Your Mind Matters 3: The Mind in Christian Life

Your Mind Matters

Your Mind Matters

We continue our ESN Book Club discussion of John Stott’s Your Mind Matters with chapter 3, “The Mind in Christian Life.” Stott “examines six spheres of Christian living, each of which is impossible without the proper use of the mind,” namely:

  • Christian worship
  • Christian faith
  • Christian holiness
  • Christian guidance
  • Christian evangelism
  • Christian ministry

We could discuss all of these if we had time, but two items on this list which particularly struck me were holiness and guidance.

I, for one, don’t usually associate my mind with personal holiness (perhaps that’s a problem with my mind!) but Stott emphasizes that, without right thinking, holiness is impossible. After all, we have to know what it means to be holy, by studying God’s word. But:

It is not enough to know what we should be, however. We must go further and set our mind upon it. The battle is nearly always won in the mind. It is by the renewal of our mind that our character and behavior become transformed. So Scripture calls us again and again to mental discipline in this respect. “Whatever is true,” it says, “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The second area that struck me as surprising was Christian guidance. Stott criticizes Christians who claim to know God’s specific will for their lives through a direct communication from God or an unusual interpretation of a passage of Scripture. Stott notes that, while this may happen occasionally, “this is not God’s usual way.”

Instead, citing Psalm 32:8-9 (“Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding…”), Stott argues that God instructs us, then trusts us to make our own decisions.

…although God promises to guide us, we must not expect him to do so in the way in which we guide horses and mules. He will not use a bit and bridle with us. For we are not horses or mules; we are human beings.

God has instructed, but has also given us intelligence and will to make our own decisions. To tell you the truth, this passage greatly relieved me – while I pray for important decisions, prayer is only one part of my process, and I’ve often wondered if I lean too much on my own understanding. I’m sure that it’s possible to do so and thus ignore God as a result, but Stott reminds me that God made me with a mind so that I could make these decisions.

For discussion

How else do Christians neglect our minds in our practices of holiness, guidance, or other areas on Stott’s list?

Do any of the aspects in Stott’s list strike you as unexpected?

How else do you see the use of our minds as vital to Christian living?

In contrast, do you see aspects of Christian living where use of the mind is overemphasized?

What about the minds of other Christians? Stott doesn’t write much (in this book) about the role of community or the church. How can other people’s minds help us in Christian living?

Note: For the next post in the series go to Your Mind Matters 4: Acting on Our Knowledge.

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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    Amy commented on June 23, 2009 Reply

    “…although God promises to guide us, we must not expect him to do so in the way in which we guide horses and mules. He will not use a bit and bridle with us. For we are not horses or mules; we are human beings.”

    Thanks for posting that quote. I think I often have the same hesitations as you do about making decisions. The perspective of the quote is something to chew on!

    Kelly commented on June 23, 2009 Reply

    I’ve been thinking as I’ve been reading this book that in practice Christianity is about a blending of the mind and emotion/feeling. Obviously this is a book about the mind, so other aspects of Christianity are not going to get as much attention. But I think that’s the neat thing about God and faith – it’s attributes are encompassing and capable of reaching anyone.

    I am in science – a highly technical and intellectual field. Our brains are on overdrive all the time, and generally in critical mode. So I’ve noticed that what touches me the most is the fact that God is love, and can speak to us through beauty and art and a friend’s shoulder to cry on when we need it. It stands out from all the other “background noise” of every day life, because it makes me stop and take notice.

    At the same time, as an intellectual person, I do appreciate that faith is supported by history and what I see in the world around me. So it makes sense to me that Christian faith and guidance should make proper use of the mind.

      Micheal Hickerson commented on June 25, 2009 Reply

      Kelly, great comment about the connection between mind and emotion. In the contemporary West, we tend to assume a sharp distinction between mind and emotion, a distinction that did not exist in ancient Hebrew culture. Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to love God “with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength,” yet Jesus cites that verse as “with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” Jesus is not adding a new idea to Deuteronomy, but the Hebrew word (poorly) translated as “soul” – nephesh – means something more like “your entire self, your being, your innermost essence,” while the “heart,” in Hebrew culture, was considered the seat of reason (at least, so far as I understand). Jesus’ words – brought to us in Greek – had to add “mind” to the list so that the Greek translations of Hebrew words would not misleadingly exclude our reason. In this book and in ESN in general, we focus on the mind (partly to correct a neglect we see elsewhere in the church), but we must always include these other aspects of ourselves – emotion, heart, body, and so on. Thank you for the reminder.

    miller peck commented on June 25, 2009 Reply

    It may be that new believers need pushing like a mule (psalm 32:9). But later we have more of the mind of Christ in making wise decisions. I rely on James’ encouragement: “if anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God who will respond without belittling us” It’s not a voice. The Holy Spirit works through our normal thought processes. I usually prepare class at the last minute, and have to ask for His wisdom fast. Thankfully new thoughts often come to mind on what to do in today’s class.

    Why do charismatic signs feel more spiritual I am pleased to see students able to do most of a project using their own thinking, and not expecting me to prod them at each step. I want to give guidance and encouragement, but not do it for them. Could God be pleased to see us making wise decisions based on our growing understanding of His Word , His ways of thinking, and His presence in our intimate times with Him Why are we afraid to make decisions?

    So we pray, study Scripture, consult others, think through options, knowing the Holy Spirit is in all of this. Then we make a decision and move forward. (One senior said she wasn’t doing anything about plans for the following year. “I’m just waiting to hear from the Lord”). As we move forward we do know that God can stop us when He has plans we don’t know about. Proverbs 16:9 “We make plans with our minds, but the Lord directs our steps.”

    The reality for me is not much on seeking guidance but on “the Lord is my Shepherd, He leads me”… usually in ways unseen except in retrospect.

    Adewale odedina commented on September 27, 2011 Reply

    The first I will do in this situation, is to check the questioner’s motive, once this is ascertianed,I will then proceed to inform the fellow’s ignorance or incomplete knowledge of the subject. I will never force my opinion on anyone,but provide enough evidence upon which the fellow can the decide whether to remian in the previous position or have a change of mind.

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