You want to do right. You want to be the person God meant for you to be. But try as you might, you revert back to the old ways. Pettiness. Anger and self-righteousness. Sensuality. Impatience. You do things that you hate doing.
The harder you strive, the more bitter the disappointment, and you feel doomed to a perpetual state of, "Lord, I'm sorry," and "how could He use this hypocrite?"
You're not alone. In Romans 7, the apostle Paul himself exclaimed, "The things that I want to do, I don't do. But the things I hate to do, I end up doing. O wretched man that I am!"
So what's the solution?
Stop looking at ourselves.
What I find is the more I look at myself, the more I realize how bankrupt I am. It's a horrible cycle. I'm ungrateful, I'm selfish, I'm impatient. Then I feel bad because I know I've been acting and responding so poorly. When I try to fix myself, I'm sometimes successful, but I know that in my heart I'm as bankrupt as ever.
Isn't that what Paul meant when he said, "In me, there dwells no good thing. For to will is present with me, but how to perform I find not."
So if there's nothing really good in us, why are we surprised by the fact that there's nothing good in us?
This does not mean that we can't have good intentions or are incapable of wanting good, selfless things. Nor does it mean that we won't give our time, energy, and heart to worthwhile, humanitarian projects.
What it means is that when it comes down to it, there's still brokenness within us. Whatever goodness we might do, it's a broken kind of goodness. A distorted kind because at the root of it is a broken, distorted heart. God says that our hearts are deceitful little things that are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
Can you accept the truth that in you dwells no good thing? If yes, feel free to move on to the next point. If not, you might want to plant yourself here and ask for God to show you what your goodness looks like in His eyes. (I know Him not to press harder than necessary, but it might be a hard pill to swallow).
Start crying out.
After Paul goes on about how much of a wretch he is, he does something that is so freeing. He exclaims, "Who will set me free from the body of this death?"
Notice: it's not what is going to rescue me. It's who is going to rescue me.
Most of the time, we think doing more is the answer. Having stricter standards. Reading more Bible verses. Resolving to witness more. All of those things are important and even necessary.
But doing won't deliver us. We can't save ourselves from the penalty of sin, and we certainly can't save ourselves from the power of sin. Only Jesus can do that, and He's rich to all that cry out to Him. He's abundantly able to handle what we throw at Him.
Now I know that sounds like a cheap and trite cop-out absolving me of personal responsibility. As if I'm saying let's all hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and not worry about our part and our choices in our walk with Jesus. That's not at all what I mean. What I'm postulating is something that's both harder and easier than changing/breaking habits. I propose we routinely fix our eyes on Jesus and choose to call out to Him.
I'll give you my own example. I notice that after watching many of the movies out there, specifically ones that take God's name and treat it like trash, it affects the way I pray. I'm not as confident.
But I like those movies. I want to watch them and I don't want to stop. So what's my recourse?
Telling my Father the specific problem. I've spent many mornings telling Him that I know these movies affect me, but I like the stories. I need Him to help me with what I should watch.
I do it again and again because it's not always a one-time, fix-all kind of prayer. I've got to daily bring what I want to God and ask Him to harmonize what I want to His will. I'm inviting God to change me.
Get honest. Very honest.
If you noticed when I mentioned talking to the Father, I don't hide the fact that I actually like the stories--sometimes even stories that aren't glorifying to Him at all. I do that because I want to be real with God.
A.W. Tozer said it this way, "I want the presence of God Himself or nothing at all to do with religion."
My end goal isn't to be a movie-watching prude. My end goal is my Father. I want my Father to have say in what I watch. I want my relationship with my Father to be clear and it's awfully hard to look into His face if I'm holding something back from Him (as if I could hide anything from Him, right?). Do you see how that's a totally different perspective?
It's no longer about me trying to be better--it's about me getting to know this great, big Father-God who will hear me, and work in me. It's about practicing his presence and learning to tell him every day, everything: the good, the bad and the ugly.
He's the only one that can change me from the inside out.
Repeat the process.
This step speaks for itself. Every morning, we will have to choose to bring our sin, our wants, our joys to Jesus.
Then we do it throughout the day.
Then we go to sleep.
Then we wake up and repeat.
It's a process, but our end goal is really worth it. It's getting to know a living Savior who, in time, will make us more like Himself.