have the impulse to create and bring order like our Creator. Creativity is not limited to the arts, but should be reflected in any work we find to do. So whatever we do, let us do it with excellence to the honor and glory of God.

Altrogge goes on to encourage us to overcome our fear of failure and rejection (fear of man) by seeking to please the Lord and resting in His acceptance:

“We are in the Beloved (Christ). We are fully accepted, loved, embraced, and treasured by God. That status cannot change. We will never be less loved or accepted by our Father. We don’t need to be addicted to the approval of others because we already have all the approval that we need.”

He then gives some practical advice on getting started, keeping it going, not giving up, and working with and taking healthy and helpful criticism from others.

If you’ve never felt the urge to create  something, this book is for you. If you have felt the urge to create something, but are too busy with other things, this book is for you. If you love to create (painting, poetry, writing, sewing, songwriting, gardening, etc.) this  book is for you.

Yes, it’s mostly a kick in the pants, but it’s well done.  It’s also a good resource to come back to again and again as a healthy reminder of why we create and Who we create things for.

So, what are you waiting for? Start creating…

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