How to Change the WorldMay 03, 2023
Blog by Alan Fadling
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a person who makes a difference in the world. I’ve wanted to be recognized for making a significant contribution to the good of others. But how?
There is an epitaph on the tomb of an Anglican bishop in Westminster Abbey that has inspired me since I first heard about it:
When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered that the world would not change. I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But, that, too, seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me. But, alas, my family would have nothing of it.
And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realized: If only I had changed my self first, then by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement, I would have been able to better my country and, who knows, I may even have changed the world.
When it comes to Jesus’ strategy for changing the world, he began with a simple focus on the human heart. He did not set out primarily to change the way people behaved—individually or corporately. He knew that without a change of heart, any outward change would be short-lived. Instead, he sought to help people turn toward a vision of the kingdom of God on display in his own life, his own manner, his own way. This was the model for the change to which he invited people.
And this was his essential message from the moment he arrived—from the moment of his Advent: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). For each person who heard Jesus preach, the call to repent was an invitation to change.
To some ears, the invitation to repent does not feel like a word of good news. To some it may sound more like “Stop everything you enjoy and become religious (and boring).” But Jesus is saying that being able to change is good news and change like that is possible. You can live in the different (and better) direction of the kingdom of heaven.
“Change is good news when it is change in the direction of alignment with the good, beautiful, and true purposes of God and his kingdom. Change is good news when it moves in the direction of fruitfulness that fulfills our deepest aspirations and blesses a world that needs it.” (What Does Your Soul Love?, p. 7)
It helps to remember in all this that repentance is both a turning away and a turning toward. As many in liturgical traditions pray in confession, week after week,
We have indeed erred and strayed from God’s ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against God’s holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done,
and have done those things which we ought not to have done;
and apart from God’s grace, there is no health in us.
This is our weekly reminder of confession and repentance. We turn away from that which drains us of life and does harm to ourselves and others. But repentance also turns toward God:
We look to the God who has mercy upon us.
We look to the One who spares all those who confess their faults.
We look to the One who restores all those who are penitent, according to his promises declared to all people in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We look to the One who graciously grants us the capacity to live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of his holy Name.
We turn away from our wayward impulses and actions, and we turn toward the God of all mercy and grace.
We repent. Repentance is good news.
And forgiveness is good news too. How good it is to know that God prefers to put our shortcomings and offenses behind him. God delights in mercy. He longs to forgive us even more than we long to be forgiven.
Repentance is not about limitations or legalism or judgment. It doesn’t lead to a sour or pinched life. Repentance offers us the good news that necessary change is possible. Aren’t there realities about your present way of living that you would like to change? Aren’t there ways you’d like to be more free, more whole, more healed, more restored?
“Repentance says that this freedom and healing are available if we turn toward the God who frees us and heals us. Repentance is turning away from that which harms us, enslaves us, and even poisons us. Repentance is turning our heart, mind, and body toward the one who heals, rescues, and restores us.” (A Year of Slowing Down, Day 228)
- What has been your experience with repentance? In what way has it sometimes sounded like bad news? In what way have you experienced it as a gift of God to us?