[This post is part of a series: How Jesus Got Hold of Me: Why I Believe and Why I Follow]
On a normal day, I would look forward to the task of writing about the changes that have occurred in my mind throughout these years of putting the claims of Jesus on my life to the test. Today, though, I've been grumpy. Right now I feel more like complaining to someone about any of a list of trivial things than I feel like writing about God's goodness and the gift we've been given of the freedom to choose what we allow our minds to dwell on. So, since I need to write something on the topic today, perhaps the best thing I can do is to use my current crabbiness as a negative case study.
[I was so crabby on the day I started to write this that I couldn't get any further than the paragraph above. Below is the continuation from at least 48 hours later.]
Normally, I have pretty good habits in regard to what's going on in my mind–both the things I put into it and what I choose to let it ruminate on. So, when I noticed myself being so irritable, I knew I had to take a look at what had been happening in my head. Sure enough, I could pinpoint something that mattered.
About a week ago, I finished something I had been going through for a while that kept my mind in the scriptures. Since I normally base my reading on the passages of the Bible that are given to us in the Revised Common Lectionary (as they are included each week at the bottom of these messages), I had been spending a few weeks in Colossians. It was my first time really digging into the book, and along with spending time in Colossians itself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading through N.T. Wright's commentary on it.(1) For those weeks, my mind was often occupied with the content of Colossians: how Jesus was the one in whom all things in the cosmos are held together and yet also a human who perfectly housed the fullness of God, and in him we are all brought to fullness as well. I even enjoyed soaking my mind in a passage which I have had memorized for years which begins with, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."
Then my study of Colossians finished, and I proceeded to not do what Paul said in the passage I just quoted. I can now trace the beginning of my few days of grouchiness to how I replaced my time in Colossians by filling my mind with chapters from a couple of business books. I'm not saying my study of Colossians was good and reading the business books is bad–I need both of them. Part of my life as it is now is that I have a hand in running two small businesses, and I certainly need to learn to do that well. But if you've ever read a book on business, you know that while they can potentially be very useful for helping generate ideas, something they generally stink at is fostering contentment in us. So, after about a week of covering a few pages of these books each time I had a free moment and nearly leaving off the habits of letting my mind soak in the scriptures and instead focusing so much on business, I started to get testy. All of the sudden, the people around me whom I love so dearly and are normally my greatest delights became obstacles that were in the way of my ability to accomplish things.
As evidenced by my first paragraph here, it even annoyed me that I had to write this rather than continue working on those other projects. Thanks be to God that preachers and teachers often get to preach and teach the things that they themselves most need to hear, as getting started writing this helped me to correct course. Now, I'm still reading the business books, but also putting other things into my mind and being more intentional about following Paul's advice on where to set my mind.
We cannot overestimate the importance of our minds (the things we put into them and allow them to dwell on) in relation to the kind of people we are all becoming. Every one of us has innumerable choices every day of what to do with our minds, and those are the decisions–perhaps more than any others–which shape us.
One of the great difficulties in many of our efforts to live life with God is that, honestly, we don't find the Bible or other very helpful materials available that help open us to God interesting or understandable enough to give it the space in our mental attention necessary to keep our whole lives headed in a Godward direction through the months, years, and decades that add up to the kind of people we will be when all is said and done. I have had friends who spend their working lives interpreting things as exciting as legal documents or insurance policies but who then claim that the scriptures and the writings of Jesus' followers through the centuries are too heavy of reading for them.
I don't say that to pick on some of my lawyer and insurer friends (there are plenty of reasons to pick on them, but that's not what I'm doing here), because we all make similar mistakes. It isn't that we don't have the capacity to stretch our minds in the ways that allow us to live lives ever more open to God, but typically–we'd rather read a Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, or just watch some TV.
Last week, I wrote about a point of my life when I hit a wall, and how my relationships brought me past it. Another piece that fell into place around the same time for me was that I began reading some authors who described Christianity in ways that made sense, particularly C.S. Lewis and Dallas Willard. Rather than simply writing about things to make their readers feel a certain way (guilty, happy, repentant, etc.), I was fascinated by their writings because of the way they helped me to see how the kind of life with God that I want really works in the lives of real people. Putting things about Christianity into my mind which made sense made my efforts to follow Jesus turn into something livable, something for which I could make reliably-guided plans in my entire life.
When a change like that happens in our thinking, our emotions follow suit. Rather than my ill-temperedness from earlier this week being generally characteristic of my life, when my mind is set on things above, feelings of gratitude, contentment, and joy become the norm. Then, of course, our desires begin to change, and we will form different kinds of habits and relate with everyone differently. In short, we begin to take on the lifestyle of Jesus himself. Further exploring that, and how I stumbled into trying to do so, will be our subject next week in looking at what happened with my habits.
Scripture Readings for the Week*:
- Isaiah 1:1,10-20
- Psalm 50:1-8,22-23
- Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16
- Luke 12:32-40
A Prayer for the Week*:
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
*Scripture readings are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary. Weekly prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer. (1) See N.T. Wright's Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters.
[This post is part of How Jesus Got Hold of Me: Why I Believe and Why I Follow]