More rigorous psychological tests have proven the deep-seated nature of our frequent frustration with change. For example, a University of Illinois study examined the multiple-choice tests of students and interviewed those who had changed their minds on questions, and thus changed their answers during a test. The significant finding was that when they were questioned afterwards, the students who had changed answers indicated that switching a correct answer to an incorrect answer was much more frustrating and memorable than failing to switch to a correct answer from an incorrect one!
And so it is, from tests in school to lines in stores and in countless other ways we experience small but memorable frustrations with change and may often resist it as a result. These are hardly catastrophic experiences, but the human brain remembers little things like that so when we are tempted to change something in our lives, the suspicion that it may make things worse kicks in almost immediately.
But we need to remember “the other side of the coin” of change: that change is necessary in order to enjoy all of the most satisfying aspects of life. We change in order to move from childhood to adult life, from school to career, from single status to marriage, and in many other ways as we grow and mature. As Paul told the Corinthians “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV). Like Paul, most of us are happy to give up childish pleasures and satisfactions for mature ones.
Spiritually, we might expect the principle of giving up old wrong ways for better ones to be appealing, too, but human nature and the fear of change we so often develop can slow us down in this area. In addition, limited understanding of the guidance the Bible gives us for change can affect us, too. We may know that the New Testament counsels us all to “repent” or to change our ways (Acts 2:38, etc.), but that command is not a one-time thing – it is an ongoing way of life.
The apostle Paul had something to say about the fact that we need to continually focus on distinct areas in which we should change: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers … Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
Think about these words for a minute. The idea of being transformed by renewal is an ongoing one in what Paul wrote. Being “transformed” simply means to be “changed,” of course, and the ongoing “testing” Paul then talks about in these verses refers to accepting the need to change and testing or trying new, better ways in various aspects of our lives. That is not a natural process and it is not always a comfortable one – if it were, Paul would not have had to “appeal” to us to do it. But the good news is that this kind of change is always positive and for the best when it is accomplished – and that is what Paul meant in saying it is “good and acceptable and perfect.”
So how do we put the need to change into practice? Primarily, we do so in the way we study the word of God. We do so by reminding ourselves every time we read a section of Scripture not just to read for inspiration, but also to focus on commands or challenges to do or be something different from the way we are. It means asking ourselves: “Is this me?” “Should this be me?” and “How do I need to change to make it me?” Because, spiritually, the only change we really ever need to fear is the change not made.