Cultivating the Mind of Christ

When James A. Garfield said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable,” he might well have been referring to some addictive habit where the agony of continuing had finally overwhelmed the comfortable denial “I can quit anytime.” The real misery only begins there; ask anyone who has survived the withdrawal pains of “detoxing” from a major chemical addiction.

For all the agony it inflicts, the “cold turkey” approach has an advantage in that you only have to live through it once–assuming that permanent abstinence is a feasible follow-up. Many addictions lack that luxury: the compulsive overeater still has to consume a reasonable level of food; the obsessive parent can’t normally put her children up for adoption; and the nonstop worrier, alas, still has to live in a world of problems and uncertainty.

While worrying, itself, does probably fall into the “should give it up forever” category, the reactions that trigger it come inseparably bound to one thing we can’t live without: thinking. Likewise with many mental habits that aren’t harmful per se but can turn addictive: planning, fantasizing, review, self-evaluation. Hello, my name is Katherine and I’m a compulsive daydreamer, and it takes every ounce of my effort to escape it for an hour.

Ultimately, thinking habits are at the core of every addiction and, according to neurologists, are themselves physically addictive. Too much thinking of any one type also follows the typical addiction route of wanting more the more you have; my Jesus Calling devotional has had a lot to say recently about minds that become so dependent on “planning” they can’t hear God speaking over the clamor of how-I-want-life-to-go. The only solution–agony to contemplate if you’re prone to “every single time” thinking–is to keep gently steering your mind back to God, if not every single time at first, certainly on a regular basis. The surest way to change any habit is to replace it with a positive alternative.

St. Paul offers a classic principle in Philippians 4:8: “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.” Note that by starting off with true, he implies that the majority of our thoughts are best rooted in reality; too many of us focus 99% of our thoughts on the way we wish things were, or on escape into total fantasy. That said, “realism” that looks only at the negative side is no better. God has filled reality with many noble, lovely, and praiseworthy things; only the mind that embraces these first can develop the Christlike thinking that sees the hope behind the ugly, the meaning behind the parable, the hand of God in everything.

Sound like a tall order? Remember, “apart from [God] we can do nothing” (John 15:5), but “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, NLT). As with most aspects of life, we tend to assume God wants us to change our thinking habits by our own power, fast. No, He is more than ready to help us every step of the long way.

He Himself re-creates our thinking. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:16: “We have the mind of Christ.”

How About You? What changes do you want to make in your thinking habits? Share your thoughts!

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  1. Thankful But Not Overjoyed | Strength for the Weary

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