According to scientific studies, in an average day, a person will have no less than 3,000 thoughts. Think of that for a moment. One wonders in an age of short attention spans if this number is increasing. 3,000 thoughts. If it is even partially true that as a person thinks, so they are, we must be a lot of different things. One also wonders how many of these 3,000 thoughts occur in dreams. One of the things that happens to me, from time time, is I will wake up in the middle of the night and have a good line for a poem, or several lines in my head. The only way I am going to get back to sleep, if I do at all, is to get up and write those thoughts down. Apparently thinking is not an activity that requires active participation on our part !! At least in the sense of conscious participation, thinking seems to happen rather like breathing. No one goes any length of time without doing it, even when they are asleep.
A new movie in the theaters is called Limitless. It’s premise is that while an average person only uses twenty percent of their brain that there might be a pill that could help you use the other 80%. If that happened would we have five times as many thoughts in a day? I don’t think I’ve got the time or energy to process all that information. Frankly, I don’t really want anyone expanding the capacity or speeding up my brain. Things go fast enough as it is. In fact the older I get, the more I would rather it all slow down some.
Perhaps more important than all of this is—what sort of thoughts am I having in those 3,000 thoughts in a day? What percentage are thoughts about God, or the Bible or important ethical or theological things? What part of these thoughts are devoted to persons other than myself, my needs, my feelings etc.? Perhaps it would be a useful journaling exercise at some point to chart ones thoughts for an entire hour, and see what comes to mind, and then reflect on what you have learned about your thoughts.
There is an important prayer line from the church liturgy that goes as follows “cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of your Spirit”. I certainly agree that some of our thoughts needed some cleaning up, some censoring, and yes some rejecting. Part of the process of sanctification is not only recognizing when you are having wicked, or sinful, or inappropriate thoughts, but then consciously rejecting such thoughts rather than ignoring, stuffing, or worse, nursing such thoughts. And this brings me to Rom. 12 which tells us that transformation in part involves ‘the renewal of the mind” so that we can think God’s thoughts after him, knowing clearly what God’s good and perfect will is. The opposite of this is of course putting garbage into our minds. And here is where a cautionary word about our technology comes into play.
It is all too easy because of our computers and the Internet, to put all sorts of sinful and harmful images and thoughts into our heads. One of the ministries our seminary has had to undertake from time to time is dealing with genuinely Christian persons who have become addicted to pornographic images and ideas thanks to their computers and the Internet. Some have had to be completely detoxed from any use of computers at all, except those with no Internet access. The mind may be a terrible thing to waste, but it is even worst to lay waste to your own mind and destroy your ability to think straight, clearly, morally, or in a Christian manner. Our thoughts are indeed subject to the power of suggestion, especially when we realize our minds are just as fallen as the rest of us. Jesus was right to warn that the source of most of the worst human problems is the human mind or heart, out of which comes wars, adulteries, murders and all sorts of misbehavior (Mark 7). It appears at this juncture in the technological revolution that almost any kind of thing that we can conceive of, we can create or do, at least in the CG world. We must never be lulled into a false sense of complacency by assuming that our minds or our thoughts are value neutral or harmless unless we act on them. This is not true— the worst sorts of sins and crimes are first conceived and given birth to in the mind. They are accidents waiting to happen. James puts it this way in talking about the desires that occur to us— “one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then when that desire has conceived (i.e. in thought) it gives birth to sin, and that sin when it is fully grown, gives birth to death” (James 1.14-15). This long negative journey begins in your mind with your thoughts and desires.
John Wesley had much to say about the whole process of mental de-sanctification due to wandering and even wicked thoughts. Take some time to read the two sermons ‘On Wandering Thoughts” and ‘The Wilderness State” and meditate on what he says. In fact, we can even grieve the Holy Spirit within us by willfully pursuing certain trains of thought. Sometimes when I am tired, I feel more vulnerable to negative or unhelpful or positively harmful thoughts. Lots of things affect our thinking, since we are psycho-somatic wholes, not mere minds encased in detached things called bodies. Sometimes when I am tired, I can’t even work up a good caboose or engine of thought, never mind a full train of thought. It is well not to take your thoughts too seriously when you are tired, or overly anxious, or under a huge amount of stress, or under the influence of one drug or another, including alcohol. I remember the sixties and while I never took drugs, I knew plenty of people who did, and I can tell you that many of the things they thought were good or even great and beautiful ideas when under the influence, were actually often absurd, or even just plain wicked and gnarly.
As we know today, the mind is in fact the control center of the whole person—thoughts, will, feelings, pain, love basically everything is centered in or processed through our cerebral cortex. It is thus a huge mistake to underestimate the power of our thoughts. How often has just thinking about something from the past which was tragic or triumphant, joyful or profoundly sad, produced all kinds of emotions in you? While we may be apt to quickly dismiss things like Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking In fact, there is now scientific evidence that positive thoughts can trigger the release of various kinds of endorphins into our blood stream, even leading to an ecstatic state or euphoria. Think for a minute of how a fragment of a favorite song and its lyric will pop into your head, and suddenly you are smiling and have a lightness to your step.
Bottom line— thoughts are not just thoughts— they are ensigns, sign posts of what is in your heart, on your mind, motivating your behavior. And the more you can put godly and Biblical thoughts into your head, the less room there is for garbage, or trivia or narcissistic thoughts. And that is our thought for the day. I leave you with a little poem—-
I’ve got a genuine replica brain,
It’s a collectible rendition,
I grant it’s not the latest model,
But it’s in good condition.
It still processes data pretty well
Though there are some memory lapses
It knows the difference between good and evil,
And even between knaves and apses.
There’s minimal start up time with the help of good coffee
And it can occasionally multi-task
But if you want infallible or perfect
You’d best not ask.
This brain is not for sale,
Nor is it on permanent loan
But what with our new technology
But I understand it can be cloned.
If you’re looking for help with the Bible,
Or music and good books,
I’ve got a lot of things stuffed in the cortex
That deserves a second look.
If you find someone to clone it,
Please do make it known,
I would like a backup copy
Of my very own.
I’ve got a genuine replica brain,
Though sometimes the synapses are misfiring
This accounts for the forgetfulness,
Just blame it on the wiring.
I was thinking of advertising this on eBay
But then I remembered I had a blog,
If you would like a data dump download
Then reply to this data log.