Sunday July 12th 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
Time is an interesting phenomenon. In some ways it’s rather scientific and measurable. One minute is the same no matter where you are in the world and no matter what you’re doing. A minute is made up of 60 seconds, and those 60 seconds pass by whether you’re thinking about them or not.
But a minute feels very different if you’re engaged in an activity that you enjoy rather than doing something that you find laborious or difficult.
If you’re doing something that you love or spending time with someone that you love, often the minutes and hours fly by. When we’re doing something that we love, often we say that we’ve “lost track of time.” We say “time flies when we’re having fun.”
On the other hand, for most of us, when we’re engaging in any sort of rigorous exercise, time feels interminable. If you really want to slow down time try doing push-ups or planks.
Now, this sermon is not actually about time, it’s more about our mindset, and how our experience of something can change based upon where our minds are set.
Here in Romans chapter 8, the apostle Paul encourages us to set our “minds on things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5), rather than things of the “flesh.” As we’ll see, setting our minds on things of the Spirit does not necessarily change the circumstances around us, but it does change how we live and how we experience the things that happen to us.
Flesh vs. Spirit
But first of all, we need to talk about what Paul means here by “flesh.”
Throughout the Old Testament, the word “flesh” was often used as a description of mortality and weakness, in contrast to the eternal or divine. The word “flesh” was a reminder that our time here on earth is finite and temporary, whereas God is infinite and eternal.
But in the New Testament, the word “flesh” has the additional connotation of moral weakness. As humans we are prone to failure and what the Bible calls “sin,” missing the mark, as well as “transgressions,” where we purposefully cross the line and choose to do something wrong.
And so to “live in the flesh” is to willingly give in to that weakness, to throw up our hands and say, “well I’m only human” and so to do whatever we want.
Someone who lives “according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4), on the other hand, is someone who has experienced rebirth, who has looked to Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, has been filled with God’s Holy Spirit, and is seeking to be led and guided by God. Paul describes this type of person as someone who is “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Someone who lives according to the Spirit is “in Christ,” and they have the Holy Spirit living inside of them. Therefore they “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). Whereas “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5).
Setting our “minds on things of the Spirit,” is sort of like losing track of time because we’re having so much fun. The things that we experience in this life might be the same as those who walk according to the flesh, but the way we experience them and respond will be completely different.
The Longest Mile
Several years ago, I got into running as a form of exercise, and it’s become a sort of spiritual discipline for me as well. I often pray while I run, and if I’m ever struggling with an issue or concern or dilemma, going for a run often provides me with the space to gain a little bit more clarity or perspective on whatever it is that I’m struggling with.
When I first started really getting into running about 5 years ago, I could barely run a mile without stopping and gasping for air. Of course I was also about 40 pounds heavier back then, so that made it a bit more difficult to run as well! But I really wanted to get healthier, and so I pushed through. I continued running regularly, day in and day out, whether I felt like it or not.
Eventually, the more that I ran, over the course of months and now years, I found that I could run further and longer. I found that running became less burdensome, and became something freeing and lifegiving for me. My breathing became less labored, and now when I run I often find that the miles fly by, and I find myself losing track of time.
Life In the Spirit
Here in Romans chapter 8, Paul describes walking or living according to the Spirit in a similar fashion. He says that the “Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free” (Rom. 8:2). He says that setting our minds on the Spirit is “life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). And he ends this section by saying that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).
Life. Freedom. Peace. Sounds amazing doesn’t it?
But, we might ask, is all of this really just a matter of perspective? Does all of this really come about through a simple change in our mindset?
The answer to these questions is sort of a “yes and no.”
It’s not quite as simple as a change in mindset, although many have tried to do it that way. There are many religions and philosophies out there that teach “transcendence.” If you simply ignore the problems and the pains of this world, then you won’t be affected by them and you’ll be able to rise above your problems.
Even Christians can often fall into way of thinking. of thinking. Sometimes we may think that all we need to do is endure this life so we can move on to the next life, where all will be made right. This leads to the criticism of some Christians that they are so “heavenly minded” that they are of “no earthly good.”
But here Paul is not speaking about ignoring the pain and injustice that we see all around us. He’s not saying that we simply need to think about “spiritual things” rather than “physical things” and then all will be well.
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done
No, Paul is encouraging us to live our lives, and I would dare say, to press into the pains and problems of this world, but to look at our lives and the world through the lens of eternity. Paul is encouraging us to seek God’s perspective on what we see around us, and to allow that perspective to shape what we do and how we live.
Knowing that we will get to spend eternity in Heaven can and should transform the way we live here and now, not in an escapist sort of way, but encouraging us to long for and work for God’s Kingdom here on this earth. If we want to experience eternity with God, then we want all people to experience a vibrant and dynamic relationship with God here and now!
If we want to live in an eternity that is marked by health and wholeness in relationships with God and with one another, then we want the world to experience that here and now.
If we want to live in an eternity where there is no sickness, pain, poverty, war or injustice, then we pray and work for that here on this earth.
This is why Jesus taught us to pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Life in the Spirit
Notice that here in Romans 8, Paul talks not only about setting our minds on things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5b) but also walking according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4), and living according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:5a)
Where and how we set our minds shapes how we live and what we do.
Yesterday as I was reflecting on my journey of running over the past 5 years, I asked myself “what was it exactly that changed for me?” How did running become something that I found freeing and life-giving vs. something that I just needed to push through in order to get healthier?
As with anything, there’s often a threshold, where when you keep doing something over and over again and get better at it, it can often become more enjoyable. When I first started taking guitar lessons I experienced something similar. In the beginning it didn’t feel very freeing or life-giving to play the guitar. I hated practicing, and my fingers hurt when I tried to form the chords.
But eventually my fingers gained calluses and I didn’t have to think so much about the chord formations. After a while, I found that I could lose myself in strumming the chords, and it became more enjoyable and less burdensome to play my guitar.
Setting our Minds
Friends, this is what “life in the Spirit” is like. When we live in the light of eternity, when we continually make choices out of obedience to God rather than giving into our selfish desires, when we continually put God first, and make choices based on what God would have us to do rather than what we think is best, eventually choosing to do the right thing become a little less difficult, a little more freeing, and perhaps even a little more enjoyable. The more we choose to live according to the Spirit, the more we experience life rather than death when we choose to follow God’s path for our lives.
Following Jesus is not easy. There are countless challenges that will come our way. And all throughout our lives we will face tests and trials and temptations. But living, and walking, and perhaps even running(!) according to the Spirit is the only path to true life, freedom, and peace.