Romans 8:5-6 For those who identify with their old nature set their minds on the things of the old nature, but those who identify with the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.6 Having one's mind controlled by the old nature is death, but having one's mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.
We have all kinds of conflicts waging within us. One I frequently highlight is between our two natures, our physical nature, and our spiritual nature. If there is ever anything we need to know about the physical plane, science is the go-to discipline for explanations on our bodies and the universe. Do they know everything? No.
They don’t do such a good job of explaining our inner natures: our soul, our thoughts, our consciousness, our self-concepts, nor do they even attempt to do it. That’s not what they are about. Psychology does a good job in studying the mind and our behaviors related to the mind. But it stops at the mind, which they still consider part of our physical nature.
Then we have an inner nature, our spiritual nature, and this is why we come to church, to learn about God and our relationship with God and how we relate to the physical plane as spiritual beings. The sciences make no effort to explain the spiritual domain. It is outside their scope.
Psychologists concede that our attitudes influence our bodies, but there is no admission to a spiritual presence. Quantum physics is doing more and more interesting things, and other fields are investigating consciousness. I think within the next generation or two, the physical and spiritual realms will be less mutually exclusive. Science might not ever say that there is a God, but it will certainly admit there is more going on than just what we can measure through empirical data.
Wayne Dyer once wrote of an encounter that illustrates this dichotomy between our spiritual and physical natures. He was speaking to a neurosurgeon who totally disputed the idea of a spiritual realm because he had done thousands of operations and never come across a soul. Dyer responded by asking him: In all the probing of brains had he ever come across a thought?
Our self-concept is an important piece of the inner realm. It is made up of the thoughts and beliefs that we hold most dear. We think of ourselves as quiet or rambunctious, friendly or reclusive. We have a set of traits and qualities, a specific persona through which we filter all other thoughts. But where do these thoughts come from?
Let’s take a moment and just stop thinking. It is difficult; involuntary. There is a stream of consciousness that does not stop, even when we’re sleeping. A thought percolates up out of - we don’t know. Some of the thoughts continue, and some do not, and we have the power over which thoughts continue and which ones don’t. That is where our self-concept develops.
Not all the thoughts we have are our thoughts. They are just thoughts. They come and they go, and we retain some and let the rest go. Our thoughts are the ones that we keep. But there are a gazillion others. The Science Foundation says that we think 12k to 50k thoughts per day, out of which we grab but a handful.
Those thoughts that we keep become us, we create ourselves from them. We observe them, contemplate them, and grant these thoughts the power to manipulate who we are. Proverbs 23:7 tells us: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We are what we think, and more specifically, we are what thoughts we claim, what thoughts we hold dear to our heart.
Once we have formed our self-concept from the thoughts we have kept, it becomes a web or filter for all the rest of the passing thoughts. There are thoughts telling us we are worthy, capable, attractive, influential, powerful, that we are loving and are loved. But sometimes we let all those thoughts just pass us by, pass through our mental filter.
Instead, the ones that we capture are “I’m fat; I’m dumb; I’m unworthy. I’m argumentative and get angry quickly.” Those are the thoughts that we own and are the building blocks for who we are. It is like knowing there is every color present in this room, but we put on red glasses so that we can only see the red thoughts, the negative ones, and those are the ones that we preserve.
James 1:13-15 explains it well when we think negative things about ourselves. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Sin is nothing more than negative unproductive things that we say, do, and think.
In a real sense, we create who we are from our thoughts. We observe a thought, dwell on it, spend time with it, and claim it as a desire or as a quality within ourselves. Then we act upon it, habitually, allowing it to consume us and define us until it possesses us, and we ultimately become that thought. That is our self-creation process.
One of the powerful lessons that Christ came to teach is in Matthew 23:26 - “Blind Pharisees first wash the inside of a cup, and then the outside will become clean too.” Wash the inside of the cup - our minds, thoughts, attitudes, what we think - and then the outer - what we say and what we do - will become clean as well.
As we change our thoughts, we change ourselves. Sometimes change comes slowly at other times quickly. The key is this: the more we rely on Christ to help choose our thoughts the more quickly we can change. Philippians 4:8 gives us this powerful instruction: Brothers and sisters, 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. Changing the thoughts we linger upon, affects every area of our being.
