Our mind-sets make a huge difference in how we perceive our circumstances.
What we expect shapes how we respond. If we expect peace, we will resent having to fight. If we expect rest, we will resent having to endure. If we expect leisure, we will resent having to work hard.
This is why it’s so important for us to prepare our minds for action(1 Peter 1:13). It’s clear in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit wants us to prepare to fight a grueling war, to run an endurance race, and to engage in the difficult work of kingdom farming.
Paul captures all three analogies in his exhortation to Timothy:
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:3–7)
Paul wants Timothy and us to “think over” what he says. He wants us to engage in expectation-shaping thinking, because Paul knows the crucial importance of mind-sets:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5).
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19).
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2).
So, the Holy Spirit speaking in 2 Timothy 2:3–7 wants us to have a soldier’s mind-set, which is very different from a civilian’s. A soldier expects to suffer the rigors and dangers of war; a civilian does not.
The Spirit wants us to have an athlete’s mind-set, which is very different from a spectator’s. “Every athlete [expects to exercise] self-control in all things” in order to win the prize; a spectator does not (1 Corinthians 9:25).
And the Spirit wants us to have a farmer’s mind-set, which is very different from an average customer’s. A farmer expects to work hard for long hours, over long months, in all kinds of weather, to realize a harvest; a customer does not.
Civilians are passive during war; spectators are passive during competition; an average customer is passive during the growing season. As Christians, we are not called to easy passivity, but to rigorous activity. Therefore, we must prepare our minds for action.
Sometimes this preparation is preventative (to preempt discouragement), and sometimes it’s restorative (to revive courage). The former is always helpful, but all of us repeatedly require the latter. We lose perspective and forget that in this age war, not peace, is the norm; vigilant self-control, not indulgent rest, is the norm; difficult cultivation, not easy picking, is the norm.
Our emotions typically tell us what our mind-sets are; our responses reveal our expectations. So, when weariness, disappointment, disillusionment, and resentment set in, we need to examine what’s fueling those feelings. Perhaps they’re the result of sleep deprivation or overwork, and we need to heed the biblical model of regular Sabbaths and occasional seasons of rejuvenation. But frequently these emotions are fueled by misplaced expectations, and what we need is to re-set our minds.
So, ask yourself: what do you expect? What is your mind set on? Are you a soldier or civilian? Are you an athlete or spectator? Are you a hardworking farmer or a customer?
Think it over, “for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7).
Soldiers and farmers cannot afford a passive mind-set. It makes them ineffective and unfruitful. Passivity weighs an athlete down, sapping his endurance (Hebrews 12:1). It needs to be laid aside.
The original readers of the epistle to the Hebrews were weary, disappointed, and disillusioned because they had lost perspective and forgotten who they were. And to help them reset their minds, the writer said this:
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:12–14)
The writer sought to restore them by helping them re-prepare their minds for action. And he did this by calling them to take action and lay aside their passive mind-set.
Our emotions springing from misplaced expectations of peace, rest, and leisure ask to be coddled. But the Bible doesn’t coddle them; it confronts them. This is kind, not cruel. Because such expectations are weights to be discarded, not desires to be indulged.