We Are What We Think

In Mark 7, Jesus is confronted by religious leaders who asked: “Why is it that your disciples do not follow the teaching handed down by our ancestors, but instead eat with ritually unclean hands?” (Mark 7:5). This requirement is not in the original law given by Moses.  While quite detailed, Jewish law leaves room for interpretation in many situations.  Out of a desire to obey God, the Pharisees, established rules to clarify the law in those situations.  Over time, these rules became known as The Tradition of the Ancestors, and were thought to be equal to the law and scriptures.  A person would be ritually unclean if they disobeyed any one of these teachings.

Jesus uses this opportunity to show what really makes a person unclean.  It was not because a person failed to scour pots and pans before cooking or wash hands before eating that they became unclean. There is nothing that goes into you from the outside which can make you ritually unclean,” said Jesus. “Rather, it is what comes out of you that makes you unclean” (vv. 15-16).   The disciples did not understand, so Jesus clarified what he meant: Nothing that goes into you from the outside can really make you unclean, because it does not go into your heart but into your stomach and then goes on out of the body” (vv. 8b-9a).

In Jewish thinking of the day, the heart was thought to be the center of the human soul or mind.  The heart was where thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors originated.  This is the idea behind Proverbs 23:7, where it tells us: As a man thinks within himself, so is he. If what we think makes us who we are, we need to examine very carefully what and how we think.

This biblical concept is what many cognitive psychologists would say today.  I like to describe this as Mind-Talk, your inner conversation as you think.  Mind-Talk is what you tell yourself about the people and events in your life. It’s how you interpret what happens to you and around you. Sometimes these thoughts are clear statements in your mind; sometimes they are fleeting images or impressions.  Some of us have even been known to talk out loud to ourselves. Whichever kind of thinking process you have, you’re not alone. Everyone talks to themselves inwardly.

It is important that we take a close look at our Mind-Talk, because it shapes our attitudes, our feelings, and our beliefs. Why do we feel like this or feel like that?  It is because we get our feelings by the process of Mind-Talk. We interpret what is happening around us and draw conclusions based on our interpretation, and those conclusions produce feelings or emotions. (I am not distinguishing between emotions and feelings here, though there are valid reasons for doing so.)

Most people believe that outside events, other people, or circumstances cause and shape the way we feel, our behavior, and our responses. But that’s not true! Our thoughts – our conclusions – are the source! When I first discovered this, I didn’t like it one bit. “Wait a minute,” my defense mechanisms wailed, “if this is true, I can’t blame anyone else for how I feel, what I say or even what I do! I am responsible!” You might not like this any better than I did, but hang with me. It gets worse . . . and then a whole lot better.

Here are some truths we don’t act like we believe. There is a very good reason we don’t want to believe these truths:  they force us to face our personal responsibility. These truths are:

  • Most of our emotions (our feelings) – anger, hurt, depression, guilt, worry, happiness, well-being, contentment, etc. – are homegrown in our Mind-Talk.
  • Whether the emotions we are feeling are good or bad, they start in our minds, and they grow in our minds. Our problems multiply when we act out these feelings in socially unacceptable ways.
  • The way we behave toward others is shaped by our own Mind-Talk and not by the behavior of others. We make assumptions and judgments about what’s going on and why, and then act on them. We cannot blame other people for the way we act toward them. (Yikes, this one is really painful, isn’t it?)
  • What we say and how we say it (our words and attitudes) are motivated and driven by our Mind-Talk. Think about this for a moment. Our feelings, our behavior, our attitudes, and even the way we talk with others (that just about sums us up, doesn’t it?) all come from our Mind-Talk. WOW! No wonder the Bible speaks about it so often. I can paraphrase Proverbs 23:7 like this: “As I think within myself, so am I.”

Here are some things to think about:

  • God does not control your mind; you are free to think and feel as you choose.
  • How do you think about God? Your world?  Yourself? What kinds of feelings do these thoughts produce?
  • How do you need to change your thinking about God, about your world, and about yourself, so you can see everything differently and can change your behavior?
  • You can change the way you think by choosing what you think about.
  • You can change the way you think by asking God to help you think in new and positive ways.
  • Remember these words of the Apostle Paul:

Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, . .  (Ephesians 4:22-24).

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