It’s All in Your Mind

I was surprised how quickly I slipped. For several months I’d been mulling over some wonderful truths, gaining understanding and mentally preparing to share them on this blog. I’d learned to see challenges as an opportunity for growth and felt I could approach any difficulty with a positive attitude. Yet all it took was a few unexpected comments at a crucial moment to send me into a spin.

I was six days away from sending my final documents for my book, “Skinny Girl”, to the publisher when an email came from a trusted contact suggesting further edits. By this time—ten years into the writing and editing process—I hoped I had worked through every change that was needed.  I was wrong.

The point my friend made was important and I was glad she raised it. Still, I felt myself plummeting into a crazy mental tug-of-war, my thoughts flitting back and forth between accusations of failure and quieter assurances that correction would only help improve the book. Tiredness and hormones added their weight to the gloomy side, whispering in my ear, No matter how many changes you make, there will always be another error to fix, another fault to correct. This is never going to end.

Always. Never. I’d heard taunts like that before. I knew how to deal with them. But that day—my daughter’s birthday—I was too busy bustling through my list of essential birthday tasks, so the struggle simmered on. Late that evening I finally stopped, took a deep breath and verbalised what God had already whispered to my heart. “It’s gonna be okay. God will work it for good.” As soon as the words left my mouth, the inner battle waned and I could view the setback through eyes of hope. When I read the email again next morning, the words that tormented me had lost their sting and I began to get a sense of the way forward.

Sometimes our thoughts seem to run out of control.  Like cars on a racetrack, they hurtle through our mind, leaving impressions that guide our decisions—often without us realizing. Some days negative thoughts fire at us like a volley of bullets, making us cower in the corner, unable to function. Sometimes they even make us sick.

But are our thoughts really beyond our control? Are we helpless victims to their fluctuations?

Here’s what I’m learning.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2b). He wouldn’t say this unless change was possible. This process of renewal begins the moment we place our lives in God’s loving hands. He infuses us with His life-changing power, giving us a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 36:26, Titus 3:5) Then He calls us to partner with Him on the journey of transformation—a makeover that begins in our mind.

Holding hands looking at viewIt’s important to note that the verse in Romans doesn’t say, ‘Sit back and watch while God does all the work.’ It instructs us to, ‘Be transformed’. ‘Be’ is an action word. When we say, ‘Be quick,’ ‘Be thankful,’ or ‘Be quiet,’ we expect the listener to make a choice to do what’s been asked of them. When, through Paul, God says, ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,’ He’s telling us to choose to change the way we think, so we can grow into the people He designed us to be. He doesn’t leave us alone in this. He’s with us—offering strength and wisdom—every step. But the choices we make are vital to the process.

There are many people who’ve already put this principle into practice:

Wise King Solomon advised his listeners to, ‘Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’ (Proverbs 3:5-6)

When David battled depression, he told his soul to, ‘Put your hope in God,’ (Psalm 42: 5) Many, many times he made a decision to shift his focus from the hardships in his life—which were extreme—to the goodness of God. ‘My soul is downcast within me; Therefore, I will remember you . . .’ (42: 6)

Isaiah said, ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in You.’ (Isaiah 26:3)

The writer of Lamentations followed his outpouring of grief over his homeland’s devastation with a determined re-direction of his thoughts. ‘Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail . . . great is your faithfulness.’ (Lamentations 3:19-23)

Paul wrote to new Christians, ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ (Colossians 3:2) He told his readers to think about whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely and so on. (Philippians 4: 8)

These verses are the kind we look to for hope and perspective when we’re in a rough patch. We admire the faith of these people and the victories they experienced, often overlooking the fact they made a choice for hope and peace—even while their circumstances screamed pain and hopelessness. They faced their despair and negativity, renewed their mind, rose above the trials and ultimately went on to fulfil God’s purpose for their lives. Their example urges us to do the same. To acknowledge the Lord. Put our hope in Him. Remember His love. Trust in His strength and stability. Call to mind His great compassion. Set our minds on Him and His inherent goodness.closer slow down sign

‘Mindfulness’, the practice of slowing our thoughts and calmly observing them, is popular in our world right now. Many people are adopting it as a lifestyle in the hope of finding peace. To recognize what we’re thinking is an important first step— as we see in the example of David. However, like him, we have opportunity to go beyond merely observing our thoughts to leading them into truth.

