Grace Moxon unpacks some of the psychology behind how we renew our mind and why it’s so important to focus on the truth and good things.
Have you ever found yourself going down a pattern of thinking, only to wonder how you got there? Whether daydreaming in a positive way, or more likely, going down some negative spiral of anxiety, our minds can often be anywhere than where we intended them to be.
I think we can all resonate with how our thoughts can radically alter how we experience the day. Perhaps we’re aware we want to think differently about a situation, but we’re so used to approaching it in a certain way that we don’t even know where to start.
God’s invitation to us is to renew our minds.
So what does it mean to renew our minds?
You’ll likely be familiar with the verse in Romans 12:2:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Or I love how it’s translated in the NLT version “Be transformed by changing the way that you think.”
For a long time, psychology held the belief that our brains and thinking were static, unchangeable. Yet, in more recent times, the concept of neuroplasticity has emerged, revealing that we have the capacity to rewire our brains by changing the way we think.
When we think, our brains physically fire electric signals between different cells to make connections (or neural pathways). Our brains are incredibly efficient; the more you think about something, the stronger the connection between those cells gets and the easier it becomes to think these thoughts. This means that certain thought processes can become so embedded (almost automatic) that we don’t even realise we’re thinking them! Eventually we can go down these thought paths so automatically that we’re so deep into them before we realise it’s happened.
The more you tread a ‘path’, the more the ground wears. The less you tread it, the more it starts to fade away, until there’s no longer a path there.
- What you use becomes stronger and more defined and what you don’t use starts to disappear.
- The only way this changes is if you stop using it.
- Be transformed by changing the way that you think.
Great! So what do we think about?
Philippians 4:9 encourages us to think on “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” All throughout the Psalms and scripture we see exhortations to meditate on (chew over in our mind) the Word of God.
We are invited to focus our mind on the good, God and all He says in His word.
The beauty of this is it becomes the filter through which we see the world.
An analogy - targeted YouTube advertising
Our mind shapes our perceptions and experiences. It works a little like targeted youtube advertising - the more you click on a certain type of content, the more the algorithm decides to give you more of that content. In the same way, if we tell our brain that we want to find ‘content’ to support certain narratives (good things, truth), it will then look for things in our experiences that will back that belief up - allowing the belief to get stronger and stronger. However, the same is true with the negative. Have you noticed how when you moan or are negative, you tend to focus on all the things that are bad in your life, so your brain looks for more and then you seem to find the bad in everything?
This is why it’s so important to focus our minds on ‘whatever is good, pure, admirable’, because it becomes the filter through which we see the world. It becomes almost a magnet for how we are going to experience our day to day, and is therefore a really great alternative to whatever we were anxious about.
It takes time for your brain to learn to look for different content, but if you stop focusing on the negative, the neurons in the brain that represent it start to get weaker, and over time it will fade away.
A platform for hope
Why does this matter? It allows us to choose where we are putting our focus. When facing challenges or feeling overwhelmed, it creates a platform for hope.
I love John Mark Comer’s definition of hope: “confident expectation of coming good, based on the person and promises of God.”
When we get to know God and really experience what His character is like, we gain confidence that He is good and that He is faithful to fulfil His promises, and this brings us hope.
Therefore, focusing our attention on God’s character and His word helps build faith and trust that what He says will come to be - bringing hope.
Alongside taking it to God in prayer, I suggest picking a truth in each of these categories relating to a specific situation that you would like to know more hope in.
For example: job searching
Truth of who God is - His character
E.g. God is faithful, He is our provider.
Truth of what God has said in his word
E.g. Philippians 4:19: And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. 2 Corinthians 9:8: God will generously provide all you need.
Truth of what God has said to you personally
He has specifically highlighted to me the verses ‘she laughs without fear of the future’ and ‘do not be anxious, but seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be added’. I can also remember all the times He has been faithful to provide a job/income at just the right time.
Not by might, or power, but by His Spirit
It’s important to note that this is not a practice of sheer will power or ‘thinking the situation away’ through positive thinking, but an invitation to where we put our focus.
You can ask God to help you by the power of His Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Ephesians 3:16 (NIV)“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”
Hebrews 12:2 encourages us to “fix our eyes (attention) on Jesus.”
Think of Peter walking on water. In this story, we see the difference that it makes when our attention is on Jesus, rather than the ‘waves’ of whatever the storm is.
Peter knew Jesus, He knew His power as being ‘God’ and He knew His character as someone who cared for him personally and loved Him and that he was safe with Him. He had seen how Jesus had done lots of other miracles and this gave Him faith and confidence. In this story we also see how Peter starts to sink. We all falter. However, we see that immediately Jesus helps Him. Yet, we see the power of a mind fixed on Jesus.
We have been given the incredible ability to direct our focus. God’s guidance prompts us to fix our thoughts on goodness, truth, and Jesus. While we can’t simply ‘think away’ our problems, we have the choice of where to place our attention.
We find hope in focusing our minds on who He is, how He’s been faithful, and that He is good and wants good for us. We remember what He has already spoken in His word, and to us personally. Trusting in God’s Word brings life.
Finally, we remember that we don’t do this alone, but with the Holy Spirit. God promises to never leave us or forsake us. So whatever you’re facing, I encourage you to take it to God, and choose to focus your attention on who He is and what His word says.