Series on “Real Happiness”, Part 3
Original date: June 15, 2008
The last few weeks, we’ve been thinking about happiness: what it is, how to get it and to keep it. We found that the paradox of happiness is that the direct pursuit of happiness doesn’t make anybody happy! Instead, God’s word says again and again that happiness is a byproduct of seeking God.
Here are a couple of passages we’ve looked at the last few weeks that tell us this:
Jesus says in Matthew 6:33:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
God first, then “these things”, things we need, including happiness, then they just show up.
Here’s the one we looked at last week (Isaiah 26:3):
You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.
Trust and focus on God leads to the state of “peaceful peace” (the literal translation of “perfect peace”). Again, it’s not aiming for peace or contentment or happiness that gives you happiness. It’s when God is #1 in our lives and in our thoughts that we gain that “peaceful peace.”
Now here’s the passage we’re going to focus on today; it’s from Paul’s letter to the Romans, 12:1-2:
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This is a very well-known passage, and you’ve probably heard a lot about it, which is good. It’s probably the most direct and profound thing Paul ever wrote about the process of spiritual transformation.
I want you to notice in vs. 2 the emphasis Paul makes on the mind:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Think of all the things Paul didn’t say:
Be transformed by the renewing of your heart.
Now that wouldn’t be a bad thing. In the Bible, the heart is the decision center, the grand central station of the person. But he didn’t say that.
Be transformed by the renewing of your feelings.
That wouldn’t be a bad thing either. Feelings are important, and God wants us to have the right feelings. The emotion of love is a good thing, the emotion of worship is a holy thing; the feeling of compassion is a worthy thing. But he didn’t say that either.
Be transformed by the renewing of your soul.
Again, that’s a good thing. The soul is the whole unseen part of a person; it’s the creation of God, and it bears the image of God most deeply. But again, it’s not what Paul wrote here.
Be transformed by the renewing of your body.
The body is not just what we live in; the body is the creation of God, and God promises that our bodies will exist forever. We believe in the resurrection of the body. Paul even said some time in Gold’s Gym is worthwhile (1 Timothy 4:8). But, again, it’s not what Paul wrote here.
What he wrote is that we’re transformed by the renewing of our mind. As Paul sees it, what we put into our mind reaches out to the whole personality to change it. It’s not that he’s a big brain kind of guy with a little heart, it’s just that he knows that what a person comes to truly believe changes everything—our feelings, our conduct and, yes, the degree of happiness we experience.
What he says in Romans 12:2 is as relevant today as it was in AD 56. He says that there’s a World Pattern of Thinking and a God’s Way Pattern of Thinking. Let’s contrast those for a moment:
GOD: if He exists, He’s uninterested in you
He is real, and intently loves you and desires your best. He showed this on the cross.
LIFE: is hard, and then you die. It has no point.
Is all about knowing and loving and serving God.
Death: it’s probably the end of everything
Ushers us into the next step—presence with God, before the Day of Resurrection to come
What God calls us to do, if we would experience transformation, is to fill our minds with the knowledge of God and of His ways. That truth fills us up so you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
There’s an interesting line in one of the oldest songs of worship we have, and one of my all-time favorites: “Be Thou My Vision”:
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.Thou my best thought, by day or by night,Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
What’s incredibly wise about this old Celtic hymn is the idea that to think of God is “my best thought, by day or by night.” There’s something wonderfully transforming when we think well and deeply of God and His ways.
Psalm 119 is the longer chapter in the Bible, and it’s all about God’s word and the impact it has on a person’s mind and life. With 176 verses, you can dip into it almost anywhere and get some great encouragement and also get the fact that knowing the truth about God brings you joy. For example, here’s vs. 14-16:
14 I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
The interesting that is that rejoicing, meditating and delighting in God’s word and ways are parallel to one another. Time spent on God and His word goes straight into your joy. Therefore, if you want to be happy, focus on the wonders of God. This will take time, but it’s worth it.
Happiness in God works this way: we must collect it, like going to a well with a bucket. And the problem is that we use it up, and if we try to store it, we find out that our joy bucket is leaky. We have to go back again and again, and fill our mind with God’s truth if we want to enjoy God.
How does this work? I want to suggest four key things we have to understand to get this transformation working in our lives.
1. God wants us to have an intellectual love of Himself.
I don’t mean by this that you have be an “intellectual” to love God. I do mean by this that real love is always going to engage the mind.
In Mark 12:30, Jesus says,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Love God with your mind. God wants you to use your brain in your love and service of Him. Further,
2. What you believe about God (and life and death and everything else) really matters—not just how much you believe them.
There’s a weird idea running around our culture that says that it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere. Fervency, not correctness, is what matters. So if you worship lotus blossoms fervently, then it becomes true for you.
Now out in the real world, nobody believes this. I mean, if I had a deep fervent belief that I can do brain surgery, the depth of my belief would still mean that if I operated on you the best you could hope for is that you just lose your mind. If I have a fervent belief that I can drive my car to Hawaii, it would still sink before the end of the Santa Monica pier.
Jesus says that correct belief is crucial, right in the best known verse in the Bible, John 3:16: “whoever believes in Him [Jesus, the Son] will not perish.” Just as what you believe will steer your destination (for example, the belief that to get to San Diego you can take 5 south), so it is in spiritual matters.
It’s sure worth the time and effort involved to get a firm grip from the Bible and with the help of some good Christian teachers (either through something they wrote or in person) on matters like God’s nature, life, what happens when we die, how God guides us and a hundred other topics.
3. Some of what we believe is more central, more important—than some other things we believe.
Believers will disagree on some things. What’s the proper form of baptism? Can you lose your salvation?
Sometimes we firmly believe something to be true that’s less central than things we have a lesser grip on. For example, you believe that eating broccoli is good for you, but I doubt that you consider that as important as “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Nows here’s the really important one:
4. We can change and strengthen what we believe by the transforming habit of study.
STUDY—what a nasty word! I know some of you tuned out when I used that word.
Years ago, I heard a pastor tell this story: he was in his study when a member called. “Pastor,” she asked,” Are you busy?”
He replied, “You know, I was just meditating on the omniscience of the Lord—the fact that He knows everything. The glory of that was filling my heart.”
There was a pause for a moment. Then she said, “Well, I’m glad you not doing anything important. I need to talk to you about the harvest party.” (Does this remind anybody of the Mary and Martha story in Luke’s gospel?)
Folks, there’s a glory and a joy in filling our minds with the truths of God. It’s worth our effort and our study. You don’t have to be a genius; just make the effort to read the Bible and to read some good Christian books about God’s character (a great place to start is A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge the Holy.)
Let me finish this thought by telling a story. A couple living in Minneapolis lost their four-year-old daughter to leukemia. They were members of Bethlehem Baptist Church there, but they hadn’t been to worship in several months due to their daughter’s illness. Two days after she died, they were there. They later told the pastor that the message they heard that day was the perfect message for them. The message had nothing to do with grieving or death; it was a message about the holiness of God. The grandeur of God lifted their sights and filled their minds with thoughts of His wonder. For them, it was the most healing word they could have heard.
Folks, remember this:
The happy mind is filled with thoughts of God of the glory of God.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)