Mindful of God
We’ve been in I Peter since July 31st, and we’re not going to preach a particular passage today. It’s a little different. I want to summarize just one of the themes the Lord has been speaking to us about and drive that home on our anniversary Sunday.
Dr. Jean Twenge is Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, the author of more than 120 scientific publications, as well as several books. A few years ago she published iGen: (subtitled, very long subtitle) Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Now, there are big things in this book that I think she gets wrong, in my opinion, but a lot of really helpful insights.
Dr. Twenge analyzes data from, get this, more than 11 million respondents over several decades, specifically focusing on people born after 1995. So, this generation would often be called iGen or Gen Z. And this is the first generation in the history of the world to spend their entire adolescence lives with smartphones. Obviously, it’s very dangerous to categorize any group of people because each person is a unique image-bearer. But there are general characteristics to each demographic. According to her research, iGen’ers are … Here are a few characteristics … Growing up more slowly. The average eighteen-year-old today is where a fifteen-year-old used to be, spending less time on homework, working less, but with a good work ethic, drinking less, rebelling less, (good news) less entitled than millennials were at their age, reading less, going out less, more inclusive — that is opposed to any kind of injustice — more isolated. Dr. Twenge explains,
“The strongest legacy of iGen’ers’ involvement in the online world may be their increased physical safety. They are spending more time on their phones and computers and less time driving and seeing their friends in person, and as a result, their physical safety has reached unprecedented levels. They are less willing to take chances, and their definition of safety has expanded to include their emotions as well as their bodies … It’s no wonder, then, that iGen’ers yearn for a safe space where they can be protected. Within that space, they are more likely to support the idea of helping others but less likely to venture out to actually provide that help.”
This is huge. Their world — if her research is right — is wider, hypothetically, but smaller in reality. Expanding in theory, shrinking experientially or in reality. And where I believe this comes out as most pronounced, is in her chapter on religion. Over the past couple of decades, sociologists have observed a decline in religious interest in young people. But the argument has always been young people are less interested in religion, that is connecting to an institution, but as interested, if not more, in spirituality and the bigger questions of life. Dr. Twenge’s research did not come to that conclusion. Although the majority of young people are still religious, the trend is clearly downward. She writes,
“IGen’ers are less religious and less spiritual, publicly and privately, and strikingly different from previous generations when they were young. The move away from religion is no longer piecemeal, small, or uncertain; it is large and definitive. More young Americans are thoroughly secular, disconnecting completely from religion, spirituality and the larger questions of life.”
So, if this is accurate, again, there is an expansion of the world electronically, a shrinking of their worlds experientially, philosophically, theologically. What then has replaced what used to fill the hearts and minds of young people? What has replaced the interest in the larger questions of life? And Dr. Twenge, who’s not writing as a Christian, could summarize it in one word –individualism.
“American culture’s increasing focus on individualism”
She gives examples like, “If it feels good, do it.” Or “Believe in yourself.” She is observing a kind of radical individualism that leaves young people suffocating in a sea of self. “I am what I feel I am in the moment I am in.” Right now.
Vivian, a twenty-two year old iGen’er, summarizes her generation.
“We distract ourselves online with unimportant things, and we are always being entertained. We have stopped looking at life and its deeper meaning and have instead immersed ourselves in a world where the big stuff people think about is how many likes they got on an Instagram post.”
Now, this is an extremely dangerous trend simply because, even though in our fallen nature we do tend to turn in on ourselves in an infinite amount of ways, we were not ultimately designed to live for ourselves. We will not flourish. And this is so evident in Dr. Twenge’s section on the mental and emotional health of young people. IGe’ners have experienced a 51% increase in feeling overwhelmed, a 95% increase in feeling depressed, higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of self-harm and suicidality. We were not meant to be the center of our own universe. That’s not how we were designed. And some people might say, “Well, it’s the pandemic! The lockdowns! No, all of these numbers are pre-pandemic over several decades. The pandemic simply accentuated it. These numbers are far higher now than they were a few years ago, but the pandemic simply accentuated a trend that was already clear.
