Four years ago, I started on a journey I never finished. In fact, I probably didn’t even start, but rather intended to start or wanted to start or thought it sounded like a good idea to start—like when you watch a documentary about sugar or juicing or minimalism and are all pumped to embrace a new paradigm … until you go to sleep and wake up the next day and either forget entirely or just get sucked into the vortex that is everyday life.
This happens everyday. To all of us. And apparently it happened to me four years ago. We forget what moves us.
Facebook reminded me of this fact a few days ago through its fun “On This Day” feature, where it randomly pops up a post from exactly X years ago.
Sometimes these memories are heart-tugging, like when I see just how little Jacob was when he was 2. Sometimes they’re inspiring, like when I see a post from a great hike I did, sight I saw or workout I completed. Other times, like a few days ago, they’re convicting:
Being like Jesus isn’t acting like Him as much as it is believing and thinking like Him. The right mindset will produce the right actions.
“We can’t do what we don’t believe we are. When we try to do what we don’t believe we are, it’s called works.” – Steve Backlund
What made this so convicting is that it’s essentially the THE EXACT LESSON God is working in my heart right now. Not really the works part, but the believing and thinking like him part.
God has me on a journey of transformation, which I’ll get to in a bit. But first…
Humbled by the condition of my soil
By inference, what does it mean that God is returning me to something he highlighted four years ago? It means that the seeds of truth he planted in my heart on February 3, 2014, didn’t take root. They fell on rocky soil. frown face emoji
In the parable of the sower, Jesus provides us a litmus test for the soil of our hearts. It’s pretty straightforward, actually, made even simpler by this incredible table:
|Path-like soil||God’s word is snatched away quickly.|
|Rocky soil||God’s word is initially embraced, but the excitement is short-lived. Troubles cause the joy to fade.|
|Weedy soil||God’s word is heard, but never bears fruit because it is choked out by life’s worries and deceptions.|
|Good soil||God’s word is heard, accepted and produces a harvest.|
I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly “good soil” kind of guy. Heck, I even attended an exclusive, accepted-application-only event called the Become Good Soil Intensive (hosted by Ransomed Heart—John Eldredge’s ministry). But I guess I should have taken the hint that if my soil needs to become good soil, then it probably isn’t yet—at least not in some areas. LOL.
I came away from that event knowing I definitely had work ahead of me, but I didn’t pursue transformation with urgency. My bigger takeaway was the context the intensive provided for some of the struggles this season of life presents to a father of a young family. I found comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in my struggles and that there was an end in sight.
But now, nearly two years later, God is making me keenly aware that my soil is actually pretty rocky and weedy. The litmus test proves it. Truths I get excited about and mentally agree with often don’t go on to produce a harvest in my life—at least not the 30x, 60x or 100x returns that Jesus says we can expect.
Things sort of climaxed a week or so ago. I had been having a rather up-and-down January, where I went through two or three bouts of the blues, each lasting a few days. Some of it may have been warfare due to work I was doing for a ministry. But I think it was mostly God putting his thumb on something he wanted to work on.
Then, on January 29, it all started to come together for me and I began discern God’s invitation in this season:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1–2 NIV
Dramatic, full-on transformation was his invitation. The Greek word used for “transformation” in Romans 12:2 is is metamorphóō, where we get “metamorphosis.” So, transformation akin to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
Complete and incomplete metamorphosis
In nature, there are two versions of metamorphosis: incomplete and complete. Examples of insects that undergo incomplete metamorphosis include grasshoppers, cockroaches, termites, praying mantises, crickets and lice (bad childhood memories!). They experience three stages: egg, nymph and adult. Insects that undergo complete metamorphosis, on the other hand, undergo four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Insects on this list include: beetles, bees, ants, moths, fleas, mosquitoes and, most famously, butterflies.
Nymphs are basically mini-adults. If you saw a nymph insect, you’d likely know what it was destined to be as an adult. Larvae, though, contain zero resemblance to their adult forms, because they go through the pupa stage where they completely transform and morph into a new creation.
I’m fairly confident that, to date, I’ve mostly experienced incomplete metamorphosis in my life. Now, I know God’s done some great and even radical work in my life. Ask some of friends what I was like during my college and young adult years compared to who I became in my late 20s and they’ll tell you the difference is pretty stark. But then, so is the difference between a nymph and an adult praying mantis.
But what I feel God inviting me to is complete metamorphosis. I write this with some hesitation because I’m a firm believer that God gives us distinct gifts, traits and characteristics and that these are meant to be our unique expressions of his nature in this world. I was born with those traits, I carry them now and I likely will until I die.
But at the same time, based on what God has been saying to me over the past 6 months, I can’t shake the impression that who I am now is not going to get me to where he wants me to go. I need to be transformed. I need to metamorphóō.
The mind: where transformation happens
Romans 12:1–2 teaches us where this transformation happens: in our minds. “… but be transformed by the renewing of your mind …” Paul wrote. We don’t set out to transform our actions, behaviors or attitudes. We transform our thinking. Dallas Willard taught, “Your actions reveal your beliefs 100 percent of the time.”
So, at the core, a transformed Joel is going to be a Joel that thinks differently than present Joel. Sure, externals will certainly change as a result of thinking differently and interpreting life differently. But I expect many things to remain the same, such as my favorite ice cream flavor, my ability to sleep through anything, my fondness for plain white t-shirts and my tendency to be long-winded with my writing :)
But besides those few things, I’d say anything is up for grabs (well, maybe not my preference for Macs over PCs; I’d like to stick with them). History shows that it’s not uncommon for God to radically change people and send them completely different directions in life.
I don’t know what the coming weeks, months and years hold for me as I embrace this process and cozy up in his cocoon. But I do know that my true life is hidden in God in Christ. And as my thinking is transformed to be like his, I’m going to find it.