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The Pill is a Process: Character Training

Spend a few moments pondering this idea:


You have complete say over what you choose to think about today. And what you choose to think about will determine the kind of person you become.


Hopefully, through this series, you’ve discovered that it is very possible to become the kind of person who simply does not worry. You’ve been given a vision of what it looks like to let God lead you through a process that will take you from worry to joy.


The problem we still face is that this vision by itself will not transform us into such a person. As I said in last week’s post, we still have, stored in our bodies and minds, so much potential for worry. Our “knee-jerk” response to any precarious circumstance is still anxiousness. We long for joy but are prepared to worry if the occasion calls for it.


So, what do we do?


Well, what would you do if a personal trainer told you that they could fix your unhealthy lifestyle habits and make you significantly leaner, fitter, faster, stronger, and healthier in 6 months if you would simply commit to train with them for free?





I imagine you would say something like, “where do I sign!”


Now, I’m no physical trainer. And I’m not even your “spiritual trainer.” I’m merely a fellow trainee directing your attention to Jesus, the One who can teach us, train us and transform us from the inside out if we will simply put in the effort to train with him.


And in today’s session, Jesus is helping us become less worried people.


So what we must do now is very simple: Re-train our minds in such a way that we can naturally and effortlessly generate thoughts that are joyful, strong, and peaceful.


We want to make “joy” our default condition. We want it to be the first thing we think about. The Apostle Paul beautifully instructs his friends in Philippi how to carry this out…


From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Practice focusing your thoughts on true, good, pure, beautiful, glorious things, and the God of the universe will come to you, and you will experience a peace that defies logic.


Can it really be that simple? Evidently, it can.


And if what we currently spend a lot of time thinking about is not turning us into people of joy and peace, then re-training our minds is in order (Romans 12:2).


The phrase “re-training your mind” may sound daunting and tiresome. But always remember what “training” is: it is challenging yourself temporarily so that the same task will become natural and effortless over time. Just as we can train our bodies to accomplish hard exercises more effortlessly, we can also train our minds in such a way that thoughts we once strained over can become our “default” thinking.


SOMEONE WHO ACTUALLY TRIED THIS


As an inro to our “mind training,” I want to introduce you to a guy named Frank Laubach.


Frank was a Christian missionary in the Philippines during the early 20th Century. He worked mainly in remote areas of largely Muslim populations. Rarely would he encounter someone who spoke his language or anyone who shared his faith. This led to Frank dealing with ongoing bouts of loneliness, depression, and mental fatigue.


Eventually Frank decided to deal with his loneliness by experimenting with the possibility of bringing God into his thoughts more often. In his diary, Frank wrestled with a question…



“One question now to be put to the test is this: Can we have contact with God all the time? All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence? Can we attain that? Can we do His will all the time? Can we think His thoughts all the time? 
    Or are there periods when business, and pleasures, and crowding companions must necessarily push God out of our thoughts? We cannot keep two things in mind at once. Indeed we cannot keep one thing in mind more than half a second. Our mind is a flowing something. So my problem is this: Can I bring the Lord back in my mind every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind?
    I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.”

And here is his journal entry a few months into this “experiment”…



“As I analyze myself I find several things happening to me as a result of these two months of strenuous effort to keep the Lord in mind every minute. This concentration upon God is strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly, I forget less frequently. Things which I did strain before, I now do easily and with no effort whatsoever. I worry about nothing and lose no sleep. I walk on air a good part of the time. Even the mirror reveals a new light in my eyes and face. I no longer feel in a hurry about anything. Each minute I meet calmly as though it were not important. Nothing can go wrong except one thing. That is that God may slip from my mind if I do not keep on my guard. If He is there, the universe is with me. My task is simple and clear.”

So there you have it. Here is one (though he is hardly the only) example of someone who embraced a process (not a pill) of re-training his mind to constantly bring God back to his awareness…and was completely transformed in that process.


Can it really be that simple?


