Choose to Think

How Many Thoughts Do You Have a Day?

Have you ever thought about how many thoughts you think a day?

“According to the research of Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, a human being has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day—and 90% of these are repetitive!”       

I do feel that at least for me many of those thoughts are monkey thoughts, jumping from one place to the next and sometimes in quick succession. 🙂 It’s amazing how quickly my thoughts can run.

In the last week I have had two people send me articles that had reminded them of being th(i)nkful.  By the way, I love that.  Thanks.  It is great fodder for more blog posts.  The topic of our brain and how it works is especially interesting to me.  I love how our Creator made it so that if you concentrate on one thing, there may be benefits that you didn’t even think of.

For example Dr. Earl Henslin, author of This is Your Brain on Joy, claims that the emotions of joy and anxiety travel the same pathway in the brain.  If being th(i)nkful is the primary thought, it pushes out anxiety thoughts.

So How Do You Spend Your 60 000?

What if you could hook up a wire to your brain and all your thoughts would register on a computer monitor?  Wow!  What if an app categorized the thoughts?  What would the printout of your thoughts look like?  choose to think2

I find that convicting and inspiring at the same time!

I love that the brain is not set forever, like drying concrete, but the Lord gives me the opportunity every moment to reprogram, overwrite, and reshape my thought patterns.  I know that through His grace-enabled discipline – choosing the next right thought – that I can wrap my mind and heart around ideas that are pleasing to Him and follow the eight guidelines from Philippians 4:8.  But I must choose what I think, and not let the monkeys of fear, worry, bitterness, discontentment, and envy run wild.

Now it is not so easy to control what you think about.  It is actually super hard. Not impossible, but a fight. It marks the difference between a person who is a slave and a person who chooses to think.

Retraining the Mind

Romans 12:2 says to not be conformed to this world, but “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Pretty cool, heh?

Doing the will of the Father is extremely important – it is the test of whether you are a true believer (Matthew 12:50)!  Normal human thinking struggles to figure out God’s will.  You have to renew your thinking – reboot and restart your thinking patterns – to figure out His will.

Here’s a huge way to renew your mind – retrain it to start giving thanks in all circumstances.  Paul wrote that doing so is the will of God (I Thessalonians 5:18). It is good, acceptable, and perfect.

A Th(i)nkful Journal

In order to give thanks, you have to think thanks in all circumstances.  I know this to be true, but even I struggle to put this into practice.

It has helped me to get into a daily pattern of jotting down my th(i)nkful items in a little notebook before I go to sleep. My son Nicolas and his wife Julia got me started on that practice on my birthday over a year ago and that habit has stuck. It takes a few minutes before I turn the light off, but it helps to push out anxious thoughts and helps me focus on th(i)nkful items.

Example of Being Th(i)nkful

Let me close with a recent and powerful example of being th(i)nkful.  Stephanie Wesco, whose husband was shot and killed in Cameroon on October 30, 2018, just 12 days after they arrived in Cameroon as missionaries, wrote these words:

“Even in the midst of all that has happened these last several days, I see so many ways the Lord has guided, protected, blessed, and strengthened us all. Precious memories with my husband are something I’m so thankful for. The eight sweet children the Lord gave us together here on earth are my greatest treasure in the world now.

I’m so thankful for the military escort we were given out of the danger zone. The kindness of the soldiers to my children… One of the men was giving Emmy chocolate, which is her favorite. 😊 My heart broke as we passed the place where Charles was shot, but I know the Lord was our protection and shield as we left our home. I’m so thankful for that safety in passing through that area.

I’m so so thankful for our co-workers, the Sinclair family. This whole tragedy has welded us together as a group, and I fully believe the Lord still has plans for us, even though right now life feels so uncertain in so many ways. I’m so thankful for everyone who is praying and supporting our family in ways I don’t even know about. The body of Christ has taken in new meaning for me. The Lord keeps reminding me though His word and everyone’s words of encouragement that he hasn’t forsaken us. He is always good, always.

Th(i)nkful for OMO

Brumunddal, Norway

I grew up in the village of Brumunddal, Norway.  OMO BrumunddalI moved there when I was four years old.  I have so many fond memories of that little town, two and a half hours north of Oslo. That is where I learned to speak Norwegian.  That is where I began to attend the primary school known as Fagerlund Skole.  I had the most amazing teacher, Fru Mørland.

Deep Memories of Washing Powder

One of the memories that stands out to me from that time is that when my Momma would do the laundry, she would use OMO. OMO 1 No big deal really, it is just the laundry detergent that she used. The look of the box stuck with me.

It was very cold in the wintertime in Norway.  Mom would do the laundry downstairs and hang it up to dry in the “fyr-rommet” (furnace room) since it was dry and warm there.  We had no dryer.

OMO in South Africa

When David and I with our four children moved to Johannesburg, South Africa in 1995 to work in a church-plant, I noticed in the shops that they had OMO!!!!!  Wow!  That was like so cool.  I recognized the box and memories flooded my mind of Mom using that laundry soap.  You may say, who cares?  Well, I did.  With everything all around me being so new, the little box of washing powder helped me.  It gave a connection.  It was a gift from the Lord.

Searching for Simple Gifts

Thinking thanks in your life makes you look for “gifts.”  We are so battered by the tyranny of the urgent, our focus yanked to and fro by a thousand happenings – at home, at the office, at school, in the news, at the doctor’s, in the weather, on social media – that we don’t stop to look at any one thing, to ponder its virtue, to formulate thankfulness, and to express it.  That’s the essence of being th(i)nkful – we must stop and think first, focusing on even a simple thing that we can be th(i)nkful for.  These little joys are all around us, but we need the heart and the eyes to recognize them.

A friend of mine, Pastor Dick Hester, recently wrote:

“Let your heart be like a magnet, sweeping over our days, collecting reasons for gratitude. ‘Thank You, God!’  Our lungs inhale and exhale; our eyes read these words; our hearts beat regularly; our brain works; I put peanut butter and jelly on my bagel this morning. The sun reminds us of God’s love; some men and women don’t cheat on their mates; kids decide not to be disobedient to their parents. ‘Thank You, Lord!’ Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. “Thank You, Lord” acknowledges not only the good gifts, but the Good Giver. Gratitude helps to burn off my dross and anxiety.

I wonder what gifts you have discovered today?

  • Maybe it is realizing that the headache you had yesterday is gone.
  • It may be a text you receive from a loved one.
  • It may not be recognizing an OMO box from your childhood, but maybe it is sensing the supernatural peace from Philippians 4:7 after you have prayed for every concern with supplication and thanksgiving.
  • It may be strength to “power through” a hard challenge facing you.
  • It may be the privilege of eating good food that satisfies your body.
  • It may be a portion of Scripture that fits perfectly for what you need.
  • It may be attending a funeral that helps you realize how fleeting this life truly is and that you need to live accordingly.

I’ll conclude with some words recently written by my friend, Nicole DeFord, illustrating the virtue of finding God’s simple gifts:

There’s just something about looking out a window and seeing sunlight filtered through the raindrops clinging to the panes. OMO NDEverything can be an absolute mess all around you, but when you let yourself get pulled into that moment and the beauty in such a small thing … you can breathe. In such moments, I am always reminded that God gives opportunity for us to stop and appreciate Him and everything He’s given us ALL THE TIME … it’s up to us to take those opportunities, catch those little breathers, be amazed at the world around us, and be thankful for what we have. #thinkful #hygge #canon6d #itsthelittlethings #rainyday

Be Aware of Flawed Thinking

The Wrong Order

When we go through difficult seasons in life, it is tempting to get things cart_before_the_horse_pictures_30991in the wrong order. We tend to look first at our circumstances and try to interpret God’s love and care, which seems missing.

We loose sight of the big picture and run to put out the immediate fire. Fully understandably, but dangerous.

Our emotions are strong and demanding and we cave easily to their demands. We want relief and peace. If God really loves me and is all-powerful, surely He would want the same for me?Be Aware Sign

    Be Aware! 

Gracious Gratitude vs Natural Gratitude

Mary K. Mohler in her recent book, Growing in Gratitude, brings out the importance of Jonathan Edward’s distinctions of “Gracious Gratitude” versus “Natural Gratitude.”

