How To Change Another Person

canstockphoto24466818I came across the following on a website:

God saves people; we don’t.
God changes people; we don’t.
God loves people; we do too.
God honors people; we do too.
God understands people; we try to.


I think it’s good to understand the difference between what God can do and what we can do. We need to know the things we need to leave up to God, and the things in which we can emulate him.

God saves people; we don’t. That’s good to remember.

God changes people; we don’t. That’s good to know also.

Except it isn’t true. We change people all the time.

I know, I know, this goes against everything that we’ve been told, that the only person you can change is yourself, you can’t change others.

Wives, you can’t change your husband, you can only change yourself and how you respond to your husband. Husbands, same thing with your wives.

You can’t change your boss, you can’t change your children, you can’t change your best friend, and you can’t change those people who believe that President Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery.

OK, that last one is true.

But the rest, I’m not so sure. I have to admit I’ve been one of the ones who have said that you can’t change others, that you can only change yourself. It’s accepted wisdom, but I got to thinking, is that really true? That only God changes people, and we don’t?

First, God doesn’t go changing people willy-nilly, forcing changes on them that they don’t want, even if it’s for their own good.

If that’s the way he operates, he’s quite frankly not doing a very good job of it, because there are a lot of people out there who need changing for their own good.

You know, like your husband, your wife, your kids, your boss, etc.

So why doesn’t he get with it? Because that’s not his way; he doesn’t impose himself on any of us, even if that means that he has to watch while we do and say some really stupid, hurtful, even self-destructive things.

Second, all those really stupid, hurtful, self-destructive things that we do to ourselves and to others certainly has an effect them. They change them, even against their will.

We have seen how a neglectful father or mother, for instance, shapes the lives of their children, changing them in ways that are difficult to later undo. Overbearing or overindulgent parents also produce changes in their children.

You can see how a woman who was once full of life changes after living with a husband who constantly criticizes her every move, or how a drug-abusing teenager affects the rest of the family.

Yes, we change others all the time.

What is true, however, is that you can’t force positive change on a person. You can’t force a person to become more loving, for instance, or more trusting.

You can’t make a person become less self-centered, more grateful, more grace-giving. When you try, the law of unintended consequences often comes into effect.

If you get the behavior you want—and that’s iffy—there’s an underlying attitude of resentment or fear that tends to grow as well.

Then what you end up with is someone who, for instance, acts more grateful but is also more fearful, and what good is that?

It is true that God changes people, but his means are not coercive but persuasive.

His greatest, most powerful tool is unconditional love, but it’s not the only arrow in his quiver. God also honors people, respecting their personhood, their made-in-his-image-ness, their own capacity for love and goodness.

He understands us, understands how much of what we do is driven by fear, insecurity, and the need to be loved and accepted.

These things, along with others at his disposal, are effective in bringing about positive change in people.

And you know what? What works for God also works for us.

It’s amazing what happens to a child who lives in an atmosphere of unconditional love and understanding that honors their uniqueness as a child of God.

It’s amazing what happens to a wife when her husband loves her unconditionally, honors her as his one and only, and understands her fears and insecurities while loving her all the more.

Look at last three things on that list:

God loves people; we do too.
God honors people; we do too.
God understands people; we try to.

When we do these things we initiate change in a person. You might say that in actuality they change themselves in response to our actions, and OK, I can go along with that, but that’s the very essence of persuasive love—it acts, and invites a response.

Love initiates, but is never coercive.

But it is very, very powerful.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / yuryz

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