By Pastor Doug Batchelor
An Amazing Fact: While your brain weighs just three pounds, it’s estimated information storage capacity is around 1,000 terabytes—or a hundred times more information than in all the printed books in the Library of Congress. It would take more than 23,400 DVDs to store all the information that your brain is capable of holding!
Modern medicine understands much more about the human heart than about the human brain. In some ways, the mind is the last great frontier on earth.
But if you’re anything like me, you rarely think about your thinking mind. Thinking usually just happens, like an anchorless ship that goes wherever the wind blows.
Still, if we can learn to play the piano or speak a second language, we can also train our minds to think well in just about every circumstance. I for one believe this is absolutely crucial as we head into the last days of earth’s history. We need to have sharp minds ready to overcome all the devil’s challenges.
Our ability to reason in abstract ways is perhaps the most fundamental difference between human beings and the rest of God’s animal creation. It is a significant difference, as someday you and I will answer to God for what we choose to think.
“For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Even if we can fool others with our “righteous” actions and somehow entertain sin only in our minds, enjoying the pleasures of those forbidden escapades only within our imaginations, God still sees it. He knows our hearts. According to Proverbs 23:7, it’s what we think in our hearts that counts; it reveals the real person.
Before the Hoover Dam was built, billions of gallons of rainwater would rampage down the Colorado River and rush out to the sea. But once that water was controlled, it was available for drinking, irrigation, and generating electricity. While most people let their thoughts flood aimlessly through their minds and out into a sea of oblivion, under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit, a great deal of good can be accomplished by how we use our thoughts.
The question is—how?
Wait! Are we really that responsible for what we think? After all, thoughts tend to run through our minds as if they were on a conveyor belt. Psychologists have estimated that about 10,000 thoughts go through our brains every day. So sometimes we can’t help what we start thinking, especially with the blizzard of information coming in through our senses.
But we can choose what to keep in our brains.
A lot of Christians dwell on very unhealthy, sinful rubbish rather than focusing on that which is holy, good, and true. Jesus taught that we can commit perjury, murder, and adultery in the mind. He said, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man” (Matthew 15:18–20). So, according to Jesus, sin always begins in the mind. That’s why we can’t be indifferent about what we think.
However, this doesn’t mean that when a tempting thought hits you—for instance, the temptation to shoplift—it’s automatically a sin. If I told you to not think of a purple monkey, you would be hard-pressed not to think about it. (I imagine you’re thinking about it right now!) At times, in a world drenched in shameful advertising and revealing fashions, we’re unable to control the evil suggestions the devil might plant in our thoughts. If we quickly decide to reject the evil thoughts and evict them from our mind, then we haven’t sinned. But when we deliberately choose to dwell on the evil thought and to embrace it, it becomes a sin.
Thus, if our minds are constantly dwelling on trash, that’s where our lives will go. If our attitudes are focused upward, on the spiritual, we will glide up to heaven. Sadly, God’s people are often blasé about the connection between our thoughts and our success as Christians. George Barna, the famous researcher, put it this way: “The vast majority of Christians do not behave differently because they do not think differently.” So how does a person become spiritually minded, thinking the thoughts God wants us to think?
You Think What You See
Part of training the mind is controlling the inputs. We’re likely to let our minds slip into sinful thoughts if we’re constantly eyeing what passes these days for entertainment. What we take into our minds affects what we think.
How much more likely is it that you will have a nightmare if you watch a graphic horror flick before going to bed? It’s a question of focus and attention. The more poison we let into our minds, the more poisonous our thinking and the more poison we’re likely to leave in the world. Isaiah said of the wicked, “Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths” (Isaiah 59:7). If our thinking is influenced by what we take into our minds, shouldn’t we be careful about what we choose to watch and hear?
Some Christians wonder, Lord, why can’t I be more like Christ? Why is the Christian walk so difficult? Yet they’re filling their minds with things that are totally opposed to Christ. We console ourselves that we would never consider murder, adultery, stealing, or lying, yet many deliberately choose to do these forbidden behaviors vicariously by beholding entertainment filled with these acts. That’s a startling contradiction.
It is, in fact, one of the most dangerous problems in the church—the frivolous, nasty things that people watch, and hear, and read, vexing their minds with filth and temptation. Do not be deceived! “To be carnally minded is death. … Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6–8). What we sow into our minds, we will reap in our thoughts and actions.
You Are What You Study
Scripture says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Every believer should dedicate quality time each day to prayer and Bible study.
