Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he…
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
-1 Peter 1:13-17
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Many of our problems stem from a mistaken idea of who God is and what he’s like. If we feast on the negative and find ourselves saying, “Oh, like that’s really going to happen,” or, “That’s just not the kind of world I live in,” about some positive suggestion or possibility, then we’ll first have to undergo a moral shift in our thinking.
People who have achieved amazing things through invention or innovation have been those who have never been limited by the word “impossible.” The person who knows the God of the Bible has come to understand that nothing is impossible simply because God has been factored into the equation for whom literally anything is possible. If we’re attempting to do the will of God and to become the kind of person he wants us to be, then an explicit knowledge of his unlimited power should trump any obstacle.
When we truly grasp the immeasurable width and depth of God’s ability to create, arrange, or rearrange things, we can move from “It can’t happen” to “If God wills it, nothing can stop it.” We can start with the simple realization of Creation itself. If God made everything in the immeasurable universe with the snap of his fingers, then how insurmountable is the problem we’re facing at the moment?
Most of the first scientists in the modern era were people who had experienced the “new birth,” a change of mind and heart. They were able to crack the nut of nature’s mysteries because they knew the God of the Bible and, therefore, operated on the assumption that “nature” and its laws were designed and manufactured by a personal lawmaker. They discovered that this God was willing to reveal Creation’s mysteries to those who in humility bothered to ask.
Martin Luther didn’t trigger the Reformation because he was so happy and cheerful, but because he wasn’t. For many, despair and depression are the initial occasion for an encounter with God and a personal transformation. Luther had to reorient his mind from a very negative to a truly positive view of God. In fact, he said, “I was myself more than once driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”
His habitual frame of mind was to see God as some impossible-to-please parent or some distant ogre who was always on the verge of condemning and punishing him for any misstep. The only Source he possessed that contained a reliable description of God was the Scriptures. So he prayerfully and painstakingly studied them day and night in the original languages searching for an accurate picture of God. This was no purely academic exercise, it was a matter of life and death.
And Luther wasn’t disappointed.
After a long and careful analysis of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and a thorough reevaluation of the entire New Testament, he came to see God not as the stern and unyielding judge who hated sinners, but as the gracious and merciful heavenly Father Jesus described. He had much to unlearn from the teaching of human authorities before he could learn what the Bible taught.
It’s much the same today. We first need to wash out of our minds the wayward images of God others (or we) have put there to make room for the accurate portrait of him in the Bible’s teaching.
I know what that’s like. I had years of terrible teaching about God and the Gospel. This teaching so clouded my mind that it was difficult to love the God found in popular folk Christianity. The Christian life was portrayed as walking some sort of tightrope, where the slightest misstep to the right or the left would plunge me into eternal hellfire. Legalism was the main feature, a kind that literally erased the doctrine of grace or buried it under thick layers of erroneous human teaching.
The doctrine of God’s loving-kindness and grace, properly understood, gives us a solid foundation for developing habits of positive thoughts and optimistic behavior that are part of the transformation of the mind. This is one of the key reasons for staying in the Scriptures every day, rain or shine, good mood or bad. In our world of competing philosophies and propaganda, it’s essential to hold together a daily input of the right ideas, along with a regular habit of vital worship and fellowship with healthy believers.
Remember, it’s God and Christ first. If it’s genuine, intelligent, authentic happiness and contentment we’re looking for, then it comes only from reality—the plain and life-altering truth about our Creator, all that he is and does, and all that he accomplished for us through his Son.