I grew up with a mother who had a very negative thinking pattern. She thought negatively of my father, neighbors, her cooking, and life in general. And not only did she think it, she spoke it. Frequently. And I was there to take it all in. As a result, I have struggled my whole life with the same mindset. My mind is bent toward negativity. It is its default position.
Thankfully, I began a relationship with Jesus in my late teens, and slowly my mind has shifted over the years to being more positive, with emphasis on slowly. Truthfully, however, it has been a long slog. It didn’t suddenly disappear when I submitted my life to the Lord. It has taken decades. It shouldn’t have.
During a study of Philippians with students last week, we read this verse from Chapter 2: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” (vs. 5) I asked them, how do we go about acquiring the Lord’s mindset? Their answers were in the same vain—try harder and do more to obey him. And then I asked if any of them had experienced that eureka moment when adult children realize they are acting or thinking like one of their parents. They all acknowledged they had.
I don’t remember exactly when I realized my mindset was very similar to that of my mother, but I do remember the realization annoyed me. As I grew into late childhood and early adolescence, I began to tire of her negative attitude, particularly toward my father. It was a trait I never wanted to emulate, but, like all of us, I came to the realization that, despite my desires, I had become like her.
I say that the transformation of my mind should not have taken so long because I realized years ago that I went about it just as my students last week thought they should approach it—just try harder. The reality, however, is we acquire the mindset of Christ in the same way we acquire the traits—good or bad—of our parents, by spending much time with him. I spent years in vocational ministry focused on the work of ministry—Bible studies, 1-1 meetings with students, preparing and giving messages, planning events, serving opportunities, and prayer meetings, as well as performing administrative duties. I did not, however, spend much time with him apart from these responsibilities. I did read the Word; I did pray. However, it was more like interacting with a co-worker whom you like, but your relationship is based mainly on the work you have to get done. You never develop a close, personal relationship with them, enough where naturally you are going to mimic their attitudes or behavior.
Once I came to that realization, and then began to spend more personal time with the Lord, the transformation of my mindset began to speed up. But it was still slow because I had so far to go; yet, change did happen. I’ve had some setbacks in the years since, mostly in times of severe stress, but I see the progress.
I share this in light of the protests over the past few weeks demanding change in the way people, particularly black people, are treated in our culture. I agree with many fellow Christians who say we need to do much reflection on our own prejudices, and begin to acknowledge our silence on injustice. However, I have seen little call for people to spend more time with the Lord in the Word, in meditation, in prayer, and in fasting. It seems, just like my much younger self and like my students answered last week, that many believe we just have to work harder to change, and apply ourselves more to personal education on the issues of injustice. Just as my studies, prayers, and service had value, it fell short in changing my mindset. Many of my attitudes that were ingrained in me by growing up with my mother remained.
What I believe we Christians want is what Christ wants—that we love our neighbors, whether they be white, black, brown, poor, or from a different culture, as we love ourselves. However, that will only happen if we and others spend more and more time with him, focused on getting to know him and learning to submit our hearts and minds to him. We don’t need the mindset of justice, the mindset of love, or the mindset of peace. We need the mindset of Christ, which will lead us into all of these being formed in our minds.
It is counterintuitive to our flesh. We think we can change ourselves by just trying harder. The better and more effective way is to let Jesus change us. That happens best when we simply develop a habit of spending more and more time with him, and encourage others to do the same. Then that eureka moment will come when we realize that we’ve truly become a lot more like Jesus.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.