I constantly find myself feeling that life would be better, joyful, even perfect if I just had a bigger or better house, car, calendar, meal plan, fill-in-the-blank. If I could just be better at controlling my emotions, being slow to speak, and being patient with my kids, I would be much more happy and joyful. I would finally feel content.
If you’re anything like me, I so often seek to find contentment in my circumstances, not in God. No matter the season; student, single, married, full-time job or full-time stay-at-home parent, kids, no kids, it’s easy to focus on the lack in our circumstances and ourselves, instead of the blessings. We see what we wish would change and put our hope in that change of circumstances instead of in Jesus Himself.
So if true, lasting joy cannot be found in our circumstances, but only in Jesus, how do we find it here on earth? How do we know we are in God’s will and focused on the right things? I think Romans 12:1-2 gives us a good look at where and how to point our gaze.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”Romans 12:1-2
Remember his saving grace and daily mercies
“…in view of the mercies of God…”Romans 12:1
Paul has just written the gospel in Romans 1-11. This is why it says “therefore, in view of God’s mercies…” As the New Bible Commentary says, “Paul’s summons to transform our lives does not come in a vacuum. It is only in view of God’s mercy that his appeal becomes relevant and that our obedience is possible.”
I can easily forget that it is by God’s mercy that we have everything we have. “His mercies are new every morning”, but it can be hard to remember those mercies unless we earnestly and consistently set our minds on remembering. We must remind ourselves of how we first gave our lives to Jesus and how God has changed our hearts since then. Maybe you grew up in church and you’ve followed Jesus since you were young, but you have grown more like him throughout your life, throwing off sin and seeking Him. Or maybe, like me, you went from being completely selfish and completely unaware of God to the next week in love with Him and surrendering to Him. Remembering His mercies to us gives us a heart of gratitude instead of discontentment.
“…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.”Romans 12:1
Worship is not only an external ritual or experience. Our experiences on Sunday including singing to God, reading from scripture, group or private prayer, and the preaching of the sermon are all parts of worship, but true worship begins in the heart. The word for worship in Hebrew is shachah, which literally means “to bow down”. This can be a representation of our heart posture to God, one of reverence and humility. When my heart and mind are constantly complaining, frustrated, or discontent with what I have, my attitude towards God is not one of praise, it is one of selfishness and self-centeredness.
Instead, I can remember that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. He was the “…lamb of God who took away the sins of the world” (Jn:1:29). As we view the mercies and grace we receive through Jesus, that we were once dead in our trespasses and sin, but are now alive in Christ (Eph 2:5), we can look at our entire lives as acts of worship for what God has done. When I look at every day and every small circumstance, as a way to worship God with my heart “bowed down” and humbled, I am offering myself to God as a living sacrifice so He can work through me and make me more like Him.
Don’t conform, transform
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”Romans 12:2
If you’re like me and have a toddler, you can see that selfishness, stubbornness, and pride begin at an early age. It does not have to be taught, it’s just our nature without the transformation that comes through Christ. So how do we transform into Christ-likeness? Well, transformation, also called sanctification, does not happen overnight. We are transformed gradually as we spend intimate time with Jesus. We can spend this time in a myriad of ways; however we feel closest to God. I enjoy being alone in nature, because it reminds me of the vastness of God. I can ask for the Holy Spirit’s help throughout the day, whether it is for patience with my two kids, humility in response to my husband, encouragement for a friend, or discontentment, I can stop and say, “Jesus, help me.” I can remember His mercies, His goodness and his truths that He is enough for me. Eventually, we will mirror what we behold. Paul said, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Discern God’s will
“…so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”Romans 12:2
Although there is not a detailed guidebook for every situation we face, we can know the will of God by knowing Jesus. The Bible gives us a beautiful depiction of who He was and what was most important to Him. He said the two most important commandments were to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:35-40). God also gave us his Spirit, who convicts us of wrongdoing and leads us into all truth (Jn. 16:13).
With our culture speaking messages such as, “You can have it all, the perfect life, if you just work hard enough”, “you deserve more”, “you need more ‘me’ time”, it makes us think that this whole world is about us. These ideas do not take into consideration a God who made us and created us for a purpose, to bring glory and honor to Him. As we transform by the renewal of our minds and “make disciples of all nations”, we work to bring his kingdom to earth. The more we focus on Jesus, the less we get lost in the comparison, the “if onlys”, and the insatiable desire for more that saturates our culture. He said “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6). Contentment and joy can only be found through Jesus.
Perfect lives and perfect people will not and cannot be found on this side of Heaven. As a result of our own sin, other’s sin, and the fallen world, there will always be hurt, sadness, and troubles. “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33). Jesus takes us from slavery, enslaved to ourselves and our own passions, dies in our place, and gives us eternal life with Him. This means we will be in the promised land forever with Him. There will be no more tears, suffering, or comparing — just worship of God alone. If you are anything like me, you need this comforting reminder that God is greater than what we see and what we wish for here on Earth. As we renew our minds, we focus more clearly on Jesus, and our worship changes our desires to conform to His perfect will.