Changing Your Mind
Scriptures: Romans 12:1-8, 9-21
About 20 years ago I woke up one morning and felt the whole
room spinning. I grabbed the edge of the mattress to keep from being thrown off the bed and held on until the room finally slowed down. Then I carefully sat up and discovered that the spinning was in my head. I was okay when I sat up and even when I walked around, but the minute I laid down on my back, the room began spinning again.
After a couple times of this I went to the doctor and was
told that I had benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which means that some small crystals in my inner ear had dislodged and floated into the semi-circular canals of my inner ear. When I moved my head certain ways, in my case laying down on my back, these crystals touched little hair-like sensors in my ear canal which told my brain that I was spinning. The doctor tried to treat this by putting my head through a series of motions that was designed to move the crystals out of these semi-circular canals and back into a part of the ear that would not cause trouble, but I got so dizzy I threw up in the doctor's office. Then they referred me to a physical therapist. "A physical therapist?" "Just go," the doctor said. So I did. And the physical therapist said, "Okay, here is what we're going to do. We are going to teach your brain to ignore those crystals in your head. I want you to go home, lay down on your bed, and intentionally roll onto your back to make yourself dizzy." "You're kidding," I said. "No," the therapist said, "I want you to intentionally make yourself dizzy, but when it happens open your eyes." Before that, when I got dizzy, I would close my eyes to make the room stop spinning, but of course that did not work because the spinning was in my head. The therapist said, "I want you to open your eyes and look at the room. Because eventually your brain will notice that your eyes are not sending the same message as your ear. And eventually your brain will figure out that your eyes are correct and the ear is wrong, and if you do it enough times you will teach your brain to ignore the crystals in your ear."
I could not believe this was physical therapy. It seemed
more like mental therapy. But I went home and tried it, and it worked. It took a while and I had some relapses, but over time my brain learned to ignore the crystals in my ear, and I eventually could lay on my back without dizziness.
Now listen again to what Paul says in Romans 12:2: "Do not
be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Here is my phrase of that verse: "Don't listen to all the other voices around you-those crystals in your ear that are telling you that the world is spinning out of control. Listen to God's voice. Open your eyes to the grace and love God has shown us in Jesus Christ, and it will transform your mind. Your mind will be renewed, and the world will not make you so crazy.
That's my paraphrase of Romans 12:2. It is striking to me
how often in Romans 12 Paul talks about how we think. First he talks about how we think of ourselves. Verse 3: "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment."
Many people think of themselves either too highly or too lowly. They
think they are God's gift to humanity, or that they don't think they really matter to anyone. But if we allow God to transform our minds, we will see the truth. We are neither perfect nor hopeless. We are neither indispensable nor worthless. We are not God's answer to all problems, but by God's grace we can be part of God's answer to some of them. That's what you will discover if you ignore the little crystals-the voices in your head that tell you that you are worthless or hopeless. If you ignore those voices and open your eyes to God's grace, then you will see the truth.
Further on Paul talks about how we think of others. Verse 10: "Love
one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor." If you want to see how different this is from all the other voices were hear in our culture, just look at American Idol, or The Apprentice, or the Olympics. In the culture we are taught to outdo one another in gaining honor, not in showing honor.
Or take another example. Verse 15: "Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep." I realized how different this is from our culture when I saw this Peanuts comic strip. It begins with Linus talking to Charlie Brown, and Linus says, "Charlie Brown, I just saw the most unbelievable football game ever played. What a comeback! The home team was behind six-to-nothing with only three seconds to play. They had the ball on their own one-yard line. The quarterback took the ball, faded back behind his own goal posts and threw a perfect pass to the left end, who whirled away from four other guys and ran all the way for a touchdown! The fans went wild! You should have seen them. People were jumping up and down, and when they kicked the extra point, thousands of people ran out onto the field laughing and screaming! The fans and the players were so happy they were rolling on the ground and hugging each other and dancing and everything! It was fantastic."
Charlie Brown looks at him and says, "How did the other team feel?" Okay, I'm not against rooting for our home team. It's okay
to root for the Mariners or the Seahawks or your favorite college team. But, friends, if we don't learn to weep with those who weep-and I'm not talking here about sports teams, I'm talking about people of other countries, people of other races, people of other religions, even people of other political views-if we don't learn to weep with those who weep, we are condemned to a self-centered vertigo. We are condemned to hearing only those little crystals in our head telling us that the world is spinning out of control, and we will not see the truth: that in Jesus a new world has begun.
The most striking example of changing our thinking is at the
end of Romans 12. Verse 17: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all." And then verses 20: "No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink," which is a totally different way of thinking that might just make the world a little less crazy.
In Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina Levin, one of the main
characters, falls in love with a woman named Kitty. He knows how he feels about Kitty, but he is not sure how Kitty feels about him. When she looks at him, he cannot decide if she is looking at him with interest or with bemusement. When she shows attention to other men, he cannot tell if she is attracted to them or just being friendly. When she rides by in a carriage and does not look at him, he cannot decide if she is ignoring him or just does not see him. He drives himself crazy trying to interpret her actions.
But one day they have a conversation. They are so nervous
and self-conscious around each other they can hardly bring themselves to talk about their true feelings. So instead they sit at a table and write messages to each other using only the first letter of each word that they want to say. It is sort of like a modern text message using only emojis. Finally they figure out what each is saying, and they discover they are in love with each other.
Here is the interesting part of the story. After Levin
discovers that he is loved, he begins seeing everyone else in a different light. He goes to a meeting and the secretary reads the minutes in a halting, awkward fashion. Normally this would have annoyed him, but Tolstoy writes, "But Levin saw from the secretary's face what a nice, kind, and splendid fellow he was. That was plain from the nervous and confused way in which he read the minutes" (p. 465). Then there was a debate about some item of business. Levin hated debates, but Tolstoy writes, "What seemed so remarkable to Levin was that he could see through them all today, and from little signs he had never noticed before he got to know the true character of every one of them and saw distinctly that they were all kindhearted people" (p. 466).
That's what Romans 12 means by the renewal of your mind: learning to
see the world and its people differently in light of the surprising good news that you are loved. It takes practice to see the world that way, because there are too many voices in the world, too many crystals in our head, that say the world is full of evil people and is spinning out of control. But if you open your eyes to God's grace, you will discover a different picture, and you will find a world much more exciting and hopeful to live in.