  • Gracious Gratitude: This is thankfulness for God himself – for who He is
  • Natural Gratitude: This is thankfulness for blessings received – for good gifts

Gratitude that acknowledges and thanks God for who He is lays the foundation for natural thanksgiving for what He gives. When we really understand God’s character; that He is completely sovereign, perfect in love, self-existent, with no beginning or end, aware of everything and nothing is hidden from Him, and that He has provided a way through Jesus Christ to forgive all our sin and make us His sons and daughters, our trust in Him fills our perspective.

It lays the foundation for why I can think thanks about every circumstance in my life and express that thanks orally or in a written form.

The Right Order

When the correct view of God is settled in our mind, we can then choose to think thanks in every circumstance in our lives.  Horse before the cart 1The strength of being th(i)nkful can only come from trust in a sovereign Creator and God that is good and worthy.

His plan to make me conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, is clear from Romans 8:29. That sanctification may take me through seasons that frankly are quite uncomfortable, but knowing that He has an end product in mind gives me the grace to trust that He knows exactly what He is doing. I can be th(i)nkful in every circumstance.

“A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.”

John MacArthur

 

 

Advice from C. S. Lewis

We praise what we value

What we praise is a litmus test of what we value.  It happens without us even thinking about it.  In our natural self we do not want to praise the Lord, but at salvation the Lord begins to change us. He gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) that desires to praise Him as our Creator and Redeemer. C. S. Lewis calls it the good infection in his book Mere Christianity.

New patterns of thinking thanks for all that He is and does begin to take shape in our minds. God initiates a process of out-shaping us from the world’s mindset and in-shaping us to become like His Son (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18).  After a time, we actually begin to direct our praise naturally toward God.  Why?  He has reshaped our thinking to know how intricately He is involved with every detail of our lives, and He has reconfigured our hearts to value how precious and trustworthy He is.

Connection of Expressing and Completing

“I had noticed…C.S. Lewisthat men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it…I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.” C.S. Lewis

It is not enough to just think the thanks or praise, it must be expressed to be completed. Like a joy that must be shared.  Like a secret that wants to be told.  There are various methods of expressing thanks:

  • writing it down
  • singing it to the Lord
  • orally saying the words to God Himself
  • sharing His works with someone else

Somehow it needs to be expressed for the completion of the thanks. Maybe that’s why we call it “giving” thanks – the thought has to come out into the open.  expressing thanksThe gratitude is unfinished if it finds its end only in your thoughts.

There is a contagious element here as well. When we express our thanks, we encourage others to also praise. Talk about good peer pressure! 🙂

Aiding the Sanctification Process

Just like human growth when a new baby grows into a young child and eventually into a full grown adult, so it is with spiritual growth.  What do you “look like” spiritually?  How would you appear if we could change your spiritual life into physical human form?  Would you be an infant?  Would you be emaciated?  Would you be obese from high spiritual intake and no exercise?  Or would you be mature in stature and strong in your spiritual walk, looking more and more like Jesus?

In Ephesians 5:19-20 we get a glimpse of what a mature Spirit-filled person is like.

Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why not start now expressing your gratitude to God for who He is?  Not only are you fulfilling what God created you to do, but your obedience actually enhances His recreation of you.  As you discover things to think thanks about, express those things to God and to others.  You can write them down or say them out loud.

The brain responds to what you choose to think about.  You will forge and establish a neuro-brain thought pattern that not only pleases the Creator, but will be beneficial for you physically and spiritually.

So, go ahead!  Take a little advice from C. S. Lewis.  Complete your enjoyment!  Think thanks, and then give thanks!

The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” — Henry Ward Beecher

Child saying thanks with his eyes

Th(i)nkful (adj) describing people who choose to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance in their life and to express that thanks orally or in written form.

Ngiyabonga

“Thanks” in Zulu is Ngiyabonga

We landed in Africa 11 days ago.  Since that day an incredible whirlwind has taken place.  Breathing new smells, searching for a car and home, meeting new people, eating new food, learning Zulu words, driving stick-shift on the other side of the road, standing in lines at Home Affairs, falling in love with the believers at Grace Toti and nearby Zulu valleys, and getting lost looking at the Indian Ocean all combine to hurl us through this whirlwind of adjustment to our new normal.

