Biblical, Mental and Emotional Health
As a Person Thinks . . .
Reflecting Christ is a little devotional book that I bought years ago. The Devotional book includes a pieces titled “What You Think, You Are.” It’s commentary on II Corinthians 10:5 that original was printed in a magazine called the Signs of the Times on August 23, 1905, and it includes some powerful statements on how crucial out thinking is to the battle of the soul. Here are some of these statements:
- More precious than the golden wedge of Ophir is the power of right thought. We need to place a high value upon the right control of our thoughts; for such control prepares us to labor for the Master. It is necessary for our peace and happiness in this life that out thoughts center in Christ. As a man thinketh, so is he.
- Every impure thought defiles the soul, impairs the moral sense, and tends to obliterate the impressions of the Holy Spirit. It dims the spiritual vision, so that men cannot behold God.
- The converting power of God changes the heart, refining and purifying the thoughts. Unless a determined effort is made to keep the thoughts centered on Christ, grace cannot reveal itself in the life. The mind must engage in the spiritual warfare.
- We need a constant sense of the ennobling power of pure thoughts and the damaging influence of evil thoughts. Let us place our thoughts upon holy things. Let them be pure and true; for the only security for any soul is right thinking. We are to use every means that God has placed within our reach for the government and cultivation of our thoughts. We are to bring our minds into harmony with Christ’s mind. His truth will sanctify us, body, soul, and spirit, and we shall be enabled to rise about temptation.
Thoughts determines behavior; both good and bad deeds come from the heart (mind) rather than from the outside.
Mark 7 tells a story in which Jesus emphasizes the mind-first, actions second sequence. Jesus noticed that the Pharisees and some teachers of the law were very concerned about the ceremonial washing of the hands. They were criticizing the disciples because they often forgot to do this washing and consequently were eating their food with ceremonially unclean hands. Jesus confronted them with a valid perspective. He rebuked them for sometimes breaking the Ten Commandments while holding to the tradition of the elders. For example, to keep their money and property for themselves, these religious leaders declared it to be “Corban.” This was “legal” way to make the leaders technically unable to share their wealth with their parents no matter how needy they might be. Really, however they were breaking the fifth commandment.
Jesus repeatedly explained that nothing that entered people from the outside – because of, for instance, a failure to do the ceremonial washing of the hands, – makes them morally unclean. Rather, He said, “From within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean” (mark 7:21-23). By this Jesus revealed that all of us will be held accountable for the actions that come from within us – and that we can’t simply blame the environment, circumstances, or past experiences.
On a different occasion, Jesus reinforced the same idea using a tree – fruit connections as an illustration. “People,” He said, Do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart (Mind), and the evil man bring evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:44, 45).
A friend of mine counseled a couple when he lived in the Far East. He had the opportunity to share with them some strategies we will learn from them. The husband had an anger control problem. Small stimuli would make him raise his voice like a mad man, and, on occasion, he even physically shook his wife and children violently. This man realized the triviality of the provocations and wanted to correct his awful, un-Christian, barbaric behavior. He had prayed about it, but after a short break, he returned to his bad behavior. Now he wanted help, and his wife had come to support him.
My friend explained to this couple that we depend totally on God, but we also need to use whatever resources are available to us to do our part, and then God will do the rest. We discussed how important it was to keep moods manageable and to undercut anger long before it bursts out. This man needed to identify the causes of his anger and to act upon them. But he also needed to detect signals – “prodromal indicators” that warned that he was about to blow up.
Well, this man had a hard time identifying such things, but apparently his wife didn’t. She could tell when his anger was building and knew that he would soon lose control. At their next session, they told me their discovery, which they had already tested and so knew that it worked. This was the trick: whenever this man’s wife sensed that his anger was building up, she would look straight into his eyes and, in a calm tone, say, “one hundred pesos!” They had agreed this nonsense expression would be the signal for him to step back, interrupt the process, and regain control.
In Christian framework, this is only primary care – a step in the right direction. The definitive solution comes with a life that is under the control of the Holy Spirit: “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5, 6).
People can tell when our thoughts become distressing. “Lacara es del espjo del alma” (the face is the mirror of the soul), is widely known and much-used Spanish proverb. Daniel 4 relates Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an enormous tree, visible from the ends of the earth, that is cut down and its branches, leaves, and fruit scattered so that only the stump and its roots are left. This dream also pictures a man’s heart being changed into a beast’s heart, causing him to behave totally, like an animal. When the prophet Daniel heard the account, he was “greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him” (Daniel 4:19). His face must have revealed his feelings very explicitly, because the king – who himself very afraid – stopped thinking of himself for a moment, focused on Daniel instead, and encouraged him not to be alarmed.
Distressful thoughts, unless temporary and soon resolved as Daniel’s were, may lead to maladaptive behavior. That is why the cognitive-behavior approach says it’s so important to avoid the wrong kind of thinking. But we also need to recognize something that the cognitive-behavior approach doesn’t emphasize – the fact that behavior and external circumstances, in turn, may cause the wrong kind of thinking. That’s why a Christian approach to avoiding evil should include both the internal and external.
