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It Changed My Life!

It is one of my clearest memories of the whole hullabaloo surrounding The Passion of the Christ. I met a man who had just returned from a screening of the movie and with eyes wide he exclaimed, “It changed my life!” It is a phrase we hear all the time. It is a phrase that may express something true. But it was far too early.

It is not unusual to go to Amazon and find a book review that says something like, “I finished this book last night and it changed my life!” It is not unusual to hear the words used in the immediate aftermath of a powerful conference. Yet I always feel a measure of caution when I hear these exclamations. Books and movies and conferences truly can change lives, but we don’t usually know what has shaped us until much later on. Deep and lasting life change is rarely something that is measured in minutes or even hours.

Of course there are exceptions. There are some moments that really do change lives. This is true in salvation, the transformational moment in the life of every Christian where he is saved from death to life. There are others. A wife who suddenly loses her husband can legitimately and immediately say “this has changed my life!”

But when it comes to the Christian life and the long, hard work of sanctification, the influences that shape us most tend to be visible more in hindsight than in the moment, and they tend to be measured long rather than short. This has been my observation from reading biographies of great Christians and from witnessing the lives of very ordinary, godly Christians. It has been the experience of my own life. I am convinced that I have been shaped more by one thousand regular sermons than by any one spectacular conference message; I have been shaped by five hundred very ordinary Lord’s Suppers more than any one powerful moment of worship. Meanwhile, a million little moments that seemed so important at the time, so transformational, have been forgotten.

Have I had life-changing moments? Absolutely! Have I read life-changing books? Yes! How do I know? Because months or years later I can look back on those as defining moments that gave me a new level of understanding or helped change a specific aspect of my character. At the time I rarely realized the impact they were having. It is only in time that they have become clear. That just seems to be the way the Lord works in us in this very ordinary, but very awesome, Christian life.