Last week, I was on FaceTime with my parents, and I mentioned to them that I had given up Amazon Prime for Lent. My mom replied with, “Wow, I didn’t realize you shopped that much!” Haha, no, I don’t shop so much that I need to give up Amazon Prime for Lent! I meant to say that I had given up TV shows (namely Downton Abbey) and movies on Amazon Prime Instant Video for this Lenten season.
Let me tell you that this has been a REALLY REALLY DIFFICULT thing to give up. Since Christmas, I had gotten into the habit of searching for a show or movie to watch almost nightly, and many nights (ok… most nights), my time in the Word was exchanged for an episode (or many episodes) of Selfridges or Downton Abbey or some other show or movie. When Riley Grace was finally in bed, I just wanted to relax and veg out (my nighttime snacking habit also got worse and worse…), and I didn’t feel like focusing on reading and studying. That felt like work. I wanted to relax! I wanted to get lost in a romantic story. And I also had zero self-control in the amount that I’d watch each night. I never stopped at one (or two or three) episodes. I was out of control and neglecting my time with God, but I justified it by thinking that I deserved to relax with something that I didn’t have to think about, but that I could just enjoy.
As the Lenten season was approaching, I decided that I might give up chocolate. Now, I really like chocolate, but this wasn’t really going to be a big sacrifice. The Lord had already been convicting me about my addiction to Amazon Prime Instant Video, but I was trying to ignore that conviction because I desired the shows and movies so greatly. I didn’t want to look at it for what it was – an addiction. I thought it was something that I was entitled to because I’m entitled to relax after working all day, right?? So, I thought maybe if I decide to sacrifice something else that I could ignore the real thing that God was calling me to sacrifice.
During this time, I had started reading a book by Dallas Willard called Renewing the Christian Mind. God knew that I needed the content within this book at this particular time in my life. The first few lines of the book blew me away with conviction over what I was choosing to set my mind upon (TV shows that were of no eternal value rather than time in the Word that would reap great eternal benefits)…
Here are the opening lines of the book:
“The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow our minds to dwell upon. It is in our thoughts that the first movements toward the renovation of the heart occur. Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change.” (Willard, 3-4)
This brief statement reminded me that I am responsible for what I think about. As harmless as I thought watching Downton Abbey was, realistically I was choosing to think about it rather than think about God. As I read this, I began to realize that I didn’t need to run from what God was convicting me about, but that I should face it, and do something about it. Why? Because God wanted to renovate my heart, starting with what I choose to dwell upon (rather than dwelling upon God). To top that off, my pastor had challenged our congregation to consider what we could individually fast from – something that took our attention and affection off of the Lord. The purpose of Lent wasn’t to give up chocolate again for the fourteenth year in a row. Rather, it was to focus our attention and affections back on the Lord! In being honest with myself, I knew my desire for chocolate wasn’t taking my attention off of the Lord, but my desire for binge watching TV shows was. So in the final days leading up to Ash Wednesday, I committed to give up the thing that had recently stolen my affections: romantic TV shows.
Consider the following quotes from Dallas Willard about thinking and focusing on God.
“We must apply our thinking to the Word of God. We must thoughtfully take that Word in, dwell upon it, ponder its meaning, explore its implications – especially as it relates to our own lives.” (Willard, 8)
- “Apply our thinking, dwell, ponder, explore”….Hmmm, that sounds like work – exactly what I was trying to avoid each night that I turned on a TV show rather than open my Bible… And “especially as it relates to our own lives”… Hmmm, that sounds like conviction, and that’s not usually fun! Yes, it takes work and effort, and conviction will most likely occur, but studying the Word and applying our thinking to the Word of God has ETERNAL value, whereas watching TV (or indulging in whatever your sinful pleasure is) has zero eternal value. We can choose what we think about, but…are we choosing the right things?
- What was I applying my thinking to each night? As foolish as this sounds, I was choosing to focus my attention on what was going to happen (keep in mind they weren’t real-life events) to characters (who weren’t real) in a plot (also not real) instead of choosing to spend time with the Savior of the world (VERY REAL) who has chosen to love me and has an eternal plan for me!
- What are you thinking about most of the time? What do you run to when you want to relax? What do you run to when you are worried, exhausted, stressed, or discouraged? Is it binge watching a show that you can get lost in? Is it burying yourself under a mound of sweets? Is it holding on to an unhealthy relationship or habit? OR is it immersing yourself in the living and active Word of God because you desire for Him to renovate your heart and mind to look more like Jesus?
“To bring the mind to dwell intelligently upon God as He is present in His Word will have the effect of causing us to love God passionately, and this love will in turn bring us to think of God steadily.” (Willard, 10)
- When we bring our mind to dwell on God and make the effort to “apply our thinking” to His Word, we will love Him more (and in turn, love ourselves and selfish desires less) and think of Him more. Thus, when we think on Him steadily, we will be more inclined to do His will instead of our own.
