Abide: In the Mental

One glance at the clock and I know we need to hustle to get out the door, so I holler over to my three year old at the kitchen table, “Hey, bud! Put your bowl in the sink then go put your shoes on. It’s time to go!”

“Okay, Momma!” And off I go to get my own shoes.

Five minutes later, I peek in my tyke’s room to find him standing by his bed, barefoot with fish food in hand. “Buddy, what did I tell you to do?”

He sweetly shrugs, “Feed the fish?”

True story. I think of that morning anytime my thoughts bounce from one idea to another. Scattered thinking distracts.

But even worse, when our thought lives spiral out of control, distraction becomes distortion, and abiding in Christ feels impossible.

That’s why it is important for us to recognize how much our mental lives affect our spiritual lives. Until we get our thoughts under control, we’ll continue to be derailed by them. 

Minds As Breakers

Our thoughts determine our emotions. Emotions tell us how to behave. One thought can spiral into erratic emotions and regretful actions. Thoughts are powerful and can be problematic, which is why I don’t find it at all coincidental that three of the most influential Christian leaders–Craig Groeschel, Louie Giglio, and Jennie Allen–each recently published books on this topic. Jennie goes so far as to say:

“We have bought the lie that we are victims of our thoughts rather than warriors equipped to fight on the front lines of the greatest battle of our generation: the battle for our minds.”

Get Out of Your Head, p.4

She first arms us to fight this great battle for our minds with science. Our brains are full of neural pathways–grooves in our gray matter that grow deeper with each thought, good or bad. Newer or less frequent thoughts run through shallow channels while toxic thoughts that we’ve held as truth our whole lives have carved deep canyons. It’s tempting to concede defeat in those bottomless brain gorges…

But God. Our Healer can fill every groove by helping us take captive every thought in obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We can retrain our brains!

Before we get to the how-to, let’s make sure we grasp that “how we think directly results in how we live” (p.39). When our thoughts are chaotic and ruthless, our abiding lives suffer. When given free reign, our thoughts become breakers to our ability to dwell with God–because we’re too busy thinking about everything but Him.

And, our enemy knows this about us, so he’s busy waylaying us with lies that flood our brains and feed our insecurities:

I’m helpless.
I’m worthless.
I’m unlovable.

His fiery darts come at us full of deceptions that skew our ability to think on the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8). Instead, like an easily distracted three year old, our thoughts divert from our intended focus–Christ–onto unhealthy and untrue thoughts.

Just as a turntable’s needle cruises across vinyl, these toxic thoughts keep spinning through the grooves, leaving us stressed, paralyzed, prideful, and so distracted that we never emerge to see what God has right in front of us. We fail to grab hold of the freedom He offers us. We miss the chance to enter His presence and abide because we are trapped by our own thoughts.

Photo by Dorien Monnens on Unsplash

Taking Back Control

I remember exactly where I was when the truth struck me: I can control my thoughts. Sitting in my friend’s living room with a few Jesus-loving neighbors, I shared my elation at such a revelation. I also confessed how my mind could get hijacked by stressful conversations running in my mind or by imagined future scenarios. None of those thoughts were based on reality, yet my body felt them as if they were. I hated them. I wanted them gone.

So, as my friends and I processed Elizabeth George’s words in Loving God With All Your Mind, a fire ignited in me. I was done being under their control. 

For those rehearsed conversations, I began replacing the fear that fueled them–because I dreaded confrontation–with prayers for God to give me grace to stop the spiral. I would speak God’s Word over myself: 

  • God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love and power and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
  • God goes before me and hems me in (Deuteronomy 31:8; Psalm 139:5).
  • God’s peace will guard my heart and mind (Philippians 4:7). 

Each time I stopped the stressful rehearsals, my heart quit pounding, my thoughts ceased churning, and my rising emotions settled.

For those imagined thoughts that feared the worst and ran ahead of the present moment, I began to replace all the what-if’s with what was known and true. I’d recite a litany of what I knew to be true about God–He’s good. He’ll never leave me. He’ll help me no matter what. I’d list everything I knew to be true about the situation. “Larry is running late. I don’t know why. My own imagination is stressing me out.” If I couldn’t stop my racing thoughts with these facts, I’d grab my Bible and read a Psalm packed full of truth–out loud. Or, I’d sing along with a song that professed God’s truth.

And the imaginings would eventually stop. I’d be able to breathe and focus on what was actually true. 

Some of my Bible study friends battled future-focused what-if’s like me. But others latched onto past regrets, the if-only’s that haunted them. And others couldn’t get past the idea that their present circumstances weren’t supposed to be this way. To a person, once we identified our brain’s natural bent toward past regret, present disappointment, or future worry, we began to take back control over our thoughts.

