THE GOAL-MINDED DISCIPLE
In all the struggles one has to be a disciple of Jesus, this one area is the most difficult of all. When Paul wrote, “And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rm 12:2), he was mandating something through which he had also struggled (Rm 12:2). “Renewing our minds” is not easy. But when we go on a journey with Saul and end up with Paul, we are encouraged by the fact that this journey can be made by everyone. The extremes between Saul and Paul is evidence of the fact that God expects the journey of transformation to be made in the life of every disciple. It may be that God chose Saul in order to prove that it is humanly possible to renew one’s mind, regardless of how far our mind may be from the mind of Christ. We seem to be able to identify with the struggles of Paul in this area while we consider Jesus the ideal. But our minds can change for Jesus, for we must change in order that we be His disciples.
One of the most difficult aspects of our thinking that must be changed in order to be a disciple is how we view the future. If we allow our thinking of how we viewed the world in the past to distort our view of the world in our future, then the past becomes a curse to our future. If we are encumbered with our past worldly baggage in dealing with the present, then our thinking and behavior in the present will be stifled. It is our goal to stop stumbling over past baggage by kicking the baggage out of our way to spiritual growth. “Renewing our minds,” therefore, is not an option in discipleship behavior. It is a mandated necessity. Baggage of the past must be discarded for the sake of the future.
When Paul wrote Romans 12:2 he was not giving a suggestion. He was telling us to get on with putting away the old way of looking at the world, and getting on with changing our thinking. If our thinking concerning the things of the world does not begin changing at the time we obeyed the gospel, then we never understood the mind of Christ in order to obey the gospel.
One of the most effective tools for mind changing in our “mental toolbox” is the tool of goal setting. We can be thankful to God that He put this shiny tool in our mental toolbox in order that we not live in the despair of the past, and thus, destroy our walk with Jesus in the present. Therefore, in times of discouragement, we must use the mental tool of goal setting in order to get ourselves out of the pits in order to fly as eagles.
Genesis 11:6 is a precious evaluation of the mental ability that God invested in man:
Behold, they are one people and they all have one language. And this they begin to do. And now, nothing will be impossible for them that they have imagined to do.
In the historical context of this statement, the people were not fulfilling the Lord’s command that the world’s population spread throughout the world in order to populate the world. The people stayed together because they were of one language. The building of the tower of Babel gave them one goal in life. What is revealed in this statement by God is that men have been gifted by God with a mental ability to plan and execute, to the point that “nothing will be impossible” that they have imagined to do. This is the ability that God invested in man.
Now keep the preceding in mind when reading Paul’s statement of Romans 8:37: “But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Now this is power! We have the natural power to unite and do great things. But add to this power the love of God that is in us. Those of the world have the natural ability to build great cities, fly to the moon, and organize strong governments. Now add to the natural God-given power the power of God that works in Christians, and we begin to imagine that within a group of disciples there is tremendous power that can be unleashed to the glory of God.
God did not forget how He created the mind of men. When it came to calling unique individuals to accomplish the task of world evangelism, He chose goal-oriented people who would stay the course until the job was done. He needed those who would be able to stand alone against all social opposition (Matthew, the tax collector). He needed those who had the thirst for freedom in order to preach the gospel of freedom to the world (Simon, the Zealot—Jewish insurrectionist). He needed those with self-initiative to boldly go where no man would go (James and John, the sons of thunder). He needed those who would just speak out what needed to be said (Peter, the impetuous braveheart). And He needed those who were determined to accomplish their course regardless of all the obstacles that Satan could throw in their path, those who had no inhibitions about standing before any man on any occasion (Paul, the leader against all obstacles).
In His call of Paul, Jesus informed Ananias that Paul was “a chosen vessel to Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (At 9:15). Jesus knew that once the mind of Paul was triggered with the right mission, the mission would happen. Jesus sees this in each one of us. By the renewing of our minds, we can pull the trigger, and see “Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Ep 3:20). Once one pulls that mental trigger for Jesus, he can expect awesome things to start happening in his life to the glory of God.
I. Establish goals for God.
In the life of every new disciple, the renewing of one’s mind must begin with the establishment of goals. Goals give vigor to one’s life. Jesus saw this in the mind of Paul before he was called on the Damascus road. When studying this aspect of Paul’s life, it is simply exhilarating to see what the mind of a human being can do with the ambition of one who seeks to do the work of God in his life.
Paul wrote to the disciples in Rome that they would be only one stop on his way to Spain. “Whenever I make my journey into Spain, I hope to see you in my journey and to be supported on my way there by you …” (Rm 15:24,28). With the financial support of the “Department of Corrections of the Roman Empire,” Paul accomplished his goal as far as a Roman prison, from where he wrote back to the Philippian disciples,
Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before. I press toward the mark [goal] of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ph 3:13,14).
There are so many exciting things in this statement. Every disciple should take notice: (1) In order to fulfill one’s mission for Jesus, he must not let the past detour him. He must not let the past be an excuse for not moving forward. He must not let the past encumber his planning of goals for the future. (2) In order to fulfill our mission in renewing our mind in order to accomplish goals for God, we must simply keep on striving for the future. Christianity is not about bemoaning one’s misfortunes of the past, but about rejoicing over those “exceedingly abundant” things that God has for us in the future. (3) Regardless of being in prison, one must, as Paul, press toward the accomplishment of one’s destiny. Neither lamenting the past, nor idleness in the present, are an option. Every disciple of Jesus must press on.
