3 principles for training our minds

What you think about is important.

Lately I’ve been reading from Paul’s letters.  And I can’t get over how much significance he gives to our thoughts and our minds.  What we think about, and the way in which we consider it, greatly affects our lives — especially those of us who aspire to be like Christ. Here are three principles I’ve taken from Philippians 4:4-9 and Colossians 3:1-11.  The passages themselves are well worth a read.  But today I’ll leave you with only the principles.

Preface: The way I understand (and experience) it, there are three things on which I can meditate:  evil, the anxieties and concerns associated with the future, or that which is good. And Paul addresses how we should deal with our thoughts in each of these situations.

I Will Control My Thoughts

  1. I will put to death all evil thoughts. Any temptation will be immediately dismissed from my mind.  When a bad attitude comes to my attention, I will deal with it both severely and with immediacy.  Sin will not be further entertained or regarded as having any value.
  2. I will turn my anxieties into prayer requests. I will not meditate on my worries or concerns, but instead will offer them to God.  He is both able and willing to give me peace.
  3. I will think on what is good and right and pure and lovely. I am to direct my mind and my heart to dwell on the things of God.

What’s On My Mind

  • We (or I at least) have a tendency to believe we are not sinning unless we perform evil acts.  Whether it be lust, rage, greed, or some other sin, we convince ourselves it’s okay to think about it (consider it, even) — provided we don’t act on our thoughts.  [This despite Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.]  I’m convinced Christians entertain far too many* sexual thoughts about women (or romantic ones about men) to whom they’re not married.  We hold anger tightly in our hearts as if it were meant to be there.  We spend much of our free time meditating on what we could do if only we had a little more cash.  We’ve become accomplished at keeping our hands clean — while our minds remain filthy.
  • Some of us may have a tendency to tell others they shouldn’t worry.  I am sometimes extremely guilty of this.  I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 and don’t understand why some people worry so much.  “Just don’t do it,” I think.  But that’s not Paul’s solution to ridding our lives of anxiety.  He doesn’t say to put these worrisome thoughts to death (as he says of sinful thoughts); instead he suggests we turn them into prayers to God.  We give our anxieties to God, and he exchanges them for peace.
  • We think of “meditation” as a good thing (I think) — but it can only be as good as those subjects on which we meditate. Meditation on evil is sin.  Meditation on tomorrow is worry.  Meditation on that which is of God, though, is both healthy and beneficial.
  • Thinking on those things which are good does not limit our thoughts to scripture, cuddly angels, and service to old people.  I’d argue it has more to do with recognizing God at work in the world, and doing away with this false dichotomy of spiritual versus physical.  God is present in all, and when we meditate on what is good and true, we see our relationships and daily activities in the light of a God-filled existence. That is good — seeing kingdom principles at work in the “mundane.”

A Few Practical Ideas

  • Becoming a Christian isn’t a magical charm by which our thoughts are transformed overnight, or Paul wouldn’t have had to write these things. If we’re not actively working to train ourselves to think better, we won’t. We need a plan of action.  You need to develop one.
  • When evil enters my mind, I say aloud, “Get away from me, satan.  I’m a child of God, and you have no power over me.” Or something like that at least.  And then I pray that God will help me to cast these sinful thoughts out of my mind.  [Many of us are open to the prayer part, but shy away from the speaking aloud bit. But I know for me…]  Opposing the devil out loud with words seems to be more helpful than prayer alone.  I believe there is much power in our words. [And it doesn’t hurt that we’re calling something sin out loud, and will therefore hear it called that as well.]
  • I don’t worry a great deal.  Very rarely, actually.  I suppose it is a gift that God has given me; and I’m thankful for it.  But my best practical advice in this area, then, is not for those of us who worry, but for those of us who don’t.  We should have patience with those who do struggle with anxiety and worry.  Encourage them to hand every worry over to God.  Help them to turn those anxieties into prayers.  Don’t oversimplify it and discount their feelings by saying, “Just don’t worry.  It’s a sin.”
  • I’m currently trying to think of ways to train myself to meditate on that which is good.  My best idea so far is to wear a bracelet (I don’t normally wear a watch or anything on my wrist).  For at least a time, then, I’ll not be able to forget I have something on my wrist.  And every time I notice it there, I will take a moment to think on God’s goodness in my life and to say a short prayer of thanksgiving.

