Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that the key to personal and spiritual transformation is to renew the mind. The Apostle we must remember was a very learned man who studied with some of the greatest Rabbis of his era. It is therefore not surprising that Paul had deep insight into what made the human being tick, especially on a mental level.
Where we run into difficulty these days is with the psycho-spiritual technology necessary to follow Paul’s sage advice and effect a renewing of the mind. The most frequently heard strategy mentioned both in pulpit and pop Christian psychology is to immerse yourself in scripture. Certainly, this is a sound strategy and it can do no harm. Any time we spend in intimate relationship with scripture is time well spent. However, I have found that in order to fully appropriate the tools God has so graciously given us for transforming our minds, we need to develop at least a rudimentary understanding of the terrain of our minds and, armed with that knowledge, use scripture to its full advantage in the process of cognitive transformation.
My experience has been that God would never tell us what to do without providing us with the wisdom and the means to do it. With that thought in mind, consider it sound reasoning to assert that the Lord would not include in scripture the admonition to be transformed by the renewal of the mind if he didn’t provide us with the technology of how to go about the process. Sometimes he provides this directly through scripture; and at other times he gives us the knowledge through humankind’s own discoveries. In the case of renewing our minds, he has done both. Let’s begin by looking at a simplistic but effective map of our minds.
Most knowledgeable Bible teachers tell us that our minds have two basic aspects, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. When I teach on this subject, I stress the belief that we in fact have three minds. In addition to the two aspects already mentioned, I am convinced that we also have what we here at LifeBrook call the “Sacred Mind.” Scripture refers to the Sacred Mind as “the mind of Christ.” Our Sacred Mind is in many ways our true inner Spirit and it is that part of our being God communicates with directly. Just as the “Mind of Christ” revealed God’s will directly to Jesus, so our Sacred Mind can do the same for us. I don’t want to digress too far here as the Sacred Mind is not related to our present discussion, at least until the later stages. Still, I did want to mention this aspect of our makeup because it is of central importance to our effective and vital spiritual living.
Our conscious mind is that part of our mental life that we are aware of and it is the part of our mind where our conscious thought takes place. The important thing to understand about the conscious mind is that we have control over it. We can, in fact, choose what we think and, by the same token, we can choose not to think about certain things. I know that many of you may now be thinking, “Wait a minute. This guy must not know me too well because I have very little choice in terms of what goes on in my mind.” I can relate to what you are saying in that unless we become mindful of our thought life, it can seem to have a distinct life of its own. The reality is, however, you can choose to be in control of your thought life. And even if, like a train coming into a station, a thought comes into your mind that you believe you did not choose, you have a choice whether or not to get on board and leave the station. By this I mean you have a choice about whether or not to focus on that thought and let it keep going in your mind. Not getting aboard a train of unhealthy thinking is the practical implications of Paul’s teaching about the importance of “taking thoughts captive for Christ.”
Once we begin the process of dealing with our patterns of negative thinking it is easy to become frustrated, especially in the early stages. I found that the more I attempted to stop myself from thinking in habitually unhealthy ways, the more I encountered this habituated negativity. It’s like my mind said, “Oh, so you wanna tell me what to do, eh? Okay, watch this!” I found out that my mind had both a life of its own and more power of me than I realized. My attempt to redirect my thinking was like a declaration of war.
As far as my ego, my “small mind,” was concerned, it was a declaration of war and, indeed, spiritual warfare ensued. I eventually discovered that my attempts to take thoughts captive for Christ was more than just a battle between my ego-controlled mind and my desire to deepen my spiritual life and increase my level of happiness. My small mind had a powerful ally and when I tried to defeat their combined forces, I failed miserably.
The truth of the matter is this: the moment I began to pray to the Holy Spirit for assistance in this battle things began to improve. Slowly at first, I became better able to recognize my patterns of negativity before the built up speed and momentum. It was as if I had more time between the stimuli that brought about my habituated responses and my typical reactions. With these extra few seconds I was eventually able to halt the negative thoughts sooner and focus on their positive, polar opposites. Once that happened, my battle lessened as my victories increased. I still have a long way to go but I am sure better off than I used to be. I have the Holy Spirit to thank for my progress. Also, I never rest on my laurels. The Spirit revealed to me the chronic nature of habitual pessimism, showing me clearly that it never goes away completely. I have to remain alert and vigilant in order to stay a step or two ahead of the enemy.
The foregoing paragraphs describe the first and most salient principle in our battle for our minds. We cannot succeed by ourselves. We need help. And by the grace of God, we have that help in the person of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Know from the outset that you are going to need an ally stronger than the one employed by your ego. Maintain a regular pattern of prayer over your endeavors to clean up your mind. Speak positive words over your battlefield and allow the Holy Spirit to do what he knows how to do.
Another effective strategy is to pay attention to what triggers the negative thought patterns. What happened just before you saw the train pull into the station and climbed aboard the Pessimism Express. Also notice what happened as a result of your negative thinking. Sometimes, just shining the light of awareness on to a mechanical process like habitual negativity has the impact of lessening the frequency and intensity of pessimistic thinking.
Begin addressing your thought-life with prayer and a positive commitment to make changes in your mental make up. After that, just get down to it and get to work. Above all, maintain a positive outlook, even when you repeatedly fail in the early days of your program. Optimism is highly recommended and is also highly justified. With God, all things are possible and, lest you forget, the Holy Spirit is God. Allow yourself to grow – allow your mind to be renewed.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved