Changing the Way We Think

In our desire for Finding More, you and I traveled with Saul on the road to Damascus and entered the house on Straight Street. We sat together in the darkness with him as he realized his greatest passion in life had been misdirected. The Law he thought could save him actually closed his eyes to the One who truly could.

In our desire for Finding More, you and I traveled with Saul on the road to Damascus and entered the house on Straight Street. We sat together in the darkness with him as he realized his greatest passion in life had been misdirected. The Law he thought could save him actually closed his eyes to the One who truly could.

Like Saul, as each of us receives more love and grace, we increasingly feel more secure in our relationship with God. This security allows us to courageously take a closer, more honest look at ourselves to see where we might have gotten off track and what changes need to be made.

The darkness of Straight Street no doubt helped Saul, now called Paul, to take that closer look and later pen these familiar words to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) 

Dr. Caroline Leaf has spent 30 years as a neuroscientist researching the power our thoughts have to physically alter our brains. By changing the way we think, we can renew our minds. Her findings dramatically demonstrate how science is beginning to catch up with Scripture. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made!

The capacity and capability of the brain is overwhelming. Four hundred BILLION actions fire through your brain every second. Since the brain is designed for positive interactions, the proteins and chemicals of negative thoughts have no structures on which to land. Though proteins are still created, they are distorted. Chemicals continue to rapid-fire through brain matter, but in the wrong quantities. Everything goes haywire. As a result, your brain responds to negative information just as your body responds to a virus or injury. Gnarly, knotty branches form and swell on your neurons instead of the smooth, lush branches that indicate a healthy brain. We must be just as proactive with the health of our minds as we are with our bodies. Perhaps even more so, since the brain controls all bodily functions.

At any given moment four to seven thoughts move from your non-conscious mind into your conscious one. Both healthy and negative thoughts continuously slide back and forth. Once we become aware of these thoughts, we have the opportunity to “demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4b-5)

How is that possible?

Once you recognize an unhealthy thought, ask God to help you work on it. He will help you identify the lies of Satan and show you what needs to be thrown out. (He’s done this, and continues to do it, for me.) Since good Pharisees knew their Psalms, Paul knew the end of Psalm 139, Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Paul spent three years in Arabia after he “saw the light”. He then traveled to Damascus and on to Jerusalem where he spent time with Peter and James. (Galatians 1:18-20) Perhaps, it was during this time that the Holy Spirit methodically tested Paul’s anxious heart, showed him his offenses, and then filled him with all the fullness of God.

Our best therapist is indeed the Holy Spirit! He will let you know when you’ve let the nightly news steal your joy, or you’ve belittled your own worth, rehashed an offense, harbored unforgiveness, or put hurtful words on repeat. Dr. Leaf says, “When negative thoughts are not dealt with, they move back into the non-conscious mind even MORE toxic than they were before.” This is not the kind of MORE we’re after!

Successfully chopping off the unhealthy branches of our gnarly neurons leaves empty spaces that need time to refill. In order to grow lush, healthy neurons with full, flowing branches we need something to take the place of negative thoughts. Paul seemed to understand this perfectly. He certainly understood struggling when he wrote, “In my inner self I delight in God’s law, but I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.” (Romans 7:22-23) I’ve often wondered if Paul’s thorn in the flesh might have had its root in the flesh of his brain. Might he have occasionally let the shame he felt for persecuting Christians creep back into his thoughts? After all, he did tell Timothy he considered himself to be the worst of sinners.

Could the same Spirit working in him to overcome his shame also have worked through him to joyfully write these words? “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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Dr. Leaf has an online program I began in October of 2018 called the 21 Day Detox: 21 Days to a Toxic-Free Mind (http://21daybraindetox.com). Through that program I learned how to recognize unhealthy thoughts, ask the Spirit for help, and replace those thoughts with affirming words from God. I plastered my refrigerator with sticky notes for several months! Through that process, I learned the value of speaking life over myself, accepting love and grace from the Grace-giver, and the importance of taking the time to change the way I think. 

I believe letter-writing was good therapy for Paul. I know that blog-writing has been good for me. My prayer for you isthat you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

*****

If you’re interested in learning more about this process, I hope you’ll take some time to listen to some of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s videos on YouTube. Next week, we’ll jump into the deep end of the pool! See you then! Happy Tuesday! 

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Donna Jackson

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