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I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.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 12:1-3). 

When I was doing some ministry work at a place called The Barnabas House I was reminded of the profound lesson of how not to be conformed to this world by the ongoing, intentional renewing of our minds. This ministry is an intensive rehab program for those who might otherwise be sent to jail. These men would live at the facility, receive therapy, and eventually be integrated into society after a 6 to 12 month period. Most were there due to various types of substance abuse and/or anger issues. The program was both practical and spiritual as the judicial system determined these guys to be better off in this type of environment as opposed to a prison cell. 

I was often amazed at the biblical understanding many of these men had. In the conversation in question, with a Bible under his arm, one of these men (a reforming drug addict and spousal abuser) shared with me how he did battle with the demons of temptation that could eventually lead him back to the lifestyle he so desperately wanted to shed. Referring to Romans 12:1-2, he said, “I must be constantly vigilant to think about what I’m thinking about.” How true! It was certainly an “ah-ha moment” for me. Don’t we all need to do this? But how often do we? 

Pastor D. Martin Lloyd Jones, a physician by training, said that at any given time we are either listening to ourselves or talking to ourselves. I hope that makes sense. The point is, if we don’t control our thoughts with purpose, before we know it we have gone hours (a day, week, or month), with the tape that plays in our head running rampant and controlling us. This interminable, spontaneous data-dump created by an untamed thought life can usurp control of our minds. And it is usually twisted by our sin nature – fleshly, negative, defeating, depressing, and altogether unhealthy. Yet often we allow our thoughts to run free without reining them in by practicing the discipline of speaking to ourselves the truth of God’s Word, the intentional determination of what we are thinking. Does that make sense? If not, pause right now and analyze what you were thinking about the minutes or hours prior to reading this post. Or, while reading this post, has your mind drifted off to things that were less important or even contrary to God’s truth? Did your thoughts run free thereby controlling you (and your attitude and disposition) or were you controlling your thoughts? In other words, is that carnally bent mind of ours ruling us – taking us where it wants us to go – or are we ruling it? 

This may sound trivial but I believe this issue is key to our emotional, mental, and, most importantly, spiritual health. Paul is saying here that unless we “think about what we are thinking about” and do something about it, then the ungodly part of our mind will push us in the direction of being conformed to the thinking, and therefore, the patterns of the world. And this can be both destructive and ultimately devastating! After all, unrestrained, our mind tends to drift to that which is base, unspiritual, and self-absorbed. This is why Paul suggests that “biblical mind control” is imperative in us finding God’s will (v. 2) and having the humble, sacrificial spirit that gives us the freedom to live and love in a way that honors God (vs. 1&3). Remember, “For as [a man] thinks within himself, so he is: (Proverbs 23:7, HCSB).

In 4th chapter of his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul ties this together by saying our joy (v. 4), our mental stability (v. 5), our piece of mind (v. 6), and our purity (v. 7) are determined by the purposeful control of our thought life (v. 8). And we must “practice” this biblical mind control to most fully experience the peace, power, and presence of God (v. 9). As we read this passage let’s focus, keep our mind from wandering, and think about it! 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:4-9).

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*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-one – Trusting our King

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” (Mathew 6:25-31).

In opening verse 25 with the word “therefore,” Jesus points listeners back to the preceding section of His sermon. This indicates an important truth: as believers reject the pursuit of earthly treasure and learn to trust in Him for physical needs, they position themselves to live free from worry.

Those in Christ’s original audience did not enjoy the benefits of 401K plans, health care packages, and paid vacations. While the very wealthy among them might have stored grain or hoarded coins, many had to wonder whether or not they would secure daily food or drink. Without the social and government entitlement programs to which we are accustomed, they knew charity as their only safeguard. Christ and His contemporaries often learned to live day-to-day (see Matthew 8:20). In contrast, the typical American believer has an abundance of financial resources and securities, and most live in comparative luxury and comfort. With such blessing, should we not be more aware of God as our ultimate Provider and enjoy an even greater trust in Him than the early Christians?

In a touching analogy that probably directed eyes to the birds and flowers native to Christ’s open-air sanctuary, Jesus explains that He cares for nature. Throughout His ministry, Jesus proves cognizant and empathic towards His children’s struggle over the necessities. Food, clothing, and shelter represent real needs. As Christ points out God’s care for creation in general, He helps people understand His care for His chosen people. While plants and birds neither enjoy relationship with Him nor share the wisdom afforded to humans, God provides for them. The condensed message of Matthew 6:25-31? “Do not worry, for I am a loving, good, and capable Father who provides for you. If I look after lesser creatures, surely I will take care of you!”

When we surrender to Christ as our great King, we need not worry at all. Cares and concerns typify the state of fallen humanity, but we serve an omnipotent God who desires us to live free from the tendency. In truth, worry proves incompatible with faithful kingdom living. Paralyzing worry requires one of three ingredients: too much self-focus, too little faith, or a denial of Christ’s role as King and provider. Should worry plague a believer, he or she should immediately ask: Has my vision of God grown so small that I do not perceive Him as loving or good or capable? Kingdom living requires that we see Him as all of that and more!

Several years ago I faced a potential downsizing at work, and I melted into an emotional wreck. My dear mother prayed endlessly that the worry and stress of my job would lift. God answered her prayer: I was laid off! My worry only intensified. Always anxious over the financial ramifications of unemployment, I often failed to trust God. Despite my faithless fretting, God providentially (and miraculously) provided me with a better opportunity within the space of days. I have remained in that position over a decade. God used the whole situation to confirm in me that all things rest in His capable hands. My anxiety was a self-defeating lack of confidence in my Lord.

We must remember that the great provider concerns Himself with our emotional needs as well as the basics. Although He commands us to not worry, He knows that life brings trials, tribulations, and troubles to even His most steadfast followers. “Come to me,” Christ encourages all who are weary and burdened by life, “I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). No one walks alone who puts his trust in God.

Christ never says, “I will solve all of your problems.” While providing for our necessities and easing the burden on our hearts, He does not remove us from all of life’s challenges. The Lord acts as a perfect parent: His judgments are always fair, His intervention always timely, and His approach never overbearing. In every case, believers can confidently “Cast all [their] anxiety on him because he cares for [them]” (1 Peter 5:7). God stands not as the panacea for all of this life’s physical, emotional, and financial ills; instead, He knows and cares for us in the way He sees fit. He always chooses the best approach. In every case, the Lord meets our needs in a way that honors and glorifies Him and His kingdom. We must demonstrate faith in Him, trusting that He will always provide for us what He deems best. As we do, the worry tendency diminishes.

In a practical application, worry makes little sense; it changes nothing. Philippians 4:6-8 states:

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:6-8).

I’ve always loved the advice Paul shares in this passage. Truly, focusing on the goodness of God leads to peace and lessens anxiety. As we keep our eyes on Him, we remember that God alone stands as our beneficent provider in all things. We can’t avoid stressful situations, but we can trust in the Lord to see us through them.  

Apply It.

Throughout the Old Testament God often reminded the Israelites of His many provisions for them. Use a concordance or Bible search tool to find an example.

When and where has God intervened and provided for you (see Psalm 103:2)? Ask God to remind you of His past provisions so that your faith and reliance on Him will grow.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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