Through God’s enabling, we can make a conscious decision to redirect the traffic in our mind. As we recognize destructive thoughts and turn them around, the truth will set us free. Then, further transformed, we can press on to fulfil God’s purpose for our lives.

So how do we renew our mind? Here are a few techniques I find helpful. I’ve mentioned some of these before, but they’re so important they’re worth repeating.

1. Read your Bible. Find verses that address the area where you need renewal.

“For the word of God is living and active . . . it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

  1. Display truth. Put these words in a prominent place and read them often.

“Pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words . . . for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.” Proverbs 4:20 – 22

Studying word on deck

3. Meditate. To meditate, in its most general sense, means ‘to think about something very carefully and deeply for a long time’, much like a cow chewing its cud. Journalling can help with this. Dwelling on specific verses over a period of time can help embed them in our memory. Then they’ll be available for us to draw on any time.

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” Psalm 119: 148

  1. Speak life daily. In conversation, in prayer, in gratitude. There is power in the spoken word, especially when it’s God’s word.

“From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied. The tongue has the power of life and death.” Proverbs 18:20 – 21

  1. Learn. Listen to teaching related to your struggle on YouTube and podcasts.

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the understanding get guidance . . .” Proverbs 1:5

  1. Sing. Use music that lifts you out of those mental tug-of-wars and into freedom. Lyrics tend to stick with us long after the song is over, so choose carefully.

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

  1. Sift. Disconnect from anything you read, watch or listen to that feeds destructive thought patterns. Replace them with good fuel.

“I will not let anything worthless guide me . . .” Psalm 101:3a

The process of mind renewal is a lifelong one and it will often be challenged. It’s good to remember that each time we make a choice for truth, God will strengthen us and give us clearer vision for the things to come.

Joy's misty morning

Photo credit to Joy Van Namen

“. . .we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10: 5b

“. . . 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.” Romans 12:2b-c

 

References

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, Lexico, 10 June, 2020, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/mindfulness

COLLINS COBUILD, Collins, Glasgow, UK, 10 June, 2020, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/meditation

 

 

 

Christmas Every Day

There’s going to be a pile of presents under our tree tonight. It’s Christmas Eve. For the first time, our four children have bought a gift for each family member. That means that before Mark and I even put our gifts out, there will be twenty presents filling the floor space around our bauble-laden evergreen.

Exciting!

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I love Christmas. I love presents – giving them, getting them, seeing the surprise on each one’s face as they discover what’s inside the colourful wrapping.

But long after all the paper is stashed in the recycling and the gifts are put away, I’ll still be celebrating the One we remember in this special season.

I’ve been pondering two verses in Isaiah chapter 9 of late, words which foretell the coming of Jesus. One particular phrase in verse 7 has stuck with me.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Yes, Jesus came as a beautiful, perfect baby. He was a real historical figure. He was born in a stable and was worshipped by shepherds and wise men alike. Isaiah 9: 6 speaks of that child.

But that exciting time was just the beginning.

Jesus didn’t come to the world just to delight everyone with his cuteness. He grew into a man and lived and loved people from all walks of life. He demonstrated His goodness and power in countless miracles – healings, provision, even raising the dead to life. He then laid down His life, taking the punishment for all the ways we’ve blown it and opening up the way for us to walk right into God’s presence (and live there).

Finally, He rose again (was seen by many witnesses) and still lives today. Best of all – He’s at work in our world.

He is the Wonderful Counsellor – the one who understands us completely and gives the best advice;

Mighty God – able to intervene in our lives and turn things around;

Everlasting Father – the faithful Dad who will never leave;

Prince of Peace – the one who remains steady at all times and invites us to walk with Him in that peace.