Thought Builders

There’s more good news! Jennie Allen shows us how to pair science with Scripture, helping us find the weapons at our disposal to fight back and stand firm against all the schemes of the enemy (Ephesians 6:11), including our thoughts.  

“We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

2 Corinthians 10:5-6, MSG

Equipped with power to tear down the strongholds in our minds, we can name where our thoughts dwell and come at the lies with the truth of God’s Word. 

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Jennie names seven other “enemies that attack us and undermine our efforts to maintain steady, sound minds” (p.39): noise, isolation, anxiety, cynicism, self-importance, victimhood, and complacency. Anytime one of these enemy thoughts hits our brain, we can tell ourselves, with the power of the Holy Spirit, “I have a choice.”  We don’t have to take every thought captive all at once–just the one we’re facing at the moment. We interrupt it with our choice to believe we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Much as we would with a three year old, we redirect the toxic thought, stopping it with truth before it spirals out of control. 

Physiologically we are filling in old grooves each time we stop old thought patterns. And, we are building new pathways in our brains when we implement positive practices. It’s all very intentional and possible. I’m living proof, and so are Jennie and many others. Here’s the craziest, coolest part. We can “learn to mind our minds to the point that controlling our thoughts becomes reflexive–an automatic, intuitive response” (p.45). In other words, what starts off as slow and a bit laborious soon becomes easier because we’ve built new pathways. We’ve retrained our brains.

The Truth of Who God Is and Who We Are

Two significant truths bring us into the homestretch. First, “every lie we buy into about ourselves is rooted in what we believe about God” (p.15). When we believe that God’s very nature–His goodness, His power, His ability–is not true for our situation, we can know that we have bought into a lie. When what we’d normally nod at as being true about God is quietly refused in our hearts, we can know the lies have drawn us into cycles of distraction and distortion. 

Then, these lies deepen their influence on us by shaping our identity.

Until we believe God for who He is and ourselves for who we are in Christ, the battle rages on. The “Warfare Prayer” incorporates much language that helps keep the truth of identity in front of us–yet another reason to pray it everyday.

JD Walt, from the Seedbed Daily Text, puts it this way: “When [Jesus] says to ‘abide in me,’ He means to wake up, day after day, rehearsing the truth of who He is and who we are and who He is to us and, therefore, who we can be to others.”

Friends, if we want to abide, we need strong mental lives. Where our thoughts go, so go our spirits and hearts. And everything about our toxic thinking starts with a lie–about God, about ourselves, about our circumstances. So, that Sword of the Spirit is indeed a weapon we cannot be without. Ever. 

Here’s to building new grooves of truth!

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  • Titling this post “Abide: In the Mental” may usher in ideas of mental illness, but the context here is our thought life–for clarity. Thoughts have power, but we can have control over them:
    • Build a rhythm in our day to focus on God’s truth (Scripture) and anchor our identity in Him.
  • This week I got to experience the power of community, seeing how being present with someone who needs prayer and truth as thoughts swirl and spiral out of control gives us an opportunity to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. I can’t encourage you enough to come alongside someone in this faith journey. Not only can we support and encourage one another, but we can be prayer warriors and truth tellers for one another! Commenting here is a great step.
  • Music matters so much to our minds. If my song choices on the Abide playlist  don’t speak to your music language, I want to beg you to create your own playlists. Pack them full of truths that your brain needs to hear. Music affects our brains with incredible power. Keep it playing!
  • Resources for this week–a resource list you can come back to as needed. Not an expectation for this series. XOXO
    • Jennie Allen’s Get Out of Your Head.* If you struggle at all with your thought life, I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve read it at least twice and pull it out to reference on the regular. So. Good.
      • Season 3 of Jennie’s podcast is based on this book. It’s really good 🙂 If you have a favorite podcast streaming app, look up Jennie Allen, Made for This Podcast.
    • Craig Groechel’s Winning the War in Your Mind.* I read this book last year. Craig shares his own method to overcoming negative thought patterns.
    • Elizabeth George’s book Loving God With All Your Mind* — the one that started it all for me. 🙂
    • I’ll always recommend JD Walt’s The Daily Text–a daily devotion-like email based on the Text (Scripture). JD is a pastor and writer and all-round leader who shares vulnerably and truthfully as he grows alongside his readers. His thoughts and challenges have been shaping me for years.

Featured Photo by Delbert Pagayona on Unsplash
*affiliate links, with which I could earn a little something

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

2 thoughts on “Abide: In the Mental

  1. This is so, so good! The battle of the mind is crucial to win and yet, the most difficult! I love how you’ve combined spiritual tactics with science. The record needle stuck in the groove really resonated. Thank you for sharing tried and true methods, as well as resources!

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