So, what does this have to do with today, and why are we rattling off these statistics on anniversary Sunday? I seem to have a gift to know how to be inappropriate. Am I trying to make young people feel worse about themselves? No, actually not. I believe our young people at North Hills are amazing, and I believe statistics like this generally don’t say as much about young people as they say about our culture as a whole, because young people are typically just more of what we already are. They’re just more of it.
And so, I believe these kinds of trends highlight why the message of I Peter is far more relevant than we might think. So, on this special Sunday, as we give thanks for God’s faithfulness in the past and as we look forward with confidence to his faithfulness in the future, I want to wrap up our series on I Peter by focusing in on one simple theme that we have seen throughout our study. We can’t cover the whole book, but one theme, and it might be the simplest message I’ve ever preached and the most humanly impossible. And it’s very simple. Here it is. Be mindful of God. Be mindful of God.
So, let’s pray and ask for help as we seek to summarize this from 1 Peter. Father, we all feel the pull toward a preoccupation with ourselves, no matter what generation we’re in. How am I feeling? What do I think? What do I want? What are my plans? And we can get caught up in the quicksand of this self-focus. And the more we thrash, the deeper we sink. So, we need you, Father, to set us free, please. We pray for special grace as many in our church are mourning. We have mourned the loss of several loved ones this week. Pour out your comforting favor, Lord. And above all, give us the mind of God that we would see things, think things as you see them, as you think. Help us now. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:23,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
What prompted Peter to receive what could be described as an epic rebuke from Jesus. Did he start a fight with the other disciples? Did he steal something? Did he go out drinking? What in the world? Here it is. Peter didn’t think Jesus should suffer. That’s it. Peter in his mind, with all his cultural assumptions as to what a messiah should look like, what God would do, assumed that Jesus should not suffer. And so, when Jesus said, “I’m going to Jerusalem, and I’m going to suffer. I’m going to die, and I’m going to rise,” Peter said in Matthew 16:22,
“This will never happen to you!”
And the Greek is even stronger — “ou me” — “never not,” which in the Greek is emphatic. In English today, we’d say, “Ain’t going to happen!” That is not going to happen to you, Jesus. Peter was ready to give his life to make sure it’s not going to happen. And what did Jesus say?
“You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Peter, your thoughts are too small. Peter, you’re stuck in your own culture’s way of thinking. Peter, get offline. Get your face out of your phone, Peter. You’re locked in on what is trending, what you’ve been taught by man. You think like a human being, Peter.” (What options do I have here?) “You’re trying to live the Christian life with a pagan mind. It’s not going to work. So, it shouldn’t be a shock to us if you fast forward thirty — It’s about thirty-one years between the rebuke and when Peter wrote I Peter. Thirty-one years. I don’t know what that means. Probably nothing.
I Peter 1:13, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober minded…”
This is Peter, the one, remember, who got called Satan by Jesus because his mind was too human. Prepare your minds. There is a way of thinking that will leave you unprepared.
“Prepare your minds for action, being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:19, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”
And we’ve seen throughout our study of I Peter, there are thirty or forty of these, what could be described as kind of throwaway statements — “Hey, you’re going to suffer. Do it when mindful of God.” And they are the key to understanding the commands. You will never view suffering or anything properly if you are merely viewing it with a human mind. It won’t make sense. The gospel won’t make sense.
1 Peter 4:1, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, [Peter is telling us to do this] for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
So, we could … I have given you a couple general definitions of Christian mindfulness through the series. But in one sense, Christian mindfulness is exchanging the mind of man for the mind of God. What does that mean? God is here. Now. He’s at work. He’s always been at work. He is revealing himself through his Son, and he knows what he’s doing. In a sense, Christian mindfulness, being mindful of God is “get out of your own head!” Break free from your own cultural assumptions. Your world is shrinking in on itself, and you’re thinking way too small. Peter says this in so many different ways.
Let me just give you a couple examples of the way he is calling us as elect exiles to experience this mind expansion. It occurs through these what we could describe as major shifts of thinking and living. Let me just give you a couple.
One is we move from perishable to imperishable. Our thoughts, which are perishable thoughts, become imperishable. A couple examples.
I Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again.”
So, this isn’t just a tack-on. This is a completely new you being
“born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
Peter is saying your thoughts are like a mayonnaise sandwich on the pavement on a hot day. That’s your thoughts. They’re perishable, full of botulism, whatever, salmonella. But God is calling you to a completely different way of thinking that is grounded in a living hope that is “imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you.