One of the greatest emotional powers that is yet to be unleashed in the lives of some disciples, is the power of discovering one’s personal destiny for Jesus. Paul’s destiny was given to him directly by Jesus (See At 9:15). We, on the other hand, need the close fellowship of other disciples in order that we discover our destiny for God. What Paul wanted for the Philippians was that they too be of his mind. “Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, have this mind” (Ph 3:15). Paul was not unique as a human being. The statement “have this mind” is the Holy Spirit saying that every disciple can do what Paul did in his life, once we have discovered our destiny for God. It is the way God made us so that nothing will be impossible for us if we determine to get busy for God.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus began to change the thinking of His disciples. He first sought to capture their imagination in reference to the task that He would set for them. “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already for harvest” (Jn 4:35). The fields (people) were there. The harvest (souls from preaching) would happen. Now they just needed to start thinking about getting the job done. It took over three years for Jesus to change the thinking of the disciples. But they changed, and then got on with the task of accomplishing the mission of their Master.
The sense of urgency to give every soul the opportunity to hear the good news of the cross was what moved Paul. Wherever Paul went, he was looking for somewhere else to go.
Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia, and after they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia. But the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them (At 16:6,7).
Get the picture. Paul was so determined to go wherever to preach the gospel that it took divine intervention to detour him to places God wanted him to go. What eventually happened—which thing Paul did not understand at the time in Acts 16—was that later in his travels he would go to Ephesus and teach in the school of Tyrannus. And from this two-year stay in Ephesus, “all those who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (At 19:10). So those of Bithynia of Asia, as well as all Asia, eventually heard the word of the gospel through the labors of Paul. In Acts 16 Paul did not know God would eventually lead him to preach the gospel to Asia through other men in Acts 19. Paul’s goal for God for Asia was fulfilled, but not in the way that Paul initially dreamed in Acts 16.
The lesson from this account of Paul’s ministry is that for one to fulfill his destiny, he must be perceptive to God’s leading. And if one’s initial plans are detoured, it may be the work of God, not Satan. God may be redirecting us to a more productive mission.
II. God gives power to goals.
The Holy Spirit made a statement in Romans 8:31 that a disciple must never forget. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If as a disciple one tries to start thinking about who can be against him, then he has not yet figured out the mind of Christ. When one starts thinking that the whole world is against him, then he needs to start lifting up his eyes and see that God has put the whole world before him. It is then that he must straighten up and say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Ph 4:13). Those who rely on their own strength will certainly cheat themselves of God’s power working through them. They will not be able to “do all things,” or at least when they finish their task, they will not be able to fully give credit to God for working in them.
When one starts depending on his own strength, then he cannot do all those things God intends for him to do. It is for this reason that the mind of Christ is what Christ said of His own ministry: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (Jn 4:34). When we start doing the will of the One after whom we claim to be a disciple, then the world opens up. Victories start coming our way. We are headed to mountain tops.
When we start allowing the will of the Father to be done in our lives, then His work on earth will be accomplished through us. This is exactly what Paul meant when in his latter life he wrote, “I have finished my course” (2 Tm 4:7). He had finished his destiny for Jesus. Every disciple must be able to say this at the end of his life. But in order to say this, one must be assured that he is allowing the will of the Father to be done in his life. Jesus gave Paul his earthly destiny (At 9:15). Because he was given his earthly destiny directly from Jesus, he stayed the course of his destiny in order to complete his mission. As a result, he could lay his head down in death knowing that he had accomplished the course for which he was called to do. He completed his business for God.
We can do the same as long as we allow God’s power to work in us in order to accomplish His will. Victory is ours as long as we stay in the battle. The Holy Spirit writes, “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Co 15:57). The medium through which we accomplish the victory is our faith that Christ is truly working in our lives to bring about His ministry of reaping the white harvest. Remember this encouraging statement: “For whoever is born from God overcomes the world. And this the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4). This is a statement of fact, not hope. If one is born of God, then he will overcome all that the world has to throw at him. After about six months as new disciples who had been converted out of pagan idolatry, Paul gave witness to what can happen when a group of disciples have one mind and goal to accomplish great things for God. As we read the following testimony concerning the Thessalonian disciples, think about what God can do through one within six months after conversion to Christ.
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has spread abroad, so that we do not need to speak anything (1 Th 1:8).
Discouraged? Then we need to remember that it is God working in us as we allow His will to be ours. When we remember that He seeks to work in us, then our mind begins to be transformed. When the world launches its discouragement against us, we need to raise an Ebenezer in our lives and move on. Such happened in the history of Israel when the Philistines were determined to destroy Israel. But Samuel stood before the discouraged Israelites, and after having raised a great stone, made the statement, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Sm 7:12).
We are where we are as His disciples because of the help of the One after whom we call ourselves. What would make us think that we will not be where we have determined to go for Him without His continued help? So we “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Ph 3:14). We will not be of those “who draw back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hb 10:39). We will “fight the good fight of the faith” and lay hold on eternal life (1 Tm 6:12). This is the mind of Christ. This is the transformed mind that will take us through any discouragement of this world. And because we know that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4), then we can be determined that we will accomplish our destiny.
The victory has already been given to the Christian. We just need to claim it and continue in the battle. The beautiful thing about the psychology of Christianity is that it not only turns the world upside down, it reverses the sequence of battle and victory. In the world, battle first happens, and then victory. With Christianity, victory is first given, and then the battle ensues. It is great to engage in the battle with the enemy when you know that you have already won the victory.