Sometimes you need a Jedi mind trick

I’m attending a training seminar in Philadelphia this week. So far, it’s great. It’s all about getting organized and learning to make the choices that will help you achieve the most productivity.

The facilitator said something in yesterday’s session that really stood out to me: Ordinary happens. Extraordinary is a choice.

How true is that? I’ve learned it’s very true. The everyday, the normal, the average, the mediocre just happens. It doesn’t require any extra effort. It doesn’t require any sacrifice or commitment. What’s average is going to happen anyway.

But if you want to be extraordinary, if you want to go above and beyond and achieve something great, you have to make a choice. And the first step in making a choice is changing the way you think.

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

If you’re a science fiction movie fan, you probably know all about Jedi mind tricks. And I admit sometimes I wish I could use a Jedi mind trick on myself. It would make thinking about the right things easier.

You know you have control over what you think, right? Sometimes I wonder if people actually grasp that. They don’t have to think about the first things that pop into their heads. They can choose what they think about.

If it’s not a thought that’s useful or productive or a thought that will lead you down a useful or productive road, you don’t have to think about it. No, you can’t control it popping into your brain, but you can decide whether or not to waste time thinking about it.

Few of us really have time to waste. Let’s just be honest about that. Even people who don’t have a lot going on could be using their time better than on things that don’t matter.

It’s difficult to take thoughts captive, though. They’re slippery things. Often it feels like the moment you have them under control, they wriggle out of your grasp. It’s a never-ending battle, and that’s where friends and accountability partners come in. That’s also where it helps to have a Bible close at hand.

Maybe that sounds clichéd but it’s true. If you’re having trouble keeping your thoughts in line, a good place to start is with daily Bible reading. There’s something about the Bible that helps me calm down and focus on things that matter.

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. If I can start my morning off thinking about things that really matter, usually I find my day goes better.

What about you? Do you have trouble caking your thoughts captive? Or have you got it down to a science? If your thoughts are running wild and you’ve never even tried to direct them, you might want to give it a try.

Just because your brain wants to think about something doesn’t mean you have to think about it. You have a choice. You don’t have to let your thoughts control you. The most productive and effective people are the other way around.

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A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How you think determines how you act

Okay, readers. Confession time! Not out loud if you don’t want to. But to yourself. Name one person (just one) who you absolutely can’t stand.

And, go!

Did someone come to mind? If you don’t have anyone in mind, you may not get out enough.

What do you think about that person? When that person comes to mind, what do your thoughts look like? Are they sad? Are they bleak? Do you sag in your chair just thinking about them?

Do you get angry? Do you want to just punch them in the face the next time you see them? Or are you more the type to just passive aggressively ignore them in hopes that they’ll leave you alone without you having to cause conflict?

If you’re like me, you have people in your life who drive you insane, but since you don’t like conflict, you’d much rather just ignore them until they go away. People like that don’t really hurt anything. They’re just there. They get dramatic and cause issues, but they have their uses too. You just try not to have to deal with them, and when you do have to deal with them, you do your best to get done and get out.

But what I’ve discovered is that the more I dislike someone, the more my thoughts turn against them too. My heart, my attitude, turns against them and before I know what’s happening, I’m not satisfied with just being passive aggressive. Instead, I start treating them badly. Unfairly. Rudely.

And that’s just not right. And it’s certainly not honoring to Christ.

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

It’s difficult to live with difficult people, but we always need to remember that we may not be as easy to live with as we think we are. Everyone has their quirks. If we didn’t, if we were all the same, imagine how boring life would be.

That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, of course, but that works both ways. Which is better? Treating someone badly? Or treating someone badly because they bother you?

How I think about someone drastically affects how I treat them, how I respond to them, how I speak to them. I read something somewhere that said you laugh more easily at things people you like say. I’ve found that to be true.

I’m not saying that we need to drop everything and live our lives for foolish people. That’s not a good idea. But what we do need to start doing is controlling our thoughts better. That’s where I struggle. My brain runs constantly. I can’t shut it up.

Maybe I can’t shut it up, but I can redirect it. I don’t have to think bad thoughts about people who bug me. I can choose to focus on their aspects that I enjoy. And there has got to be some aspect of them you don’t despise.

Can’t find it? Stop being so critical for a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. You aren’t perfect either.

How you think affects what you do. How you think about people affects how you treat them. So be careful what you let your brain think about. Don’t focus on the bad things about people, especially people you work with or people you live with. Focus on the good things.

Granted, there are times when things need to change. Sometimes situations can reach a place where something needs to be done. But in general you don’t always have control over that. Most of the time, you are where you are, and they are too.

And in that case, it’s either learn how to live with them or forfeit your testimony. Because I can guarantee if you’ve treated someone like garbage because they bother you, they haven’t seen Christ’s love in your life.

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

We become what we think about

All of our brains are wired to work without us really telling them to work, though. I mean, how many processes go on inside your body that you don’t have to control? Do you tell your lungs to breathe? Do you tell your eyes to blink or your heart to pump? I hope you don’t. If you do, you might consider talking to a doctor. There are just some things your brain is supposed to do that you don’t have control over, but there is a level of processing that we do control.

