I recently started reading After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Yeah, I know, another N.T. Wright book. Big surprise for me, right? But it’s the next one in a series of smaller books oriented for “everyday” Christians and I couldn’t resist. As always, I’m enjoying it immensely.In Chapter 2 he tells the story of a church choir that was, well, awful. The congregation was polite, but no one expected the choir to do much more than hit the melody once in a while, given they had no formal instruction. One day, the church hired a choir director. He knew he had a lot of work to do, but let them sing away without shutting them down. “He accepted them as they were and began to work with them. But the point of doing so was not so that they could carry on as before, only now with someone waving his arms in front of them. The point of his taking them on as they were was so that they could…really learn to sing!”This is a wonderful picture of God’s grace in action and how he wants to work with us in spite of our weaknesses. But the key is that he does want us to change, to “learn to sing” as human beings in the way he intended. This, of course, does requires effort on our part (I feel a Dallas Willard quote coming on), with God supplying the grace to carry us through. Sounds like a great deal…so why is it so hard?Whether it is learning a new language or becoming more of a patient person, change that cannot come by direct, instantaneous effort is hard. We’ve grown accustomed to believing that some people are just predisposed to doing great things, or things that seem out of reach from our perspective. Lebron James is – and has always been – a freak of basketball nature. Trying to learn his moves would be ridiculous, so we’re left shooting up bricks at the rec league. In fact, it has become commonplace to resign oneself to “shooting up bricks” as part of normal life. Why bother? We’ll never be Lebron (or Jesus for that matter), so it’s much easier to accept who we are.Wright talks a lot about this philosophy in his book – the pseudo-gnostic “find the light in yourself” ideal which, “tries to get in advance, and without paying the true price, what virtue offers further down the road and at the cost of genuine moral thought, decision, and effort.” We’ve all heard it, and perhaps have bought into it one way or another. It is a consumer mentality, since being a consumer is the one aspect of modern life that requires no amount of effort or thought. If we simply accept who we are as what we will always be, then the only thing left to do is keep ourselves entertained. Buy stuff, eat stuff, watch stuff, experience “stuff”.This is not another sermon on the evils of consumerism. In fact, it dawned on me today that most of the anti-consumeristic rhetoric I’ve heard misses one fundamental point. If people are to stop identifying themselves as consumers, they have to learn how to “grow” first. In other words, someone who has given up on the need for change will not just magically stop their consumptive habits. They have to learn a new way to “sing”, one that doesn’t involve buying into whatever the next quick fix is for sale.Of course, this is all incredibly challenging to me personally. I love quick fixes! I avoid effort just like the next guy! Consumption be praised! But I also see the rewards (and joy) of laboring to do something by the grace of God that would be impossible if I just “tried harder”. It is so cool when I recognize that I have actually changed in some area, to see the fruit of the Spirit welling up in places that were hard and cold previously. That’s gold – mined, refined by fire, and fashioned by the Father into something beautiful.