How to Make Moral Progress, Part 2
What does it actually look like to make moral improvement? How do we do it? Do we just decide that we want to be better and then work on it?
In the last post, I talked about why we need God’s help to make moral improvement. What I want to talk about now is what that looks like, because I think a lot of us have trouble with this. What I think we really want to know is: What are the concrete steps I need to take to let God shape my life? That is a really good question, because “listening to God” is kind of abstract and doesn’t make sense to a lot of us. So, what do we do?
1. Let God provide the direction
The first thing to understand is that God provides the direction. When we’re talking about our lives, this basically means that He is going to put something in our way that we need to pay attention to. Perhaps this means that we have some lesson that we need to learn (how to trust God in a difficult situation, how to be content with where He has us now, etc.). Or, it could be some moral shortcoming we need to address or a new direction He wants us to head. All of us will probably hear all of these multiple times throughout our lives.
The point is to listen to what we have been told. I don’t mean that we’re going to physically hear something from God, unless you’re Abraham. (Note: you’re not Abraham.) I mean that from time to time, God is going to put something in front of you that he wants you to deal with. A lot of the time, this is about circumstances is our lives that just show up. Sometimes, it is a nagging feeling that just won’t go away that we need to deal with something. Other times, it is a sense that we need to go over in this other direction.
I think most of us have felt these sort of things before. What I’m saying is that this is how we might recognize God speaking to us. It may not always be, but many times it is. So, pay attention when you think God might be speaking to you - you know, when one of these things we just talked about happens.
But, how do we know if God IS actually speaking to us, and what do we do about it if He is?
2. Learn what Scripture says
Part of why it is important to know what Scripture says is to know if God is really speaking to you. If what you think you’re hearing doesn’t sound like what you read in the Bible, then He probably isn’t speaking to you. On the other hand, if it sounds similar, then God might be trying to tell you something.
For example, if you think God is telling you that you need to learn how to trust Him in a difficult situation, then it’s helpful to know that this is a recurring theme in Scripture - the need for faith. On the other hand, if you think God is telling you that everything is fine with your life and you can just carry on doing what you’re doing, then you are not hearing from God. Another recurring theme in the Bible is that humans are broken and in need of repair.
These are really simple examples, and most of the things that we will have to deal with in our own lives will be more complicated, but that’s why we need to understand what the Bible actually says. You probably already could have figured out the two points I just made without me having to say them. But, not everything is that simple, so study is required.
Furthermore, the simple lessons, the ones that are repeated again and again in the Bible, are not necessarily easy to learn. Just because something is simple to understand, that doesn’t mean it is simple to do, and things are often repeated, because people have trouble with them. It is important to understand what God has told humanity in the past (general situation) to understand what He might be telling us now (specific situation).
3. Don't hold anything back
What I’m talking about when I say don't hold anything back is that moral effort is going to be required. However, this is not a changing of yourself. I am talking about the strength required to follow the path God has put in front of you. Whether that is an actual new path (a new direction in life), dealing with a moral shortcoming, or learning a lesson that He gives you, it will take strength, effort, and courage to respond correctly.
What you need to understand is that you are not changing yourself. Following the path is what will change you. Strength and effort are required to keep going in the direction that you have been shown. But, by allowing God to put the things in front of you that He wants you to deal with, you are letting Him set your path rather than trying to set it yourself.
God’s job is to reshape you. Your job is to let Him reshape you. This is not a passive process. We do not get to sit back and just let Him work without doing anything. However, that does not mean that we get/have to take control and fix ourselves. Spoiler alert: Neither one will work.
To let God reshape us, we need to let Him decide what it is that we need to work on. Then, when we know what it is that He wants us to do, our job is to do everything we can to follow the path He has given us. This will often include something that we really don’t want to do. But, that’s what we signed up for.
Following God is simple, but it’s not easy.