Do you guys have some other thoughts on the subject — or better yet practical ideas for training our minds?

* Not that even one is appropriate.


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13 Comments

Filed under practical advice

13 responses to “3 principles for training our minds

  1. It ALL starts with a thought.

    I am currently dealing with at least 3 couples on the verge of divorce and another 4 just officially divorced!
    All because of unchecked thoughts of greener grass.
    All for cheating and not repenting.
    So yes, check your thoughts regularly.
    They will pop in there. You can’t help that.
    But, it’s what we use to deal with them, what we use to battle the thoughts.
    Not entertaining /dwelling/wondering/ those thoughts any longer than it takes you to recognize and attack it, is what helps keep us out of the spiraling soup of destruction. (acting on them)
    Thanks for the reminder!

    • thanks for making it real life, chrissy. can i ask what you mean by “i am currently dealing with…?”

      • Seems Hunk and I are just magnets for others to confide in.
        We keep to ourselves, don’t gossip and being leaders in the Church, we’ve had to help many in these predicaments over many years.
        Literally, last Valentines Day Hubs was sitting on our couch showing Fireproof to a neighbor (while I was in my bedroom) because, he came banging on our door crying because his wife kicked him out.
        While at church it seems friends our age are going through many varying life battles, and carrying them out by sleeping around!
        Just two days ago, I was thrown for a loop with a close friend,, (widow) who decides to reel in her best friends husband!
        I have to say, no time like the present to discuss what really happens in between our (Christians) ears.

        • i can imagine being in that situation is both a blessing and a curse. i pray that God gives you guys great wisdom and great patience. may he bless you as you seek to use your own marriage to bless others. amen.

  2. sorry, I thought I could edit from the wp blog….
    here is one idea for battling thoughts.
    Play out the scenario and the cost of those thoughts.

    Our pastor wrote a book on this very subject
    called Taming Your Private Thoughts.
    by Jay Dennis
    http://www.zondervan.com/media/samples/pdf/031026359X_samptxt.pdf

  3. JMF

    Very practical writing today (at least for me), Brett.

    I have some very unhealthy thinking patterns that I am working on. For me, it tends to be futuristic thinking and mind-reading. The latter would be something to the effect of: (inside my head) ‘Brett must think I’m really screwed up. I don’t want Brett to think I’m screwed up. Quick, write something funny or witty. Wait — don’t do that — he’ll know you are covering something up. Or maybe he thinks you are just writing all of this just to be engaging…but you don’t really mean it…’

    …And so it goes. This is the point that anxiety can literally get crippling. I can literally have so much stuff going on inside my head that I work myself into a panic attack. You’d never know — until all of a sudden you turned your head and I disappeared. You’d be surprised at how many people that you think are really “cool/chill/mellow” that actually are absorbed in the thought patterns I mentioned earlier.

    Very unhealthy and very damaging.

    For me, the idle mind being Satan’s workshop couldn’t be more true. Yet I don’t think the answer is the American ‘go-go-go’ lifestyle; I think the answer lies with being able to have your thoughts on God and His goodness.

    As far as thought-therapy goes, I’d have a lot of suggestions. For brevity, however, I’d suggest simply disassociating from any thought for a moment and say, “Okay. Is this really reasonable and/or true?” Practically: “Okay, is it likely Brett is really thinking those things? Or is he more likely thinking: ‘That is a good point; I’m glad JMF shared today; my baby is screaming; I need to take a dump; Africa is hot; etc.’ That is MUCH more realistic. Because nobody cares about anything other than them self.

