By Pastor Troy Dorrell
The Bible teaches us that we are to direct our thinking toward those things that honor God and are good for us. Part of the reason for this is that our thinking takes us somewhere. When we direct and align our thinking with the Bible and wisdom, we find life and peace. However, when we allow our thinking to become negative and worldly, we discover outcomes that diminish us and hurt others.
Romans 8:6 tells us, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Bad thinking simply leads to the death of all things good. Because of the destructive consequences of bad thinking, the Apostle admonishes us to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. Or, said another way, we need to direct our thinking in a way that aligns itself with the mind of Christ to invite blessing into our lives rather than harm.
The first step in this process was outlined in part 1 of this article, which was published earlier. Chiefly, we must realize that our thinking does in fact take us somewhere, it invites consequences, and it determines our destiny and the kind of person we will become in time.
The second step in directing our thinking involves setting our mind. Because our feelings and emotions always take us somewhere, it is important we “set” our thinking towards desirable destinations. This discipline is commanded throughout the Word of God. (See Colossians 3:1-10, Philippians 4:6-8, Romans 12:1, 2.)
Learning to set our minds is a major part of our spiritual lives and learning to develop the mind of Christ. Setting your mind is like setting the thermostat in your home. By setting the temperature, you have the power to create a desirable climate.
When we fail to set our mind and let it run unmanaged, our thinking tends to run to negative places—like complaining, anger, bitterness, envy, and lust. Therefore, setting—or managing—our thinking, feelings, and emotions is a critical part of leading a spiritual life.
Author Dallas Willard put it this way: “The prospering of God’s people and the prospering of God’s cause on earth, in large measure, depend upon God’s people thinking well. Feelings live on the front row of our lives, like unruly children demanding and clamoring for attention”
Because this is true, good thinking realizes that feelings are not reasons and must be placed in check or governed. If we allow our emotions and feelings to control our thinking, then we will always arrive at a poor destination. Feelings and emotions are wonderful servants but they make for very bad masters.
The third step in directing our thinking is to understand that our thinking shapes us. Proverbs 23:7 says it succinctly: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We fashion and form the person we are by thinking.
God’s gift of our mind is an incredibly amazing thing. Before you were born, your body produced around 200 billion neurons, giving you the capacity to think, feel, react, and experience life. Between the second month after conception and the time we were 2 years old, the brain produced about 2 synaptic connections per second. These connections determine (in great measure) who we are, how we will respond, and much of our personality.
Until recently, scientists thought the adult brain was unchangeable, but now research tells us we have the power to rewire our brains and how we think. The science is called neuroplasticity, and it basically tells us that by directing our thinking we can form new neural connections and therefore change the way we think and what we can do. In other words this is how we learn something complex like playing a guitar or—more to our point—learn better ways of thinking and responding in negative or difficult circumstances.
When we force ourselves to think differently we can begin to profoundly alter the pattern of neural activity. To a degree, we can even change the physical wiring of our brain and its functional organization. A person’s actions, attitudes, personality, and responses under duress are all part of our “wiring” or conditioned neural response. But, when we begin to direct our thinking, we literally begin to forge new neural pathways that make the new way of thinking more natural and conditioned.
Each time we allow ourselves to become angry, as a response, neural pathways are formed to initiate that particular response more quickly. However, when we direct our thinking towards a better response, pathways are formed over time to make the better response the more natural pathway for our emotions to follow. This is an incredible truth!
By living right, and doing right, and thinking right, over time we literally become more likely to continue to respond in a positive way. However, if we allow emotions, anger, and lust to have their way over and over, then the pathways that we form tend to reinforce those responses in us habitually. Literally we are becoming the person we think, and our thinking creates who we are.
What a blessing to know that by disciplining our thought life and responses to that which is good, we can form pathways in the brain that actually help us be the people we desire and need to be. It is therefore imperative that we direct our thinking in such a way that it honors God and aligns with His purposes. By doing so, not only are we inviting blessing into our lives, but also we are determining what kind of person we will be.