Welcome to Christian Living in the Real World, Episode TWO!
HELLO, HELLO, MY FRIENDS! I am so glad you tuned in today, because today we are going to collectively THINK ABOUT OUR THINKING!!
WWHHHAAAT? Who does that?
Well, the truth is…. Probably not enough of us, and I am as guilty as anyone!
Yet Scripture says so much about our thoughts and our mind. And I would really like to talk about it from that place, but first let’s just take a look at the impact that our thoughts …. Just general ‘THOUGHTS’ have had on our world.
Eve, that little scamp… She thought it was a good idea to eat from the tree that God had forbidden them to eat from. Adam thought it was a good idea to go along with Eve…. And things went on a terrible downhill slide from there! That is when we get in the most trouble… Believing the lies of Satan. He will tempt us at our weakest point! And please know… That is his language! That is all he speaks in order to deceive us!
Since then, there have been people who have committed their thinking to the science that has cured and prevented the most complicated diseases, and others who have acted selflessly and heroically on the behalf of their fellow man. Unfortunately, there have been those who had such horrific thoughts that led them to the place of mass shootings, or world leaders whose thoughts of self grandeur, led nations into war.
Okay, so maybe this all seems so Captain Obvious…. But my point is…. Everything. Begins. with. a. thought.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” Who’s evil desire? Their OWN evil desire…. Aka… Their thoughts! It is ALWAYS DESIRE, or our feelings and emotions that are a result of our thoughts, whether positive or negative that lead to our actions. Desire always begins with a thought.
Too often, we believe our feelings have control over us, but again, feelings are simply a result of what we are thinking.
Have you ever asked someone why they feel a certain way? Have you ever asked YOURSELF why you feel a certain way? Happy…. Sad….. Frustrated…. Content…?
I guarantee that your feelings are a result of what you are thinking about…. EVERY SINGLE TIME! I am not saying there is anything wrong with that… That is how we are designed as humans. But not being aware of the source renders us powerless over our feelings, our actions, or worse, our REactions. And we can all agree on some level that we get caught in that pattern, I want to offer a SUPER SIMPLE, though not always easy, solution by ARE YOU READY? I’m not sure you are because I sure didn’t take it at face value at first, but we’ve gotta start somewhere, so here go….
ALL THOUGHTS ARE OUR CHOICE!?
Only you get to choose what you think.
Only I get to choose what I think.
There are countless efforts outside of us… family… friends… Hollywood… social media, who attempt to influence our thoughts, but ultimately, what we think is up to each one of us.
Have you ever found yourself answering, when someone asks you, “Why do you think that?”, and you respond. “I just do! I really don’t have control over it. That’s just how I think!”
Sometimes we are so committed to our thoughts that we tell it’s like the news! Like it’s a fact! It might be a fact… if it can be proven in a court of law, or it is clearly found in God’s Word, but the truth is, our thoughts, more often than not, are really our opinion!
And THOSE thoughts deserve some serious scrutiny.. Some good ole fashioned thinking about our thinking because sometimes, the thoughts that we are committed to, might very well be making us and/or those around us miserable.
Worse yet, they may be what is keeping you from experiencing the full peace and joy that God so longs to give to you. But His gifts are not just given… they also must be received. We will talk more in depth about that in future podcasts, but please bookmark in your brain right now, that some of what you thinking, may be there very thing that is getting in the way of receiving all that God has for you in this life.
Do you know someone who, when a topic comes up… this often happens in families, where something happened years ago…. I mean sometimes 50 years ago…… And this person jumps in with the level of detail that would make a new listener think it happened five minutes ago??
The anger.. The resentment…. The name calling…. They are so committed to their thoughts, which are really just an opinion, that they believe they are simply reporting the news like it’s today’s headline!
Well guess what… If you ask someone else who was there, in the exact same moment, for their version…. IF they can even remember the event, it is very likely they will have a completely different story to tell. Particularly if it is a person who understands God’s forgiveness…. what he or she has been forgiven of, and has learned to extend that same grace to others. Such freedom in Christ produces very different thinking!
