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There are several ways to motivate a person to change. Here are a few approaches that come to mind. As you go through this list, examine your heart to see which ones you tend to employ when someone is not changing according to your expectations.
How did you do? Did you see yourself in any of those approaches? I think it would be good to ask your spouse, your children, or a few close friends how they characterize you when it comes to how you motivate a person to change.
Will you ask others for their observations about you? All of the approaches I have suggested can work. They can be effective in any context where there is an authority/subordinate construct.
If you use them on children, they can be quite useful. The problem is when the children become taller, bigger, older, smarter, and more independent. At that point, your manipulations will not be as useful.
If you are not careful, these methods will motivate your children to become angry teenagers. You may even push them out of your life. This parenting model is what has been called exasperating a child. You can also irritate your spouse and friends.
Are you an exasperating person?
If any of these methods are the ones you employ, you may be an exasperating person. If you continue to use these methods, your relationships will be weak, strained, and non-redemptive. Let’s say your observations are correct about what you see in the person you want to see changed. Let’s say your husband, wife, child, or friend does need to change.
Having the right observations does not automatically mean your methods for change are correct. There is a process for change found in the Bible, and it can be redemptively effective. This approach finds its anchor in the gospel.
There are many ways to say it, but for now, I am going to simplify by calling it being nice. How are you doing at being nice to the people who are not meeting your expectations? (cf. Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:27)
Some will object by saying,
“I’ve tried this method, and it did not work.”
May I ask, is your being nice primarily about results that benefit you or is it primarily about imitating your heavenly Father by being redemptive in the lives of others? The person who says, “I’ve tried it, and it did not work” is leaning toward conditionalism:
“I will love you if you meet my expectations.”
They are looking for a method or an approach to get what they want. Individuals like this have a strong results orientation rather than a gospel orientation. The truth is there are only two options:
What will it be? Who will you be?
The point about being nice should primarily be about your desire to magnify God’s name by putting His Son on display in the context of your relationships. You want to make His name fantastically great for His glory and the benefit of others.
If perchance, you get good results because you were nice to others, praise God for the good results. Personal blessings that come to you for loving God and others more than yourself is a thing to be praised, not an idol to be worshiped.
A person who chooses not to be nice is a person who does not have an accurate and practical understanding of the gospel. For the Christian, this is gospel amnesia.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
And should not you have had mercy on your fellow-servant, as I had mercy on you? – Matthew 18:32-33
The context of this story is about a man who owed 10,000 talents, and he pleaded with his master to forgive him of the debt he owed. The master showed mercy and forgave him all his debt. This forgiven servant shortly thereafter began to assail a man who owed him far less–one hundred denarii.
When the master found out how mean this guy was to someone who owed far less than what he had forgiven him for, the master was angry with the servant. The unforgiving servant lapsed into gospel amnesia. The master said, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow-servant, as I had mercy on you?”
Here is my question to you: Shouldn’t you have mercy on others because of the kindness showed to you? Let’s go at it this way. Let’s take a short gospel test. How you answer these questions will reveal your understanding and application of the gospel:
How you answered those questions reveals your functional understanding and application of the gospel. If you are more stuck on what someone has done to you rather than what you have done to Christ, you are a problem-centered, self-centered Christian, rather than a gospel-centered one.
If you believe another person is a worse sinner than you are, you will not be able to help that person change effectively. You will be tempted to employ some of the approaches mentioned earlier. Those methods will be your understanding and practice of a theology of change.
My friend, none of them will work.
There is a biblical method for change that your Father would want you to use to help others transform. I call this the Encouragement Approach. Think about this for a moment.
Though you probably did not think about it this way, the reason and motivation for your change were because of God’s kindness. That is why I changed too. God was kind to me. My Father regenerated me in 1984.
Though I did not know John 3:16, or any other verse in the Bible at that time, I realized He was offering kindness to me. Though I did not put it in those words, that was what I perceived from the Lord.
God was offering His Son as a replacement and payment for every sin I ever committed or will ever commit. I accepted His offering to me, and the change process began. Even though we are many years since that day, He is still employing the Encouragement Approach.
His methodology of change has never changed (Hebrews 13:8). It was the kindness of God that changed me, and it is the kindness of God that changes me now. Listen to Paul.
Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? – Romans 2:4
The answer to Paul’s question is assumed. He is saying, “You know this, right?” His assumption is you do know this. Let me ask you: Do you know this? Are you aware it was God’s kindness that led to your change (repentance)?
Paul is also warning us not to take God’s kindness for granted. Are you presuming on His kindness? Have you taken it for granted? Have you forgotten how He changed you and how He is changing you?
Give thought to the conjunction “and” in Paul’s verse. He is talking about the riches of His kindness, the riches of His forbearance, and the riches of His patience. These are the things the Father employs to transform us. Are you employing the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience to help your friends change?
If you are not employing these riches, but choosing to implement the ungodly approaches mentioned at the beginning, you are whistling in the wind. The change will not come to your friends, and your relationship with them will continue to sputter.
Rather than nickel and diming a person to death or constantly reminding them of their faults or where they got it wrong, it seems like the Encouragement Approach is a better idea. Don’t you think it is a better idea?
“What about sin? What do I do when they sin?”
The Encouragement Approach does not mean you should overlook sin. We should not ignore when a person sins, not at all. However, finding fault is not hard for most of us. It is easy to see when someone sins. I think I have a gift for observing people’s mistakes.
What I have to train my mind toward is encouraging others. Being critical is my problem. I do not natively think of and make encouragement my practice. Encouraging others is something I have to work at doing.
What you and I need to do is practice observing our friends and family members getting it right rather than getting it wrong. We need to exercise our getting it right muscle. If we do catch them getting it right, we want to isolate and identify those moments. Those times are when God’s grace is actively working in their lives.
We need to talk about what we saw and how encouraging it was to us. Remember: If you or I do anything right, it is evidence that God is working in our lives. If you are encouraging someone for getting it right, you are expressing your gratitude for the grace of God in their lives.
When you observe someone getting it right, and you encourage them for what they did, it has a sevenfold effect:
Do you have a well-tuned Got-It-Right-Antenna? As you might imagine, this approach takes more time and is harder to perfect than being a nitpicker. It takes more effort to catch people doing well, but when you do catch them getting it right, it motivates them toward change because it is God’s kindness that leads to change.
God’s kindness not only motivates you to change, but it motivates you to come to Him in your time of need. Because of the continued daily encouragement you receive through the gospel, you are aware you can approach your Father, and He will not lash out at you, hurt you, or call you names.
It is logical for you to assume He will be kind when you come to Him with your problems. He has shown His kindness in the past, and you know He will be kind to you when you come to Him in the future.
One of the implications of the cross is how God will not give you what you deserve. He will not punish you for your sin. The Lord will deal kindly with you. He will help you change. Because of His prior kindness in salvation, you know there will be future kindness in sanctification. The kindness of God was not only effective in securing your salvation, but it is effective in your ongoing change needs.
Prior encouragement sets the stage for future grace in interactive relationships. Your past gospel experience informs you about your future experience with God. It will be a kind and gentle experience. You trust God to carefully and kindly care for your soul. And, of course, you want to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). Do you gently and kindly help others change?
How are you doing in creating a context of grace in your relationships that motivate people to be honest, transparent, and willing to seek you out to receive your care?
I am going to re-ask my starter questions.
Your friend needs to change. How do you help her change? Maybe your husband is stuck in a bad habit, and you want him to change. What is your change process? Perhaps your wife is nagging and criticizing. How are you helping her model a more gentle and caring spirit? As you think about these questions in light of this chapter, how do you need to change?
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).