Reframing Change: 8 Guiding Principles

Posted by on Jan 5, 2019 in Blog | 2 comments

reframing change photo-1540202403-b7abd6747a18

At the start of a new year it is common for people to dream about things they’d like to change. For most, dreams rarely move beyond the “wouldn’t it be lovely” stage, usually because the motivation to change is not well developed and is not accompanied by a sense of urgency. The bottom line for most of us is that if change is desirable but not essential, it won’t happen. Not that this is always the case. For some, too many previous failures and disappointments cast a long shadow. Desirable change is approached with the disbelief that it is possible – “tried it before, it didn’t work. Sure I’ll give it another go, but seriously, we all know it isn’t going to happen…”

Recently I posted on reframing competition. I’d now like to look at reframing change, and the way we approach it. Here are 8 guiding principles which continue to help me, and which I hope will be useful for you as well…

1)      Start with gratitude. In my New Year blog post for Theologians at Lunch I wrote: As people make New Year resolutions, many fall into the trap of committing to being like someone they like or admire. We spend much of our time thinking “If only I could be more like…” and then think of whoever our hero is.  While it is fine to aspire to be more than we currently are, sometimes it comes at the expense of noticing who we already are – and who God has made us to be. We take for granted the things we have already achieved, and forget to be grateful for the steps we have taken.

While we often think that the grass is greener on the other side, the truth is that the grass is greenest where it is watered the most. Instead of longing to be someone else, why not start the year by noticing all the things you appreciate about yourself, your life and your community. Water those things, and you might become more truly you.

While it may be counter intuitive to suggest that change is aided by gratitude for what already is, we make progress not because of who we aren’t, but because of who we are – and the positive things God has already made possible. Noting these can energise us and give us the hope we need for the journey ahead.

2)      It’s not all about me. Let’s approach change as people whose first commitment is to being loyal and effective members of the Kingdom of God. While I certainly want to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be, the goal is not that I can contentedly claim, “I did it. I really am rather amazing!” but that I have been part of a greater good. Put differently, it is not primarily about me, but about my part in serving the wider interests of the Kingdom of God in the world.

3)      While it is not all about me, I can make a difference. Romans 12:3 says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Paul goes on to discuss the different gifts God has given to us, and affirms that as we each offer what we can (thinking neither too highly nor too lowly about what we can offer), the church (which is the key tangible sign of God’s current work in the world), flourishes. Why embrace needed change? Because my willingness to change can make a difference. My kindness towards another might not only help the other, but inspire others to be more generous. My restraint might be a sign to others that angry outbursts at disappointments are not the only available option. My willingness to trust God’s provision for my needs might help the faith of others – and so it goes on.

4)      The Holy Spirit really does help us. Think of the astonishing number of setbacks and disappointments that the Apostle Paul faced. Ship wrecked, beaten, imprisoned, opposed by fellow Christians and often exhausted, in Philippians 4:13 Paul confidently proclaims, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” It was an insight gleaned from his journey. Realistically, if before his ministry commenced he had known what lay ahead of him, he might well have never begun. However, having started, he discovered that strength for the journey is found on the way. The Holy Spirit really does help us. When we commit to God’s invitation to us to change in some area of our life, we find that strength comes as we act in the light of our convictions.

5)      Live (and embrace change) in the light of what God has called you to be. We often pay too much attention to what we must renounce, and not enough attention to what God has called us to be. As we focus on who God has called us to be (rather than on what we must no longer do), many things fall away. When people think about change, especially the change envisioned in most New Year resolutions, they usually think of reasonably trivial things – a change in eating habits, adopting an exercise routine, getting up a little earlier. While such intentions are commendable, they usually don’t go far enough, because in themselves they are not sufficiently motivating. If I simply want to lose weight and get fit, but have no clear motivator for these changes, they are unlikely to survive the next offer of caramel tart. For myself, I have come to the realization that if I am to have the energy to do what God has called me to, I need to look after myself. My motivation is not weight loss, or to outdo others at the gym – it is simply to have the strength to do what I have been called to do – and yes, I do find that very motivating. Actually, it is usually sufficiently motivating to enable me to decline the caramel tart.

6)      Identify your loves and be alert to pseudo loves. James K.A. Smith has noted that while we usually delude ourselves that we are rational beings driving by clear thinking, in reality we are shaped not so much by what we think as by what we love and desire. In Desiring the Kingdom he writes, “To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are. Our (ultimate) love is constitutive of our identity.” A little later he notes “our ultimate love is what we worship” (p51). A major part of our spiritual formation is about forming and directing our love for God and God’s kingdom. It is possible for pseudo loves (false gods) to capture our hearts and imaginations. When opting for change, we need to consider what we most truly love, and where the deepest desire of our heart lies. Opting for changes that do not support our deepest love will inevitably frustrate and disappoint us.

7)      Challenge your excuses. It is common for motivational writers to urge their readers to challenge their excuses, sometimes noting that the only thing more pathetic than our underperformance is the excuses we use to justify it. It’s the pull yourself up by your own shoelaces approach – or from a theological perspective, an approach that focuses on law rather than grace.

I’d like to suggest that we do indeed challenge our excuses, but not as an exercise of law (Do better next time! No more excuses!) but of grace (so let’s examine why this is happening. Why are there still blocks within me that prevent me from embracing my identity as what Henri Nouwen calls “the beloved”? Why do I consider myself unworthy to receive the best that God intends for me and for the community?) When God’s grace speaks to my excuses, their hold over me starts to evaporate. I see myself in a new light. In time I might even catch a glimpse of God’s view of me and God’s love for me. When I see myself in the light of God’s embrace of me as “the beloved”, I discover the power to change.

8)      Remember the basics, but do dig deeper. Rather than an “8 steps to effortless change” approach, I have tried to write of some of the core underlying conditions that make us open to the change God might be calling us to. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some helpful common sense guidelines to follow if we are to change. It helps to remember the basics… little common sense reminders like “if you aim at nothing, you are bound to hit it” – so set tangible and measurable goals. Furthermore, go public with your goals. There is nothing like public accountability to help us achieve more than we otherwise would. Make your goals a stretch, rather than a snap (in other words, remember, change is the long distance race, not the short sprint. Stretch yourself, but make sure what you do is sustainable over the longer term. As I have written elsewhere, The Tortoise Usually Wins.) And so I could go on. These are solid nuggets of advice, and worth following. But please don’t settle for these alone. Ask the harder questions, dig a little deeper. Change comes not when we paddle in the shallows, but when we launch out into the deep…

As always, nice chatting…


  1. Thanks Brian . Really insightful and a great read for the New Year !

    • Thanks Glenda. Hope it’s a great year for you.

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