    Also, the nature of anxiety/worry is based in power. “I’m not married. I am getting old. Will this ever change? Why doesn’t God help me? What if next year comes and nothing has changed?” In all of this, I want to control something. I want to feel that I have all the power. So the therapy would be to accept — no, embrace — powerlessness. Power, after all, is just an illusion. We all have different anxieties. Many struggle with worries about their health. Or their baby’s health. Or the afterlife. The list goes on. But I will all come down to wanting to have power and control over something. Get rid of the need for power.

    I need to read my own suggestions.

    • jmf, thanks for being open about anxiety and how it’s affected you in the past, and how you battle it today. i’m sure a bunch of other readers find themselves struggling with what you’ve described. i pray that God blesses you with great peace that is beyond what any of us can understand. i pray he takes away your anxieties, and replaces them with an inner quiet and rest. amen.

      by the way (and for the record), i was thinking something more like, “wow, jmf is really open and honest with his struggles. i wish we were all — and could all be — so candid. you know, he doesn’t strike me as someone who would be anxious; i wonder how many other people struggle a great deal with worry, yet i don’t realize it or would never have guessed. i don’t at all have to take a dump, and it’s actually a very comfortable temperature in here right now…”

  4. Milynda

    I think that one of the hardest things that I have to deal with in training my thought patterns are pride and familiarity. It is extremely easy to give into the thought that “well I have always thought this way and I don’t know how to change it” mentality. Secondly, there must be a humility in the confession of your thought life – your personal life that no one sees and can rarely judge unless you tell them. And the mental gymnastics that it takes to turn your thoughts can take everything out of you.

    There does come a point where you are just seriously pissed over how much self-control you have given over to the enemy. I am 33 years old and I don’t remember a day of waking up without the same negative mantra in my life. And I am pissed. This is where your faith truly is tested and proven.

    For many years, I held all of it in hoping that God would swoop in and “magically” change my thoughts to better ones. He has yet to fulfill that wish. However, when I have let my anxieties go in prayer and thanksgiving, He has calmed me. I struggle constantly between my thoughts and my faith. Practically, I just count the blessings that my faith (even as small as it is) truly believes that God is still bigger than anything in my life.

    • milynda, i also waited many years for God to “magically change my thoughts.” and i gave satan more and more strongholds over my mind while waiting. many were hurt as a result. i call those years my “recliner of grace.” because i really thought i could sit back and let God do it all. but that’s not discipleship — and my mind wasn’t transformed.

      thanks for your insight, and for sharing your experience with changing anxieties to prayers.

  5. Craig Bullington

    Thanks for the post, Brett. I think the idea of turning worry into prayer requests is a strong one, and I appreciate it.

    As far as practical things i’ve seen in my life, the strongest way God has blessed me this past year is allowing me to further see beauty in my life. I’ve remembered several prayers about seeing his work through everyday things, and I think he has listened to them. There is something powerful in God taking an ordinary moment of your day and shifting your thoughts to “oh wow, that is a sweet shade of blue!” a) you get to actually notice those things and b) your mind inevitably goes to his glory.

    • great thoughts, craig. one of the things i’d like to improve on most in my life is seeing God in the everyday, glimpses of his glory in the mundane. i will be praying “your” prayers.

  6. I think Paul actually gives a fourth principle for training our minds. This one is found in Philippians 4:9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”

    I would summarize this as “Act on new thoughts!” Decide what you would do if you were not anxious and then step into doing it. Paul Faulkner used the descriptive phrase, “Let your brain drag your guts.” AA uses the slogan, “Fake it till you make it!” While some call that hypocrisy, others realize it is really at the heart of repentance.

    If I set out to imitate what I see of Paul in the letter to the Philippians, then I have to learn to rejoice through my suffering. He is in prison when he writes the letter, but talks about joy more than in any other letter. I must practice seeing God. I must focus on seeing things that are excellent and praiseworthy.

    Just as it takes discipline and hard work to increase lung capacity, leg conditioning and mental toughness to run a half marathon, it will take discipline to learn to pray through my anxieties. It will take discipline to learn to respond to my temptations with the word of God like Jesus did. It does help to have a “Paul” setting a good example, though!

  7. Pingback: devotion to prayer | aliens and strangers

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