1 Peter 1:18, “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”
He’s talking there about boomers, and Gen X, millennials, iGen’ers. Every generation. If God leaves us to ourselves, we will simply pass on the futile ways of our forefathers. But you weren’t ransomed with futile ways,
“not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
One sacrifice forever. Sufficient. You can see this expansive shift from perishable to imperishable, and it transforms not just the way we think, the way we live, the way we love. Look at this example.
1 Peter 1:22, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for, ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
Do you see how serious this is? If you are feeding on perishable words, you will experience a perishable kind of love. Your life will be like a roller coaster of emotional ups-and-downs because your love for others, your love for yourself, your love that you experience from others, and your view of God will all rise and fall as perishable. But what if you feed on imperishable words? You will experience enduring love. The shift from perishable to imperishable is a totally different way of thinking.
The second shift, from expected to rejected. We’re talking about these massive shifts from the mind of man to the mind of God. Look at this example in I Peter 2:2,
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation [not shrivel up; grow up! into salvation] if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God [that’s Christian mindfulness] … in the sight of God chosen and precious.”
So, we begin to reject what is expected (everybody thinks this way) and love the one who is rejected.
1 Peter 1:8, “Though you now have not seen him, you love him. And though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”
When your faith is in Jesus, you know you will never fully fit in here because you are putting your confidence in the rejected One, the one that came and was rejected.
And this sets us up for the final shift. This is the big one, and I’ll give only one example of this, from immediate to ultimate. You’ll see this throughout the whole book of 1 Peter. One example, I Peter 4:12,
“Beloved, do you not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”
When you know what Peter did, that is mind boggling. Peter, the one who said, “You’re never going to suffer, Jesus,” is now the one who says, “Don’t think it’s strange when you suffer. As a matter of fact, suffering is going to be the gateway that leads to glory.” It is a radical shift that Peter has experienced from the mind of man to the mind of God. And now Peter is pleading with us. “Don’t do what I did. Don’t think the way I thought. Don’t be stuck in your own cultural rut.”
Here it is, simple and clear. God is calling us to get out of our own head and move from a self-centered, human-centered way of thinking to a God-centered way of thinking. We are exchanging the mind of man for the mind of God. And some of us are afraid of that. We think, well, I don’t want to become some Christian clone, some religious robot. The irony is when you die to your own way of thinking and live with a renewed mind to a new way of thinking, you begin to experience how to be truly free, truly human, truly unique because you were made by God to live in his presence, in his will by the power of his Spirit. And the way God does this … Yes, there is a moment of repentance and faith, where we say, “God, my way is wrong. I repent. I turn to you. I trust Jesus.” But that just begins the journey, and God brings, as Peter describes here, us through trials and sufferings, where we assume, “God, you’re going to do this.” And what does God do? This, and our faith gets stretched to the point of snapping. But the Lord is calling us away from the mind of man to the mind of God. Let me give you one example of how he did that and is doing that in my life recently.
In the middle of September, my wife, Karen, was about to have her third surgery. We’re going to remove the largest of the tumors. There were still a couple more that they were not going to remove, and we gathered with the elders and their wives. They anointed her with oil, and we prayed, and words cannot describe that prayer time. The Lord just met with us, and I sensed an overwhelming spirit of power and of love. And we asked for many things, and many of those prayers have been already answered.
But there was one big one that some of us had prayed at that time, and I continue to pray. And that is that when the surgeon opened her up, they would not find a tumor, that God would just remove that and all the tumors. Does that seem hard to you? Does that seem humanly reasonable? The God who made us all, who knows every cell by name? It does not seem difficult. And we were just … I was just trusting God for this.
And so, the morning of the surgery, a couple of my kids were with me in the lobby. She’s in surgery. And you realize in moments like that that it’s not just about you, even in moments like that. We were with a family whose son had just been in a horrific car wreck, and they didn’t know if he would make it. And so, to be able to ache with them and pray with them … It’s just so freeing to have the mind of God because you realize God is always working in and through you in ways that you didn’t choose, but he does.
