I first became aware of The Renewing of the Mind Project by Barb Raveling through my friend Kim’s blog. She had also introduced me to two of Barb’s other books which I reviewed together last year: I Deserve a Donut (And Other Lies That Make You Eat) and Taste For Truth: A 30 Day Weight Loss Bible Study.
Barb begins with her testimony of the joy she found when she became a believer in Christ and the changes He worked in her heart and life. After a while, though, she “left her first love” and began skipping her quiet times with her Bible and prayer. She’d make resolutions and minor changes, but the same bad habits kept resurfacing. She knew only God could change her, and she prayed for that and waited, but nothing really happened. Finally she realized Romans 12:1-2 about being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” had an expectation for her. It is God who does the changing, not our self-will or self efforts, but He does expect us to learn the truth He has given us in His Word and apply it.
She expands on this in Chapter 3, “Just Say ‘No’ to Sin?” She brings up God’s commands to the Israelites to walk around the walls of Jericho a certain number of times for a certain number of days. She points out that it was definitely God who brought the walls down, yet He required this action and obedience on their part. She notes that though Jesus won the “ultimate victory…conquered sin through His death and resurrection, and we’re already new creatures if we’re His children through faith (2 Corinthians 5:15-21, Romans 6:4-11),” there are still things He “tells us to do after we’re saved, if we want to be transformed” (p. 13). Things like “Fight with spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6:10-18); “Take your thoughts captive to the truth” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5); Abide in Jesus (John 15:1-5); Abide in God’s Word (John 8:31-32); Walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25)” (p. 13), among others.
Do you see what an active role God asks us to play in the transformation process?…[This] list requires all kinds of effort. But there is a problem: the word effort is a no-no in the church today. People mistakenly think that if we talk about effort, suddenly we’re not believing in salvation by grace through faith, and we’re going all legalistic. Nothing could be further from the truth (p. 13).
Barb shares a couple of clarifications:
Don’t make the mistake of thinking [transformation] is the easy three-step plan to fix up your life. It’s not. Instead, it’s a way of life. A continual taking off lies and putting on truth in order to break free from our sins, bad habits, and negative emotions so we can love God and others better (p. 6)
We’re not starting from a point of having to measure up to be acceptable to God. We’re starting from a point of already being accepted by God if we’re His children through faith (Ephesians 2:4-9). This gives us a secure foundation. We can rest in His love and walk hand in hand with Him, working on this project together (p. 7).
[God] sees things right now in your life that He’d like to change. Not because He’s a demanding perfectionist who’s disgusted with you. But because He’s a loving Father who cares about you and also about the people you interact with each day. So as you look at your weaknesses, look at them from the comfort and safety of your Father’s arms. knowing that He’s looking at them with you, but through eyes of grace and love and a desire to help (p. 8).
She shares another motive for transformation: God wants us to “lay down our lives to love God and others well. The more we stay stuck in our sins and negative emotions like worry, anger, and insecurity, the harder it is to do that” (p. 14).
Some years ago, after being distressed with an angry response of mine, I looked up several verses on anger, typed them up in a neat list, and saved them to a file. That helped while I was working on them, but making lists in themselves doesn’t renew my mind. Barb describes the process like this: “The renewing of the mind is an active time of fellowship with God…but [it] is more than just reading the Word. It’s mulling over the Word, meditating on the Word, memorizing the Word, and allowing the Word to transform us” (pp. 15-16). It is “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
When we’re in the midst of temptation, everything within us is screaming to just give in and do it! We’re believing lies right and left–so many lies that there’s no way we can say no to temptation in our own strength. We desperately need to go to God for help so we can see the situation from His perspective. Because when we see it from His point of view, we’ll actually want to obey Him. The truth is, Satan and the lies of this world are so convincing that unless we go to God again and again to discuss life with Him, we won’t have much of a chance of living the way He asks us to live. If we want to be victorious over our habits and emotions, we need to take time to renew our minds (p. 17).
