Clergy Corner: You can teach a dog new tricks!

How can we tap into our own motivations to change and help others consider their own reasons to make changes?

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Rick Puls.

■ By Rick Puls / Contributed

I have played guitar since I was 14 years old. My skills could be classified as intermediate and I constantly strive to improve. Since the internet is a great source of instructional material, I have downloaded dozens of lessons that demonstrate a variety of guitar playing techniques. The few times that I have played lead guitar with worship teams, I’ve simply found videos with the parts I needed to learn and mastered them before I showed up to practice with the group.
I love the challenge of getting better. I don’t believe in the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Older adults may tend to change their habits less frequently than younger people, but it’s not because the process is harder. It’s because when they change, the results are almost always permanent.
The motivation to change can be either extrinsic or intrinsic. We experience extrinsic motivation all of the time. A constant flow of television commercials try to convince us to try new products. We listen to speakers (including pastors) who attempt to inspire us into thinking or acting differently. Some extrinsic motivation can come across as very positive, while other extrinsic motivation feels very negative. Some parents often practice this negative motivation with their children by using threats such as, “Clean up your room now or I’ll ground you for a week!”
The most lasting change comes from intrinsic motivation—that which originates inside us. The movie, Amazing Grace (2006) depicts the work of a man named William Wilberforce, who was a member of Parliament in England, beginning about the time of the American Revolution. His strong Christian faith compelled him to confront many of the moral evils in his society at that time. One of those issues was slavery. He led the charge to abolish the practice of slave trading. It took years to accomplish this, yet his motivation to end this evil kept him going through bouts of ill health and self-doubt.
In the movie, Wilberforce visits a pastor named John Newton to discuss his future. In a previous phase of his life, Newton was the captain of a slave ship. Later as an ordained Anglican cleric, he expressed deep remorse for his actions regarding slaves and spent the remainder of his life doing penance for these behaviors. Wilberforce had considered becoming a pastor, and in the movie, John Newton told him that he could do great service to God by continuing to pursue his course in Parliament. A quote attributed to Newton was used in the movie and says, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” His service to Christ was the core of his intrinsic motivation. If his quote doesn’t inspire enough, John Newton was also the author of the song almost universally associated with Christianity, “Amazing Grace”.
Through William Wilberforce’s dogged determination, Parliament finally passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and later, just before his death, The Slave Abolition Act of 1833. Our strong intrinsic motivations can lead to the most profound and lasting change in our lives and the lives of others.
How can we tap into our own motivations to change and help others consider their own reasons to make changes? Answering that question will be the subject of the senior workshop entitled “You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks” on Friday, July 6 at 10 a.m. at Hemet Valley Christian Church. Come join us!

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