Yes it can. The more you think about God throughout the day, the more joyful (and therefore less worried) He will make you. Author A.W. Tozer reminds us,


“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

HOW TO THINK ABOUT GOD


Now, let’s be clear what we mean when we say, “think about God.” I don’t want you walking away from this with the idea that you must focus on some oblong blur for 30 seconds at a time. Many of us have trouble picturing anything concrete when we’re told to think about God. At the very least, our mind may muster up cartoon images of a senior citizen with a flowing white beard, dressed in a choir robe, standing on clouds. For many of us, God might look more like Santa Claus than how Bible portrays Him.


But though God is not a physical being, this does not mean that the possibility of thinking about Him is off the table. When you think of someone you truly love, you don’t just think about their physical image. In fact, that’s not usually what you spend the most time dwelling on. If you find them beautiful or attractive, you indeed may spend time thinking about their physical form. But more often, it is the attributes of that person, their character and resulting behavior, that keep returning to your mind.


When I think about my wife, I don’t just think about how pretty she is (though she is gorgeous), or how I look forward to kissing her at the end of the day (which I definitely do). I usually end up spending more time thinking about what a great wife and mother she is. I think about her heart for all the vulnerable people and animals in the world. I think about how much she has done for her family and all the sacrifices she has made.


So when we say, “think about God,” what we’re really saying is, “think about God’s character, what He is really like. Think about how His character is the source of what He has done in human history, and think about God’s posture towards you, and what He thinks about you.


(If you need a refresher on the character of God, author James Bryan Smith wrote a transformative book titled The Good and Beautiful God in which each chapter is dedicated to addressing a false view that we often have about God, as well as laying a new foundation on what God is really like. I highly encourage you to seek out this book.)


But let’s get practical. How can we get God (his person and character) into our minds more often?

IDEAS, INFORMATION, IMAGES


The things that make their way into our minds each day can be broken down into three distinct categories: Ideas, Information, and Images. Contrary to ancient Eastern wisdom, your mind really can’t be “emptied.” You can stop thinking one thought, yes, but you will have to replace it with another. It’s an unavoidable fact that you are wired to think about ideas, information, and images every minute of every day. The question is....which ones? And will they be good, right, true, and beautiful? Or something else?


IDEAS


Ideas are general assumptions about reality. And I’m sure you’ve heard both good and bad ideas.


There’s a hair salon that I pass when I’m going for a run, and the other day I noticed this sign out in front of it: “Life’s too short to have bad hair.”


That’s an idea. It’s an assumption about reality.


Someone I follow on Instagram recently posted a picture of the ice cream cone she was about to enjoy (like ya do), and next to it was a napkin that had printed on it the ice cream shop’s mantra: “If it makes you happy, then it’s good for you.”



Good or bad, that’s an idea.


Now think about all the little ideas that you are inundated with throughout your day. Almost every commercial, billboard, bumper sticker, and news outlet is attempting to put forward an idea that, if all goes well, you will embrace.


The truth is, we are constantly embracing certain ideas and rejecting others, whether we realize it or not. If I don’t recycle, then I have embraced the idea that recycling doesn’t matter. If I cheat on my wife, then I have embraced the idea that marital fidelity is not important.


In the ancient story from Genesis about the first humans, the most powerful weapon that the serpent could use against Eve wasn’t a stick, a gun, a rock, or an army. It was an idea.


The idea planted into Eve’s mind was that she could run her life just fine without God. And that idea grew until it governed her actions.


Ideas govern our lives, for better or worse.


INFORMATION


Information frees us from ignorance. It is vital for our survival in this world. If I do not receive the correct information on how to operate my vehicle, I am putting myself and others at risk by getting behind the wheel. If I don’t have information on how to get to the hospital when my loved one goes into cardiac arrest…well, you get the point.


We don’t just need information; we need the correct information. Is it not true that, in our society, we hold up in the highest regard someone who is “well-informed?” Why? Because we see that person as someone who likely knows what they’re doing in many areas of life. They have selectively devoted their time to absorbing only reliable and trustworthy information, knowing that this will carry them safely through life.


IMAGES


Images are powerful. As visual beings, we know this to be true. Why do we feel compelled to let people know, before viewing certain movies, that “some images in this film may be too frightening for children”?


Because images are powerful.


Images have the power to do incredible good or immense harm. They can lead us closer to that which is good, beautiful, and true, or lead us astray towards what is evil, ugly, and false.


