“Everything changes”—Heraclitus. “When you are finished changing, you are finished”—Ben Franklin. But what does the Bible say about coping with change?
I’m conflicted about change. I am a creature of habit, but without some spice, life gets boring. I know change is inevitable, but I realize not all change is good.
Most of all, I understand God calls on us to change, but I know godly change is hard.
Change is a complex subject, but I believe some of the stories of the Bible can give us help in coping with the changes and transitions of life.
Stress of change
Some researchers have tried to rank the stress involved in various life changes. The Life Change Index, for example, gives the death of a spouse the highest impact score of 100; a jail term, 63; marriage, 50; and a change in residence, 20.
Other researchers have other approaches, but no matter how you rank these life changes, there’s no doubt they can add up to stress and challenges.
Consider biblical characters like Abraham, Joseph, Ruth and Paul who experienced challenging life changes. What lessons can we learn from the changes and transitions they faced—and their responses to them?
Find stability in the things that never change
In the midst of change, realize that some things never change.
Abraham latched onto this solid foundation when God asked him to leave his comfortable life and become a nomad in a faraway land.
Whether the changes we experience are bad or good, we can use them as a catalyst for growing in godly character.“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10).
In a topsy-turvy world, we can count on the God who does not change (Malachi 3:6). Like Abraham, we can have assurance in God’s promises and the spiritual “things which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:27).
Use both bad life changes and good life changes to improve your character
Nothing in Joseph’s life seemed to be going according to his plans. He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, but he made the best of the situation by being the model servant.
Then, when he turned down the advances of his master’s wife, his right choice was rewarded with a terrible injustice. He was thrown into prison. (Remember the jail term with an impact score of 63?)
Yet Joseph didn’t let all these bad changes make him give up or become bitter and selfish. In spite of them, he continued to develop a faithful, hard-working and serving attitude. His competence and character prepared him for the good changes to come, as overnight he rose to become the second most powerful person in Egypt!
Whether the changes we experience are bad or good, we can use them as a catalyst for growing in godly character. Though we often can’t avoid the changes thrust upon us, we can choose our response and the fruit it produces.
Conquer the fear of change through commitment
Ruth’s stress would have been off the charts. Her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law all died, leaving three widows in desperate financial straits.
When her mother-in-law set out for her home country, Ruth faced a huge choice. She could go back to her own family and culture. Or she could commit to a whole new way of life in a strange land.
When her mother-in-law tried to talk her out of that seemingly crazy choice, Ruth replied:
“Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.
“Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Her commitment impressed Boaz:
“It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before.
“The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12).
And God did reward Ruth’s commitment to her mother-in-law and to Him. He allowed her to marry Boaz and to have a son who would be an ancestor of King David and of Jesus Christ.
Staying committed and connected to family, friends and especially to God can help us quell the fear of change.
The change we should choose
Many of the life changes we have talked about are thrust upon us. But there is one change we must choose.
Saul was committed, but to a wrong cause—persecuting Christians! When God struck him down on the road to Damascus, Saul quickly recognized the error of his ways. Within days the persecutor became a baptized Christian and preached strongly about the reality of Christ.
He became known as the apostle Paul.
His was a 180-degree U-turn. In fact, God calls on every follower of Christ to make that kind of change. It’s called repentance and conversion. God must lead us to repentance, but then we must choose it and follow Peter’s instructions:
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God converts us from the inside, making each of us into a new person. He helps us make the commitment that conquers the fear of change. He helps us use the changes of life to grow in godly character. And He helps us focus on the spiritual things that never change.
Paul experienced many stressful life changes, but with God’s help, he was able to rejoice, be thankful, be optimistic, be content and enjoy “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (see Philippians 4:4-12).
When we follow these biblical examples, we will be able to say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verse 13).