- So, in theory, if I sacrificed Downton Abbey, then reading God’s Word would be done in its place. And if that were true, then I would be in the Word more, thus dwelling on Him more than I was when I was binge watching fictitious episodes about fake people (that just sounds so ridiculous once I type it out! – Like how could I continually choose what is fake over what is amazingly real – Jesus Christ and His personal Words to us??). And if I’m in the Word more learning about God and growing in Him, then I would love Him more, think on Him more steadily, and my desire to run to other things would diminish as I experience fulfillment in Him.
- So, in theory, the sacrifice is worth it. But it’s hard! What is the Lord calling you to sacrifice so that you can seek Him more – free from temptations and distractions?
“Individual disciples must have indelibly imprinted upon our souls the reality of this wonderful person (Jesus) who walked among us and suffered a cruel death to enable each of us to have life in God. It should become something that is never beyond the margins of our consciousness.” (Willard, 25)
- This quote basically means that what Christ did for us on the cross should always be on our minds! As His disciples, we could say, “Well, duh! Of course we should always be thinking about Jesus.” But in reality, is Jesus on our minds all the time? Or is He just on our minds for 1.5 hours on Sunday mornings and the sporadic 15 minutes we give Him throughout our busy week? Are we intentionally tuning our minds to His Word? Are we memorizing and studying and meditating on it so that it will naturally be in our thoughts throughout the day? Because I was watching TV shows so much, I found myself thinking about the characters and plot throughout the day. I honestly couldn’t wait for Riley Grace’s bedtime each night so I could be consumed with the lives of the characters in my current show. Rather than intentionally focusing on God’s Word, I was intentionally focusing on television. Yikes! That’s not good!
After being convicted each night that I would sit down with Lord Grantham and Lady Mary of Downton Abbey rather than Jesus Christ, I realized that I was intentionally choosing to not think about Jesus. I was intentionally choosing something of far, far, far less value. And in turn, my relationship with Christ suffered immensely. I felt far from Him and I didn’t want to be far from Him, but I was not sure I wanted to do what it took to get back on track because I reallllllly wanted to watch my shows! I genuinely felt sad when I thought about going 40 measly days without watching Downton Abbey! That definitely proved that I was addicted AND that watching TV had become an idol for me. It hurt to give it up. But in the 2 weeks that I’ve been without Downton Abbey, my relationship with Christ has truly soared! Rather than sit down to TV shows each night, I have been sitting down with my Bible in one hand and journal in the other. The Lord has renewed a desire to study His Word and diminished my desire for relaxing with TV shows.
Praise the Lord that despite how we continue to fall back into temptations and sins, HE always pursues us! I was sucked into the trap of habitual sin with regard to my pursuit of watching TV rather than diving into His Word, but He didn’t let me wallow in that for long. He continued to convict, pursue, and soften my heart to return to Him! What mercy!
o Mark 12:28-34 – “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
o Romans 12:1-2 – “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
- EVALUATE: The Lord is in the business of transforming and renewing our minds! Loving the Lord with our minds takes effort. It is not a passive thing to study Scripture, meditate on it, memorize it, apply it to our lives, and have it transform us! It takes effort and focus. But it is worth it! It causes us to fall in love with the Lord more deeply. It causes us to become more like Christ. We will reap eternal rewards! Truly loving the Lord in the ways these verses describes is what the Lord desires. He doesn’t desire outward obedience without inward love for Him. Sure, I can attend church, pray, tithe, and teach Riley Grace about God, but when I continually choose other worldly things rather than choosing to spend time in God’s Word, then I am merely participating in outward actions that don’t please Him because my heart isn’t right. Where is your heart today? Are you making the sacrifice and effort to love the Lord with your mind by focusing on His word daily and intentionally – not rushing through it but dwelling on it and allowing it to change you? If not, what practical things can you do/sacrifice so that your time in the Word can be a priority?
- PRAY: Ask the Lord to reveal to you the things that compete for His attention/affection in your life. Maybe you already know what those things are. Ask Him to free you from those things. Ask Him for the desire and discipline to value and commit to time in His Word more than your desire for other temporary things. Ask Him to show you how to love Him with all of your mind. Praise Him that He never gives up on us, even we choose things that have zero eternal value over Him time and time again.
I pray that He will gently convict you, and that you will passionately and quickly obey – because it is of deep eternal significance! I pray that you will think on the Lord at all times, and that the things that compete for His attention and affection in your life will begin to pale in comparison to the love and desire you have for Him instead of those things! That may seem miraculous, but He can do it! Whether its Downton Abbey, chocolate, Starbucks, or something else, He can free you from whatever seemingly harmless (or just plain outwardly harmful) sin, temptation, or false comfort that you run to. He wants to be what You desire, and He can give you that very desire and then fulfill it far beyond a TV show could ever do! He wants to renew your mind, transform, your life, and fulfill your desires. That is not going to happen when you pursue something else, so… stop pursuing something else, and PURSUE HIM!
(Quotes are taken from Renewing the Christian Mind by Dallas Willard, Edited by Gary Black, Jr. I highly recommend this book!)