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Road to Recovery #5: “Making Changes”

(Adapted from Rick Warren, Celebrate Recovery)
Apr.7/13 Romans 12:1-2


Today we pick up again with Rick Warren’s “Road to Recovery” material. Can you remember where we’ve been so far? We’re using the acronym “Recovery” so we’ve looked at “R-E-C-O”. The “R” in RECOVERY stands for the “reality step” – realize I’m not God; I admit I am powerless to control my tendency to do wrong things and my life is unmanageable. “E” [the hope step] stands for “Earnestly believe that God exists and has power to change me.” “C” [the commitment step] stands for “Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ's care and control.” “O” [the housecleaning step] means “Openly examine and confess my faults to God, to myself, and to someone I trust.”
    We all have hurts we will never forget. We all have hang-ups we will never get rid of. We all have habits that are messing up our lives. Today we’re going to look at Step 5, the Transformation Step. It’s the V in the road to recovery:
It’s based on Romans 12:1–2, “Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to His service and pleasing to Him … and let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.” Transform – change of your mind: the way we are transformed is by having our minds changed.
This morning we’ll look at 3 things: where our character defects come from; why it’s so hard to get rid of them; and then how we cooperate with God’s change process in this step and see God change the hurt, the habits, and the hang-ups that have been messing up my life.


So, where DO our character defects come from? Because we’re complex they come from three sources: biological, sociological, and personal. Our chromosomes, our circumstances, and our choices - that’s where our defects come from.
    MY CHROMOSOMES – Some of them you inherited; that’s your chromosomes. Both your mother and your father contributed to you 23,000 chromosomes each. And so you inherited some of their weaknesses. You inherited some physical and emotional defects from your parents. This explains your predisposition towards certain problems. But it doesn’t excuse a sin. For instance, because of my parents, I may have a tendency to have a hot temper, but that doesn’t give me an excuse to go out and murder somebody. I may have a tendency to be lazy, but that doesn’t permit me to do nothing with my life and just be a loafer. I may have a tendency, genetically, toward certain addictions, but that doesn’t give me an excuse to go out and make the choice to become addicted. My genes, genetics, my nature is one source.
    MY CIRCUMSTANCES – My Nurture is another source, in addition to “nature” (what we inherited). You were raised a certain way, and you learned a lot of your ways of relating, your patterns, and your habits. You learned from your parents and from other people. You learned to respond to your own needs in certain ways and how to cover for yourself, how to handle hurt and rejection. A lot of your defects are simply defeat-prone attempts to meet unmet needs. You have a legitimate need for respect. But if you didn’t get respect early in life, you may settle for attention and figured out a way to get attention in some unwise manner. You have a legitimate need for love, but if you didn’t get love you may have settled for cheap sex, to get a knock-off of emotional closeness. You have a genuine need for security but if you didn’t get it, you may have tried to bolster yourself with materialism and possessions to show “I’m secure.”
    MY CHOICES – If you choose to do something long enough, it becomes a habit. Once it becomes a habit, you’re stuck. Things you never intended to develop in your life develop because you keep choosing to do a certain thing that becomes a habit. Why does it take so long to get rid of these things? People try fads and therapies and books and seminars; why is it so difficult?


1) Because I’ve had them so long. You didn’t get them overnight; it took years and you’re not going to lose them overnight. Many of the habits / patterns you have you developed in childhood; they may not be comfortable and they may even be self-defeating, but at least they are familiar. It’s like an old pair of shoes – maybe they’re not the best for running, but they’re comfortable. So a lot of your defects you shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s just the way I am.” Because you’ve had them for so long, it’s hard to let go of them.
2) Because I identify with them. We confuse our identity with those defects. We say, “That’s just the way I am.” You don’t have to be that way; you can change. When you say, “That’s just the way I am,” you’re identifying your identity with your defeats. Complete this sentence (in your mind) “It’s just like me to be ____________________” – a workaholic, overweight, anxious, passive and let people run over me, fearful, losing my temper. What you’re doing is setting yourself up and identifying yourself with your defect and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You say, “I’m always nervous when I get on planes.” What’s going to happen the next time you get on a plane? You’re going to be nervous. You set yourself up by saying, “That’s who I am.” What happens is that unconsciously, one of the reasons you can’t change, is because you’re afraid: “If I really let go of this defect, will I still be me? This has been a part of me. I’ve always been this. If I let go of it, will I still be me?”
