Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)
New Year's is only a day, but it strikes a deep spiritual and emotional chord in many of us. "Out with the old, in with the new" fills us with the eternal hope of starting over, unburdened by the past. We can go forth a new person open to new adventures in a new year! Yet our hopes of becoming a "new creation" are often dashed within the first week, as we find ourselves violating or forgetting all of our resolutions about weight, dietary habits, exercise, relationships, prayer life, and so on. I suspect that most of our resolutions fail because they lack spiritual undergirding. The mind is willing—at least for a moment—until a better opportunity comes along.
While we need not be legalistic about our resolutions, we can ground our intentionality in spiritual practices that can transform our minds, bodies, spirits, and relationships. This is what the apostle Paul was getting at in Romans 12:2: "be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Paul promises that we can be transformed—that we can gain a new perspective—by renewing or refreshing our minds.
But how might we renew our minds to experience the creative transformation described in Romans 12? Paul gives a number of spiritual practices that can enable us to respond with intentionality and innovation rather than conformation to the limitations and values of "this world." His mantra is "be transformed, not conformed" and Philippians 4:4-9 gives us a pathway to transformation:
Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The God is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The keys to transformation are joy, gentleness, prayer, intercession and supplication, thanksgiving, grace-filled actions, and positive affirmations. I want to focus on the latter section, related to the role of positive affirmations in transforming our lives.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
"Think about these things." Paul believes that we need to cleanse our minds as well as our bodies. We need to focus on abundance rather than scarcity, hope rather than fear, love rather than hate, and optimism rather than pessimism. Paul is suggesting that we can be transformed by the use of spiritual affirmations.
Affirmations are short statements that declare or envision a positive outcome. Affirmations are typically in the present tense, asserting that we already have what we need to flourish and reach out to others. Based on the vision of a positive outcome and the reality of abundance, affirmations may seem counterfactual, at first, but in fact, they reveal the deeper realities of ourselves and the world. Affirmations involve seeing the world differently and thus shaping the world in new and positive ways. Affirmations, contrary to some new age beliefs, do not literally "create your own reality," but they shape, energize, and transform our experiences of the world, which, accordingly, transforms the reality we experience. Affirmations begin with the conscious mind but eventually through repeated use transform and heal our unconscious mind.
Through the use of affirmations, we challenge and eliminate negative self-talk. We discover our greatness and agency through the use of affirmations. We are God's beloved children and we can do more than we can imagine. There is the world of scarcity: a mustard seed is the smallest seed; we have only five loaves and two fish; and we didn't catch any fish last night. But, there is also the world of abundance: mustard seeds grow into great plants; with a few fish, we can feed a multitude; and a great catch of fish is over the horizon. Affirmations do not deny the realities of concrete life and personal limitation but see them from the perspective of God's ever-flowing energy.