Working with children is one of the most convicting experiences you will ever have…if you are honest with yourself.  I remember one of my disciplinary motifs: when a kid came to me or a counselor brought them to me for something they had done wrong and they said they couldn’t help it, I would say “Raise your right hand.  Stand on one foot.  Now say ‘Nants ingonyama bagithi baba’.  See, you have control over what you do.  So why did you hit so and so again?”

Which led me to the next logical step:

 If I have (besides instinctive, defense reflexes) control over my actions, could I feasibly live a perfect external life for say, two hours?  A day?  At first glance the idea seemed incredibly daunting, but be it ego, or whatever, the thought really started to take hold.  Obviously I can’t control my emotional reaction to different things, but the bible doesn’t say don’t get angry, it says “in your anger do not sin“.

Obviously, on the Christian side I could refute this idea on all kinds of grounds: we must rely on God’s power to help us live better lives, not our own will; being white-washed tombs is not the goal; if we can do it ourselves, why do we need God?; it could go to our heads if we think we can will ourselves into being better…and on and on and on.  I think what strikes me is the underlying belief that knowledge is enough to change somebody, and that change should be permanent if it is real.

It becomes increasingly clear that the objective is not to change the words that come out of our mouths, which websites our fingers type in, which movies our feet carry us to or which kind of chair our butt occupies on Sunday morning, but to change the emotions behind it.  Otherwise, you are not reforming the person, you are teaching them a beautifully choreographed righteousness.

This is why I still make the same mistakes, even if the time between them appears to get longer.  This is why I am still upset with my wife for the same things we argued about in our first month living together, but now choose to keep the frustration inside instead (which of course, on the outside, looks like growth).  This is why I am struggling just as much now as three years ago to have a consistent devotional time.

And this is also the part that gives us a bad name to unbelievers.  Christianity is not the promise of grandiose change  that it is portrayed to be by those inside and outside of the church.  That initial “change” we see is (sorry Christians) often the same kind of 180 we see every year on January first.  And the hypocrisy we see for the rest of the year is the same as the apologetic “well I tried to be vegan, lasted a couple weeks.  Maybe next year!” that we hear from everybody who ever failed on a new years resolution (how many times have you started a one year bible plan?  And how many did you finish?  Exactly).

The idea that someone can miraculously reform their habits, mindsets and actions through the power of Jesus is…well, the ideal right?  If we TRULY, FULLY relied on God and went to Him for EVERYTHING we could live perfectly, right?  Then why don’t we?  Quite simply, we don’t want to.  It is hard.  It is unnatural.  It is counter-cultural, counter-social, counter-everything-we-think-we-want.  Which is thanks to that fallen nature that doesn’t die until we do.

So Christians and unbelievers, cut each other some slack.  Regardless of which ideal we wish to live our lives by, NONE of us do.

But Christians, don’t take this as an excuse.  I said we don’t live better lives because honestly we don’t want to.  THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE.   The bible says we must change our hearts to want what God wants.  Our HEARTS,  not our actions.  Those come next.