How can we transform our mind from a secular stronghold to a place inhabited by the Spirit of God?
This article was originally published in New Covenant Magazine, March 1977. Bruce states he would write this article somewhat differently today, but he is happy enough to let us reproduce it in its original form.
FORMING THE CHRISTIAN MIND
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.(Romans 12:2)
The Christian mind doesn’t just happen to people. It doesn’t arrive at baptism, and it doesn’t come simply because we want it to. In fact, it won’t develop without a great deal of effort on our part. Where do we begin? What can we do to transform our mind from a secular stronghold to a place inhabited by the Spirit of God?
We can begin by resolving to view our mind as our servant rather than as our master. God gave us our mind so that we could think, reason, and know him. He intended that we use it to help establish order in our lives. But because our mind plays such an important role in helping us regulate our activities, and because the intellect is so exalted in our day, it’s easy to assume that the mind is the master of life. We must dismiss that view and determine that our mind will serve rather than control us.
Discipline plays a key role in developing a truly Christian mind. In The Wisdom of the Desert, a collection of sayings from the hermits of the early church, a young hermit approaches an older one and asks for advice on how to handle the many distracting thoughts that fill is mind. The elder tells the younger to go outside, hold open the garments around his chest and catch the wind in them. When the younger says that this is impossible, the elder hermit tells him that, likewise, it is impossible to keep distracting thoughts from entering the mind. but, he adds, “Your job is to say no to them.”
Over the centuries the task has remained the same. Our job, too, is to learn to say no to distracting thoughts, and to discipline our mind by turning it to the subject at hand. If we’re at a prayer meeting, it’s time to direct our attention to the Lord. If we’re talking with a friend, our thoughts belong with our friend in that conversation. In every situation, our mind should operate solely on the concerns that belong to it. If anxiety or fear arises, if wayward thoughts assail it, the mind should cast those cares upon the Lord in surrender to him.
Our minds should be like good soldiers, ready to obey our commands and, when necessary, ready to engage in battle to rout the enemy. Mental discipline isn’t an arbitrary element of the Christian life, it’s a strategic weapon in enabling us to free our minds for the Lord. Like any weapon, the more we use it the more skilled we’ll become in handling it.
An Active, Open Mind
A common obstacle to forming a Christian mind is fear of using our mind, based on a conviction that the intellect hinders the spiritual life. Our mind, however, as a tool given us by God to be actively used in building his kingdom. An idle, empty mind is of little use to the owner or to God. Moreover, an empty mind, unoccupied by the things of God or other concerns proper to the task at hand, is likely to fall prey to distracting thoughts or thoughts planted by the evil one.
Not only should we actively use our minds, but we should enjoy using them. At the same time, we should discipline our minds to think within the limits set both by our mental ability and by God’s call for our life. We shouldn’t strain to think grander, more complicated thoughts than come naturally to us. On the other hand, we must resist the temptation to become discouraged or feel inferior if our mental faculties fall short of our intellectual ideal. It boils down to a question of stewardship. God has entrusted our minds to us and we should be using them with vigor and enthusiasm, knowing that if we are submitted to him, he will guide us in using them as he intended.
Further, it is imperative that we share our thoughts and concerns with the Christians around us. A reluctance to open our minds to others can leave us at the mercy of confusing, anxious, fearful thoughts that could be quickly dispelled by a word of truth from a brother or sister. If we’re married, we should share our thoughts willingly and freely with our spouse. Our minds should be open to those who are in authority over us, and to mature Christian men and women in our prayer group or community. We can trust that they will be able to tell us when our thinking is out of line and help us to discipline our mind so that it is truly our servant.
A Mind Formed by God’s Word
A mind filled with the word of God is a solid defense against the snares of the world, the flesh, and the evil one.
“I have laid up your word in my heart,” Scripture says, “that I might not sin against you”.(Psalm 119:11)
Formed by God’s word and relying on his promises, the mind is quiet, receptive, and open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It reaches out to God and welcomes his truth in Scripture, prophecy, and teaching. The mind that is immersed in Scripture will easily apprehend the mind of God and is well on its way to becoming a truly Christian mind.
Finally, we can train our minds for the Lord by limiting our exposure to worldly influences. Do we rigorously monitor the information that we allow to enter our minds and the minds of our children? What magazines and books do we read? Why do we read them? If they claim to be Christian publications, are we reading them critically, with an eye to whether or not they adhere to the truth? Do we exercise discernment when deciding what movie we’ll see or what TV program we’ll watch? How do we spend our free time? It is vital to our spiritual health that we honestly confront these and similar issues, seriously examine the role various influences play in our lives, and then take action against those influences that militate against the formation of a Christian mind.
THE MIND IN PERSPECTIVE
A discussion of the characteristics and formation of the Christian mind is sure to prompt some accusations of anti-intellectualism. People assume that when a person talks about disciplining the mind he is asking them to stop thinking. Not at all. The Lord gave us our minds and he expects us to use them. The intellect is a gift from God – a good, valuable part of his creation. But the Lord also expects us to view our minds in the proper perspective and to accept the fact that above everything else, we must use them to cling to God. There’s nothing anti-intellectual about that stance, it’s simply a statement of the highest priority confronting the mind. When we have established that, then all the other things to which we should apply our minds assume their places.
“Be Transformed by the Renewal of Your Mind”
The mind can help us come either to eternal life or eternal death. Scripture tells us that
“the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel”.(2 Corinthians 4:4)
Scripture exhorts us,
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”.(Romans 12:2)
We are warned to
“put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds”.(Ephesians 4:22-23)
The way we discipline and use our mind is a decisive factor in determining whether it is the territory of Satan or the stronghold of God. We can decide whether our mind will produce death or abundant life for ourselves and those around us.
Image credit: man reading the Bible, from BigStock.com, copyright © by digitalskillet1, stock photo ID# 171156872
Bruce Yocum (1948 – 2022) was involved in leadership and teaching for many years in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and the Covenant Communities Movement which began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and in the Sword of the Spirit. He travelled widely throughout the Sword of the Spirit communities to equip and train community leaders in North America, Europe and the Middle East, Latin America and the South Pacific. Bruce Yocum was a life-long member of the Servants of the Word, an international ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. He served as Presiding Elder of the Servants of the Word for thirteen years (1989-2003).