3) Because they have a payoff. Every defect has a payoff: It may mask my pain; it may give me an excuse to fail. It may allow me to compensate for guilt in my life, or get me attention. My defect may allow me to control other people. Any time a negative behaviour is repeated in you, yourself, your kids, anybody, even though it may be self-destructive, there’s always some degree of payoff. We don’t do things that don’t get rewarded. You may never have thought about it that way but there’s a payoff. You may just be getting attention by your defect. You may be getting to control somebody by your defect. So there’s a payoff and unconsciously you don’t want to let go of that payoff. Mother says to the kids, “Kids, come down to dinner.” And they don’t come. So she yells, “Kids come down to dinner.” They come. We set up our mothers to yell! She figures out yelling works. There’s a payoff. You have to be aware of that.
4) Because Satan discourages me. The enemy is constantly suggesting negative thoughts. He’s the accuser! (Rev 12:10) He says, “This will never work, you can’t do it, you can’t change.” Some of you have been coming to this recovery series and thinking, “This is good - I’d really like to get rid of this habit, I’d like to stop hating that person, I’d like to stop hurting from that experience years ago that happened out on the school yard, I’d love to change.” Then you get outside and Satan starts hissing: “Who do you think you are? You think you’re going to change, forget it! Other people can change, but not you.You’re stuck.It’s hopeless.Don’t even think about changing.” He’s always saying these negative thoughts to you. Worse than that he says, “If you try to get rid of this, you’ll go crazy.If you try to get rid of this, you’ll self-destruct, something bad will happen to you.You NEED this pattern.” The Bible says Satan is a liar (Jn 8:44). He’s a liar! Jesus says the truth sets us free (Jn 8:32). Let’s look at the truth.


So, how does God suggest we cooperate with His change process for our lives? Romans 12(2): “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Transformed; renewing of your mind. Your thoughts are your auto-pilot in life. If you want to change your life, you’ve got to change the way you think. The Bible implies your thoughts determine your feelings, and your feelings influence your actions.
    If you’re in a boat and it’s going east on auto pilot, you can manually force it to go west, but you pretty soon get tired and let go, because it wants to go east as that’s how the autopilot’s been set. So in life, I make a decision, “I’m going to do _________;” I make a resolution. By willpower, I force myself. But those old patterns are always there in the background, subtly applying pressure, trying to turn back into the old comfortable ruts. Pretty soon I get tired and let go, and I go off the diet(?), start smoking again(?), snap at that person that irritates me(?) – acting the way I’ve always done. If you want to change, you’ve got to change your autopilot. What’s your autopilot? Fill in the blank – “It’s just like me to be __________.” (Late for a meeting – biting off more than I can chew – trying to please people.) That’s your autopilot.
    Here are 7 ways to change your mind so you can cooperate with the way God wants to transform you and make you what you’ve always wanted to be – 7 ways to refocus so you can change those habits, hang-ups, hurts you never thought possible to change.
1) Focus on changing one defect at a time. Proverbs 17:24 NLT: “An intelligent person aims at wise action but a fool starts off in many directions.” Some of you come to a recovery series and think, “This is great; I’ve got 30 things I want to change.” Don’t do it! You’ll get overwhelmed, discouraged. And you won’t change anything. You must be specific. Pray and ask, “God, which specific defect would You like to work on first in my life? Not what I’d like to, but You.” Don’t just pray, “God, I’d like to be a better person.” That in itself can be denial. You’ve got to be very specific. Go back and get your moral inventory that you made in Step 4. Go down that list and ask, “God, which of these is damaging my life the most? The anger, my anxiety, my tendency to control people, my workaholism, or being dishonest?” Let Him show you one thing and then start working on that. You must work on one defect at a time, otherwise it’s just not happening.
