Oh yes. I said it.
We are going to learn to control our minds. If you haven’t been following along, read yesterday’s post, The Emotional Train Wreck. Or not.
Either way, here we go.
I love this concept. It was so new to me when I first heard about it. I had no idea that I could control my thoughts. Didn’t thoughts just pop, unbidden, into my mind? How could I control something that could pop?
The short answer? Practice.
The long answer makes more sense.
When I learned that by controlling my thoughts and putting them in the engine of my train, I could control my emotions instead of having them control me, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. (ha. ha.) But I had never been disciplined in any area of my life, ever. In fact, I think it’s one of the things I still struggle with the most. (Right up there with self pity and greed.) So how could I learn to control anything, let alone those random thoughts?
Well, I found the answers in my Bible.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect His will really is.
That verse told me a couple things: that I could be become a new person by changing the way I think; that part of that change comes from being different from “this world”; that when I think more like God thinks, I’ll see glimpses of the bigger picture and start to understand that He’s actually pretty awesome and not a big, mean killjoy who dooms all His followers to become missionaries in hot, dry places with weird food.
Also, it’s not me who does the transforming. It’s God who does it, as I let Him. He doesn’t force me to change; He helps me to change.
…God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
I learned from that verse that even though I lack self-discipline, that’s okay. I don’t have to manufacture it on my own. God has given me the spirit of self-discipline. If I rely on His Spirit in my life, He will provide it. As a friend of mine says, I do my 2% by showing up and being willing, and God does His 98%.
Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.
1 Timothy 4:10
I find that verse about spiritual training so encouraging. We don’t start out ready for a marathon; we have to practice running, bit by bit, building up our stamina, our muscles, our lung capacity. It’s the same with spiritual training. I shouldn’t expect to excel at self-discipline overnight. I need to keep practicing it, even though I’m so feeble at first. I need to keep practicing putting my trust in God, turning to Him when I’m in need, remembering to reach out for help… The list goes on.
…When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There it is again! Isn’t it lovely? Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. If we are living now by leaning on the Holy Spirit, He will give us the self-control we need. And that includes controlling our minds.
In more practical terms, it looks like this:
A strange, negative thought jumps into my mind. Instead of letting it slip by and join the chorus, I examine it. What was that I just thought? Where on earth did that come from?
Then I judge it. I measure it. Is it worth keeping and entertaining, or should I throw it out? I use this standard to decide:
Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent or worthy of praise.
If the thought fails that test, I know I can discard it. But how, exactly, do you discard a thought?
Well, Jesus told a really bizarre-sounding parable that warns against leaving a “house” empty. It had to do with casting out demons, and how getting rid of one and then cleaning out the house but leaving it empty was a bad idea because then it would just come back with all its friends and everyone would be worse off than they were before it left. What I take from that parable is that if I’m kicking out a bad thought, I need to replace it with something good. I can’t just leave a void there because who knows what will fill it. I need to choose what goes in there.
So, let’s say I’ve just thought something depressing like, “It’s too hard.”
If I’m vigilant, I’ll eventually (or quickly) realize that all that negativity bouncing around in my head is bringing me down. I’ll say to myself, “I’m thinking It’s too hard. No wonder I feel so hopeless.”
I may even say out loud, “It’s not too hard. That’s a lie.” Sometimes, saying it out loud is the best thing to do ever. Darkness always flees from the light, and bringing a bit of hopelessness outside of myself really shines the light on it. And then I can see it for what it really is: a lie.
Then, I’ll replace it with a good thought. I find that replacing it with its opposite, true thought works best for me. In this case, a good true thought would be
I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.
And then I mull that one over in my mind for a while, repeating it, savouring it. And actually asking God to help me live it. To give me that much-needed strength.
And He always does.
He has never, ever let me down. I may forget in the next minute or so what I just did, how I just triumphed. But God doesn’t leave. He is there, waiting for me to reach out to Him again.
Moment by moment. Minute by minute.
I triumph one minute, and then fail in the next. And I don’t always remember to reach out right away. But when I do, He’s there. Helping me train. Encouraging me to grow stronger. Giving me a strong talking to when I need a pep talk or I’m off course. Giving me a gentle acceptance when I’m frail and weak and genuinely too tired to run.
The LORD is my shepherd;
I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
He leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honour to His name.
Even when I walk
through the dark valley of death,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest,
anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.