Our world is trying to push Jesus out, it seems. In America, use of the word ‘Christmas’ is being replaced by a more generic term.  In our own nation, Victorian public schools will no longer sing ‘religious’ carols at Christmas time as they may offend some students. There are countries where, for centuries, followers of Jesus have been ostracised, beaten, imprisoned and slaughtered, purely because of their devotion to Him.

Yet He continues to work.

Isaiah 9:7 reminds us that Jesus’ rule is spreading, even now, across the globe. Though we don’t hear about this in the mainstream media, He is reaching into the most unlikely places, touching the most unlikely people, bringing His counsel, His power, His beautiful Fatherly love and His perfect peace right into their midst.

Jesus’ rule isn’t one of domination or violence. He hasn’t raised up a terrifying army. He doesn’t force Himself upon us at all. No. He invites us to come to Him. He offers forgiveness, renewal, healing.

When we open our lives to Him, He fills us with His presence and begins to restore us, starting with all the broken places in our hearts.

It’s been thirty two years since I accepted His invitation. There’s not a moment in that time where I’ve regretted my decision. He has changed me more than I can find words to explain, bringing a love and peace that is beyond compare.

Knowing Him is cause for celebration every day.

“For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on His shoulders.

And He will be called

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end…”

Isaiah 9:6-7a

Hope in the midst of winter

Have you braved the outdoors lately?

It was mid-July, the deepest, darkest part of winter – the time of year when sensible people stay tucked up inside by the fire. Yet one unusually warm day the sun streamed through my window and beckoned me outside.

The moment I opened the door, the lilting warble of magpies filled my ears. I smiled and breathed deeply, inhaling the sweet fragrance of wattle blooms. I wandered around the yard, pausing in one place to watch the birds flirt and swoop, bending over in another to study the silent garden beds. Clusters of pale green spikes gave promise of daffodils and bluebells yet to come. Tiny pink buds formed little bumps along the stems of formerly naked trees.

All around me were signs of new life.

July is the coldest winter month, the one we often view as something to endure on our way to warmer weather. We bustle through the mall with hunched shoulders and pinched faces, darting from one toasty shop to the next, barely stopping to greet familiar friends in our hurry to get out of the cold. We battle coughs and colds and long for the carefree vitality we associate with summer. Yet in the midst of the chills and discomforts of our frigid days God gently whispers to us through His creation, “Winter will not last forever.

Spring is coming.”

Our family has had some difficult ‘winters’ in the last couple of years – long bouts of whooping cough, a sudden brush with death and slow recovery, cancer diagnosis for a precious grandpa followed by his rapid decline and passing.

The winters of our lives can feel terribly harsh. Unbearable. Like stark trees in the garden, we feel stripped back to bare bones. Completely void of life. We drag ourselves through each day, weighed down by the heaviness of the struggle, often convinced that it will never end.

Yet it will.

Winter, no matter how harsh, does not last forever. Spring will come. The darkness and heartache will pass and, while some things in our lives may have permanently changed, we will experience beauty and joy again.

Spring will surely come.

But here’s an important thought to ponder: The health and splendour of our spring plants is dependent on how well-rooted they were through the winter months. It’s in winter, when everything appears lifeless, that the plant is preparing for spring, drawing deeply from nourishment in the soil and forming its next season’s shoots.

We may not see much happening on the outside but there is a whole lot going on under the surface.

So it is with us. We can choose in our wintertime to put our roots down deep and draw from the living source. Or we can battle it out alone and just barely survive to emerge in the spring.

I’m reminded of a favourite passage in Jeremiah 17:7-8.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

Whose confidence is in Him.

He will be like a tree planted by the water

That sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;

Its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought

And never fails to bear fruit.”

I want to live a life that—like spring blooms—can bring joy and beauty to others. How about you?

For that to happen, we need to stay connected with our Maker, through every season.

Only then can we be a channel of His life and hope.