The New Year is a time where we pursue change. Though resolutions abound, they are notoriously short-lived. Why is this? Many who want to change fail to really understand how lasting change happens. Here are some key ideas we need to understand.
1. Our core beliefs must change or nothing will change. The first reason attempted change doesn’t last is that we tend to focus on changing our behavior or environment. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with new diets, jobs, locations, schedules, exercise programs, friends, etc. But we must understand that changing these things will not produce lasting change. Our behaviors and environments are ultimately reflections of our core beliefs. Unless our fundamental assumptions about reality change, transformation will never be sustained.
2. Beliefs are different than thoughts. When we think about changing our beliefs, we must distinguish this from changing our thoughts. Our thoughts are actually behaviors. Changing our thoughts is simply another approach to changing behavior. For example: you can have correct thoughts, accurately informed by scripture and sincerely affirmed by your will, about God’s love for you, while at the same time truly believing that you are disqualified from God’s love because of your past failures. Reading a book, attending a class, or any other method of gathering new information or correcting bad information will not affect your core beliefs. Our beliefs and thoughts are different. Our beliefs are the filter through which our thoughts are interpreted and applied. Our beliefs exist at a heart level. They’re not merely cognitive. Our beliefs determine the boundaries around what is and isn’t possible in our lives. Our thoughts are generally easy to verbalize. We rarely put words to what we truly believe.
3. Beliefs are shaped by experience. We believe what we believe because of what we’ve experienced. That’s why you can’t learn your way into new beliefs. Beliefs are not formed by information and they cannot be reformed by education. If we are to experience lasting change, then our core beliefs must be identified and changed. Such beliefs can only be changed through experience.
4. When beliefs change they are either moving toward or away from identity. We are created in God’s image. This means that who we really are is linked to who God is. The key categories of belief, therefore, involve what we believe about God and what we believe about self. Is God good? Is he near, do I have access to his presence? Is he powerful? Do I have value? Where does my value come from? Is my value intrinsic or extrinsic? Again, correct theological answers to these kinds of questions are not what we’re aiming at. What do I fundamentally assume to be true about reality? As my core beliefs change, they are either moving towards or away from what is actually true regarding who God is and who I am in his image. So, my target must involve shifting my core beliefs toward increasing alignment with identity in these key categories.
5. Only experiencing God’s presence and voice can produce lasting change. What kind of experience can effectively shift my core beliefs about God and myself toward increasing alignment with identity? I need to experience God’s goodness, his nearness, and his power. I need to experience his love. I must discover my value within the context of experiential relationship with him.
If you’re considering a New Years Resolution or two, I applaud you. If you’ve committed to a new Bible reading plan, joined a gym, or started a new nutrition regimen, I think that’s wonderful. But if you want these efforts to produce lasting change, there is a deeper context within which they must be engaged. If you’d like to understand more about how to pursue the lasting transformation that results from hearing God’s voice and experiencing God’s presence, then I recommend my book Unveiled, The Transforming Power of God’s Presence and Voice. It’s available in print or audiobook format here.
Praying for God’s rich mercy and amazing grace to saturate every aspect of your new year. Blessings!