I hope that you’ll start establishing a library of good inspirational books to read and find CDs to listen to as you drive. There’s an ocean of great material for reading and sermons that you can download from the Internet. (There’s also some poor stuff, too, so “squeeze the tomatoes” as you shop.) Naturally, I recommend amazingfacts.org as a place to start!
Make this study time as important and regular to you as your daily meals. Job said, “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (23:12). Good study is one of the most practical things you can do to change your thinking. Real truth requires real thinking. Unfortunately, the average person doesn’t crave Bible doctrines that require them to study deeply or think through for themselves. They want the pastor to spoon-feed them sweet spiritual pablum. The book of Hebrews says, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (5:12–14 NRSV).
God invites us to daily, deliberately discipline our minds to pray, study, and meditate on His truth. Good Bible study isn’t just copious reading or constantly listening to sermon CDs. It requires us to mentally masticate what we’ve read. As we ponder the biblical truths, the mind files away the thoughts and principles for future application. Good study must be combined with the processing that meditation provides. Paul instructed Timothy, “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. … Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:13, 15 NKJV). Of course, I’m not talking about the Eastern form of meditation in which people are told to empty their minds. Rather, I’m speaking of the biblical model of meditation, in which we set a truth down in our minds and mentally walk around it, studying its different angles.
The best summary description of biblical meditation that I’ve found is in the famous devotional Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. I can’t improve on it, so here it is—
There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for labor in His service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: if we would have wine from it, we must bruise it; we must press and squeeze it many times. The bruiser’s feet must come down joyfully upon the bunches, or else the juice will not flow; and they must well tread the grapes, or else much of the precious liquid will be wasted. So we must, by meditation, tread the clusters of truth, if we would get the wine of consolation therefrom. Our bodies are not supported by merely taking food into the mouth, but the process which really supplies the muscle, and the nerve, and the sinew, and the bone, is the process of digestion. It is by digestion that the outward food becomes assimilated with the inner life. Our souls are not nourished merely by listening awhile to this, and then to that, and then to the other part of divine truth. Hearing, reading, marking, and learning, all require inwardly digesting to complete their usefulness, and the inward digesting of the truth lies for the most part in meditating upon it. Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord, and be this our resolve this morning, “I will meditate in Thy precepts.”
Steps to Better Thinking
It’s absolutely true that selfish humans can think the way God wants us to think! How? By letting God control our minds. It doesn’t always happen overnight, but we need to ask and believe. The Holy Spirit is willing to work wonders in our thinking. “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).
Before I accepted Christ, I had a nasty vocabulary. I cursed habitually because I was living in the world, and the world’s vocabulary is really terrible. When I invited the Lord into my heart, I noticed that as I’d get ready to say something crude or inappropriate out of habit, God would pull the emergency brake on my tongue. Suddenly, a little voice would whisper, “Don’t say that.” And I praised the Lord, because I saw with the aid of God’s Spirit I was actually in control of my thinking. Well, it was actually the Holy Spirit who was in control and who changed my mind and my talking. God will do that for you, too, if you are willing.
We would all think differently if we would remember the first great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). How do we love the Lord with our minds? I can tell you it isn’t by imagining a bouquet of flowers in God’s honor. Rather, it is telling Him that we want to think like Him, that we desire the mind of Christ. God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9).
So He invites us to think with His mind: “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).
We see a demonstration of God’s thoughts in His two great “books”—the Bible and creation. The universe and everything we see in the world are examples of God’s thoughts, with all of their magnificent wonder and beauty. Spend more time in nature. Surrounded by His creation, you will find yourself echoing His thoughts.
The other way to think God’s thoughts, as I’ve already mentioned, is to commit to prayer and Bible study. Just as pop culture can infect our thinking with all kinds of empty, carnal thoughts, so the Bible can infuse our thinking with holy and spiritual thoughts. If instead of watching that movie or TV program, we’ll covenant with God to read His Word, and we’ll soon see how quickly the Holy Spirit can change our thinking. “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:97–99). A new, positive pattern of thinking is one of the best signs that God is transforming our hearts.
God is offering you a new covenant, the new heart He wants to put within you. “Blessed are the pure in heart”—pure in thought and mind—“for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). It really is important what you think about. Not a single atom of your body is going to make it to heaven, not even your brain matter. What’s going to go? Your thoughts, your character, which will be downloaded into a new body.
Are you beginning to think about what you are thinking about?