“Change: From the Inside Out or the Outside In?” the headline read, reflecting a popular trend today—the idea that outward changes like a makeover or better posture can be an easy way to change how we feel on the inside—and even change our lives.
It’s an appealing concept—who wouldn’t want improving our lives to be as easy as a new look? Many of us have learned the hard way that changing deep-rooted habits can seem nearly impossible. Focusing on simple external changes offers hope that there is a quicker path toward improving our lives.
But although such changes can improve our lives, Scripture invites us to seek a deeper transformation—one that is impossible on our own. In fact, in Galatians 3 Paul argued that even God’s law—a priceless gift that revealed His will—couldn’t heal the brokenness of God’s people (vv. 19–22). True healing and freedom required them to, through faith, be “clothed” in Christ (v. 27) through His Spirit (5:5). Sanctified and shaped through Him, they would find their true identity and worth—every believer equally an heir to all of God’s promises (3:28–29).
We could easily devote much energy to self-improvement techniques. But the deepest and most satisfying changes in our hearts come in knowing the love that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:17–19)—the love that changes everything.
As I was nearing the end of lunch with my sister and her children one afternoon, my sister told my three-year-old niece Annica it was time get ready for her nap. Her face filled with alarm. “But Aunt Monica did not hold me yet today!” she objected, tears filling her eyes. My sister smiled. “Okay, she may hold you first—how long do you need?” “Five minutes,” she replied.
As I held my niece, I was grateful for how, without even trying, she constantly reminds me what it looks like to love and be loved. I think sometimes we forget that our faith journey is one of learning to experience love—God’s love—more fully than we can imagine (Eph. 3:18). When we lose that focus, we can find ourselves, like the older brother in Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, trying desperately to win God’s approval while missing out on all He has already given us (Luke 15:3
Psalm 131 is one prayer in Scripture that can help us to “become like little children” (Matt. 18:3), letting go of the battle in our mind agonizing over what we don’t understand (Ps. 131:1). Instead, through time with Him we can return to a place of peace (v. 2), finding the hope we need (v. 3) in His love—as calm and quiet as if we were children again in our mothers’ arms (v. 2).
I recently stumbled across some of my journals from college and couldn’t resist taking time to reread them. Reading the entries, I realized I didn’t feel about myself then the same as I do today. My struggles with loneliness and doubts about my faith felt overwhelming at the time, but looking back now I can clearly see how God has carried me to a better place. Seeing how God gently brought me through those days reminded me that what feels overwhelming today will one day be part of a greater story of His healing love.
Psalm 30 is a celebration psalm that similarly looks back with amazement and gratitude on God’s powerful restoration: from sickness to healing, from threat of death to life, from feeling God’s judgment to enjoying His favor, from mourning to joy (vv. 2–3,11).
The psalm is attributed to David, to whom we also owe some of the most pain-filled laments in Scripture. But David also experienced restoration so incredible he was able to confess, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (v. 5). Despite all the pain he had endured, David discovered something even greater—God’s powerful hand of healing.
If you are hurting today and need encouragement, recall those times in your past when God carried you through to a place of healing. Pray for trust that He will do so again.
When I stopped by to visit my sister’s family, my nephews eagerly showed me their new chore system, a set of Choropoly boards. Each colorful electronic board keeps track of their chores. A job well done means the kids can hit a green button, which adds points to their “spending” account. A misdeed like leaving the back door open results in a fine being deducted from the total. Since a high-points total leads to exciting rewards such as computer time—and misdeeds deduct from that total—my nephews are now unusually motivated to do their work and to keep the door closed!
The ingenious system had me joking that I wished I had such an exciting motivational tool! But of course God has given us motivation. Rather than simply commanding obedience, Jesus has promised that a life of following Him, while costly, is also a life of abundance, “life . . . to the full” (John 10:10). Experiencing life in His kingdom is worth “one hundred times” the cost—now and eternally (Mark 10:29–30).
We can rejoice in the fact that we serve a generous God, One who does not reward and punish as we deserve. He generously accepts our weakest efforts—even welcoming and rewarding latecomers to His kingdom as generously as old-timers (see Matt. 20:1–16). In light of this reality, let us joyfully serve Him today.
Recently, I switched rooms in the home I rent. This took longer than expected, because I didn’t want to simply transfer my (extensive) mess to a new room; I wanted a completely fresh and uncluttered start. After hours and hours of cleaning and sorting, bags of stuff sat by the front door to be thrown away, donated, or recycled. But at the end of this exhausting process was a beautiful room I was excited to spend time in.
My housecleaning project gave me a fresh perspective when reading 1 Peter 2:1, as paraphrased in The Message: “So, clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy, and hurtful talk.” Interestingly, it’s after a joyful confession of their new life in Christ (1:1–12) that Peter urges them to throw away destructive habits (1:13–2:3). When our walk with the Lord feels cluttered and our love for others feels strained, this shouldn’t cause to question our salvation. We don’t change our lives to be saved, but because we are (1:23).
As real as our new life in Christ is, habits learned do not disappear overnight. So, on a daily basis, we need to “clean house,” throwing away all that prevents us from fully loving others (1:22) and growing (2:2). Then, in that new, clean space, we can experience the wonder of being freshly built (v. 4) by Christ’s power and life.
“I just can’t trust anyone,” my friend said through tears. “Every time I do, they hurt me.” Her story angered me—an ex-boyfriend, whom she really thought she could trust, had started spreading rumors about her as soon as they broke up. Struggling to trust again after a pain-filled childhood, this betrayal seemed just one more confirmation that people could not be trusted.
I struggled to find words that would comfort. One thing I could not say was that she was wrong about how hard it is to find someone to fully trust, that most people are completely kind and trustworthy. Her story was painfully familiar, reminding me of moments of unexpected betrayal in my own life. In fact, Scripture is very candid about human nature. In Proverbs 20:6, the author voices the same lament as my friend, forever memorializing the pain of betrayal.
What I could say is that the cruelty of others is only part of the story. Although wounds from others are real and painful, Jesus has made genuine love possible. In John 13:35, Jesus told His disciples that the world would know they were His followers because of their love. Although some people may still hurt us, because of Jesus, there will always be true followers of Him to unconditionally support and love us. Resting in His unfailing love, may we find healing, community, and the courage to love others as He did.