For years my wife and I have served as pre-marital counselors to the people in our church. Typically those who show up are love-struck, sometimes holding hands, always enthusiastic. And as sure as they’re sitting there, they have no idea how much their lives are going to change. Most new couples understand that married life will be different and better. But mostly they think of change as related to budgets, where they’ll live, what kind of pets they’ll own, how many kids they’ll have, and generally flowing into a rhythm together.
That’s all true. For starters. Those are the “moving-the-furniture-around-the-room” kind of changes. You’re aware of them. But there’s another kind of alteration that goes on at a deeper level. This is change that comes as the unavoidable by-product of being with somebody in their space for a lifetime.
If living with another human being can do this to you, what do you think will happen when you enter a relationship with God? If a life with the Lord of the universe only means a change in how much profanity we use or where we’ll be on Sunday morning—bed or pew—then we’re twice as naïve as any starry-eyed couple ever was.
The famous hymn “Just as I am” highlights a wonderful truth: that I can come to Christ “Just as I Am.” The follow-up to that marvelous truth is that He will not leave me “Just as I Am.” Expect change.
Consider for a moment spiritual maturity, the most profound of all changes, through the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Especially through Jacob. This man lived the early part of his life bristling with a natural strength of talents, intellect, and force of personality. Yet all without God. The significance of God’s work in this man’s life was in transforming the godless into the spiritual.
Nobody presents us with a better picture of transformation than Jacob. He always struggled to get ahead, even from birth. As he was being born, he reached out and grabbed the heel of his twin brother’s foot. That one innocent little reflex was a sign portending his stormy future. Jacob’s life went on to be characterized by struggles and anxieties of every sort. He was always on the fast track to success.
Jacob’s life map is dotted with manipulation and negotiation. Though he sometimes managed to prevail and get his way, he also spent a lot of time reaping the ferocious side effects of that kind of life. The trail of disillusioned, angry people he left in his wake provided him the most toxic forms of drama.
Yet Jacob kept escaping. He was the consummate Houdini, always maneuvering out of something. Unlike the real Houdini though, his escapes would always lead to worse predicaments.
It took no less than a personal encounter with God to change him–a wrestling match with a “divine Man” (c.f. Gen. 32:24, 30) that lasted all night. At some defining moment, the Man touched Jacob’s thigh (said to be the strongest muscle in the human body). This one move threw Jacob’s hip out of joint, reminding him that God has more power in his finger than we can muster in our whole body.
The wound led to a change of name (from Jacob to Israel), deeply signifying a change of identity. Nowhere was this transformation more evident than the limp Jacob always bore after the encounter, a sign of one who had wrestled with God.
Flash forward to Jacob’s deathbed, where the final fruit of his remarkable transformation becomes clear. He no longer covets other people’s blessings, but freely gives them out–first to Pharaoh of Egypt (Gen. 47:7), and then the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:1-28). At this point the man’s word carries so much spiritual weight that whatever he pronounces upon his sons becomes an absolute and enduring legacy. It is the apex of Jacob’s life and a testimony of the relentless transforming work of God.
Meanwhile, In the Present…
When the New Testament talks about us, living so many years later, it says, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). At any given moment in your life, transformation is taking place.
Don’t mistake interpersonal conflicts as bad luck. Don’t think sufferings are pointless. Neither should you be surprised at the idea that there’s a measure of godless energy in you. It’s there, big and ugly. You probably think it’s wonderful. You might even be proud of it. But God isn’t much of a fan. He has something better in mind for you. He’s moving you incrementally into the glorious image of His Son. Now that’s something to write home about. It’s the best of all possible futures. The most grand of all possible worlds. There’s no life like it. In that state, we’re unavoidably blessed and so is everybody around us.
Let me just be clear. I’m no ascetic. I don’t “love” inconveniences and pain.
But they’re well worth the trouble.