THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 68
Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. [Romans 12.2]
Be filled with the Spirit [Ephesians 5.18]
The Christian says that God can transform your mind at any age. You can be twenty-one, fifty-one or a hundred and one! It is the will that decides on the transformation, but God, using that decision, initiates the process. Mind is the powerhouse of the body because it controls the body. We don’t just think thoughts – we adjust and change the way we live through the thoughts we have. It is truly said, as a man thinks, so he is. How we think changes us.
Especially with the ‘I must have’ thoughts. Once the mind gives permission to the will and sets it going on a particular course (e.g. ‘I must have a car’), the efforts of the person will be directed towards that end. There is a very wise old Spanish proverb, which says, ‘Take what you want in life, and pay for it’.
Or take the ‘I am’ thoughts. The self-critical thought (‘I am no good’) or the self-aggrandizement thought (‘I really am better than other people’). Such ideas have a powerful effect on our lives.
It is as if reality combines with our thoughts to produce a result – good or bad – a result that we can then contemplate at leisure. It may take decades to realise the objective we have set ourselves, but eventually we can view the outcome and see where that early decision has taken us.
Or take the ‘I don’t want to be’ thoughts we have. I don’t want to be tall. I don’t want to be black. I don’t want to be gay. Those sorts of thoughts. Once accepted, and the will primed and set going, the person keeps going along that road – the road of non-self acceptance - possibly for years. Or even a lifetime.
Reality can break through, of course, at any time. You can suddenly see that the fact is that you just are tall, whatever you would have preferred. That you just are black or pink or yellow, rather than whatever colour you would have preferred. That you just are gay, whatever you would have liked to be. When that moment of insight strikes, and you see that there is nothing you can do about it, you can start to live your life on the basis of reality rather than on wishes. Your skin is black and there is absolutely nothing wrong about that – so you may as well get on with it. You are gay, so why knock yourself for it? Accept it and get on with living in the light of the reality.
So how does Christ transform our minds – how we think? Well, one way is to bring us up against stark reality. When you realise that you knock your head on the ceiling beams, whereas other people don’t! Or when have to stoop a little to get onto eye level with other people. Or when you look in the mirror and see black, not pink or yellow. Or when you keep feeling attracted, really attracted, to your own sex, and it is pretty clear that that is where your interest lies.
Cooperating with reality is one way our minds get transformed. Accepting that Jesus is Lord of Creation is one reality. Once we stop clinging to a surrealistic view of ourselves, we change. Once I accept I am gay the great internal battle inside me is over. The battle is then over between what one part of me feared (because, for example, of the prevailing views of those around me), and what another part of me was prepared to recognize. The tension is resolved. A new clarity emerges. The whole of my being stops being in conflict with itself and my mind and being accepts myself as I am. I am gay, so what? I am very tall, so what? I am black, so what?
Then the way is open for a positive move forward – a new way of tackling life opens up. God can begin to lead me forward in reality. I can now open myself to the thought that there are advantages in being tall. I can now open myself to the thought that I actually like being tall – it frees me from some of the worries that vertically challenged people have. I accept myself for who I am. I can now see that being yellow makes me one person alongside many other fine people who also happen to be yellow. I can embrace being gay because that is how I am. I will stop the hurtful and debilitating internal arguments and get on with life just as I am. I will look for the positives.
What is happening in all these instances? What is the common factor? Surely it is that my mind is being transformed. I am learning to recognize and cooperate with reality – with God. As I move on I confirm to myself the truth and reality of me. I am me. I can be no other. That is where I must start. I stop trying to conform to other people’s ideas of whom I should be, where I should go, what I should do, and I settle into my own reality. To try to resist what I am is to create endless tension and dissatisfaction in my mind and being.
God is in that reality. In fact God is part of that reality. He sometimes has to wait for years – even a lifetime - for us to join him in reality. We get so hung up on our preconceptions and ideas. If once I accept that I am tall I will accept that I am different. Different from what? From other people? Does that matter? Because we are all different from other people. Different from the image I was carrying around with me? Yes – that is it! Being different from my image of myself raises all sorts of questions. If I once accept that I am black then I have to face the questions I have been trying to avoid. If I once accept that I am gay then I need to face the questions that arise. When we accept reality we are no longer afraid to face the questions that arise – even if we cannot answer them immediately. We no longer cling to the image in order to avoid those questions.
We all have to accept the fact that we are different. Different from the internal image we acquire as children and young people, and different from other people. When we are young we don’t want to stand out from the crowd. We want to be ‘normal’ and accepted. Rejection is always hurtful, but perhaps especially so when we are teenagers. We don’t want to be different. But God has made us different! He has made you unique and as the years pass you will come to recognize and value that immensely. Here are three ways in which that will happen.
Firstly, you will begin to value your uniqueness because that is how God has made you. In a very real way you are blazing a completely new trail through life. In all the other millions of people there is no one who is in your position and with your body, your mind and personality and experience. You are unique. You are special in your uniqueness. Ignore for the moment the ways in which you are like other people. Think instead for a moment how different you are to everyone else. No one, for example, has your set of family members. No one else has had your schooling experience. No one else has had to battle quite as you have had to battle to get through the difficulties you have faced. Once a person recognizes their uniqueness it changes their stance in life. What you think, what you put your trust in, how you behave – all of these are important to human society because you are unique and, being unique, you have a unique approach to life.
Secondly, you will begin to value your uniqueness because God has provided you with the ability to contribute to society in your own particular way. No one else on earth can provide quite what you can provide. You have something unique to contribute to human knowledge and experience. You can speak from an entirely unique standpoint and your voice must be heard! If you don’t contribute what you are fitted by life to provide, then humankind will go without that contribution – and be the worse for it. People need you to contribute.
Thirdly, you will begin to value your uniqueness because God has provided incredible joy and happiness for each individual in the fulfilling of their potential. We fulfil our potential in all sorts of ways. There are the obvious achievements such as serving society by becoming a good surgeon or climbing Everest, or inventing the perfect mousetrap. Those may not be your contribution – but there are ways in which all of us can contribute to the benefit of the human beings around us. All of us know the joy that flows from achieving a good job well done, a joy which flows from achieving our potential.
It may be that you are particularly fitted to contribute in some special way. But there are as many ways for humans to fulfil their potential as there are people on earth. Sometimes people have to wait for decades before they realize some special gift or ability, which then becomes their unique contribution to society. But all of us, just by living in community, contribute to the ongoing life of the society in which we live. Whether you are particularly fitted in some special way or not, you have an essential contribution to make through your daily life.
So you are unique, you have your own unique contribution to make to society, and fulfilling your potential provides a God-given satisfaction and happiness in life.
To recognize that you carry this incredibly valuable gift of uniqueness inside you is to reach a certain level of maturity. Some people fight who they really are all their lives and never seem to move into fulfilment. Some people die disappointed people. Others never realise their potential because they are trying to live strictly regulated lives - their huge self-control is being used to keep their lives on the tramlines of conduct or way of life that they have decided is ‘right’.
God wants to transform your life and, if you will let him, Christ will change the way you think and all your aims and objectives in life. Letting Christ become Lord of your life is the time-honoured way to ask God into one’s life. He wants you to let go of unreality and to accept his reality. As the years go by the radical change that Christ makes in your life will show more and more in the way you live – by the way you think and move and have your being. Best of all is the fact that as you open your mind and your life to Christ he will fill you with his Holy Spirit and enable you to walk along the path he will show you. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and be filled with the Spirit.