The Moldable Mind
"'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ."
1 C O R I N T H I A N S 2 : 1 6
Anyone else on a self-improvement streak? I'm reading books on gardening and health, have been telling everyone I'm going to complete the BBG program this summer (yikes! now I gatta do it!), and can't wait to find a place so I can organize my life and my time and you know, clean out my car which is currently loaded with house stuff (nothin' like showing up places with your car looking like you're a MAJOR HOARDER).
But in all seriousness, anyone who has a pulse probably wants to improve themselves some way or another.
I think this is particularly true of Christians, as we are called to grow in sanctification daily. The obvious difference for us is that instead of "self-improvement" we are called more to relax, sit back, and let the Spirit do the work in us while we just focus on actually attending the "sessions" (i.e. devotional time, meditation time, church time).
For me, a huge aspect of sanctification has been learning how to field spiritual attacks. What I mean by that is learning how to put on the armor of God and fight back when Satan starts messing with my thoughts and feelings. For me, and many others I am sure, the battle is usually there. Satan attacks my mind and my emotions or my own sinful nature threatens me in those areas specifically.
What that looks like is fear, anxiety, depression, and a lot of self-destructive, negative thoughts about myself, others, and God. Taking life situations, like losing our condo, for example, and putting a filter on it. "God always picks on me." "I'm not good enough to have something nice." "God seems kind of mean in this situation; it's like He is playing with my emotions. He knew how much I wanted THAT place."
Meh, it's not fun letting people into even just that little bit of what my mind looks like. Time to be even more vulnerable! It may seem off topic, but trust me, I'm going to tie everything back together.
Healthy Mind and Body
Ever since I've been so happily married, I've been steadily gaining weight! Probably because I feel comfortable and secure; probably also because metabolisms change as we age. Trust me, it's NOT fun how many times people have innocently asked me if I'm pregnant. This may sound crazy, but there's a part of me that is thankful for this turn of events. I was 96 lbs. for 4 out of 5 years of college and trust me when I say I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. This metabolism change has enlightened me to how terrible and careless my eating habits truly are and how little self-discipline I have in this area.
I'm seeing this as an opportunity to grow healthy in mind AND body. An opportunity to all around create a healthier lifestyle.
Ergo, I've been reading Skinny Habits: The 6 Secrets of Thin People by Bob Harper the trainer/coach on NBC's The Biggest Loser, specifically this book and not another health one because it was in the free section at the library. I feel like just a few chapters in, I've learned so much and not only that, I'm so surprised at how much insight he is giving me into how my mind works.
Baring personality differences, all our minds work basically in the same way, and I want to argue that there are some really important spiritual principles we can draw from that. Chapter 2 of this book is entitled "Consciously Push Back" and Harper spends most of it teaching people how to push back against what he calls "distorted thinking" -- the root of the problem for why we make bad health choices (49). I was blown away by how accurate his description of the 15 common ways we use "distorted thinking" in our daily lives.
What Harper sees as "distorted thinking," I see as "sinful thinking."
Really, that's all it is. In the midst of spiritual attacks or trials, when we should be focusing on God and His truths, our minds fall into a thinking that is unhealthy and that twists the situation we are in. It puts a filter on it, and we end up raising an angry fist at ourselves, others, or even God Himself.
Awareness is the first step to change, right? Harper challenges his readers to practice identifying these thought patterns and defining a conscious pushback statement against them. Christians should definitely be doing the same, but instead of defining your own conscious pushback statement about all 15, my challenge is to try identifying which ones you particularly fall into and prepare statements about God's truth you can preach to yourself in the moment it happens.
Harper's 15 Patterns
Without further ado, here are Harpers 15 Patterns of "Distorted Thinking." Totally not going to put quotes around each statement, but yes, I am copying them straight from the book :
1. Using a Bad Filter
You see all the negative details, totally blow them out of proportion, and don't even bother considering the positive aspects of a situation.
2. Black-and-White Thinking
You can't see the grey areas of a situation. You're either perfect or you're a failure. No middle ground!
If something happens once, you think it will always be that way.
4. Mind Reading
You think you can divine what people think about you and why they act the way they do. And without evidence!
You totally blow everything out of proportion. You expect the worst out of any given situation.
You think that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction (usually bad) to you. Then you compare yourself to others and set up an idea against which to unrealistically judge yourself.
You must be in control, even over things that you really can't reliably control! If you can't, you feel that you have failed, that you are weak, and you lapse into a shame-binge cycle.
8. The Fairness Delusion
You feel you know what is fair in most situations. If others disagree or behave in what you would consider "unfair" ways, you are resentful. You feel resentful because you think you know what is fair but others won't agree with you.
Someone is always to blame. You hold other people responsible for your pain, which is---let's face it---not always rational, or worse, you blame yourself for everything.
10. The "Should" Illusion
You have a secret list of many inflexible commandments and rules about how you and others should act. You blame yourself if you break the rules, and others if they---even if they have no clue about your "shoulds."
11. Making Feelings into "Fact"
"What I feel must be true." If you feel fat, you are. If you feel stupid, you are.
12. The Change Delusion
You think other people will always change just because you pressure or "convince" them to do so. If they don't change, your hopes for happiness are dashed [ex. wife giving up on diet because husband refuses to join in].
13. Global Labeling
You generalize one or two qualities into a negative judgement that must apply to everyone all the time.
You see everything through the lens of being right all the time. You put yourself on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct.
15. The Atta-Boy "Rule"
You expect that all of your sacrifices and hard work will be constantly rewarded with praise (either verbal or some kind of tangible award). If you don't get that praise or accolade, you both resent others and denigrate yourself for "failing."
I've decided to start doing a takeaway for some of these posts, kind of to wrap up what I want you to walk away from after reading and also to provide you with practical suggestions for how to grow. Ultimately, like I said before, our goal as Christians IS growth, sanctification, maturity, however you want to term it. We need to move forward. If we're not moving forward, we are either stagnant or falling backwards---both situations we need to avoid.
In summary, much of the battleground of sanctification is fought in our MIND. Satan/our sinful nature tempts us to face life situations using "distorted/sinful" thinking. When we view situations negatively, we react negatively and end up angry at ourselves, others, or even God.
Practically what can you do? I'm borrowing from Harper's solution again, just transferring it to the spiritual aspect of life:
1. Ready yourself. The "belt of truth" is God's Word. Make sure you read it, every day. The "breastplate of righteousness" is you aligning yourself the twisted parts of yourself to God's Word to make yourself straight. Putting on this piece of armor every morning means committing that no matter what, as discrepancies between you and Scripture arise, you will obediently align yourself to the Word.
2. Catch yourself. In the act. Identify the sinful thought pattern as it pops into your mind.
3. Know yourself. Keep track of which thought patterns pop up the most for you and assess what your "distorted" thought habits are.
4. Prepare yourself. Prepare truth statements or verses from God's word to remind yourself of what you really should be thinking. Align your thinking with the truth, which should be easy because you already decided to do that at the beginning of the day.
I'm so terrible at all this that I shouldn't be writing about it. But I'm committed to learning and improving. I challenge you to it as well. "Only one life, twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last."
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