Transformed, Not Conformed
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
Every one of us is living between conformation to historical patterns on one side and transformation to imaginative providence on the other.
It’s about conforming to our old patterns, reverting to our old instincts and responses, or surrendering to God, who shows us, as Paul says, “a more excellent way.” It involves renewing our minds and being introduced to greater options. That’s the theological way of expressing it. Now, let me put it in a way that we can all relate to.
We all find ourselves, at times, at a crossroads of decision. The choices are: Do I handle this the way I used to? Or do I handle this in a way that aligns with my spiritual growth? Do I respond to people the way I used to, or do I respond to them with love, knowing that love covers a multitude of sins? Do I default back to my old instincts to deal with pressure, or do I allow the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to lead me toward something more productive? Do I make decisions based on my old selfish nature, or do I truly decide to surrender myself completely to the Lord, allowing Him to use me as He sees fit, and finding satisfaction in that?
It’s a wrestling match between conformation and transformation. One side is nourished by sticking with what has been, while the other side is fueled by being inspired by the prospects and possibilities that are still ahead.
The bridge between conformation to old patterns and transformation to imaginative creativity is faith. Will you cross that bridge in the choices you make today?
How Are You?
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:39 (NIV)
Some months ago, I was waiting for my lunch order to arrive. As I was waiting, I was approached by four different individuals, one after the other. Upon approach, each one asked me how I was doing.
When I framed my lips to answer, each one of them interrupted before I could even say anything. One proceeded to tell me about how they had just returned from having enjoyed vacation. Another showed me a picture on his phone of his brand-new car. The third asked me to pray because he was facing a health crisis. The fourth wanted me to purchase an auction item for a fundraiser.
I sat there and indulged each one of them. When the fourth walked away, I said to the waitress, “Uh, is it me?” Not one of them, after asking me how I was doing, postured themselves at any point to give me a chance to provide my response.
So for the rest of that week, I made it a spiritual discipline to ask people, “How are you doing?” and then stay quiet to hear their response. Because we live in a world of self-interest, most people I asked the question to treated me like it was not a legitimate one. But I wouldn’t let them dismiss it as a casual greeting. “No, no, no. How are you doing?”
And the things people began to share!
Jesus challenges us to weigh our spirituality by the offering of our lives, to make our exchanges, our interactions, and our encounters about our neighbors and not always about ourselves. God demonstrated His love for us by making it about us. He gave Jesus because He “so loved” us, as John 3:16 says.
Let’s follow His example and make our lives about loving others.
Your Spiritual Lens
It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
1 Corinthians 1:30 (NIV)
We should never experience anything in life without discerning the ways in which God has extended both grace and mercy.
I’m talking about in every corner and crevice of your life, identifying where God has been present, active, and where His grace has been extended. This includes the gift of progress and the wonderful experience of healing—in whatever increments, whatever progressions, whatever extents.
What is God saying? Where is He moving? What choices does He think are best for my life? What part of my spirit, my mind, my body is God apparently asking me to sacrifice to Him in this season?
Don’t interpret anything without asking yourself, “Where is God in this? What is God’s involvement? How do I discern why God is moving the way He is moving?”
This should be the lens you use to interpret all of your life experiences.
Make sure that you are interpreting everything in life spiritually first. Because when you do this, it gives correct order and response to all of your subsequent decisions.
Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.
1 Samuel 12:24 (NKJV)
Our spiritual lives cannot be totally complete if all that is included are the disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, witnessing, service, and worship. Each of those is critically important in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. You cannot mature in the faith unless they are regularly incorporated into your spiritual journey. However, they have to be connected to a commitment to exercise an additional discipline, and that discipline is gratitude.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others,” wisely stated Marcus Cicero. Henry Ward Beecher paints a powerful image of gratitude when he says, “Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the human soul.”
Gratitude provides an alternative view of things. It compels you to resist letting hurt, pain, confusion, and the slow pace of change dominate your thinking or destroy your emotions. It brings contrary thoughts and emotions into subjection.
Without the spiritual discipline of gratitude, the hypercritical dominance of thought and speech that is pervasive in our culture these days can drown you in a sea of negative musings. When you wake up in the morning feeling sorry for yourself, you go throughout the day in perpetual negativity, looking for the worst rather than the best, feeling that life has taken so much and given so little.
Gratitude reins all that in and says, “Hey, child of God, before you get on that pessimistic train, take another look. Look at all that God is doing. Look at all the positive that is coming out of this. He is working it together for your good. Think about how much you have not lost and how much you still have left.”
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer captures this idea when he says, “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
How rich is your life today? It depends on your level of gratitude.
The Reason Why
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13 (NIV)
Every one of us, at times, asks the questions: Can I trust God’s plans when His plans have put me in these deeply painful periods in life? Can I trust God’s plans when it has cost me so much emotionally? Can I trust God when He has decided that the best way to grow me is to let my heart be broken?
Part of the reason you’re going through what you’re going through is because God is doing a work inside of you. He will let you stand in the middle ground between pain and the desire for relief because He wants you to decide what you are going to lean on in order to deal with the pain. Will you lean on people? Will you lean on substances? Will you lean on doubt? Will you lean on cynicism? Or will you lean on your faith and trust that He will show up?
You can’t manage life in Christ any other way but in faith. The Lord won’t let it happen. He won’t let you move through life without having to manage where your faith is, where it’s being pushed, where it’s being matured, where it’s being challenged, where it’s being stretched.
Could things have happened differently in your life? Could you have gone through some things with less pain? Could they have resolved much earlier? Could they not have happened at all? To all of these questions, the emphatic response is yes. But to deepen your faith, to keep you engaged, to help you see better for your future, the pain was necessary.
Whatever that particular pain is in your life, it is permitted to push you past too much confidence in your own capacity or your own stability. It’s to push you into the sphere of faith, where you can develop spiritual confidence and trust in the Lord.