Standing in lines at Home AffairsI love it.  I know that is God’s grace.  People are praying for us and we feel it.  Thank you if you are one of them. 🙂 I am surprised at how much I love it here.  The years we spent up in Johannesburg are coming in handy as there are familiar things mixed in with the new.  So th(i)nkful!

Bonga is the root word for thanks.  To say I say thanks, you add in a prefix, “ngiyabonga.” Also if you say we say thanks, you add a different prefix, “siyabonga.” While standing in line at Home Affairs, I met a woman whose name was Nokubonga (mother of thanks).  Now that’s a name and a half. 🙂

Thankfulness is Universal and Uplifting

To be thankful and to express that thankfulness is appropriate all over the world.  It is inspiring to see how expressed gratitude brings smiles to people’s faces whatever cultural background they are from.

God created us to give glory to Him.  There are many ways in which we bring glory to God: through the design of our being – physical and spiritual; through reflecting His image in our actions; and through our words and actions. When we are choosing to think thanks about every circumstance in our lives and expressing that thanks orally or in a written form, we bring glory to God.

Being th(i)nkful isn’t easy all the time.  In these last two weeks there have been times where I have been pressed down with a terrible headache and struggled with tightness in my lungs.  But even through tears, choosing to think thanks and praying hard with thanksgiving (Phil.4:6), gives me a supernatural peace that comes from Him, an inner joy that no one can take away.

Being th(i)nkful is uplifting!

66b66588-3ab9-40f7-99ea-10d7adc62676

My Th(i)nkful List.  What Is Yours?

  • Seeing and hearing the Indian Ocean
  • Monkeys are very visible
  • My husband is so kind and understanding
  • IsiZulu is a pretty cool language
  • People praying for us
  • My brother Erik helped me figure out a way to talk to my Dad and we got to pray together
  • Dr.Mandy helping me with a nebulizer for a breathing treatment
  • Co-workers that love the Lord and love to help out newbies
  • The Gospel works in every culture
  • Hearing Zulu women sing when they work
  • Nick and Julia sending a video of their family singing the Psalm 73:28 chorus I came up with before we left
  • All our kids are on one WhatsApp chat group
  • Pastor Des and Sharon’s warm welcome and strong vision for the future

Ok, the challenge is on.  What is your th(i)nkful list?

“O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His name: make known His deeds among the people.” Psalm 105:1

 

Th(i)nkful in the Gauntlet

What is a Gauntlet?

A gauntlet is an intimidating, frightening, and sometimes dangerous set of tests that must be endured or gone through in order to reach a desired place or an end goal.  

Remember in the movie, “First Knight,” IMG-7223how Lancelot willingly volunteered to run the gauntlet? There were blades, spikes, swords, bludgeons, paddles, and heavy balls whirling about him at different speeds, and from different directions.

He had to have excellent timing to avoid the sharp blades and dexterity to slip between the huge obstacles.  Those watching were holding their breath because the odds were not good that he would make it to the end unharmed.  But he did. 🙂

Perhaps you are in a gauntlet of sorts right now.  Life is full of challenging storms, warped pavement, intimidating obstacles, repetitious hurdles, and bends in the road through which God is trying to move us toward a closer relationship of trust with Him.

Our Gauntlet

David and I have our own gauntlet that we are running.  We are headed back to the mission field this evening.  Our plane leaves Atlanta 41968135_10160844145675273_4747634137211338752_naround 10 pm and we arrive in Amanzimtoti, South Africa, on Thursday morning, Lord willing.  These past few months we have been so busy preparing and packing … and today we go.

As we head out on this third missionary journey, I have been eager to embrace staying th(i)nkful right in the process.

Yes, there are times when I have cried so hard because we will be further away from our kids and grandchildren.  And the upcoming test of learning Zulu is daunting to me.  But putting feet to the th(i)nkful idea has brought such joy and peace.

Keeping Steady

There’s something that I do when I go through hard times that the Lord has encouraged me with.  I seek for a Bible verse to be an anchor for my soul that I can memorize and feed on.  Often I am able to come up with a little tune for the verse, and I sing it as I hurry about to accomplish the tasks and challenges before me. That little tune runs with me and inspires me to keep my thoughts where they ought to be…on Him.

Psalm 73:28 is my Zululand anchor.

