That’s a wonderful passage don’t you think? I read this passage in Romans and thought – “well, that is what has happened to me!” I am not conformed to this world, just ask my wife Julie. It’s that second part though, ‘be transformed by the renewing of your minds’ that I think most people get stuck in. How on earth do I renew my mind?
By the time you read this it will have been one year since I accepted the request from our District Superintendent to come to West Springfield UMC and “get my feet wet” in ministry. It has certainly been a period of mind and spiritual renewal for me and I hope also for some in the church.
It seems Paul is telling us that by renewing ourselves, we will be transformed. Certainly renewal is critical to getting things to change. What forms can renewal take though when you are trying to ‘discern the will of God in your life? I’d like to recommend a couple of practices that might seem so basic you’ll say “I know that!” Bear with me though because I think knowing and doing are often distant cousins.
1. Prayer – yes, you’d expect that from a pastor wouldn’t you. But ‘doing’ prayer is more complex than you think because it requires you to set aside time. When I say prayer, I don’t mean the dinner time favorite, “God is great, God is good and we thank Him for this food!” Prayer requires, more like demands, privacy, isolation, dedication, and separation. Prayer is hard mostly because we don’t want to set aside time from our busy lives for ourselves, alone, reflecting. Prayer is hard because we might be afraid of what we will feel, think, worry, or even look like if someone sees us praying. To pray is to give yourself over to God, it is surrendering in a way. In Mark 8:35 we hear “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Jesus has told us that we have to surrender our life, even if for a moment in prayer, in order to save it.
Here’s the challenge then. Pick a time in the day, it does not have to be long but you have to commit to it. Set aside that time for yourself to lose yourself in prayer. Turn off your phone or leave it somewhere else, be alone, be quiet, and have a talk with God. Don’t worry about ‘how to pray right,’ God listens to it all. The important part of this is to release yourself from everything else, even for 5 minutes each day to be in prayer. It’s going to be hard at first, your mind will wander off, you’ll think about what to have for dinner, almost anything. To focus simply start telling God what’s been happening in your life, like talking to an old friend. It’s the first step to renewing your mind.
2. Scripture – and yes, the pastor is going to recommend you read something from the bible. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, thought that reading scripture was critical to development of character and to bringing us closer to God. Where do you start in the giant bible? You can follow our lectionary readings which you can find online at https://umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar or you can pick a verse at random. Again, the point here is to set aside time at least weekly to do this. The good news here is that you can do this alone, or with someone else. I’d suggest a short passage. I’d also suggest you follow what is called ‘lectio divina,’ Latin for “Divine Reading.” It has a traditional model of read; meditate, pray; contemplate. If that is a bit challenging, you can try an alternate which is read; contemplate; read the same passage again; contemplate. The goal in all scriptural reading is to challenge yourself to interpret what it means to you in your life. Don’t worry about reading the ‘right’ version of the bible by the way. Instead read the best version for you. I like both the Good News and The Message versions for readability. The important part is to actually do oa reading, at least once a week.
3. Challenge yourself – renewal is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone. I know when I started preaching I thought ‘who am I to discuss faith with someone? I’m a computer guy!’ It was quite literally a leap of faith. So what about you? What have you been fearful of trying? At West Springfield there are several existing and new possibilities. The United Methodist Women come together in Christian Fellowship, doing projects to help the church, the community, and the world. We are restarting our Sunday school program this Fall. How about joining to assist in a classroom (don’t worry, we will provide a ton of guidance and materials!). How about joining the new study group starting this October? Ready to roll up you sleeves? Join in on the Big E meal service during September.
Cannot find something that fits? Come and talk to me, we will explore somethings that might work for you. Who knows, maybe you will create something new! The point is to try and step outside of that safe and cozy place and reach for something that will challenge your spirit.
So there it is three things you can try to transform yourself. Start with one and see if Paul was right. Go ahead, get your feet wet too, the water’s fine!