In the Silence of the Mind: October 18, 2013
Thinking/Over/Thinking – Part 1
“Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of ‘touching’ a man’s heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.”
– G.K. Chesterton
For the first few days of this week I had the great pleasure of attending Gateway Conference ’13 at Gateway Church near Dallas Texas. Being my second year to attend the conference, I had a reasonable expectation of what would happen. I came in knowing that Pastors Robert Morris, Jimmy Evans, and Perry Noble would rock me with some deep theological insights. I knew that comedian Michael Jr. would bring the funny. I also had a sneaking suspicion that I would walk away convicted by my poor view of Joel Osteen (more on this another time). But, I never go to conferences for what I expect… it’s the expectation of God to reach into the unexpected that keeps me going.
In that understanding, though the above speakers all brought powerful words from God, it was one of the “breakout sessions” that really left me reeling. Considering there were dozens of sessions to choose from, I couldn’t understand why I felt impressed to go to one that was tackling the subject of burnout when I’m not sure I’m back in that spot. However, what I received from the Lord in that session surprised me. Dr. Caroline Leaf (a communication pathologist and audiologist who works in the field of neuroscience) dropped a bomb on us about how the brain is wired to physically react to our thoughts.
As she outlined in her message (and in her book Switch On Your Brain), every time we have a thought, the dendrites in our brain grow in a specific way. The brain is like a neural network and every thought strengthens and reinforces (literally grows in the direction of) the pathways between thoughts. As Dr. Leaf explained, when you engage in negative thinking, your brain actually creates pathways that help you become more negative. When you engage in positive thinking, the brain not only does the opposite, but breaks down (slowly) the negative paths. The reason for this crazy happenstance is that the brain reacts to negative thoughts physically in the same way it does a virus coming into the body… it treats it like a foreign invader. As she explained it, the brain is hard-wired by God to follow what God commands/challenges us in Deuteronomy 30 to “choose life or choose death” (paraphrase).
It’s time to talk about the battlefield that is your mind. Why would I call it a battlefield? Because it’s in the mind that every battle for purity, at its core, is won or lost. Every action begins as a thought. And every thought can be made captive to God’s purity, or allowed to have free reign in your mind to rot and destroy. There is an old saying that goes, “sow a thought reap an action. Sow an action reap a character. Sow a character reap a destiny.” God’s Word, however, puts it a little more abruptly.
Romans 8:6-7 (NASB) says, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.” It goes on in Romans 12:2 to say, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
God’s living Word is full of statements such as these. God makes it very clear that what we think matters. Never once does He even imply the opposite. Instead, He tells us that a mind set on the flesh is death. To me, that sounds like the language of battle. But how could our thoughts be death? How could they really be life, either? This is the issue we’re going to tackle over the next few weeks on this trek through silence… and how fitting that we’ll talk about the mind in a column titled In the Silence of the Mind?
The Bible says that our thoughts set on the flesh pit us against God and make us hostile towards Him. Hostile! That’s some brutal language. If it’s true that there’s a Spiritual war going on right now, I for one do not want to be considered hostile towards the winning side. That’s just not smart politics. Yet, this is exactly what God says. We are hostile toward God when our minds are set on the flesh. We are enemies of the Most High God who appears in Revelation wearing a robe stained with the blood of His enemies. That’s not something that I want to face. I hope that you don’t either.
The Bible never leaves us hanging, though. It tells us the way out. We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. But just what in the world does that mean? Does it mean I simply need to read everything Norman Vincent Peale wrote (look him up) and never get a case of the grumps ever again? Does it mean that I’m sinning when I get a little down in the dumps and indulge a little negativity?
*Side note: Both “the dumps” and “the grumps” have been phrases my friends and I used for a certain body function that involves expelling waste at various times of my teen years. Just thought you should know.
I doubt you made it very far in life without hearing the old adage “I think therefore I am.” This statement is marvelously true, and is a part of our “you are what you eat” discussion from before. You are capable of doing something, namely thinking, that no other animal in the known world can do so formally. And thinking is a wonderful thing. If it weren’t for thinking we would not have the inner monologue that keeps many people two steps away from being labeled as a schizophrenic. If it weren’t for thinking you would not be able to reenact the light-saber battles out of Star Wars when you get bored in your History and Math classes… or in that meeting at work where the boss keeps going over the same thing he’s been going over for the past five meetings. If it were not for thinking, well, we would not be able to really do quite a bit. God has blessed us with a great ability. And yet, in all of the wonders of our magnificent cognizant ability, we rarely stop to sit back and think about thinking.