I feel sorry for the first person in that example! Bitterness destroys! And ironically, the one that is destroys is the one it is holding captive!
So, shifting gears… let’s talk about our brains for a minute…. I most certainly do not claim to be any kind of neuroscience expert… In fact, science was not really my thing in school! If there’d a been a PhD in socializing, that’d be me. Do you know that I was so disappointed that first day in Social Studies in Jr High, when I realized what the class was really about!…… It was NOT about socializing!
That said, I have learned some fascinating things about our brains over the past few years that I would like to share with you. Lucky for you, my description will be at around the 4th grade level because that is about the extent of my neuroscience expertise!
First and foremost, we have something called the prefrontal cortex. THAT’s is about as scientific as I am going to get!! Think of the PreFrontal Cortex as the parent in the room, overseeing a toddler that just wants to do what they want to do!
If you are a parent, or if you know a parent, or if you had a parental figure in your life, what is one of their primary roles? It is to help the child be safe and make wise decisions! Fact: A sharp pair of scissors can be a very handy tool when needed…. Different Fact: A toddler is an adorable human being, designed by God!
Final fact: Handing the scissors to a toddler who is running around the house is a bad idea!
Does the toddler understand what a poor decision that is? Likely not! Might bad things happen? Likely so!
The toddler is the other part of our brain that just wants to have fun, doesn’t calculate the risk, and acts impulsively without thinking about any long term consequences. An example of this in adult life, would be when we go ahead and order that amazing dessert when we know we are more than full! Oh, why not??? I already ate too much today.
WHILE I KNOW I AM NOT GONNA BE HAPPY TOMORROW, I do it anyway because I want it NOW!
Our brains also like to be efficient. Think about when you were learning to drive. I remember literally thinking…. Okay, first turn the key, then put the car in reverse… oh wait… put your foot on the brake first, then look behind and all around you before backing up…. Oh, wait, wait, maybe I should look first and then put my foot on the brake… Over time, we become so accustomed to our driving routine, we don’t give it another thought. Oh, our brain is working, but it is so automatic, that we no longer have to make those step by step decisions. It has created something called neural pathways that in the driving example, are grooves that are so deeply ingrained, that sometimes we can drive from point A to point B and not even know how we got there!
God created our brains so that, using our prefrontal cortex, we have the ability to learn, and then delegate that learned behavior to the more efficient part of our brain, where it becomes effortless, or a habit, whether that is a good habit such as spending time in His Word, or destructive habit, such as ‘over-ing’… Over eating, over drinking, over Netflixing, over shopping… any of those things that we find ourselves doing in excess in order to:
A) Avoid the things we do not want to do
B) Avoid feeling something we don’t want to feel
For example: I do not want to have that hard conversation, so I will DO something else, so that I do not have to FEEL the discomfort that I am sure will come with that conversation.
In that example, the prefrontal cortex has the opportunity to override the lower brain by evaluating the long term benefits of having a difficult conversation by taking action in a mature and God honoring manner.
Using our prefrontal cortex, we also have the ability to PLAN… Whether as in the previous example, we are planning for the future health of that relationship, or when we make the decision to head to the gym in the morning instead of staying in bed, which we would rather do, for the physical health of our future selves. We have the ability to consider the consequences of our decisions before we make them, good or bad. Think about that… We are the only species that has that capacity!
Someone might say, “Hang on…. I have a VERY SMART dog, and he knows that he is not supposed to get into the garbage, and he also knows if he does, there WILL be punishment.” Totally agree! Studies show that the average dog has the intellectual equivalency of a 2-3 year old child, and we just went over that level of sophistication, so no need to repeat. Suffice it to say, your dog cannot plan a playdate with the cute little Spaniel down the street a week from Friday, let alone plan a doggy wedding. I will leave it there.
