“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2Cor 10:5)
Our minds are a battlefield. What goes on in them changes the course of our lives. Temptations, deceptions and wrong attitudes try to invade our thinking. If we consistently reject them, they will retreat. If we welcome them in, or just offer no resistance, they will dig in, hurting us again and again. In contrast, a mind focused on God gives his Holy Spirit room to establish himself, making our minds a place of worship, where we can hear God and get guidance and revelation. So it’s not surprising that the Bible has plenty to say about our minds. God is the source of true knowledge and wisdom and in books such as Proverbs and Psalms, his people are commanded to seek them out. For wisdom and understanding are better than gold and silver and understanding is a fountain of life (Proverbs 16:16,22).
“…A mind focused on God gives his Holy Spirit room to establish himself, making our minds a place of worship, where we can hear God and get guidance and revelation.”
At all stages of our life as disciples, the renewing of our minds is a key to growth and development. Jesus started his ministry by challenging people to repent (literally, change your mind) because of the nearness of God’s Kingdom. Without the major change in thinking that repentance requires, our lives would just carry on as before. Repentance is far more than being sorry. It is a rethinking of what is important and how we should live, as we begin to understand that God is King and that his Kingdom is now displacing every other power, every other ruler. A good example of real repentance is Zacchaeus who, once he encountered Jesus, rethought his priorities and gave half his wealth to the poor! (Luke 19:1-10). But this rethinking doesn’t end with conversion, it continues throughout our life journey. Paul tells us that it is by the renewing of our minds that we are transformed (Romans 12:2) and he contrasts the “futile thinking” of pagan society with the way the Ephesian Christians were being “made new in the attitude of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17-23).
Despite the importance that the Bible places on our minds, there doesn’t seem to be too much teaching around at the moment on how we can train them. Although many of us acknowledge the importance of training our bodies and are ready to devote time and effort to this, we seem less ready to commit to training our thinking. Surely we did enough of that in school and college? Or maybe we think of our minds as neutral territory, just responding to what goes on around us. The Bible sees it differently. In both Old and New Testaments we are encouraged to actively influence the way our mind works.
“In both Old and New Testaments we are encouraged to actively influence the way our mind works.”
In Deuteronomy Moses wanted the people to know God’s laws at a deep level. He explains how this could be done; “you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). This is good, practical advice. If you want to train your mind to focus on God, fill it with God’s word. Talk about what God has said when you get up, when you walk along, and when you go to bed. The author of Psalm 119 tells us that he meditates on God’s word. To meditate is to consciously and deliberately focus the mind on something. It doesn’t happen by accident, it requires an act of the will. Try reading a passage of scripture several times, slowly. Then be silent and ask God to speak through the scripture. If your mind wanders, just bring it back and continue. Memorising bible passages is another great way to train your mind.
Moving to the New Testament, Paul’s suggestions are equally practical. “Whatever is true”, says Paul, “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”. Paul is asking us to choose what occupies our minds.
Of course it isn’t easy, but like any exercise, the more we do it the stronger we become. Think of your mind as open ground but with many well-worn paths. These paths are your old ways of thinking. They often lead to places that you’d rather not go, maybe to anxiety or unbelief, but because you’ve been down the path so many times, the ruts go deep and they are hard to escape. To train our minds away from such harmful thinking, we need to establish new paths. To do this we need to consciously and repeatedly turn our thoughts towards the light and away from the darkness. The morning quiet time is good, but what about the rest of the day? Meditating on scripture, reading an encouraging book or listening to a sermon are all ways of establishing and deepening new paths for our thinking.
We also need to think about what we feed our minds on. Is it a nourishing diet or is it junk food? Everything we read, watch and listen to influences our thinking, but not all are good and healthy.
In certain streams of Christianity the mind is treated with some suspicion. It is often pitted against the spirit; head vs. heart, cold theory vs. warm enthusiasm. Emotion and impulse are regarded positively, thinking and intellectual endeavour less so. But setting mind against heart is both unbiblical and unhelpful. It’s true that without emotion Christianity can become mere formal obedience to a distant God. But it’s also true that without clear thinking and reasoning, our faith is too unstable, too dependent on how we feel. Jesus tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37).
When the 12 year old Jesus was found talking with the teachers at the Temple, we are told that they were amazed at his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:47). His knowledge of scripture, his challenging questions and his profound parables all speak of a trained and active mind. Without Christianity’s inspired thinkers, from Paul to Augustine to C.S. Lewis, our ability to understand and enjoy the glories of our faith would be much diminished. But to think and write in the way they did, these disciples had to stretch their minds through reading and study. They read widely and were acquainted with the philosophies of their times and they used this knowledge to demonstrate the wisdom of the Gospel in comparison to the foolishness of the world. Although we are not all called to intellectual excellence, we can all do the best we can with the gifts we have. When did you last read something that stretched and challenged your thinking? The sort of book where you have to read and re-read passages several times before you understand them.
Our minds are certainly a battlefield. But if we actively train them to turn to the light and fill them with thoughts that bring joy and freedom, we can ensure the outcome of the battle. Not only that, but by training and stretching our minds, as we do with our bodies, they become a weapon in the fight to take every thought captive.