Sit back with me and just think about thinking. Think about how you think. Think about what you think. Think about what you think about. If “I think therefore I am” is true, then it would also be true to say “I am what I think about.” If, in fact, thinking is what makes up the entirety of what a human being is when compared with, say, a block of wood, then what we think about is the most important factor we must consider to what we will become.
Did I freeze your thinking a bit? This is, of course, not to ignore the spiritual aspect of man in the slightest. Of course, you are body, mind, and soul. However, as believers we often over spiritualize our “soul” and under-spiritualize our minds. They are interconnected. One effects the other. If we are what we think, and I dare say to a point we are, then we must be careful what we think about.
God calls us to be transformed from the inside out, not from the outside in. It’s the understanding of this that can make the difference between being a *grumpy Christian who always focuses on the negative, and being a life-giving follower of Christ who knows that just as God clothes the flowers of the field, so He will take care of His children.
*Just to clarify, we’re not talking about the potty-related use of this word here. The sentence, and the imagery it entails (you’re welcome), would be radically different if that was what I was talking about here.
Colossians 3:2-5 (NASB) says: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”
If your mind isn’t set on a path to focus on the God side of life, then you’re in danger of partaking in a sin that the Bible calls idolatry. Idolatry, or rather the command not to commit idolatry, is so important that it made the list as one of the Ten Commandments. It is also the focus of Kyle Idleman’s amazing gods at War book. You’re not supposed to do this idolatry thing! But most people have not got the faintest idea what idolatry really is, or how our thinking could become idolatry when we constantly choose death (see Deuteronomy 30 again).
Idolatry is placing any thing or any affection in front of (as in, before) God in your mind and soul. If God isn’t at the center of your affection, then that thing that is in His place is an idol and you have committed idolatry. This isn’t something that we should take lightly. We must do as the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians and “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We should in fact consider ourselves dead to the sin, and alive to Christ.
But, really, what does idolatry have to do with how or what we think? Think about this; when we create a negative pathway in our minds (both physically and spiritually, as discussed in the opening) we remove God from the equation and begin to dwell (see Purity in the Media Part 2 for a discussion on Philippians 4:8 and the word “dwell” here) in our own filth. This is where the toilet jokes above come into play. I wasn’t just placing them there for a distraction (that’s what the cookies are for). I was preparing your mind to think about living in the garbage we let fill our mental and spiritual houses. Literally, we take all that stinks in our minds and begin to create a home – even a mental perception of reality – on top of that stinking pile and then turn around and wonder why we can’t hear God’s voice anymore. Then, when God speaks into our hearts and tells us that everything is still in His hands, we either tune His voice out or actively doubt that what He says is true. When we are in a negative mindset (that is, we’ve followed a few negative thoughts back home and moved in with them) we set despair (or even just a case of the mopes) in God’s place in our life and begin to listen to its voice over God’s!!!
So, are we horrible for having negative thoughts now and then? No… but are you merely having negative thoughts that you let pass like a storm in the night or are you taking them in, like a stray little kitten, and introducing them to the family? With that, I would like to examine some common thoughts patterns that we’re called to consider ourselves dead to that try to get us to move in and set up our mental and spiritual houses.
In the coming weeks (check back each Friday) we’ll move from merely addressing the problem to actively searching for a solution. What does this have to do with music, you might ask? Directly, maybe not as much… As I mentioned in the series over Pastor’s appreciation month (which is this month, by the way), this column won’t always tackle music, but also practical theology. However, this topic is not directly unrelated, either. Be sure to read back through the Purity in the Media series to see how what we dwell on in the media and allow into our minds can and will shape our thinking.
Our thoughts form paths. The further we allow ourselves to walk down those paths, the more we dwell in the filth. But, knowing what to avoid and/or abandon can, with the help of a mighty God, bring us back to proper thinking. So, lets keep thinking over thinking these next few weeks and see where we end up. Something in this spark a thought, be sure to leave it in the comments section below.
Now, who else is craving Chinese food, since I inceptioned you above?
“Man is made or unmade by himself. In the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”
– James Allen