The power that an image has over us lies in the fact that it usually carries with it an idea. So, if I focus on a destructive image for too long, I will begin to adopt the corresponding “bad idea” that comes with it. This is why we instinctively try to shield a child’s impressionable mind from destructive images for as long as we can. This is why consuming Pornography will, over time, create in us a sense that sexual exploitation is “normal,” or “no big deal.” The image carries an idea. Consume the image, and eventually you will consume the idea.


On the positive side, however, fixing our eyes on good, life-giving images will result in our taking hold of their corresponding “good ideas.” The more time I spend, for example, observing the animal kingdom, either in person or on TV, the more I am simply in awe of the creativity, beauty, and personality of God. When I watch movies that portray the hero sacrificing themselves for their friends, it points me to the greatest act of love imaginable (John 15:13).


No image is neutral. What we allow in front of our eyes will influence us, either positively or negatively. And that fact can either cause us to shudder, or give us great hope.



TRAINING: EMBRACE AN IDEA


This week, our task is simply to fix our thoughts on a really good idea, with its corresponding information and images.


Here is an example of an idea that has had a profound effect on those who chose to take hold of it.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” (Psalm 23:1)


This is not just a Bible verse. It’s not just something we recite at funerals. It is an assumption about reality. It is putting forward the assumption that, if you put your trust in God every single day, He will care for you and provide you with everything you need just as a shepherd cares for his sheep. And because you are allowing God to shepherd you, you can live a life of abundance. You will truly not want anything more than what He gives you.


So, to embrace this idea, here’s what your week of training might look like…


MONDAY:

Write down the phrase “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing” on a few post-it notes and stick them in places where you will be forced to notice them (your bathroom mirror, your desk at work, your refrigerator, etc). *If you have roommates that might be annoyed by all your post-its encroaching the shared spaces, tell them that the notes are only temporary while you re-train your mind. See the reaction you get!*


TUESDAY

For today, make a covenant with yourself that, whenever you encounter your little idea-notes, you will speak that idea out loud, ““The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” Say it slowly. Say it a few times in one sitting. Shoot to say it at least 5 different times throughout the day.


WEDNESDAY

By now, hopefully you have this eight-word idea memorized and can take it with you out into public. Find at least THREE opportunities to place yourself in a crowded public area. In the middle of the noise and the chaos, say silently to yourself “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.”

THURSDAY

Find THREE images (pictures, videos, artwork, etc) of shepherds caring for sheep. Pay attention to the shepherd’s face and see yourself as the sheep. (Maybe watch this video of a shepherd calling his sheep and consider what this means if God is your shepherd (John 10:27-28).


FRIDAY

Read through the rest of Psalm 23. If you feel led, begin the process of memorizing the entire chapter (it’s only 6 verses). This will help cement the idea deeper into your inner being, and will allow you to recall the entire chapter when you are out in the world.


SATURDAY

Now, bring all of what you’ve been practicing together as a form of worship to God. As you remove each post-it maybe you can make it a sacred, ceremonial moment. Say, “thank you God” each time you remove a sticker.


Speak Psalm 23 out loud, whether it’s from memory or read from Scripture.


Seal the week by seeking out a song to sing that reflects the idea you’ve spent the week embracing (Here’s one contemporary option). If possible, do this privately. Go into your bedroom and sing out loud. If you feel led, dance, jump, lift your hands. Worship with your entire body.


SUNDAY

Reflect on how you currently feel. Write it down, either in a journal or your phone, or talk to a trusted friend, family member, or spiritual leader. Debrief about how that week was for you. Are you different in any way? What worked? What didn’t work? Did you notice God at all in this process? Be honest with yourself.


This is just one example of an endless sea of possible ideas that we can begin to take hold of. This model is not to promote the notion that “it only takes a week to get an idea deeply into you.” But I hope you’ll adopt this model as a template for how to go about re-training your mind to naturally dwell on things that are good and beautiful. Keep at it, and eventually you may notice in a time of crisis that you are no longer worried or anxious. You may notice that your new default reaction is to quietly say to yourself, “Despite what is happening right now, the Lord is my shepherd. And because of that, I lack nothing.” And God, your shepherd, will fill you with a peace and joy that you never thought possible.


Let me know how the training goes, my friends!


May it go well with you,


-Andrew


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