We’re two weeks into the new year. How are you doing on those resolutions? Like many of us, I made some resolutions a few weeks ago. As I was considering the few successes and many failures of years past, something occurred to me. Maybe this is obvious to you, but it felt like an epiphany to me.
I can’t change my own heart. I might be able to affect my behavior sometimes, with the right motivation, but I can’t change my heart. And until I achieve true heart-change, those bad behaviors aren’t going away.
For instance, let’s say my goal is to lose ten pounds. If I have the right motivation—a reunion coming up, for instance—I can get myself to eat less. But even if I succeed and lose the weight, it won’t be because I changed my heart. My heart still wants to eat too much. But it wants to look good at the reunion a little more. (Gluttony vs. Vanity—a fight to the death.) Even if I lose the weight, right after the reunion, I’ll likely go right back to eating whatever I want.
When you throw your whole heart into changing your heart, you’re asking your heart to work against itself. You’re asking your heart to give up what’s most important to it—that thing that’s made it happy in the past and that therefore has become the negative habit you want to quit. There’s an expression—the heart wants what it wants. According to scripture, what the heart wants isn’t good.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
So if my heart is deceitful, how can I trust it to change itself? It’s like asking prison inmates to guard themselves.
It’s like asking an astronaut in a weightless environment to move a little to his left. He can flail and gesture and desire to move to the left all he wants, but without some kind of outside force, the astronaut is going nowhere.
Without outside help, our hearts aren’t going anywhere. We cannot make them move a little to the left, because no amount of self-will can make the heart change itself.
The folks at Alcoholics Anonymous have known this for a long time. That’s why step one of the twelve step program is for an addict to acknowledge that he is powerless over his addiction and needs outside help.
The inmates need a guard.
The astronaut needs traction.
The heart needs a second set of hands—God’s hands. Only God can transform a heart. The good news is that God promises to do just that. Ezekiel 36:26-27 reads: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
I didn’t lose ten pounds for a reunion last year, but I did lose weight. In fact, over the course of the last six years, I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds, because I’ve taken God at his word. Rather than focus on losing weight, though, I’ve focused on knowing Him better. I’ve focused on obedience and surrender, on trusting Him even when He asks the seemingly impossible. I’ve asked Him to change my heart, and slowly but surely, He has, not just in the area of weight loss, but in many other areas as well.
Have I arrived? Not even close. Sometimes, I all but lick my plate clean. I still have weight to lose. My heart still needs a lot of work in a lot of areas, and I’ll never arrive. And it’s taking forever—this isn’t the have-a-new-heart by Friday plan. It’s not a plan at all. It’s just me desperate not for another cookie (though I do really like cookies), not for better behavior for behavior’s sake (or vanity’s sake), but for a deeper walk with God. He promises to change my heart, and based on my experience, when I let Him, He absolutely will.
Have you made any resolutions this year that require a heart change? How have you experienced God changing your heart this year or in years past?
Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, released in April, and its free prequel, Chasing Amanda, released in July. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website, robinpatchen.com.