Stumbling In Darkness
Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.
The prophet Micah had just issued a scathing condemnation of God’s people. Their sins were unspeakable- murdering members of their own families, practicing bribery and corruption in politics, oppressing the poor, and defying their parents (Micah 7:2-6). The sins of the people of God precipitated a very dark time in their history.
When the people heard Micah’s rebuke, however, they responded with appropriate humility and courageous faith. Though they had stumbled in their self-made darkness, they believed the promises of God to forgive, restore, and give them light again. Their response is a powerful lesson for those who are stuck in their sins.
When we’ve gone down the wrong road for a long time, even destructive habits can feel very comfortable. Change is threatening, so we find excuses to stay in our darkness. We complain that nobody understands, or that change is too hard, or that we’ll fail again so there’s no use even trying. Any semblance of courage to change is washed away in a tidal wave of self-pity. An alcoholic explained that she felt more comfortable with the destruction of her addiction than the prospect of change: “It may be hell, but at least I know the names of the streets.”
God’s people, though, didn’t use any excuses. They voiced their faith in God’s mercy, and they took action to step out of darkness into His light. For people who have been deeply wounded or who stay stuck in sin or addiction for a long time, courage is the chief ingredient of change.
You can encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.
Some years ago I heard a speaker say, “You will never change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.” Something happens in us that causes us to continue staying in a destructive and unfulfilling place. I don’t pretend to understand why it is so. I only share an observation that it’s true. I’ve seen people stay in abusive relationships because they fear that a change would leave them worse off. That may not make sense to us who aren’t in such a place but to that person it makes perfect sense. They often fear that if the abuser walked out of their lives, no one would take their place and they would be left alone. They rationalize their treatment, often taking the blame for it and excusing the abuser.
I’ve observed people caught in the trap of addictions, even they cognitively know they are killing their bodies, rationalize, minimize, or even deny that they have a problem. They convince themselves that they are in control and could quit at anytime. Until they come to the bottom and realize that they are hopelessly trapped and have no means to escape, they won’t seek help. Unfortunately most of their friends are in the same state of being and breaking free feels impossible especially after a few failed attempts, so they “accept their fate.”
We don’t have to look hard or far to find dozens of examples of resistance to change, rationalization of destructive behaviors, and continuing to dwell in the darkness. But let’s talk about us. First of all, let’s talk about us as individuals. Christianity isn’t a religion that requires us to work the change. It isn’t a futile exercise in attempting self-change but pulling our selves up or making a hundred resolutions. It isn’t mind over matter for as someone has said, “if we don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” But Christianity is about change, often radical change, and transformation. Scripture says that when we come to Christ, that “old things pass away.” This is not the idea of “sin management” where we try to contain or control our old sin nature. It is literally that Christ puts to death the old us. We die to old desires, old habits, and old ways. I wish that this was a once for all thing, but Paul tells us that we have to die daily. That means every day I have to come to that altar of God and “present my body as a living sacrifice…..which is my reasonable service.” There is always a war within me of old flesh waging battle with my new spirit. But we dare not go back down the old paths. When we do, however, it’s not a lost cause. If we will humble ourselves, admit our wrong behavior, take the full responsibility for our sins and turn to God, He will pick us up and light up the path of redemption. Not only does “old things pass away” but “we become new creatures in Christ Jesus.” We receive a new outlook, new desires, new ways of living, and literally a life makeover. Our past is buried, our present filled with goodness and our future bright. We cease living for the moment and live in the light of eternity. Our priorities are transformed and we make our relationship with Christ our first. We trade satisfying the passions of the flesh for the enrichment of our spirits. Our minds and hearts become enamored with the Word of God, the Presence of God, and the people of God.
Our resistance to change and our fear of it also hinders the effectiveness of the church. We become so steeped in traditions of the past that even when when they cease to contribute to growth, both spiritual and numerical, we cling to them like a drowning man clings to a sinking boat. We have become so comfortable in our darkness that we almost refuse to let it go. Like the addict or the abused, we have become so comfortable with status quo that any suggestion of change motivates us to erect the barricades of defense. We illogically reason that since our traditions worked well in the past, if we just had the right people leading them they would work well now. Like the addict that thinks they can get the ultimate high if they could just find the “right stuff,” we’re sure if we just give the same old tired ineffective programs a brush-up, they’re good for another million miles.
Change is painful and scary. Ask anyone who has decided to workout after a long time being a couch potato. The first days are excruciating and the temptation is strong to give up, especially when the mirror doesn’t show drastic improvement.😎 But if the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of change, we will press through. One of the excuses we often use about change is that we tried it once and we failed. Sometimes in the church, we will try something once but if it doesn’t give immediate results, we morph back to our old patterns, feeling justified that we knew it wouldn’t work anyway. Like the Israelites on their journey to the promised land, we look for reasons to return to our old life, forgetting that it was a life of slavery.
Here’s a little quiz about change:
Are you completely satisfied with everything about your life?
Are there things that are destructive, physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually?
Do you realize that you need to make some changes but fear the attempt or the outcome?
Do you think you are where God has destined you to be or do you feel you’ve missed the path?
Would you define your life as successful and fulfilling?
Is your plan working for your best interest?
For the church, here’s a few more questions:
Are you satisfied with how things are?
Do you see the impact and effect the church is making on the community?
What, if anything needs to change to become the church you feel it needs to be?
Are the ministries and programs well attended, supported and enjoyed?
Do they connect with the community?
What future do you see for the church if it chooses no change? Will it be vibrant, thriving, and effective?
When Micah brought the need for change to God’s people, in this case, they responded with humility and acknowledgement. If God brings to our attention aneed for change, how will we respond?
Dr. John Thompson