So why are talking about this today?
Well, According to the National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts. We think negatively more than we think positive thoughts.
However, this is not about positive thinking…. This is about learning to drive the car all over again. Our thoughts are so automatic that we don’t give it a second thought! Haha… See what I did there?
Here is the sad truth…. There are countless Christians… and I mean true Christ followers, who are this very day, angry.. Bitter… frustrated… over things that if they could step back objectively, and look at the circumstance as an observer, rather than a participant, their parental brain might have a very different thought about the situation, which would no doubt, significantly reduce the stress they are feeling as a result of their current thinking.
Philippians 4:8 says…..
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
It does not say, if you’re having a great day and your kids aren’t driving you nuts and you have lots of peaceful, free time on your hands, TRY to think about these things. NO! This message to the Philippians was not intended to be an afterthought! It was intended to the initial, and INTENTIONAL thought… The thought of CHOICE!
I do not know anyone who dwells intentionally in a Phillipians 4:8 mindset… intentionally choosing to think about …. whatever is honorable, pure, lovely, excellence and worthy of praise, that is going around snapping at everyone and feeling sorry for themselves. The two thoughts CANNOT coexist!
The REAL question though, is how many people do you know that actually DO THINK THAT WAY? I have known a few, but I will be the first to admit that those people are RARE! And trust me, I am no expert at this… afterall, we are taught the skill of critical thinking, but we often use that gift as a weapon instead of the gift it is!
Like my naivety over social studies, I remember when I first heard the term ‘critical thinking’, my first thought was, “Awesome! Something of which I am finally a natural”, cause I don’t know about you, but oh, I know how to be critical!
Of course that is not what it means. In fact, it very much means exactly what we are talking about today…. Using the mind that we have been blessed with to think things through… logically, maturely, with God’s perspective as the guiding principle. It is how we make decisions and plan today on behalf of our future selves…. and the future selves of those who love you, trust, and count on you.
Listen…. No matter how (air quotes) “GOOD” we have been up to this point, we are one poor decision away from destruction… of ourselves, of our families…..” Ask a long line of those who have had to live with the consequences of those decisions….. Which all goes back that ‘thought/desire’ connection.
It all sounds so simple, right? Afterall, we are taught to ‘take every thought captive to obey Christ’. Easy peasy!!
NO, its not… But it’s not because we cannot. It is because we allow our thoughts to override His thoughts… The thoughts that His Spirit speaks into our hearts and minds.
Before Jesus’ death, in John 20:21-22, He said to His disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
When we embrace Jesus as our Lord and Savior, just as the disciples did, we too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He actually DWELLS within us…. He takes up residence… sets up His permanent home until we go to be with Jesus. He SO LONGS to engage our mind in HIS ways so that we will experience the peace that Jesus spoke of, regardless of what circumstance we find ourselves in the midst of.
Believe me, I understand…. There are a lot of things in this world that are flat out, MESSED UP! I get it! And there are things that people have done to us, and some, very very terrible things…. I GET IT and I have GREAT COMPASSION for those things! But how we think about it, is STILL our choice!
Forgiveness is STILL an option. If only to free yourself!
Perhaps you know the story of Corrie Ten Boom, but it bears repeating… Corrie and her sister were prisoners in a German Nazi concentration camp. She wrote of her experience and her journey to forgiveness in the book, The Hiding Place. This is what she wrote:
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.
It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.
“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
Corrie Ten Boom had to think HARD about her thinking. She knew her natural thoughts would lead her to a response that would not honor God. Using her mind, she asked God to help her …. And when she did, God met her there and supplied her with what she needed to forgive. What are you thinking about today, my friends? What are you holding onto, that the Lord so wants to help you be free of?
In the next few episodes, we will be drilling down on our thinking… What do you think about God? What do you think about Satan? What do you think about yourself… and others?
Until then, peace and grace to you. May you find joy in the journey!