Last year, I read this book Winning the War in Your Mind because I’ve always known that most of my problems are self-made and in my mind. A number of other people here have benefitted from the book. The author, Evangelical pastor Craig Groeschel, tells a funny story of how his church staff used to play games in front of the church offices. One day, when he got to work, another pastor, Kevin, was hiding in the closet to surprise him. But, realizing that something was up, Craig quickly opened and shut the door, pressing his foot against it. He told Kevin that he was wedging a chair to lock him in but couldn’t get the chair to fit. So, he just lied, “There’s now a chair under the doorknob, Kevin. You can’t get out!” Apparently, Kevin believed the lie and never tried opening the door. He just asked to be let out! The whole time, while Craig went to interview a couple, Kevin just waited! All he had to do was simply open the door. The point is that we believe a lot of lies and remain stuck in life.
Let’s look at four truths from the short Second Reading from Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2).
1) The first truth to recognize is that action always comes after faith. All of St. Paul’s letters start off with what we believe and then how we should act. ‘God’s mercies’ were the subject of the first eleven chapters of Romans, and ‘therefore’ the last five chapters are how we should respond.
This is important because you don’t have to be good to earn God’s love, but, because you are loved, you should act well.
Therefore, we need to replace lies with truth. For example, because his family was not as well-off as others, Craig had to wear knockoff designer clothes, but then felt fake. In Gr. 2, he found out he was colour blind, so felt defective. His father was a minor league baseball player but Craig doubted himself, and consequently felt he wasn’t good enough. Even as a world-famous pastor, he suffers from insecurity: Last week’s sermon wasn’t good enough, this week’s won’t be either.
So, he writes out his mental battles like this:
Problem: Overwork (He would work on weekends, late nights, sacrificing his family and health).
Lie: I want the approval of others.
Truth: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Declaration: If Jesus died for me, I have tremendous value even if I do not have the approval of others (Winning the War in Your Mind, 55). (He makes a great point: Worth depends on what someone is willing to pay for it. We might think a painting isn’t that good, but if it’s painted by Picasso, then people are willing to pay millions for it, so that’s what it’s worth. At times, we might think we’re not worth much, but if Jesus is willing to pay His whole life for us, then we’re infinitely valuable.)
When we hear lies in our minds, we must declare the truth. And once we know the truth, we act differently.
2) If we want to heal our mind, use your body to help. St. Paul writes, ‘I appeal to you… to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.’ The Jewish people offered animals to God in sacrifice; we offer our bodies by avoiding sin and doing good. St. John Chrysostom wrote, “The body is made a sacrifice when the eye looks at nothing evil, the tongue says nothing filthy, and the hand does nothing lawless. More than this, the hand must give alms; the mouth must bless the one who curses; and the ear must listen to the reading of Scripture.” If we want to heal our mind, don’t watch garbage on your phones, stop swearing. And, to follow Jordan Peterson’s number one rule for life: Stand up straight with your shoulders back—if you act more confidently, you will feel more confident.
However, it’s more than this! We glorify God in our bodies which helps our minds! When we don’t feel like praying, kneel down—that will move you into a mindset of prayer. When we don’t feel close to God, go to the chapel and stay there until you feel close. And don’t tell me that you fall asleep while praying; just pray standing up, and your mind will be more alert.
This sentence of St. Paul is actually about worship, offering our bodies to God in prayer the way Jesus offered His body on the Cross. Prayers that are offered to God when we don’t feel anything are the most pleasing to Him. And when we choose to love God during these dry spells, we won’t be dry for much longer.
3) St. Paul says this offering about which he’s talking ‘is your spiritual worship,’ and the Greek word for ‘spiritual’ is logiken, because it has to do with what’s logical, reasonable. I’m not sure if you’ve picked it up, but so much of our Catholic faith emphasizes truth, reality, what’s reasonable and logical, and that’s why philosophy is wedded strongly to our theology, and why we love science, because, if it’s true, it’s true.
We’ve heard the term collateral damage. Here’s a spiritual term: Collateral goodness is when you look for what’s good, then you see what’s good. There are days when we choose to be grateful; then we start seeing good all around us.
But this isn’t wishful thinking. (Does anyone remember the Saturday Night Live skit about Stuart Smalley, who is a self-help guru? He would always tell others to say, ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.’ It was funny because it’s not logical. What if people don’t like you?)
Collateral goodness doesn’t see what we want to see, but sees what is: Is there goodness around us when life is hard? Is God working in spite of our suffering?
Towards the end of St. Paul’s life, he had a strategic plan to go to Rome in order to evangelize there, and, from the centre of the empire, the Gospel would spread. Yet, the plan never happened. He arrived in Rome as a prisoner awaiting trial. So, he wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison: “Now, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me really stinks.” What he actually wrote was more logical: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear” (Phil 1:12-14).
4) Paul writes, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.’ All parents universally agree that the extent to which our children use devices and social media isn’t good. Nevertheless, for years, when I’ve had conversations with parents encouraging them to follow through on their convictions, the main reason for giving their children a phone in elementary school is so that their kids fit in! This is why St. Paul tells us, ‘Do not be conformed to this world.’ Here’s an interesting truth about conformity: It makes our children average. By definition, doing what everyone else does makes us average. We shouldn’t be different for the sake of being different, but, if we want our children to be happier and have less mental health problems, then we’ll have to think and live differently.
The Greek word for ‘transformed’ is metamorphousthe. Metamorphosis is what happens when God’s grace begins to direct our thoughts.
With permission, I can share that I once had a beautiful chat with a student at our school, asking her, ‘Is Jesus the center of your life?’ To her credit, she understood the question, treated it seriously, and gave a great answer, ‘I don’t know. Can I think about it?’ (And this wasn’t one of those excuses that people use on me, ‘I’ll think about it,’ and then they run away!) She was serious, because, a week later, she told me she was still thinking about it.
So, I brought this to the mother: ‘You and your husband are doing a really good job, because your children are happier than most! And they’re polite and generous.’ After informing her of the conversation with her daughter, I asked the mother, ‘Is Jesus the center of your life?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you love Jesus more than your children?’ ‘Yes,’ without hesitation. Here’s the point: Because she’s conformed to Christ in her mind, she loves her children so much, and she’s parenting differently and better, which is why her children are happier and more virtuous.
Let’s finish with two announcements: 1) We’re exploring having a mental health ministry in our parish, because we know God wants us to help in a small but specific way to an ever-growing problem. There is a Catholic philanthropist named Andy Szocs who doesn’t even go to this parish but loves what God is doing here and is willing to pay for a part-time position to launch this ministry. God’s will be done!
2) We’ve got Journey Through Scripture starting on Thursday Sept. 14, 2023, and God’s word is so important for renewing our minds. Craig Groeschel wrote his book because he suffered chronic negativity and years of discouraging thoughts. But then he studied every Bible verse that mentioned thoughts or thinking, and, one by one, corrected all the lies in his mind with spiritual truths. So, God’s word is necessary for winning the war in our minds. Here’s the Journey Through Scripture testimony: