My Grandmother (who is very wise), has often advised me on the importance of where I put my focus. She noticed that when people get married saying “I will never get divorced”, they often times do get divorced. However those who get married saying, “I will love you no matter what,” have a better chance of staying together. Why? Because their focus is on what they WILL DO, instead of focusing on and thinking about what they WON’T DO.
What we dwell on becomes what we do. If someone tells you, “don’t think about a cow,” the first thing you think of is a cow. Interesting. If you really don’t want someone to think about a cow, it makes more sense to say, “think about a horse.” Or better yet, “think about cell phones.” If you are on a diet thinking, “I won’t eat the cake,” you will probably be thinking about cake. On the contrary, if you think, “I will eat broccoli,” chances are you will think about broccoli and actually eat it.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
What we focus on can mean the difference between success and failure. This is a universal truth. Even Buddha once said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” The power of the brain is not a surprise to God. He created us with ability to acquire knowledge and wisdom, or to be foolish.
The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.
Understanding how our minds work can help us know how to inspire change in others. Giving our children, friends, and spouse a list of “Don’ts” often makes them focus on the things you don’t want them to do. The more of our mind we give to something, the more of a temptation it becomes. It is necessary and important to point out what is wrong or what path we don’t want to take. We do need to have warnings. But unless we have a strategy of what we are going to do, we will end up doing what we don’t want to do. Consider what Paul said about the war between his spirit and his flesh.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
After pointing out or recognizing the path we don’t want to take, we must choose the path we will take. For instance, my eight month old has a tendency to pinch people. I could tell him, “don’t pinch,” but it might be more effective to tell him, “be gentle,” and then show him how to appropriately touch others. Suggestions of positive things to do and encouragement for the things that are going well, usually gets everyone on track a whole lot faster than telling them what is wrong.
The idea is replacement. Many of us have heard time and time again that you can’t just remove a habit. Instead you have to replace that habit with a new one or else you will go back to your old ways. Jesus talks about this concept in the context of demon possession:
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
It’s not good enough to stop thinking bad thoughts. It’s not enough to decide not to sin. In fact, if we stop at the removal step, we will never be free. The emptiness we experience has to be replaced. It is the homing device that leads us to the search for God. As sin and bad habits are removed, we must renew our minds and replace those habits with more of God.
The more of our mind we give to something, the more of a temptation that thing becomes.
If what we think about has significant power over our lives, then we need to think about what we are thinking about. How’s your thought life? When I take time to analyze my thoughts, I’m sickened. Yuck! Am I really focusing on all that negativity? Our minds are difficult to control, and impossible to control without the Holy Spirit. That is why we are urged to replace those negative thoughts with thoughts of Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Do you have a list of “Don’ts” that you spend a lot of time thinking about? I challenge you to write those down. Next to each “Don’t”, write a replacement “Do”. Pray about them, and commit yourself to taking your thoughts captive. Consider memorizing the verses in this blog.
I’m right there with you, struggling to train my mind to obey God.