So, anyway, surgery ends. We get the text. I go up to meet with the surgeon. He comes walking out. He’s very optimistic. He begins to describe the surgery went great. We were able to remove the entire tumor, repair this, do this. He’s walking through this. But, you know, when someone’s talking and you’re affirming outside of your body, but inside your body, your soul is sinking. And that’s what was happening. It was like, “Lord, it would not be difficult for you to just do this, and we would give you the glory. It’s what we’re praying for.” Humanly speaking, it makes sense. And so, the rest of the day, we were getting her in a regular room and taking care of her. She was recovering well.
But I could feel in my soul just a deep disappointment in God, maybe a little anger and frustration there. (Pastors don’t get angry. Maybe I’ll take that back.) No, a little angry, grateful she was doing well from the surgery. But, Lord, what are you doing? And I get a text from Ed Welch. He had spoken here a few months ago, and he knew she was going to have surgery, but he didn’t know about any of this, what we had prayed for. And the funny thing is, he never texts. He’s in demand a lot. He was my advisor up at Westminster. He doesn’t text. He had to borrow his wife’s phone to text me, and let me just read a part of the text that I felt like was straight from God.
“Please know that our hearts are with you. Praying, especially for the gift of faith and confidence in Jesus.”
What did I need more than anything right then? What did Karen need more than anything right then? You say, “Well, she needs healing.” Yes, that would be beautiful. We’re still — Don’t get me wrong –we’re still praying and trusting God for healing! But what do we need more than anything? The gift of faith and confidence, not in a particular outcome, but a particular person.
What do we do when our expectations, the mind of man, is assuming one thing? And obviously God is very patient with us. He knows. Just like Peter. I was in the same battle Peter was in. God, this is what needs to happen. God is saying, “I know what needs to happen. Will you trust me? Put your confidence in me.” And this is Christian mindfulness. It’s not being passive. It’s not never asking for big things or believing God for big things. We need to do that. God invites us to do that. But as we ask for big things and as we trust God, we’re trusting God. Our full confidence is in Jesus so that we don’t become what Peter was in telling Jesus — “I know what needs to happen more than you know what needs to happen.”
And you can feel that battle. Am I going to cling to the mind of man or the mind of God? 1 Peter 1:6, Peter describes this battle.
“In this you rejoice, though, now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that [Oh, this is intentional] the tested genuineness of your faith …”
Stop there for a second. I will never know if my faith is genuine if everything is always going along as I would expect. I feel very spiritual in those moments, but what tests the genuineness of my faith are these trials.
“so the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Do you see how big that is? God is calling us out of ourselves to put our faith fully in him. And this is not a new invitation. A passage from Job I’ve been clinging to for months now, Job 23:8,
“Behold [Job says] I go forward, but he’s not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him …”
He’s talking about, in my own mind, my own perceptions, which are limited.
“And on the left hand, when he is working …”
So, Job is acknowledging, I know he’s working.
” … But I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; and when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”
So, what Job is saying is the gap is not between is God doing something or not? He says I know he’s working. The gap is between my perception of his working and reality, what he’s actually doing. And even though I don’t always know exactly what he’s doing every moment (which is why we live by faith),
“he knows the way that I take; and when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”
That’s mindful of God. I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes Christians convey this confidence, like if you’re a real Christian, you always know what God is up to and you always have an answer to every question, and you know when he’s going to take a right and when a left. And that just defies the very definition of what a Christian is. What is the most basic definition of what a Christian is? A follower of Jesus. What do followers do by definition? They follow. I told you it’s going to be simple today. They don’t lead, which means I don’t always know if he’s going right or if he’s going left. But I’m going with him. I’m going to follow him. I know. I know.
“He knows the way that I take; and when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”
So, here’s the big challenge for all of us. This week, this holiday season, will you be mindful of God? You say, well, can you bring that down? Well, it may start real simple for some of us, maybe a little less phone time and a little more scripture memory to renew the mind. That’s a good place to begin. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s not just for your devotions that we’re talking about Christian mindfulness. It’s a way of thinking.
