Our minds are marvelous things. How we think shapes who we are and how we live.
I’ve come across so many posts and articles by people who’ve had personal Renaissances during a season of Lent fasting from social media. One person wrote about discovering faith in God by giving up her smartphone for a year. By giving up on distractions, each of these people were able to give attention to more important things — creativity, the inner cry of their hearts, relationships, prayer, reading, etc.
When we limit the things going into our minds from the overload our brains are inundated with, we have time and space to explore all sorts of other good and true and beautiful things that so easily get crowded out.
Also, that old computer programming acronym comes into play: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). If we’re putting junk inside our minds, we’re going to get junky thinking and junky living as a result. What I watch on Netflix. What I read online. What I listen to. Who I talk with. All of these and other inputs manipulate my mind for better and for worse. So, stopping listening to workplace gossip and stopping watching TV news are sure-fire ways to reduce the amount of stress in life.
The garbage we take in pollutes our inner environment. With what so many of us take in, I wonder who could live inside there? And who would want to?
And then there’s repetition. The more we do things, the more those things become engrained in who we are. They become pathways. They’re like a strip of lawn in a public place that gets beaten down by a constant flow of people walking over it. The things we repeatedly come back to shape our minds and therefore shape our behaviors.
What we do a lot, shapes how we think. And how we think shapes who we are. Doing becomes being by way of thinking.
Paul writes about this at the crux of his letter to the Romans. After 11 chapters of laying out his theology, Paul comes to his “therefore,” the point where all of this thinking is going to shape our doing. He writes:
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).
Paul starts with physical action: “offer your bodies.” He then moves to thought: “renew your mind.” This combination leads to true worship and transformed lives. And this pleases God.
Similarly, in Philippians, Paul lays out the things we out to think about:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).
True things (which makes me question the news and the gossip we take in). Noble things (which makes me question the entertainment we watch). Right things. Pure things. Lovely things. Admirable things. Things we’ve seen Paul himself (and other mature and wise people in our lives) do and say are the things we’re to think about and do ourselves.
And get this: When we set our minds on these things, we will know the presence of the God of peace with us.
Earlier in the passage, Paul had addressed the Philippians in their anxiety (4:6). He started by telling them to pray, which would lead to a peace that is beyond anything we’d expect in our circumstances (4:7). And then he tells them to control their minds, thinking only on good things and on good examples, which would also lead to God’s peace being present with them (4:8-9).
Praying and thinking well. These are the keys to living in God’s peace.
Now, Paul began the chapter by calling out two women in the church for the lack of peace in their relationship. Interestingly, he asked them to have the “same mind.”
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord (Philippians 4:2).
The way they were thinking about each other, the things that ran around in their minds whenever they thought about each other, kept them from being at peace with one another. They needed to have the “same mind.” (Paul wrote more about this “same mind” in chapter 2.) Instead of rehearsing and repeating bad thoughts and memories about one another, they needed to remember Jesus and what he had done for all of them. Jesus thoughts would reboot their thinking, moving away from their negative memories and feelings and enabling them to relate out of gratitude.
How we think about our relationships shapes our experience of those relationships. Dwell on what’s negative and guess what happens? Dwell on what’s good and guess what happens?
I recently came across this great little video from the TED folks on how to practice anything effectively. (It’ll take less that 5 minutes to watch it and it’ll be much more worthwhile than most of the other things you might be tempted to watch, so click away.)
The video reminds us that staying focused and repeatedly doing the same thing leads to mastery of that thing as our brains become highways of thoughts about those behaviors. In other words:
If you want to play the piano, play it regularly and without distraction.
If you want to pray, pray regularly and without distraction.
If you want to love those you say you love, spend time with them regularly and without distraction.
If you want to think well, put away the phone, turn off the TV, put the computer to sleep, silence the radio, and pick up a book, go for a walk, write in a journal, have a conversation, exercise, meditate, pray, snuggle. Let body and mind come together as they were intended to do. Let your thinking and your actions become one. Rediscover the integrated life you had when you were a kid.
Pray well. Think well. Live in God’s peace.