Can Our Default Mode Be Changed?

I’ve been feeling quite stuck in regards to writing and publishing anything on the blog for several weeks now. I’ve got so many different thoughts and ideas running through my head, but find myself making all kinds of excuses why I can’t or shouldn’t write about this, that or the other thing. Somebody might be offended, I might open myself to criticism, I’ll be misunderstood, I might even actually show my hand and reveal how I truly feel about controversial issues (and my readers may not agree with me), I may not even know what I’m talking about and look like a fool. Those are a few of the things paralyzing me at the moment. Well, that and the fact that I’ve been sick for over a week and my brain does not function well when I’m sick.

So I’ve been thinking about that and wondering why I get stuck back in my old habits of worrying about what people think and say instead of doing what God has created me to do, and doing it to honor the way He has made me uniquely me. The truth is, old habits and patterns are incredibly hard to break. Our default mode is easy and takes little to no thought, even though it may be one of the most destructive forces in our lives. It’s amazing how quickly I find myself back there, seemingly pulled in by some unseen force, and wonder how I even got there. Our natural default mode is rarely the way we were meant to live and it takes hard work to break out of that and live consistently into the work that God has set apart for us to do.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do simply erase the old default mode and load a new one in it’s place? One where we automatically didn’t care what people thought, where our first thought was that we’re doing what God created us to do and nothing else matters? Where we wouldn’t care about being seen as or called a fool, because we’re secure in who we are – a son or daughter of the King and nothing can change that. Where we could remember that it’s not wrong to have opinions different from the status quo – not wrong, just different. Well, sometimes more than just different, but still not necessarily wrong.

We can probably all think of many people in Scripture who exemplified this kind of default mode in unmistakable and beautiful ways, but I will focus on two here. The first is Jesus himself. When I simply step back and look at his life here on earth, there was no one, ever, who lived this out better. Sure, he was God, so of course he did this flawlessly. But remember, He was also fully human, and we do him a disservice (at the least) when we separate his humanity and his divinity. As a human being, he lived out what I call a perfect default mode – on mission, never losing sight of that mission, and in full fellowship and in representation of His Father. The way He lived out His mission is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. He never forgot who He was, He stayed true to the mission, and He knew His Father.

The other person who comes to mind is the Apostle Paul. He is an example of someone who went from a deeply flawed default mode of keeping the law and killing Jesus-followers in the name of that law, to one whose default mode was radically changed. I’m grateful for Paul, because it gives me hope that I too can change from the inside out. When we read the story of Paul (or Saul, as we know him before his conversion) in Acts, and then read his letters to the different churches following his conversion and subsequent radical transformation, it becomes clear that his default mode had made a radical shift as well. Take for instance, what he says in Galatians 1:10-17:

“Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.” (NRSV)

It would appear that Paul had some of the same core issues I seem to have, one of which has been a history of people-pleasing. It’s what gets me to these places of feeling paralyzed and stuck. Forgetting that I’m not meant to please people, but rather I am to do the will of God, which often means going against the flow. It’s interesting to me that Paul brings that in here, and how when he was converted, did not confer with people, but rather went where God was asking him to go. It was likely not what people would have advised him to do or what might have made the most sense, yet he heard and obeyed the voice of God. He, like Jesus, knew who he was, his mission (and he stayed true to it), and he knew God in a deep and profound way. He went from pleasing people to pleasing God by trusting Him and doing His will.

I believe Paul gives us wonderful insight into how this change happens when he says in Romans 12:2 that “transformation happens by the renewing of our mind”. It’s not only a change of heart, but a change of mind. I have found that I need people around me who will continually speak truth to me as I so easily go back to my old ways of thinking (those old ways of thinking often turn out to be lies), who help keep me on the paths of new and true ways of thinking. Those who help me remember it’s not about pleasing the people in my life, it’s about doing the will of the Father, knowing my mission and staying true to it even when many around me want me to do their will (because surely their will is God’s will for my life!), and building the muscle I need to resist the pull to people-pleasing. I also have to be intentional about cultivating a deep and intimate relationship with God, learning to know Him and His voice. I also have to be okay with this process taking some time – it doesn’t usually happen overnight. It may have happened quickly and dramatically for Paul, but for most of us it happens over time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes years to reset your default mode, but also bear in mind that we need God to do this work in us; it’s not necessarily something we can just decide to change on our own – we need the help of God and safe community around us. What’s really happening, hopefully, is that we are being made more and more into the image of Jesus. Paul says in Colossians 3:10, “...put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him...”

So here I am to say, in the next few weeks or so I commit to writing and posting a blog series that I’ve felt God impressing on my heart for a while, and which I’ve been resisting. It will be on identity and image bearing, a subject that is very near to my heart. Maybe that’s why I’ve been resisting, because it will feel very vulnerable to put some of my deepest passion out there for anyone to see. But I don’t want to hold back because of fear; I want to live into this because of love – because I love the Father and it’s a pleasure to do His will.

What holds you back and keeps you paralyzed? Are you living into the life God has meant for you to live? Do you believe that God can change your default mode? 

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