Welcome to 2022. For many people, a new year brings about ambitions for a new self. As the calendar changes to reflect a clean slate, people all around the world are inspired to start new, too. The ambition for change is usually rooted in a desire to be better versions of ourselves. We watch what we eat, we try to exercise more, and maybe even set goals to learn new skills. All of these outward changes can be good things. But in order to see a truly new self, we most often must begin with inward changes. Changes that begin at the root of ourselves: in our minds and in our spirits.
The concept of changing the landscape of the mind is relatively new in science. Before the middle of the 20th century, most scientists believed only children could change the structure of their brain, but in recent decades, science has caught up with the Biblical truth that the brain and mind are capable of functional and structural changes well into late adulthood. The scientific term is known as neuro(brain)plasticity. The Bible refers to the principle as “renewing the mind” (Romans 12:2).
As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I’ve spent much of my career working with patients who demonstrate the very real nature of this principle; patients who learn to speak again after devastating strokes, who increase their short term memory and attention capacities after traumatic brain injuries, and who return to their full-time jobs following tumor resections removing entire portions of their brains. God designed our minds and our brains with a beautifully intricate and complex ability to renew even after devastation.
The reason this is so important is because I believe God’s Word has made clear that the mind is a powerful instrument that can alter the course of our lives and because of that, the Enemy is after our minds, too. The content of our minds can result in very real positive or negative consequences. If my mind is filled with anxious thoughts, my heart rate increases, my cortisol hormone levels surge, and my ability to focus dwindles. These are all biological changes that over time can cause physical damage.
If my mind is filled with anxious thoughts, the decisions I make will be based on fear–decisions that can impact my ability to live according to the Holy Spirit’s plan for my life. Therefore the landscape of the mind is of vital importance.
We can assess the landscape of our minds by taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) Are our thoughts consistent with the Word of God, do they reflect scriptural truths, do they encourage and strengthen? Or, are they toxic, destructive, anxious, and argumentative against God’s promises?
I’ve found that when I pull my thoughts from the background of my mind into the spotlight of Christ, I have allowed many toxic thought patterns to influence my physical, mental and spiritual health. But after identifying it, remaining in that pattern would be a choice, for through the freedom Christ grants me, I do not have to stay there. God has promised that I can renew my mind instead.
I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you seek to renew your mind, for undoubtedly it will look slightly different for each person. For me, the Spirit has asked me to abide closely with God’s Word, specifically to memorize and recite several key passages of scripture each time I identify a thought that rises against what I know of God and His truth. Each morning and each night I recite these verses out loud and again any time I feel the physical indications that my thought pattern has shifted.
My favorite verse to recite right now is Philippians 4:8 which states, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
The Spirit has also guided me to be more aware of what I’m consuming through my five senses. Every touch, smell, taste and sound feeds the mind, and it’s no wonder that when I’ve fed my mind a barrage of chaos, my thoughts turn chaotic. Have you ever listened to or read the news and instantly felt tense? Have you ever taken a warm bath while listening to quiet instrumental music and instantly felt peaceful? Our mind uses information from the five senses as a first line of defense to determine threat levels and our need to respond.
When the information coming in is constantly threatening (or counter to God’s Word), our minds become a hostile landscape, set on the flesh, making it difficult for us to submit to God (Romans 8:7). And although we can’t always control what is happening around us and therefore the incoming information to our minds, we can be aware of it and hold it accountable to The Truth so that it does not take root there.
Why must we seek to renew our minds? The Holy Spirit has been teaching me that my mind is the battleground of my spirit. I cannot ignore the importance of its critical role in my life. It is here, in the depths of my mind, in a mix of memories, experiences, and thoughts that my decision-making begins.
Before I take action, my mind is running through patterns of thoughts and memories to help me make a decision. If I do not pay attention to what is happening here, I cannot fight in the spiritual battles around me. If I surrender my mind to my past experiences or thought patterns built on lies of the enemy, I am denying the power that Christ gave me to renew my mind and align my life with His. If I want my actions to better reflect Christ and His love, I need my mind to reflect His as well.
Renewal of my mind has been a process for me. It has taken me practice to first identify the patterns in my thoughts and to then to test them against scripture. It’s taken me even more time to tear down those toxic patterns and replace them with positive ones that reflect Christ. But the truth is, even though this is taking me a long time, I’m relishing these moments that I’m sharing with the Holy Spirit each day.
He has been a faithful, patient Teacher and His methods have breathed new meaning into scripture in my life. I’ve seen how God’s Word can work to carve new neural pathways, like the scalpel of a skilled surgeon. I’ve marveled at the beauty and magnificence of the mind as He designed it and the mercy He has shown with the biological and spiritual process of renewal. He knew we’d face decay and destruction of the mind as a result of our sin, and He gave us the power to make it new again, through Christ.
So yes, I’m enjoying every part of the process of renewal from the triumphs to the growing pains. And as the world celebrates the beginning of a new year, I’m celebrating the opportunity for a new mind, shared with Christ. Let’s make 2022 the Year of Renewal.