2) Focus on victory one day at a time. Matthew 6:11: “Give us this month our daily bread” (?) No, it says “Give us this day our daily bread.” Why? Because God wants to give you enough strength to change for one day - TODAY - not for one week, one month, the rest of your life, eternity. He wants to take it one day at a time so you trust in Him. Like the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Life by the yard is hard, but by the inch, it’s a cinch. You take a lifetime problem (you didn’t get it overnight – that hurt, hang-up, habit) and you break it down into bite-size pieces and you work on it one day at a time and you get God’s strength one day at a time. Pray when you get up in the morning, “Lord, just for this day, I want to be patient; just for today, I want to think pure thoughts, instead of lust; just for today, I don’t want to lose my temper; just for today, I want to be positive instead of negative.” You ask God to help you for one, or better yet, for the next three hours, “Help me to think good thoughts, help me to not be afraid.” And take it a little bit at a time. Ask Him one day at a time. This keeps you from making any rash vows, such as - “I promise to never do it again, clear into eternity.” You’re setting yourself up for failure if you say that! One day at a time; bite-size pieces.
    If you have a boss that’s a real jerk and he tends to bring out the bad in you, it’s easy to become resentful. So you get up in the morning and say, “Lord, just for the first three hours this morning may I respond to that boss how You’d have me respond, not get uptight, not get worried, not get resentful, but smile at him.” Matthew 6:34: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, each day has enough troubles of its own.” Don’t worry about tomorrow, just today. Rome wasn’t built in a day; character wasn’t built in a day. Character defects aren’t removed in a day. At night stop and thank God for whatever change or victory, no matter how small: “Thank You that You gave me help today.” Any victory, no matter now minor, thank God for it, and take one defect at a time, and you’ll find victory one day at a time.
3) Focus on God’s power not willpower. You already know willpower isn’t enough. If willpower worked you’d already be changed. But you haven’t, so you can’t. And you won’t because you don’t have the power to do it. So you know willpower doesn’t work. In fact, depending on your own strength blocks recovery in your life. When you say, “I can work it out, I can handle it, I can do it all myself.Really, I’m fine.This is not a big problem.” It IS a big problem, because you’ve still got it. [Go back to step 1, the “reality” step!] And we know resolutions don’t work. Resolutions are simply forcing the boat to go one way when everything else in the boat wants to go another way; pretty soon you get tired and let go. Resolutions don’t work. Jer 12(23) “Can a leopard take away his spots? Nor can you who are used to doing evil start being good.” God says, “Forget it, you’ll never change in your own willpower.” But, here’s the good news: Php 4:13 “I can master anything with the help of Christ who gives me strength.” So you pray, “Lord, I know I can’t change on my own power, but I’m trusting You to take away this defect.” Imagine God taking away your defect. What are you working on first? Temper? Visualize taking your temper out and opening up the garbage can, putting it in the garbage can, putting the lid on the top, setting the garbage can out at the roadside. The garbage truck pulls up with writing on the side: “God & Son, doing business with people like you for 2000 years.” Jesus sends out one of His helpers, they pick up the garbage, dump it in the truck, crash it down, then you see the truck turn around and speed off to heaven. That’s one way to imagine giving your problem to God. “God, I’m throwing my anger in the trash can again.I’m throwing my ________ in the trash can.” The only problem is, we have to have garbage pickup about every hour, not weekly! Let God take it away. Willpower doesn’t work. Trust God’s power, not your own. He can help you master it.
4. Focus on what I want not on what I don’t want. Philippians 4:8 “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and good, and right.Think about things that are pure.Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.” Focus on good things, not bad things. Whatever you focus on is what you move toward. Whatever you focus on is what dominates your life. If you focus on the bad it will keep dominating your life. If you focus on what you’ve been it will keep dominating your life. If you focus on what you can be and what God wants to be in your life, then you move that way. Whatever has your attention, has you. If you tell yourself, “I’m not going to think about sex, I’m not going to think about sex...” What are you thinking about? Sex. The harder you push it (“I’m not going to do this”), the harder it pushes back.
