You and I grew up hearing the axiom, “actions speak louder than words.” Its counterpart is also pretty familiar, “talk is cheap.” In counseling Elsie and I desire to go beyond words, beyond platitudes, beyond promises to see actions. Only when we see actions will we know that change has taken place. Change will not occur simply because a client says the right words. Actions speak louder than words.
How do we move beyond words to actions? Several things must take place:
There must be sufficient motivation to move from words to action. We can be motivated by self, love, threat, fear, or pain. All of those will work to a greater or lesser degree but a powerful motivation for action is pain. Nothing motivates like pain. When we are in sufficient pain, we will take action to stop the pain and misery. Self-motivation works for a while until the flesh grows weak and the temptation grows strong. Love motivates but the power of sin can overwhelm even love for spouse, children, or God. Threats can motivate until the threat is no longer present or is no longer feared. Fear is a powerful motivation. If we fear the consequences of our behavior we will make changes until the fear subsides or sin emboldens us to sin in spite of our fears. Pain, on the other hand, whether physical, emotional, financial, relational, or spiritual is often sufficient. Humans are pain averse. We hate pain and will do anything to avoid it.
Practical pain-producing ways to produce actions might include: eviction, loss of job, death of a spouse or child, divorce, sickness, disability, financial ruin, public disgrace through destruction of reputation, or incarceration. No one wants any of those but God uses the pain of those events to produce change in us.
I’m only aware of three sources of power in the universe: the devil, the flesh, and God, the Holy Spirit. The devil is the Tempter who tempts us to sin and defy God. He will empower us to do evil. His ultimate goal in doing so is to “steal, kill, and destroy” you and me (John 10:10). Without the protection of God, he would destroy us, our families, our ministries, everything we have. The flesh is a source of power. The flesh is the sin nature within us with which we were born. We are of Adam’s seed and born with a sin nature, the flesh. The flesh is the desire to sin and is vulnerable to the devil’s temptation to defy God and His values and standards. The flesh is powerful. It can produce temporary change but it lacks staying power and grows weak. The ultimate power in the universe is the Holy Spirit of God. He lives within every believer and when He produces change it is lasting.
Practical ways to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit include: in-depth prayer and crying out to God, brokenness and repentance, waiting on the Lord and refusing to walk ahead of Him, and trusting Him though it may appear foolish to the world or even other Christians.
You can be highly motivated to take action and you can have the power of the Holy Spirit but if you don’t know what to change or how to change, you won’t change. You will grow frustrated and fall back into the familiar patterns of sin. Know-how is critical to the change process. We have to know how to change and what to change. We need a plan. God blesses planning but plans can never take precedence over His will. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16:9 declares, “The mind of man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.”
What might those plans look like? In the famous story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, the prodigal’s plan was to go home to his father, make contrite, humble confession of his sin and ask to be hired as a slave on his father’s estate. A second example is when the Apostle Paul made plans to preach the gospel in Asia but the Holy Spirit would not permit him to do so and instead directed him through a night vision to preach the Word to the Macedonians (Acts 16:6-10). Planning is good but acting on those plans is better.
Words are good but wise, Spirit-led actions are better!