September 27, 2013

Love drives out selfishness

One high school teacher played a game with our class. He told us not to think about apples. We quickly realized the folly of trying to “not think” about something. Had he said we should think about apples, we may have struggled a bit with that also, but not nearly as much.

My mind is “scattered,” a problem of ADD and shared by many. For me, focus is extremely difficult. I have trouble keeping my mind fixed. The Bible makes this promise: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you,” (Isaiah 26:3) yet even as I trust God, my thoughts tend to wander all over the place.

Another favorite passage for my scattered mind is the hope of transformation . . . 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:2–3)

God says that my mind can be changed. Romans 12:2 refers to the way the world thinks, that is, thoughts based on selfish desires instead of on the will of God.

These worldly thoughts are always opposed to God. I am not supposed to wallow in them for they push away the love of God from being “shed abroad” in my life. I cannot think so highly of myself that all I want is what I want.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

Romans 12:3 puts another spin on this command and transformation. It says not to think of myself more highly than I ought. I’m familiar with conceit and an arrogant attitude. The worst of it shows up when I look down my nose at others, or when I become envious thinking I should be as blessed or privileged as someone who has what I don’t have. This is not the love of God nor is it healthy thinking.

God says that I’m to think with sober judgment. That word “sober” is not about refraining from drunkenness, but about having a “habitual inner self-government” that keeps all passions and desires in check and hinders temptations from arising or at least arising to the point that they I’m no longer able to say no.

Also, this effort to govern the mind is grounded in faith. In its context, it is an appeal for a basic attitude that perceives my own limitations and even the limitations of others, fully aware that we are all sinners who need Jesus Christ. It is not a mere determination that stoically says “I must be this,” but a necessary element of that love of God that pushes away selfishness.

One of my Bible dictionaries says that the love of God can maintain the tension between commitment and reflective distance. That means God loves me with a great commitment to my well-being, but this is not to the point that He overlooks my sinfulness and need for correction. I’m to think of others that way and also myself. This is sound judgment.

The bottom line for me today is that my scattered mind needs a resting place, perhaps not a mantra but something like, “I am trusting Jesus for this . . .”

This works by pushing self-effort aside. It also works when I see the sins of others and make it my prayer. When the grass looks greener somewhere else, that must be my prayer. When I’m tempted to do or say something that is unloving toward God or others, that must be my prayer. If I cannot get a handle on right thoughts, or struggle to stop thinking about sinful or useless thoughts, that must also be my prayer.

I am trusting Jesus for this.

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