“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
We’ve all heard those words from Romans 12:2, but what do they actually mean? Exactly how do we radically change and transform our lives? What does it really mean to renew our mind?
One step in renewing our mind is being able to see clearly what in our mind needs to be renewed. It is a hard thing to know ourselves, to truly see how distorted our perceptions, our values, & our thinking has become.
How do we see what needs to be changed? Reading and meditating on Scripture, prayer, wise friends, and reliance on the Spirit all play a role. I’ve found that God can often use a simple thing to open the door to a big change in my life. This is hardly new: Jesus often used simple things: a word picture, a question, or a few loaves and fishes to open up his disciples’ minds.
A simple exercise I’ve recently used is making up a list. I first read about this type of list exercise as used by business professor Srikumar Rao, but I changed it to give it a Biblical perspective. Taking a few minutes to write this simple list could trigger a big change in renewing your mind and transforming your life.
Step One: Make a list of things that do or would make you happy or fulfilled or successful in life. You can include big things and little things, things you currently enjoy and things that you wish you had. Go ahead, right now, and spend a minute and really think about this and write down your list. This won’t work if you just read this article, so go ahead and get out a piece of paper and write down a list that really reflects who you are.
Have you written your list or are you reading ahead? Come on now, write down your list!
Ok, are you done now? Me too. Here is some of my list:
Loving God, walks in forests, spending time with my kids, my iPhone, romance (and all the trimmings!), going to DisneyWorld, time to rest, reading books, teaching, writing, friends, helping people, a beautiful garden, good food, feeling healthy.
Step Two: Cross off everything on your list that’s optional, things that are “nice” but that you don’t really need to be happy. Get the list down to only what you decide you absolutely could not be fully happy without. It may be only one thing, or it may be a whole list of things. If you’re unmarried and unhappy about it, your list may have “be married” even though you don’t possess that right now.
Step Three: Now look at your list, the things that you would truly be unhappy, or even miserable, without. Ok, now, cross off all of them. Every single item. Take your pencil or pen, and draw a line through every one.
Here’s the simple truth that will change your life, if you can grasp it: you don’t need any of those things to be happy, unless one is your relationship with Christ. God may or may not bless you with friends, financial security, success, love, health. But you don’t need any of those to have a heart filled with joy and peace. All you need is Christ. This is what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Philippians:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8)
Everything Paul had counted as gain, as important for his happiness, he “counted as loss.” He realized that he didn’t need any of them if only he had Christ.
I know, you might be thinking, “Well, that might be ok for someone super spiritual like Paul, but I don’t think God wants me to be that radical— I don’t think I even can think that way.” But Jesus repeatedly made it clear that he wanted every follower of His to think this way. Think of when He spoke with the rich young ruler:
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)
The man wanted eternal life, but why did he go away sorrowful? Because he did not think he could be happy without his possessions. Jesus knew exactly what was on this man’s “list”— and he directly asked him to cross it off.
But why? Why would Jesus ask this? Just to prove a point? Just to make him unhappy? No, just the opposite: he was wanting to make this man happy, and this was the only way to do it. Jesus wanted him to see that nothing on this earth can bring true joy and peace, and that the young man had to let go of the thing that he was looking to give him life to receive true life.
Jesus wants the same for me, and for you. Look at your list. You can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24); you can only love one thing with all your heart (Mark 12:30). God wants you to be able to see and rejoice in Him as the only thing you need in your life:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)
Christ wants us to joyfully embrace Him as the only thing we need for our happiness. He wants us to be so overjoyed with Him that in that our joy we are willing to “sell all” that we used to think would be necessary for our happiness.
This simple truth, that we don’t have to have anything but Christ to be happy, can profoundly change your life. Why not take a new sheet of paper, and write one item on it— “Jesus Christ.” Look at your list now. Let Christ renew your mind to embrace Him as the only thing you need to bring you happiness.
One more thing: if you’re saying, “Wow, I see that, but that’s so hard. I want (fill in the blank) so much. Some days I am fully satisfied with Christ alone but other days it doesn’t go so well.” Well, join the club. Me too. It’s a process, one that we will continue on until we meet Christ. He is loving and patient with His children. Keep walking with Him, looking to Him, and being open to His love and His ability to renew your mind and transform your life.