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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why I Stopped Trying to Become a Better Person

For many years, I spent lots of time and energy trying to become a better person. It’s not that anyone would've ever considered me a terrible person, but I’ve never been satisfied with being good enough. I’ve always wanted to continue trying to get better day in and day out.

In our culture, trying to become a better person is an admirable trait. Leadership gurus spend a lot of time talking about all the benefits of continuing to improve ourselves. I don't disagree. Becoming a better person is great and something I hope we all are able to experience.

A few years ago, in the midst of me trying to become a better person, I encountered a problem that, to my surprise, I couldn't overcome. For all the years I spent improving myself, I found an area of my life that I couldn't change, no matter how hard I tried. I finally gave up and stopped trying to become a better person. And it was here that I finally experienced a breakthrough. Here's what happened.

My Journey to the Bottom

Throughout my life, I have been pretty successful at appearing like I am becoming a better person. Overall, I’ve had pretty good morals and have tried my best to obey all the rules. In the church world, I used to be viewed as a superstar Christian. I attended a church service every Sunday, was friendly to the people around me, didn’t drink alcohol, didn’t have sex outside of marriage, served needy families, gave ten percent of my income to my local church, read my Bible every day, was a part of the leadership team at our church, sang in the praise band, was the church Treasurer, and I eventually quit my engineering job to work full-time at our church. I started well and continued to build upon my early success to become a better person day after day.

But in the midst of all this success, there was a nagging struggle I was facing. I was making great progress in modifying my outward behaviors, but inwardly, I was seeing little to no progress.

I remember a day in high school when I realized I didn’t care about people the way I thought I should care about them. When I would engage in conversation with people, I spent most of the time talking about myself. Sometimes out of politeness, I would ask how the other person was doing, but would immediately forget what was said. I made a commitment to myself that day to ask others how they were doing and try to remember what was said. For the next week, I fulfilled my objective. But as time went on, I went back to talking about myself all the time.

For years, I experienced the same failure over and over and over. I tried to do everything I could to change the way I interacted with other people, but I kept failing time and time again. Even when I experienced little bits of success at asking questions rather than doing all the talking, I recognized that I really didn’t care about the people; I was only asking the questions in order to make it seem like I cared about them.

I was plagued with an overwhelming since of uneasiness about my situation, but I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to care about other people, but I couldn’t seem to do anything to change that part of me.

About three years ago, I hit rock bottom. A series of uncontrollable circumstances in my life brought me to this painful, yet life changing place. It was here that I was challenged like I've never been challenged before. Everything I believed about being a Christian was put on a scale and weighed against what the Bible actually says. It was during this painful experience that my nagging struggle came to an end.

My Journey to Heart Transformation

In late summer of 2014, I spent a week with a close friend who lived close to the Finger Lakes region of New York. Amidst our time hiking and canoeing, I spent some time reading a book which was highly recommended by a friend. As I was reading one evening, a very bright lightbulb magically turned on. In that moment, for the first time in my life, I realized my problem. For all these years, I had been trying to transform my heart (inward change), but the truth was that I was incapable of changing it. I could continue trying to transform it for the rest of my life, but no amount of “fake it till I make it” behavior modification was going to cause me to care about people. The only way I could care about them was for God to transform my heart; he had to give me the ability to care about them.[1]

Six months later, I began to experience God’s transformation first-hand. I began feeling so much love and compassion for people that I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to run up to everyone I knew to give them huge hugs and tell them how much I cared about them. I wanted to know everything about them. And I wanted to pray for them. Since all that stuff could seem a bit creepy, I tried to contain myself as best I could, but it was really hard.

Do you see what was happening? As I was experiencing heart transformation, my behaviors began to naturally change. Building quality, caring relationships became something I wanted to do rather than something I felt like I had to do. When you love people that much, you can’t help but show them how much you care about them.

Two and a half years later, I continue to experience God’s work in my heart as he continues his transformation to make me love people more and more every single day. I don’t need to try to become a better person anymore because God is already hard at work. The best thing I can do is get out of the way and let him do his thing.

In the past two and a half years, I've learned a lot about God's heart transformation. Here are four of the most important parts to it:

  1. There’s nothing we can do to move God to transform our hearts. He does it in his time at his speed.[2] That doesn’t mean I don’t pray for heart transformation every single day for me and for my friends. I definitely do. But it’s not because I pray that he does his work; it’s because he does his work that I pray.
  2. The goal of heart transformation is to make our hearts like God’s heart.[3] God’s love is so much greater than any love we can fathom. After all, he loves himself (because he is worthy of love) and us so much that he endured his own wrath in order to pay for our sins. His goal is to transform our hearts to love the same way he loves.
  3. Heart transformation is a life-long process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient. At times, you may appear to experience a lot of progress at a single point in time, but realize that God has been working in the background for many years to bring everything together perfectly at that moment. Furthermore, no one ever reaches full perfection in this life.[4] It’s only when we’re with Jesus that we will experience perfect transformation.
  4. As our hearts continue to be transformed, we will naturally live more and more in obedience to God. When James, one of the biblical writers, talked about needing to have both faith and works,[5] he wasn’t talking about our works doing anything to earn salvation; he was talking about God’s saving and transforming work in our hearts leading us to do good works. So if someone says they have faith but don’t have good works, then there’s a good chance that person doesn’t actually have faith.


So why did I stop trying to become a better person? I stopped trying to become a better person because I can’t truly make myself into a better person. I can modify my outward behaviors, but I can’t change my heart. Therefore, I’ve stopped wasting my time and energy hitting my head against a brick wall and instead have chosen to watch and praise God for the work he has done and continues to do in my heart and the hearts of the people around me each and every day. And I hope you are and/or will have an opportunity to experience the same thing.

[1] “And we all…are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18; “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 36:26
[2] “’I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” – Romans 9:15-16.
[3] “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3. To be sanctified means to be holy. And the Bible tells us that we need to be holy as God is holy. But it also tells us that God is the one who makes us holy.
[4] “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” – Philippians 3:12
[5] “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” – James 2:17


  1. Yes, that week in summer 2014 was a special time!

    1. Yes it was! Thank you so much for spending that time with me.

  2. Such a good read! Thanks for being so open and honest, Matthew! This is stuff that people don’t talk about often, but it’s so applicable and important. Realizing that you don’t care about people the way that you should is so frustrating and yet it’s freeing at the same time if you’re able to give that over to God. I struggle with giving that to God though and having faith that he can change that part of me. It’s so important though, because that’s love! And if we don’t have love, what do we have?

    1. Thank you for your comments Sarah! I agree with you, for whatever reason I rarely hear people talk about this stuff. I wish we could all talk more about the ways in which God is transforming us. But it takes being vulnerable enough to admit our issues in order to do that. And sadly, a lot of people don't want to go there. I know it may not always feel like it, but God is more than capable of changing your heart in the same way he's been changing mine. After all, he can do anything he wants. And as you're well aware, no purpose of his can be thwarted. Even when you feel like nothing is happening, he's still at work. My hope is that one day you're going to be able to look back on everything going on right now and see where he was at work transforming your heart to love him and love others more.