“But it is good for me to draw near to God, I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works.”

Last evening, we had a final visit with our precious son and his family.  After enjoying pizza together we went up to the children’s bedroom and sat around singing songs and praying together.  We sang my little Psalm 73:28 chorus with Nicolas easily picking up the guitar chords.  What an indelible memory and gift that was for me as we leave.  I am so incredibly blessed!

My th(i)nkful list:

  • God never leaves me nor forsakes me; He is equally present on the other side of the earth
  • This life is a vapor; heaven is not now, but it’s coming (gauntlets don’t last forever)
  • My husband loves to serve the Lord and is eager to push himself out of his comfort zone to learn a new language and serve new people
  • We have an incredible prayer support team.  They are “holding the ropes” for us
  • Going through this packing process has simplified my life; it feels so good to not have so much stuff
  • Josh and Celeste and their children Face-timed us this morning to say goodbye and tell us that they are praying for us
  • My Dad is so proud of us and promises to pray often
  • Dan and Deb Willoughby are receiving us into their own home a few days on the field to let us get our feet
  • Justin and Stephanie and precious boys came down the weekend before to just be together
  • Pastor Chris, Joe, Greg, Mac, Doug, Dr. Miles, and Steve laid hands on us and prayed over us on Sunday, with an entire congregation surrounding us as they sent us out
  • Psalm 73:28
  • I am not coughing
  • I don’t have a headache
  • Jonny and Elly in China are following our journey
  • We get to bring our pillows and our soft duvet
  • Julia wanted me to teach her hand-quilting last night before I left
  • The Indian Ocean is beautiful and magnificent and we will be very close
  • We have an incredible hope in Jesus and His work on the cross

“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!”  –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

 

Thanksgiving is Giving Credit to Someone

Who Gets the Credit?

Have you ever noticed how many people get up and leave when it’s time for the credits at the end of a movie?  Here you have enjoyed a great story representing countless hours of work that a huge team has slaved over, but you don’t really care who all gets the credit.  I wonder if we do that in real life.

Thanksgiving is an act of humility.  Expressing thanks is saying that credit or praise belongs to someone else; to God or to other people.  Arrogant pride says I’m not sufficiently served by others; I did it by myself.  I am self sufficient.  I don’t want to owe anyone anything.  I internalize the credit and externalize the blame.

But life with Jesus Christ is so different.  He designs things so I can’t do it by myself.  On purpose!  He wants me to see that I need Him.  Desperately.  And then when I succeed, or maybe just survive an ordeal, I must give Him the credit.  He is to be thanked!cameron-patterson-co-business-accountant-handshake-office

When you take the time to shake someone’s hand and say “thank you,” you are giving that person credit.  You acknowledge that they did something that was beyond your control or ability.

A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” Arnold H. Glasow

Are there people in your life that need to receive credit from you?  What about your God?  Do you thank Him for who He is and what He has done?

Thanksgiving is giving the credit to someone else

fullsizeoutput_ffdGiving flowers at the end of a concert, or a conductor pointing his finger to orchestra members in gratitude, are gestures of someone giving credit to another.  Speeches given by award recipients typically deflect praise and thanks to parents and friends.  Christian coaches and quarterbacks throw their thanks to teammates and to Jesus Christ.

We give thanks when we release the credit from ourselves and give that credit to another.  When God exhorts us to give thanks in every circumstance, He knows that is for our own good. It is a self-sufficient and thankless society that will call a day dedicated to giving thanks to God “turkey day.”

agrace

A family “saying grace” before a meal

We receive a blessing, something the Bible calls “grace,” when we release the credit.  This is why a family holding hands around the table and giving thanks to the One who provided the food they are about to receive calls it “saying grace.”  It’s profound, just like our amazing Lord Jesus said in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So, resolve this week to pass along credit to three people in your life, thanking them for who they are to you or what they’ve done for you. And then also talk to your Father, and the Son, and the Spirit about the credit they immensely deserve for all that they have done in you and for you.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward1208gift

 

Th(i)nkful for ABCD

Not All Poverty Is Created Equal

We learned some great lessons last week in “community health evangelism” training (CHE). One principle we learned was that helping the needy in Majority (3rd) World countries can be divided in two categories:

  • One category is called Relief – stopping the bleeding in emergency situations such as after an earthquake, hurricane or tsunami where people are completely helpless and needing gifts of food, water, and healthcare just to survive. Think of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37.
  • ABCD8The second category is known as Development – helping the needy by working with them to improve their general living conditions, developing their skills, giving them a hand up and not a hand out. Think of Israel leaving part of the harvest for widows like Ruth in Deuteronomy 24:19-22.