    The Bible teaches refocusing: just turn the mental channel of your mind. If you’re watching a bad show on TV you don’t sit there motionless and say, “I’m not going to watch this, I’m not going to watch this...” No, you turn the channel. You refocus off of what you’ve been to what God wants to do in your life. This is the power of affirming the Word of God. There are over 7,000 promises in the Bible. Probably the most helpful discipline you could develop is learning to memorize Scripture. Memorize one a week; by the end of the year you’ll have 52 verses memorized. They are in your mind so you can use them to counteract these negative thoughts that the devil and other people give you. You fill your mind with God’s word. Every time you think a positive thought, every time you think a Scripture truth, every time you think any thought, it makes an electrical impulse across your brain. Every time you think the same thought, that gets deeper, reinforces that brain pattern. Some of you have negative ruts in your mind cause you’ve thought them over and over. The only way to get rid of negative ruts is to think God’s word over and over. Counteract all the negative thoughts that the devil tells you, that former girlfriends and boyfriends have told you, maybe your parents told you, maybe some school teacher who discounted you told you (“You’ll never amount to anything”) - overwrite that with all the good things that God wants to say about you that are in His word. Every time the devil says, “You can’t change,” like Jesus when He was tempted throw Scripture back at him and say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When Satan sneers, “Who do you think you are? You’re worthless!” Retort with Romans 8:1 “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Focus not on what you don’t want, but on what you do want.
    If (as in step 3) you’ve become a Christian, your primary identity is based on your relationship to Christ, NOT your defect. It’s no longer “I’m just a piece of crap,” it’s “I’m a believer.I’m a son/daughter of the King!” Focus on what you want not on what you don’t want.
5) Focus on doing good not feeling good. Galatians 5:16: “If you’re guided by the Spirit you will be in no danger of yielding to self indulgence.” If you do the right thing, your feelings will eventually catch up with you; but if you wait until you feel like changing, you’ll never change! The devil will make sure you’ll never feel like it. It’s always easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action. If you don’t feel loving toward your wife / husband, start acting loving and the feelings will come. AA uses the phrase “Fake it until you make it.” Do the right thing even though you don’t feel like doing it, because you know it’s the right thing to do, and do it anyway; eventually your feelings catch up.
6) Focus on people who help me, not hinder me (in making these positive changes I want to make in my life). The right kind of people will help you. The wrong kind of people will hinder, prevent your recovery. The Bible says, “Bad company corrupts good character.”(1Cor 15:33) In other words, if you don’t want to get stung - stay away from the bees! If you know what kind of people tempt you, just stay away from it. If you’re struggling with alcoholism you don’t say, “I think I’ll go down to the bar and eat some peanuts.” Bad idea! If you’re struggling with pornography, you don’t go into those stores; turn your computer screen, make yourself accountable to someone else in the vicinity. On the other hand, the Bible says, “Two are better than one and a threefold cord is not easily broken.” (Eccl 4:9,12) When you have help from another person, when one person falls the other can help him up. You can’t recover on your own. You must be in a group, in a relationship; you won’t make it on your own. Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so people can improve each other.” You need to be in relationship.
7) (lastly) Focus on progress not perfection. Some of you who have been attempting recovery may say, “I don’t see a whole lot of change yet.” Don’t worry about it. It’s a process. It’s a decision followed by a process. Php 1:6 “God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in His grace until His task with you is finally finished.” God who starts His work in you will bring it to completion. Remember the beachhead analogy – God establishes a beachhead in your life like an island and the rest of the war He’s taking over the island little by little.
    Some of you may be thinking, “God will only love me once I hit a certain stage, once I get to a certain perfection.” Wrong! God loves you at each stage in your perfection and in your growth. God will never love you any more than He already does right now. He will never love you any less than He does right now. That’s how a parent looks at their kids: we don’t expect our 7-year-old to act like a 17-year-old. S/He still makes messes, but we’re pleased with the stage they’re at right now. And God is pleased with your growth. It’s the direction of your heart that says, “God, I want to voluntarily submit to the changes You want to make in my life.I humbly ask you to remove those character defects.” God doesn’t start changing you until you are entirely ready for the change: that means voluntarily submitting and humbly asking, and when you’re entirely ready He’ll start working on you! Let’s pray.