And let me test that with a few images. First, think about when you look at this picture of family chaos. Think about what’s the first thought that comes to your mind? And then what does Christian mindfulness look like in the middle of a chaotic home, for kids, parents, singles? What is Christian mindfulness? What about when you get hard news from the doctor? What do I naturally think? How do I naturally think? What does Christian mindfulness look like? It doesn’t mean it’s always easy or pretty. But how does a Christian think from the mind of God?
How about working together, believers with nonbelievers at your job or volunteering in the community? What does Christian mindfulness look like, excelling in the area that God has gifted you, using it for the common good with a Christian mindfulness?
How about raking leaves? Can you rake leaves with mindfulness of God? Or as we walk through the holiday season with all its lights and distractions and commotion, can we be mindful of God? There are many more I wanted to put up there, like watching a football game. Is it possible to be mindful of God watching Clemson? I think it is. I think it’s stunning. The older I get, the more stunning it becomes — the speed, the agility. Who gave them that? Who gave them that? They didn’t invent themselves. How do Christian minds think about stunning music or sports or medical advancements? There is a way of thinking Christianly in every part of this universe as Jesus is Lord.
And this, by the way, is not a sidebar in our church. This is our church’s purpose. Look at our church’s purpose. Whose word are we believing? Yeah. Whose family are we connecting with? Whose story are we sharing? From start to finish, North Hills is not about North Hills. We gather and celebrate the birthday of North Hills, but you’ll notice it’s not about us. We’re not singing about us. We’re not studying our words, not listening to ourselves and how we think and what we think. We’re saying, “God, you show us your mind. And we, as uncomfortable as it may be, as miraculous as it is, as much as we need to repent, we will turn from our own thoughts, and we will embrace your thoughts by faith.” That’s what it means to Believe his Word, to Connect with his Family, to Share his Story.
So, in a few minutes, we’re going to sing. And as we begin, we’re going to sing a bunch of songs. No rush. This is not an add-on part of the service, optional, you can leave if you want. This is Christian mindfulness. We’re going to sing “In Christ Alone,” for example, at the beginning, where we’re going to walk through the gospel of Jesus. And if you don’t know how you get a new mind and a new heart, you can pray those words. Pray to Jesus as we sing “In Christ Alone,” and put your faith in Jesus alone. And if you want someone to pray with, there are many of us up here. We would love to pray with you or answer questions. But we’re going to sing a bunch of songs because this is a time, a very interactive time of rejoicing as we look back at God’s faithfulness and look forward.
There are going to be many who come forward and present their offerings up in one of these baskets. And feel free not to be in a rush. You can just present them and go back or you can present, pray together, giving thanks, asking God for his thoughts, which are higher than our thoughts. We cry out for grace to help in time of need. There are plain cards in the seat pockets. If you want to write out a praise to give thanks to God or a prayer request, if there’s a burden you have … “I don’t even know what it means to think God’s thoughts. Where do I begin?” If you want to ask for a prayer, we’ll pray over those cards. If you say, “I’m uncomfortable coming up here,” you can go to the back there. There are boxes in the lobby. The purpose isn’t to put on a show for anybody. The purpose is to physically, tangibly communicate to God with hearts and hands and money and lives saying, “God, you are the source of all blessing, and we give you the glory. We seek to align our thoughts under your thoughts.”
Let’s pray. Father, we stand in awe of you. You have been so kind to us. You sent your Son to take everything dirty about us on him so that we could have everything beautiful of him on us. Lord, you’ve wrapped us up in your righteousness, washed us clean with the blood of Jesus. You’ve taken us down in death, burial, and resurrection. We’ve gone up to newness of life. And yet daily there are pressures to think an old kind of way, a way that fits in around us in this culture, a way that aligns with the sinful passions within us. But Lord, we say “no,” and we say “yes” to you. You are our Lord. You are our Savior. You are the one who sets us free.
So, we pray that this time that we dedicate to you as a church family saying, “Lord receive glory.” We pray that the sacrifices we make financially would extend throughout the world as a big part of this offering goes to digging wells and planting churches and rescuing children from slavery. We pray that we would be able to someday soon be able to do much needed renovations and expansions to this facility so that more and more people can hear of your love and receive the transforming miracle of a new mind, a new heart, a new way of life, a new love. God, these are big requests. So, hear our cries as we come before you. Pour out your comfort for those who need comfort. Pour out your encouragement. Receive much glory. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.