Longevity is just one example. Studies show that we can increase our lifespan by changing how we think and behave. We can live longer by increasing how often we laugh, by embracing life optimistically and positively. We live longer when we are happy and less fearful. We live longer when we are socially connected, when we have a group of friends and people that we hang out with, which is simply one more reason to come to church. Come to church and live longer.
People will argue, but Patrick, we have personalities, and we're all different. Yeah, it's true. We have personalities and therefore proclivities toward thinking, behaving, responding. But we are not bound by that set of filters. Every characteristic we have is a choice. Who we are, what we are, how we respond - is chosen. People will say I’m full of baloney because, “…if it's a choice, you're telling me that I'm responsible for the way I am.”
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer 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.”
We are conforming to the pattern of the world when we say things like, “It's just who I am. It's just the way that I am. This always happens to me because of who I am.” Or when we get angry, or disappointed, or feel like a victim. Our preconditioning, or filter, dictates our thinking. “Oh yeah, that thought fits me, who I think I am. Yeah, that one works: I am a victim. Yeah, I am living a useless life. I am a horrible person.” All the while there are completely opposite thoughts passing by that we are ignoring.
Admittedly, it is difficult to change mental conceptions, but it can be done. So how do you do it? We need to question everything we think. Question it. The thought, “This is just me. It's who I am,” must be followed by the question, “Is this really who I am? Do I truly have to respond this way every single time?”
But the first step in the self-creation process is to become aware of what we are thinking, to be the Observer of our thoughts. Before we can question a thought, we must become aware of our self-concept, of who and what we think we are. This will be difficult for many of us because we spend so much time subconsciously filtering thoughts that we don’t take the time or make the effort to decide if those thoughts are even true or necessary.
Well Patrick, how do I tell where I am right now? What is the current state of my self-concept? To answer that just fill in the blank. “I am ….” and fill in the blank. Where we are currently is what we attach after the words “I am.” I am lonely. I am fearful. I am worthless. I am incapable of doing this.
Once we become aware and start to question, then we can change the filter, change what thoughts that we are capturing. That's why I always use the words joy, peace, and love. If we can fill our minds with joy, peace and love all the time, we can grab different thoughts from the mental stream running by us.
I'm a big believer in positive affirmations. “Nothing can disturb the calm piece of my soul.” Why are affirmations like that powerful and beneficial? It is because they give us a collection of new thoughts to choose from. Positive affirmations fill our mind with something other than, “I’m such a loser. I just never get this.” By filling our mind with something positive, we change the filter and allow ourselves the ability to select a like-minded thought.
We are creative creatures. The first verse of the Bible tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” From this creation account we learn that God is the author of creation and the originator of creativity. At the story's culmination, God creates humankind in His own image—His most complex and extraordinary invention, capable of great creativity. Along with God’s help we co-create ourselves. As a child of God, we are not created as angry, fearful, incompetent beings, or victims. We are created in the image of God: powerful, loving, peaceful, and joyful. Since we are made in the image of God, we can use God’s creative power within us to mold our thoughts and make new choices. With Christ’s guidance, the thoughts we choose transform us into the Divine Imaginings placed upon our hearts by Spirit.
Rumi, a 13th century Muslim Mystic Poet wrote this, “You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don't; you have wings. Learn to use them and fly.”
As a child of God unlimited possibilities are available to us. We do not need to conform to and settle for the patterns of this world. Our limited thinking does not need to define us or confine us. When we stop listening to the small self, that ego part of us and its protective, physical-plane babble, then we become receptive to God's whisper, God's coaxing, Spirit’s call.
God is not done with us, and neither are we done with ourselves. God’s divine imagination rages within us, shining, growing, directing us, and inspiring us. Which thoughts are we choosing and holding dear to us as they pass before us? It is my prayer that we choose the empowering thoughts, God-approved thoughts that lift us up and make us feel good and reveal who we truly are, rather than the thoughts patterned after the world. It is our choice, and I pray we choose carefully and prayerfully.