Thoughts for the Day

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.

Kingsman– The Secret Service
Finding Jesus– Review of Part One
Uncommon Sense– Part Two
Forward Thinking about “Reading Backwards’ Conclusions
  • Daniel Levy

    Hey Dr. Witherington,

    You can’t even know how influential your work has been to me. The Holy Spirit has been dealing with me on this very exact topic the past month and a half. Thank you for writing this, it really helps.

    I appreciate your incarnational ministry,

  • ben witherington

    You are welcome Daniel…. God bless and keep you,


  • Bryant

    Gives new meaning to daydreaming!
    In some odd way I sense the problem will only grow worse as our minds become more accustomed to mush with our technological gadgets and our the thoughts run vividly wild like something from the “lawnmower man” movie, maybe that is pushing the cerebral cortex up a little between the eyes, but none the less flowing water gets stymied when it encounters obstacles.
    I noticed especially the younger generation with their Nintendo DSI’s, I pods & texting devices or smart phones (hey a catch all device, must have been preconceived to captivate the mind lol,) seem to be in a trance of some sort and really not processing any thoughts what so ever. I can vouch first hand with my daughter when allowed to handle these devices. The pull is great.
    Are we as a society, especially by western standards, setting ourselves up for a big mental let down when the proverbial plug is pulled?
    It would be interesting to see statistics on this scenario when the power grid is down for a length of time. Can you imagine how many people would go bonkers, grownups included too, with their kindles and I pads. What thoughts would be conjured up? This definitely gives new meaning to walking with nature and bible in hand.

  • Josh

    I know its mostly irrelevent to your post, but since its a pet peeve of mine, I thought I’d point this out. The “we only use 10/20% of our brain” thing is a myth. It’s based on how much of your brain registers activity at any given time. However, that’s because distinct areas of the brain govern different functions. We are unlikely to be using the centers of the brain that deal with sex and mathematics at the same time for pretty obvious reasons, none of which have to do with our inability to unlock some secret potential capability.

  • ben witherington

    But Josh if you are trying to produce multiple offspring, sex requires lots of mathematical calculations :).

    Actually it is not quite a myth that we use only 10-20% of our brain power, because of the issue of memory. We are only using a tiny minority of our memory at any give time, which becomes even more devastating with the onset of Alzheimers. And what that disease shows is that without the use of a very significant quotient of our memory, we cease to be who we are in important ways.


  • RickC

    Ya got it wrong Doc, here’s the real thing: :)

    In The Year 2525 – Zager and Evans

    In the year 2525
    If man is still alive
    If woman can survive
    They may find…

    In the year 3535
    Ain`t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies
    Everything you think, do, and say
    Is in the pill you took today

    In the year 4545
    Ain`t gonna need your teeth, won`t need your eyes
    You won`t find a thing to do
    Nobody`s gonna look at you

    In the year 5555
    Your arms are hanging limp at your sides
    Your legs got nothing to do
    Some machine is doing that for you

    In the year 6565
    Ain`t gonna need no husband, won`t need no wife
    You`ll pick your son, pick your daughter too
    From the bottom of a long glass tube

    In the year 7510
    If God`s a-comin` he ought to make it by then
    Maybe he`ll look around himself and say
    “Guess it`s time for the Judgement day“

    In the year 8510
    God`s gonna shake his mighty head
    He`ll either say “I`m pleased where man has been“
    Or tear it down and start again

    In the year 9595
    I`m kinda wondering if man`s gonna be alive
    He`s taken everything this old earth can give
    And he ain`t put back nothing…

    Now it`s been 10,000 years
    Man has cried a billion tears
    For what he never knew
    Now man`s reign is through
    But through the eternal night
    The twinkling of starlight
    So very far away
    Maybe it`s only yesterday

  • ben witherington

    I’m so old I remember this song.


  • Jody Murch

    We have been called to have our thoughts taken captive and brought into obedience to aGod. About the only way I know to do this is to read, and reread, and reread again, the Bible, which is the sume of God’s communication to us. Hope is there.
    The Psalmist, after praising the virtues of the Law of God, pled, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be accpetable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”