God’s Peace for God’s Purpose
James C. Denison
Starbucks is experimenting with a $1 cup of coffee. Now you know things are tough in the economy. It’s an eight-ounce serving they call the “short cup.” They may even start allowing free refills of traditional coffee. Your usual double cream latte espresso with hazelnut is not covered, I’m sorry to say.
This has been a tough week. The stock market has lost so much ground that economists are saying the word “recession” daily. The Federal Reserve announced a rate cut of unprecedented size; the president and Congress are meeting on economic stimulus packages; the presidential candidates are debating whose solution is the best. Meanwhile our other problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have not changed.
Where do we find peace in such challenging times? The answer doesn’t lie with our stock portfolios and retirement accounts, with our military strength or favorite candidate.
God’s peace for God’s purpose is available to every one of us right now, no matter how perilous the world seems to be. God has shown me this week how I can have that peace. Now he wants me to show you as well.
Decide to give your mind to God
I am holding today the strangest artifact I’ve ever brought back from Israel.
Over the years it’s been my privilege to take many study groups to Europe, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Israel. I’ve brought back souvenirs from every trip. The ring on my right hand, for instance, is a Greek key symbolizing eternal life; I bought it on the island of Rhodes last year. I have icons of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul from Greece staring at me as I work each day. A bust of Socrates from Athens stands nearby, telling me to “know thyself.”
But on a shelf to the side of my study, hidden behind some books, stands the figurine of Jesus I’ve brought to church this morning. It’s made of clear plastic, with a stopper in its head. I bought it at a roadside gift shop near the place at the Jordan River where I baptized a group of believers on one journey to Israel. It’s meant to bring back water from the Jordan, I suppose. It’s the most heretical thing I own. I keep it because it reminds me of how blasphemous we can be.
But it also serves to illustrate another fact: the plastic figure of Jesus is the container, not the contents of whatever I put inside it. If I pour clear water there, Jesus looks clear and clean to the world. If I put muddy water inside, Jesus looks muddy and contaminated to all who see him. The choice is mine.
It is the same with our souls. What we put in determines who we are.
Some of us “live according to the sinful nature” and “have our minds set on what that nature desires.” As we admitted last week, every one of us is tempted by our “sinful nature.” We want to sin. We want what sin offers. When we resist temptation, it’s not because we don’t want what sin is selling, but that we don’t want to pay that high a price. We don’t want to get caught, or deal with the guilt which will come, or pay the consequences. But we want to sin. That’s our nature.
My sinful nature may desire different things than yours does. Not all of you aspire to impress people with your speaking ability, but I do. I don’t care about the latest styles like some of you do. Drugs and alcohol happen not to tempt me as they do some of you; but performance-based self-esteem may not tempt you as it does me.
Paul’s point is that we please our sinful nature when we “have our minds set” on what it desires. “Have their minds set” means to be focused with intent purpose, to be thinking about something all the time, to make some goal or aspiration the focus of our lives.
And what our minds think, our lives become. “The mind of sinful man is death”–a sinful mind leads to spiritual, emotional, and eventually physical death. We do not submit to God’s law; we cannot please God.
The positive is also true: “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (v. 5b).
The Holy Spirit is mentioned only once in Romans 1-7 (Romans 1:4), but nearly 20 times in Romans 8. When we “live in accordance with the Spirit,” we cooperate in his purpose for us. We submit to his authority and follow his leading. How do we do this? When we “have our minds set on what the Spirit desires.”
With this result: “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” When we think God’s thoughts and want God’s purposes for our lives, our lives become what our minds conceive. And the result is “life and peace.” “Life” here means emotional, physical, spiritual, and eternal life. “Peace” here means a tranquility which transcends circumstances, a “peace which passes understanding” (Philippians 4:8).
What we think, we become. That’s a documented fact of psychology and human experience.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Stoic, wrote that the happiness of a man’s life depends on the quality of his thoughts. Psychologists and counselors have long agreed.
That’s why God’s word commands us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). What you think, you become. Your peace is not ultimately dependent on the stock market or the war in Iraq or the presidential election, or your last medical test or your job status or your house’s value. It comes when we “set our minds on what the Spirit desires.” How do we do this?
Learn to give your mind to God
First, begin the day with the Spirit. The first thoughts in your mind go a long way toward determining your day, and how you spend your days is how you spend your life.