Happy New Year!
A new year often leads us to the same conversation. How can we make this year better than last year? I’m not knocking it. I think it’s a conversation worth repeating. At VOUS, we are having this conversation over the next few weeks in the form of a new collection of talks in our Sunday services. We’ve called it Mindsets: New Pathways, New Results. This is what I know about change: If you want to change your life you have to change your mind. You have to shift your mindset. It all starts there.
What is your mind set on? I love Paul’s language in Romans 8…
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6
Paul’s dichotomy may not be the language we use in our daily lives, but it speaks directly to a tension we all experience: the flesh versus the Spirit. The carnal nature versus the spirit man. Sinfulness versus righteousness. It is the battle you and I fight every day.
In our attempts at self-improvement, let us not overlook the spiritual nature of our struggle. Why is it so hard to make a change in your life? It’s not just because you are undisciplined. You are in a spiritual fight between the flesh and the Spirit. So let me encourage you, don’t just pursue the morals of Jesus in this new year; pursue the mind of Jesus. Our isolated attempts at improvement will never be enough to combat the pull of the flesh. We need the Spirit’s power and the encouragement of community to transform our minds.
As you step into this new year, I want to give you three ways to Retrain Your Brain.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Is it just me, or has advertising gone to another level lately? Advertisers are brilliant when it comes to understanding our patterns and targeting our desires. Have you encountered a pop-up ad recently? It seems like at any time in my internet browsing, an advertiser can insert a perfectly-timed ad at any place on my computer screen. It’s amazing. But one thing they always include is a little “x.” Click on that x, and you can cancel the ad. The same is true of your thoughts. Not every thought that pops up on the “browser” of your mind is for you. You get to decide which thoughts you click on and which you cancel.
If you are going to retrain your brain, you are going to have to remove some things. Remove negative thoughts that drag you into unhealthy patterns. Remove habits that lead you into those negative thoughts and leave you in a vicious cycle. Choose not to click on them! You can’t control the pop-ups, but you can find the x. You can’t keep the thoughts from coming, but you can stop them from staying. Whenever you face a temptation, God will always provide a way out. You may have to look closely, but look hard enough and you will find your x.
God can’t fill space you don’t make. Remove some old things and watch as he brings you something new.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but 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 12:2
In a 2005 study, the National Science Foundation found that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thousands of thoughts, 80% were negative and 95% were the same thoughts from the day before. This tells us two things about our thinking: (1) it’s always easier to be negative than it is to be positive, and (2) it’s always easier to think the same thought again. That is a sobering realization to have. As humans, we tend toward negativity and repetition. But if we intentionally insert ourselves into this process, we can reverse the trend, remove the negative, and reinforce the positive.
I have three kids under the age of three. (Pray for me!) Recently as I was getting into my car, I felt myself step on something squishy. When I looked down, I saw that I had stepped in a pile of play-doh. What I noticed as I removed the clump from my shoe was that the play-doh had perfectly taken on the pattern of my shoe. It had conformed to it. Can I challenge you? Don’t be a play-doh Christian! Don’t conform to the patterns of this world. Don’t just talk the way everyone else talks. Don’t just think the way everyone else thinks. Don’t just live the way everyone else lives. Rather, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Science calls this neuroplasticity. The Bible calls it renewal. Whatever you call it, it is the pathway to change in your life.
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
When I was a kid, I had this thing called a Nintendo. No, that’s not tongues. It is an old game system that I think may actually still be around…. Anyway, as a hyper-competitive child, my favorite feature of the Nintendo was this little button. On it was written a beautiful word: reset. Whenever a game wasn’t going well, I knew I didn’t have to worry. Before I could lose the game, I would just hit that little button and all my troubles would go away.
Okay, there is no reset button in life. But, over time, you can work to reset the thought patterns, perspectives, mental models, and habits that got you to where you are today. With the help of community and through the power of the Holy Spirit, you can perform a spiritual reset. It will take time and effort but, in the end, it will be well worth it. In a sense, this is the journey of a believer: an ongoing reset process we call sanctification. Though we live in the world, we don’t fight like the world fights. We don’t reason like the world reasons. We don’t conform to those patterns. On the contrary, we hold spiritual weapons that have divine power to demolish strongholds in our lives.
This is not a resume season for you; it’s a reset season. You don’t have to go the way you went last year. Blazing a new trail is difficult, but you have been equipped to do difficult things.
2022 is your year to retrain your brain!