Christopher Barlett and Christopher Rodeheffer, from Iowa State University and Kansas State University respectively, studied the effects of computer games on aggressive thoughts and feelings. The subjects were computer games on aggressive thoughts and feelings. The subjects were seventy-four college studently (thirty-nine make, thirty-five female) who were randomly assigned to play one of three games: Conflict: Desert Strom (violent and realistic). Star Wars: battlefront 2 (Violent but unrealistic), or Hard Hitter Tennis (nonviolent). Those young men and women who played the violent, realistic game displayed the highest levels of aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings, and heart beats per minute during the four times they were assessed. Those who played the violent, unrealistic game ranked next in aggressiveness, and players of the nonviolent game ranked lowest. It was clear that in his case, behavior caused thinking rather than the reverse.
A large-scale study carried out by Ayman Fanous and his associates from the Institute of Psychiatric and behavioral Genetics at the Virginia Commonwealth University aimed to discover the variable affecting suicidal ideation – thoughts of death and self-harm. The subjects were female twins from the Virginia Twin Registry. They were an overage of twenty-nine years of age at its end. Some 2,164 women 1,082 twin pairs) were interviewed initially, and there were three other interviews separated by at least a year. Even with some loss of participants (1,942 women completed all the interviews), the results showed that suicidal ideas and thoughts of self-harm didn’t come entirely from within. Certain external variables were also able to predict those thoughts. These variables included sexual abuse and childhood, loss of job, cocaine misuse, low levels of education, low religiosity, low altruism, loss of a dear one, assault, and financial problems.
This study reveals that certain thought processes -suicidal in this case – are clearly affected by circumstances and external factors. Consequently, it would also be reasonable to believe that favorable conditions and behaviors would bring about favorable thinking. What are those behaviors? The book Developing a Healthy Mind suggests that the lifestyle guided by universal principles and values, such as honesty, responsibility, justice, respect from others, integrity, and truthfulness, supports a healthy thinking style.
According to the apostle Peter’s own statement, he wrote both his letters to the Christian church to “stimulate . . . wholesome thinking (II Peter 3:1). The King James Version translates this expression as “Stir up . . . pure minds by way of remembrance.”” The emphasis is placed upon some sort of cognitive task – perhaps including thinking, understanding, reasoning, comparing and contrasting, memorizing, observing cause-effect relationships, and apply principles to practice all around the messages from the prophets and the gospel of Jesus Christ (verse 2). Peter was appealing to all his readers to stick to Scripture as the sure way of keeping a safe mental outlook.
John Selden (1584-1654) was one of the most learned individuals who ever lived. His library is estimated to have contained some eight thousand volumes, a vast number for the time. Archbishop Usher was by Selden’s side when he was on his deathbed, and Usher heard him say, “I have surveyed most of the learning that is among the sons of men, and my study is filled with books and manuscripts on various subjects. But at present, I cannot recollect any passage out of all my books and papers where one I can rest my soul, save this from the sacred Scriptures.” Then he recited Titus 2:11-14, a passage about he blessed hope and the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ.
We can say the same about II Peter 3. For all we know, the eighteen verses making up this chapter are the last that Peter wrote before his death. What was the subject of his last message? It was the second advent of Jesus, the blessed hope for all Christians. Peter urged the believers to focus their minds on the final event in spite of scoffers, erring teachers, and cruel persecution. (We need to remember that Peter’s letters were written around CE (A.D.) 60-70, right in the middle of the worst of Nero’s rule). Peter transmitted the certainty that hope in Jesus’ return would offer peace and meaning in the midst of tribulation.
What are we to do to cultivate wholesome thinking? In the words of the apostle Paul, the answer is to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts” (Colossians 3:15). In fact, the first seventeen verses of Colossians 3 can be considered a set of useful principles that hold a perfect balance between mind/heart and practice. Notice the expression Paul used: “set your hearts, “set your minds,” “rid yourselves of . . . anger, rage, malice” (all emotional states), “clothe yourselves with compassion,:” “forgive,” “Put on love,” “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” “be thankful” and “let the word of Christ dwell in you.”
Here are some of the principles of holy living that we can extract from Colossians 3:1-17:
- Christ is above all earthly things.
- Christ is the Source of life.
- There is a clear distinction between old self and new self.
- In Christ, there are no personal distinctions of any kind whatsoever.
- Brotherly love is the ruling principle among God’s people
- Christ is the only One capable of bringing true peace to our minds
- Christians must be thankful to God.
My family and I were visiting a church where we knew no one, and stayed for the potluck after the service. Most participants were adults, and soon our fourteen-year-old daughter approached us with the words that are alwys said with a peculiar intonation: “This is boring! My wife was quick to react; “Boring is a state of mind,” she said. “Choose not to be bored! Our daughter put on a perplexed face, but her mother’s recommendation must have given her some food for thought because she didn’t complain for the rest of the potluck, and we saw her conversing with a few people around her. Yes, we can choose what to think. In fact, we can submit out thoughts to Jesus Chris to attain peace of mind.
If you find your thoughts disturbing, or they are resulting in undesirable behavior, bring them to Jesus. You may discover that they become true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8).