Choosing to be happy and choosing to look at life with a perspective that honors God is difficult sometimes, but it’s a lot easier if you’ve already chosen to alter the way you think anyway. Some people operate under the assumption that we can’t choose what we think about. But that’s not true. Just because your brain starts thinking about something, that doesn’t mean you have to think about it.

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:8-9.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

I’ve heard this verse described as a filter on more than one occasion, something to run our thoughts through before we allow ourselves to think them. If it’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and/or excellent, you can think about it. Thinking about things that meet those requirements will encourage you, will enrich you, and will help you be a light to other people who don’t necessarily think the same way.

But does it really matter what we think about? Does our thought life really mean so much to how we live?

Well, I haven’t done any major studying about it. I haven’t researched it. But I know I’ve heard plenty of secular people talk about the power of positive thinking, that if you think positively about something you can overcome it. And from what I know about psychology and mental exercises, I would say that the content of your thought life is a direct reflection of how you live and it has a direct influence on your attitude.

I know personally when I spend a length of time thinking about something that upsets me, I become upset. If I think about the things I don’t have that I still want, I become discontent and unhappy. If my brain wanders down the road of any random topic with a negative bent, it won’t be long before the rest of me follows right along. What I spend my time thinking about shapes my mood and my attitude and my conversation and my choices.

So what do you think about? Are you thinking about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and/or excellent? Or do you think things that are degrading? Do you think things that are bitter and resentful? Do you think things that are hurtful? Do you think in lies? Do you think about things you shouldn’t?

It’s difficult to keep our thoughts true and pure, especially when we’re surrounded by so much garbage that leads us to think things that are the opposite. But the beauty of how God has designed our mind is that we have control over our thoughts. We don’t have to think about things we shouldn’t. We can choose what we think about, and we need to choose to think things that are true and right and good. Each thought we have is a seed, and we need to choose which ones are worthy of nurturing and which ones need to be thrown away.

Don’t misunderstand. A single wrong thought isn’t going to send you toppling out of control. Most of our brains run on overdrive all the time anyway, and in many instances, we can’t control that very first thought. But we can control the choice to keep thinking about it or let it slide away.

So the next thought you have, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it right? Does this thought honor God? Does it honor the people around me? Is it something worthy of praise? Is it something God would have me focus on?

If it is, think about it.

If it isn’t, drop it. And don’t go back to it. Don’t dwell on it at all.

We become what we think about. So it’s a good idea to think about something worth the time.

Blossoming rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Watch what you think

Everyone knows the danger in spouting off. It’s easy to say something that offends someone else. It’s easy to hurt peoples’ feelings. It’s easy to say something you wish you’d never said. So a lot of times, people will just filter what they say. But how many people realize that what you allow yourself to think about can be just as damaging as what you say out loud?

Blossoming rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Blossoming rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 19:14.

May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

My brain runs constantly. It never shuts off. It never slows down. It’s always going. Going going going, worse and faster than the Energizer Bunny. There’s always something to think about. There’s always something to plan. If I ever stopped thinking about stuff, I might just collapse.

But if I don’t watch the content of what I’m thinking about, I can get myself in serious trouble.

People talk about the importance of a positive thought life, and that’s probably a good thing to strive for. Thinking positively has a lot to do with your outlook, and it can help in difficult circumstances to keep seeing life on the bright side. But positive thinking will only get you so far, and it’s not something that you can easily dredge up if you don’t already have a Godly perspective. But even people who know God and try to follow Him often have trouble thinking about the good things God has done.

Is that important?

Well, yes. This Psalm is saying that not only do the words we say out loud need to please God, but the things we think about too.

This was a concept that hit the Pharisees upside the head when Jesus was alive on Earth. Jesus told people that, yes, adultery is wrong, but that even if you lusted after someone in your heart, you were just as guilty as if you had committed adultery. Yes, murder is wrong, but even if you hate someone in your heart, it’s just as bad as if you had killed them. Jesus explained to people that what you think about is just as important as what you say out loud.

So knowing that, how do we handle our thought lives? How can I — with my overactive, over-abundance of brain function — keep a handle on what I think about? After all, it’s a lot easier to put a filter on your mouth than it is to put a filter on your brain.

Maybe this is silly, but we need to think about what we think about. Philippians 4:8 gives a list of things that believers should think about.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

People sometimes call this verse a “filter.” If you run your thoughts through this filter, do they work? Does the caliber of what you’re thinking about match with these qualities? If not, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about it.

So how do you stop thinking about something you shouldn’t be thinking about?

For me, that’s the hard part. When my brain gets stuck in a rut, it’s the hardest thing in the world to get out of it. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Remember, if you are a follower of Christ, you have the Holy Spirit inside your heart. He’s there to help you. So don’t be afraid to ask.

You have a choice in what to think about. Just because a thought appears in your head doesn’t mean you have to spend an hour thinking about it. No. If it’s not a thought that you should have, drop it. Don’t think about it. Or stand up to it. Realize and recognize that it’s not an excellent thought, that it’s not worthy of praise, that it’s not true or honorable or right or pure or lovely. And choose to not think about it again. Ask God to help you. And if you keep struggling, find an accountability partner.

Eventually, what is in your mind will come out of your mouth. Maybe you can keep them separate at first, but eventually what is going on in your heart is going to happen in your life. We may think we can compartmentalize forever, but that’s a lie Satan tells us. The best defense is to be genuine, inside and out.