“To bring the mind to dwell intelligently upon God as he is presented in his Word will have the effect of causing us to love God passionately, and this love will in turn bring us to think of God steadily.” – Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
Prior to Jesus, I listened to rock music non-stop. If I was in the car, the local rock station was blasting whatever was the flavor of the day (don’t judge, it was pre-Spotify days). As for me, I was singing along despite having the musical capabilities of a pea.
And then… Jesus.
Suddenly songs about taking girls home and getting into fights had much less appeal.
I never tried to act “holier than thou”, but all the same those old songs just troubled me. No one ever sat me down and told me I needed to stop listening to rock music. I don’t recall any sermons preached on it, or any Bible study sessions about it. In fact, I was in a church culture that generally tried to push people to following Jesus without making God feel like someone who wanted to dictate your life.
Any conversation about music (or entertainment in general) would always come back to something like, “It’s not about the music, it’s about your heart.”
The thing was, my heart was different now: new. And this new heart felt icky rocking out to those pre-Jesus tunes. And so, I turned the dial to the local Christian station that boasted it was “safe for the little ears”, and I listened to Mercy Me, Casting Crowns, Sanctus Real, and other Christian artists popular in the early ‘00s.
And I hated it.
It wasn’t just because the radio station played the same twelve songs over and over again (though that didn’t help), it was that I genuinely thought the songs were bad. On top of that, I was frequently commuting an hour to college, and so I found myself in the car a lot, which meant I was listening to those same songs I hated on repeat.
But I kept the radio on, playing the same cycle of awful songs, and it was perhaps the wisest thing my eighteen-year-old self ever did.
A Wandering Mind
It’s been many years now since eighteen-year-old Phil was listening to early 00’s Christian music. I’ve matured, found better tunes, got married, had kids. Along the way, I’ve also become a tad bit more self-aware, understanding a little about not just what I do, but why I do it.
I think most can relate, but my mind wanders. When the end of the day has come, the kids are in bed and the work is done, I find myself thinking of all sorts of things that, if I’m not paying attention, seem to have no order to them at all.
A few years back I started paying attention more to where my mind wandered off to when there was nothing for it to focus on.
For me, it usually wandered off to whatever home project I was working on or planning, so I suppose I thought a whole lot about tools, drywall, and plumbing. Sometimes though, it would wander to thoughts about electric cars, the newest TVs, and politics. Always, it seemed, with no discernable path.
One moment I’d be eating dinner and enjoying time with my family, the next moment I’m doing dishes and thinking about income inequality… or how OLED technology is so much better than LED.
As random as that may seem on the surface, my brain was simply working to process all the information I’d taken in over the previous weeks or months. I occasionally watched tech reviews on YouTube, I was planning a bathroom remodel, and I started every day with a news podcast.
So, it’s not that our thoughts roam randomly, it’s instead more that our thoughts naturally gravitate towards the things we are consuming.
None of those thoughts about home remodels or current technology were sinful, but thoughts have a way of being cyclical. I think about the news, so I read the news, which causes me to think about the news more, so I read more… on and on. We’re all like this in certain areas of our lives, and I was certainly no exception.
And those areas of thought in which my mind wandered often then drove my emotions. So in this season of my life, I began to make connections to my emotions and what I was consuming.
After watching YouTube reviews on the latest tech, I always felt a little discontent. After reading the news, both sad and emotionally disconnected from the world around me. Working on home remodels made me feel overwhelmed.
A lot of times these emotions didn’t come directly after the news article or YouTube video, but instead the effects would take over slowly and linger for a bit. Because of that, I rarely made the connection between how I was feeling and what I was “feeding” my mind.
A Nutrient Dense Mind
A few years ago, I heard that I should focus on eating “nutrient dense” foods instead of more seasonal or fad diets. These are foods that generally contain a high amount of nutrients per bite. So (to literally no one’s surprise), that means mostly whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.
The idea is that we need to be filling ourselves with food that gives all the different parts of our body the nutrients it needs to function properly. It’s not about dieting and weight loss, it’s about running a healthy biological machine.
The same principle applies for our minds.
As someone who desires to follow Jesus, to become someone who acts in alignment with the Kingdom of Heaven, what I feed my mind matters.
This is a good time to come back to my eighteen-year-old self, driving every day and listening to music “safe for the little ears”. Even if I didn’t enjoy the music as a form of art (and trust me, I didn’t), the lyrics and intention behind the music was giving my mind healthy “nutrients”. I call them “building blocks” for my imagination. Instead of songs about broken relationships, quick hook ups, prideful boasts, and violence, these Christian songs were about the power of God, his faithfulness, living as a godly husband, and being the “hands and feet” of Christ.
And they changed me.
Seriously, the next decade or more of my life was positively shaped by that music, because they pushed me to imagine a different future. They gave me a vision of being a godly man, of being in love with Jesus and his people. That music fed my imagination, fed my soul, and changed the trajectory for my life.
When we focus on filling ourselves with content that’s “not sinful” but fail to fill ourselves with content that “makes me like Jesus” then we get minds that never seem to wander towards faith, hope, gentleness, generosity, or any of the other characteristics of God, but instead pull us into mediocre faith that will, at best, see us “as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3: 14-16).
The actions you take are, more often than not, an overflow of your mind. And your mind is, more often than not, a product of what you put into it.
If you want to tame your mind, to wrestle it to become more like Jesus, then pay close attention to what you put into it.
For more content like this, check out the Living Room Disciple Podcast here, or check out our website.