This second category is what I want to highlight. A central part of development is refusing to answer every problem with outside money, and refusing to do for people what they can and should do for themselves.

What is ABCD?

In the world of development, ABCD – ABCD4Asset-Based Community Development – is helping a struggling community improve itself by sitting down with residents and inquiring about what they already have.😊 When Moses resisted getting involved with God’s plan, God asked him, “What is that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2). That’s where we begin. We look at what is, not at what is missing.

“What skills, gifts, abilities, tools, supplies, and time do we already have here in our community?” At first, many reply “nothing,” and you might agree at times.  But as the moments go by, people start to mention things, and in time, you end up with a list.  The CHE team does this in “neighborhood surveys” and then brings people together to discover how their combined skills and abilities can begin to make changes.

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

ABCD7This approach promotes a philosophy of thankfulness and a “can do” spirit.  In other words, a community looks to its own members to identify what assets are already present around them.

CHE teams share preventive health tips along with moral teaching and gospel truth.  Having a good and meaningful life is not just physical well-being, but also emotional, relational, spiritual, and financial health that only the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ can bring. Even an atheist said so!

How are ABCD and Th(i)nkful similar?

abcd.jpg

By focusing on assets, we search for things that perhaps we had overlooked before that we can think thanks for.  That is just what th(i)nkful is about – looking for things to think thanks about in every situation and expressing that thanks orally or in a written form.

God’s thanksgiving commands are not just for the rich and wealthy, but even for the majority of people in the world who are poor.  And it is humbling, tear-jerking, and convicting to watch someone with nothing discover that they have enough to help someone else.

Emotions are real but they are not reality, and a dose of th(i)nkfulness can turn a pity party into non-stop praise for God’s provision. Th(i)nkfulness focuses on what God has provided and sees His meticulous Providence in keeping us from what is missing.

I ASKED GOD

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

Anonymous Civil War Soldier

 

The Brain and Thinking

Our Amazing Brains

When God created mankind in His likeness, He gave us an amazing brain. Simply put, the brain controls the mental and physical processes and the actions of a human being.brain 3

Ready for a big word?  Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life.

It can be shaped very much like a ball of Play-Doh, albeit with a bit more time and effort. 🙂

Scientists claim that the brain is capable of being re-engineered – its shape, size, and functions modified – and that we are the engineers.

“Thought changes structure … I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and trauma.” ~ Norman Doidge, Canadian-born psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself.

Complaining and the Brain

My friend, Joanna Chapmon, sent me an article on how complaining affects the brain.brain 1 This is a visual of what happens when we constantly complain.

The neural pathways that we engage in when complaining actually change the shape of the brain, causing us to complain even more!

When we instead choose to be th(i)nkful, we can also change our brains. By choosing to think thanks about every situation in our lives we change the shape of our neural brain pathway making it easier to think thanks in the future.  Our brains are not stagnant, but continually change as they are programmed through repeated thoughts and attitudes throughout our days.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Proverbs 17:22

The admonitions in scripture from Ephesians 4:23 and Romans 12:2 sure make a lot more sense in the light of this discovery – we must renew our minds.  But amazingly, by doing so, we can actually change the inner workings of our brains to make renewed thoughts flow more naturally.  The Lord wants us to worship Him with our thoughts.  When we choose to think thanks, we are obeying His will for us as stated in Ephesians 5:20 and I Thessalonians 5:18.  Give thanks always in every circumstance!

Th(i)nkful’s Benefits

The brain article mentioned pointed out:

“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision-making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”

Although there can be physical reasons for why someone becomes clinically depressed, there are often major reasons connected with the person’s thought patterns. Just think of the positive effects on a person’s brain when he/she engages in a pattern of th(i)nkfulness.

gibbJane Gibb, a dear co-worker of mine, shared with me how she was struggling with some stress at a particular time. She decided to engage thinking thanks about that situation, and as she cultivated the thought pattern of looking for things to give thanks for in her situation and started writing things down, the stress lessened.  She benefited.  She was putting God’s Word into practice by renewing her mind.