Barb goes on to discuss ways to meditate on the Scripture, using it in fighting sin and in prayer, and a concept she calls truth journaling, a way of putting out your thoughts one by one and then applying truth to them. Sometimes it is easier to evaluate our thoughts when we can take them out of their swirl in our brain and get them down in black and white, and applying the truth to them in that way helps to reinforce truth. She walks the reader through renewing our minds to deal with negative emotions, stop a bad habit, start a good one, or accomplish a goal.
The rest of the book is divided into different headings (emotions, stopping a habit, etc.) and then subdivided into specific areas (loneliness, insecurity, entitlement, failure, pride, frustration, stress, “I’ll start tomorrow,” and many, many more.) Under each specific emotion, habit, or thought, she has a list of questions, things you might need to accept or confess, Bible verses, and tips. For instance, some questions under the Entitlement heading are:
Why do feel like you deserve your habit in this particular situation?
Do you think God agrees? Why or why not?
What usually happens when you live by your rights and feelings in this area of your life?
Would your life be better if you gave up your rights and held life and your habit with open hands?
Are boundaries easy to follow or do you usually have to give up something to follow them?
What will your life look like in a few months if you consistently follow your boundaries?
Then she lists several Bible verses applicable to this subject. She ends with these tips:
It’s hard to break free from our habits because we hear the message everywhere we go: Life should be fair. You shouldn’t have to suffer. You deserve the good life. So when something bad or unfair is going on in our lives, we automatically reach for our habits.
The best way to break free from entitlement habiting is to adopt a biblical perspective of life. God never said, “You deserve the good life.” Instead, He said, “If you want to follow me, you have to give up everything” (Matthew 19:16-22, Matthew 16:21-28).
When we hold our habits tightly with clenched fists, we’re basically saying, “I deserve this, God, and I am not willing to give it up!”
God replies, “Your habit will never make you happy. Come to me and I’ll give you the abundant life.”
The more we hold our habits with open hands, willing to give up all things for God, the more content we’ll be. If you want to gain victory over entitlement habiting, learn to hold your habits–and your “right to the good life”–with open hands (pp. 186-187).
Of course, Barb isn’t saying that if you just answer these questions, read or even memorize the verses, and read the tips, then, Voila! You’re done! You’ve conquered! You’ll no longer have trouble with that habit! No, as she said in an earlier quote, it’s a way of life. When we’re tempted, when we’ve failed, when we think we have pretty good reasons for what we want to do or feel, when we’re going into a situation where we know we’ll have trouble – these are all situations, among others, where we need to go to God’s Word and renew our minds to think like He does.
A few more quotes that stood out to me:
[Boundaries] cramp our style, but you know what? Our style needs to be cramped. Because there are consequences to doing “what we want when we want” with our habits. Just think of your own habit. What happens when you do it as much as you want to do it? Do you live a wonderful, peace-filled life, thanking God every day for your habits? Or do you live a stressful, regretful life, full of the consequences of too much habit? (pp 60-61).
Is God enough to satisfy you even if you don’t get what you want? (p. 131).
Will breaking your boundaries make you feel better?…Will it solve your problems? Will it create new problems or make the situation worse in some way? What do your boundaries protect you from? Do you need that protection today? (p. 183).
The key to gaining victory over reward habiting is to remember that boundaries make our lives better, not worse. And if boundaries makes our lives better, then breaking them is a punishment — not a reward (p. 206).
Her mention of boundaries in these quotes refers to whatever specific guidelines we set up to curb a habit – say, for instance, we’re not going to eat sweets after dinner, or open Facebook until we’ve had devotions, or whatever. “The minute we set boundaries, our first impulse is to break them. Since we feel guilty about breaking them, our minds frantically (and secretly) try to come up with some justification of why in this situation, it’s okay to break our boundaries” (p. 202). There may be some times to legitimately break our boundaries, but we need to be honest with ourselves and not just make excuses and remember why we set the boundary in the first place.
As you can surmise, I found this book immensely helpful, hopeful, and encouraging. I love Barb’s direct, practical, straightforward style and her emphasis on the power of the Word of God and not a “formula” to help us change to be more like our God. She has a website here: the “Renewing of the Mind tools” tab expands on some of the principles in the book.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)