Changing Our World
by Cecil Murphey
“With God’s help, I’m going to change my world,” the featured speaker said, “and I want you to catch the same vision.” Earlier in his message, he emphasized the imprint we Christians can make in the world.
I admired his concern for reaching out and influencing legislators, civic and business leaders, and our immediate communities. Even though it’s not fair to argue from his silence, I wanted to ask him one question: Doesn’t real change in the world begin inside ourselves?
Who we are, I reasoned, becomes the motivation for outward actions. To have a sense of accomplishment, it’s easier to direct our efforts toward measurable goals in the world. It’s obvious whether we’ve been successful.
By contrast, inner transformation is nebulous and most of us rarely know if we’ve accomplished anything. Perhaps the way to know is by taking the long view of ourselves. “That’s the way I was; this is the way I am,” we say as we examine our Christian experience. That also gives us some sense of the spiritual legacy we leave behind—the change our lives are making in the world.
When we focus on impacting the world (which includes our workplace and our communities), we design a plan and take step-by-step action. By contrast, the Christian growth experience is not only inward, but subtle and unseen—especially to ourselves.
If I ask myself if I’ve grown since the time I was 30 years old, I can shout, “Of course!” I can also point out that I’m less judgmental, emotionally slower to react to crises, and calmer when things don’t go as I expected.
But when did those changes occur?
I have no idea; I know only that inward results are there. Normally, I discover truths about myself because another who knows me well makes an offhand statement. One time, a friend said, “You’re a kind man.” I’d never thought of myself as being kind. Even now, the word doesn’t hang well on me, but I accept that’s part of the change God has brought about in me and that quality I can use to change my world of influence.
For outward change, I focus on the goals and how to reach them; my inner, spiritual world enlarges because I’ve focused on obedience. For inner change, my attention is not in my actions as much as in discovering God’s will in my life and conforming to it.
I think of my personal growth by relating it to a term the reformers coined, “means of grace.” They taught that there are certain things we can do by which God pours out his grace or blessings. The grace isn’t automatic, but as a long-dead saint used to say to me, “It puts me at the spout where the glory comes out.” By observing the means of grace, we make ourselves available for God’s Holy Spirit to minister to us. The reformers considered them the appointed ways and ordinary channels ordained by God.
Most people who know of the means of grace immediately think of baptism and observing the Lord’s Supper. Three additional means of grace have taught me to draw close to the Lord.
First, prayer, often presented as our duty, is probably obvious. Obvious perhaps, but probably no longer widely and systematically practiced. As a means of grace, prayer constitutes the daily discipline of setting time aside just to pray—a daily time when we pull away from the rigors of life and spend it with the Lord. It’s not just our duty, but our privilege.
Second, “hearing” the Word (as the reformers taught in a culture where few had access to the written Bible). Their emphasis was on the proclaimed Word of God—which I wouldn’t deny. However, today, we add to that personal Bible study. And again, it means a committed, daily time set aside to hear the Spirit whisper to us. The lack of using such means of grace helps me understand the sad biblical illiteracy among our congregations.
Third, is the communion of saints. That is, as Hebrews 10:24–25 reads, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another . . . ” (TNIV) To the Christians in Rome Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Romans 1:12 NLT). The early Protestants taught that simply being gathered with other believers becomes one of God’s ordinary means of blessing.
At times, I’ve been unhappy in my local congregation and wondered if it were worth going. One thing has kept me steadfast: Being among other Christians is part of the divine plan for my personal, spiritual transformation. Put more simply, we need each other. We grow in our mutuality as God’s people.
Even though not all believers practice the means of grace, they’re still the way to bring about the inner changes we seek. And if we have the inner change, we influence (or change) our outer world.
Said another way, others know who we are—and not primarily because we belong to a particular denomination or can quote 700 Bible verses. They know us because who we are is self-revealing. Sometimes we hide behind spiritual phrases or saying the right words, but it doesn’t take long for most people to figure us out.
I often remind myself of the words of Gandhi, who said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” I’d say, “Let there be changes in the world, but let them begin in me.”
Veteran author Cecil (Cec) Murphey has written or co-written more than 135 books, including the New York Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (with Dr. Ben Carson). His books have sold in the millions and have brought hope and encouragement to countless people around the world. For more information, visit www.cecilmurphey.com.