Challenge

So how are you programming your brain these days?  You are programming yourself whether on purpose, or not.  Do you naturally gravitate towards complaining about a situation or do you instead look for things to be thinkful about in that situation?

I challenge you to begin aggressively carving out some new th(i)nkful neural pathways that will not only help you grow in Christ as He desires, but also benefit you physically as well.

Further study:

  • Professor Richard Restak, Optmizing Brain Fitness.
  • Dr. Caroline Leaf, a South African neurologist,  has done extensive work on the thinking and the brain.

“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!”  –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Second Right

Anxiety My Enemy

Anxiety is not my friend.

I have had a propensity towards being anxious as long as I can remember.  Philippians 4:6, which says, “Don’t be anxious about anything,”  has been a place where I have parked often.

Recently I had a friend point out some valuable insights into that passage. When you consider the verses that surround the famous verse 6, you get a better picture of what Paul was exhorting the Philippians to do.

4 Rights

Let’s take Philippians 4:5-9 apart. There are 4 Rights in this passage – Right Awareness, Right Praying, Right Thinking, and Right Practice.

1. Right AwarenessRight Awareness

(v.5 CSB) Let your graciousness [gentleness, reasonableness] be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  When we are in a conflict or facing hard circumstances, that pressure can cause our words and reactions to be filled with spikes and poison.  We need to realize that God is right here in our presence (Matthew 28:20, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Hebrews 13:5-6), and we are right there in God’s presence (Ephesians 2:6, Hebrews 10:19-22)!

Every sin that we commit is a result of a wrong view of God. If we practiced His presence, we would sputter and fume less and speak to Him more.  Jesus tore down the curtain into the Holy Place by His work on the cross, and we are allowed to enter in without a priest and speak to the God who created or permitted these circumstances!  The Lord is near is a great reminder that we should turn our thoughts toward Him and pour out our hearts.  He is there observing us; He fights for us; He prays for us. He is at hand in formulating the trial and filtering the toxic to get us to trust Him and talk to Him.

2. Right Praying.

(vv.6-7) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgivingRight Praying 2 let your requests be make known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This SECOND RIGHT is the one I want to emphasize. In the middle of instructing us to ask God to respond to our needs in specific ways, Paul adds “with thanksgiving.”  We are to pray earnestly (“please help with this”) with thanksgiving (“thanks for this”). We need to think thanks about what is testing us and express that thanks to God.

How do we do that?  We choose to look for things that we can be th(i)nkful for right in the difficulty.  It is after praying this way that the supernatural peace comes that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In fact, some would argue that thanksgiving is the trigger for downloading God’s peace.

3. Right Thinking.Right thinking

(v. 8) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise think about these things.

Having rolled my burdens onto the Lord, it is amazing how quickly I grab them back and then stress over them as though I am the only God who can fix them.  Paul writes that the battle is in our meditations. I need to focus on what’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  By way of contrast,  what we should not think about are things that are untrue, improper, dodgy, blameworthy, evil, dubious, unethical, shameful, ignoble, and disgraceful, to name a few.

4. Right Practice.

(v.9) What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

So after we have now learned this new way of living – right awareness of the Lord’s presence right here, right now, right praying that always includes thanksgiving, and right thinking that fuels our outlook and conduct, we are to DO this over and over.  We practice this.  We are not just hearers of the Word, but doers.

Second Right

Being th(i)nkful is a direct cure for anxiety.  When we worry, we are not trusting that God is in control.  When we are th(i)nkful, we are resting in His sovereignty and choosing to meditate on all the things we can be thankful for instead of untruths that fuel our anxieties.

Dr. Shelbi Cullen, my counseling internship professor at Master’s Seminary, shared these thoughts to help me help others, but I have found that it is first helping me.  🙂

  1. Remember that the Lord is right nearby.
  2. Pray hard with thanksgiving.
  3. Think the right way.
  4. Practice these things.

Practice th(i)nkfulness to vanish anxiety