When Jesus underlined the first and greatest commandment he added to it. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength’ (Mk.12:30). What was implicit throughout the Old Testament, that truth and words and wisdom are aspects of God’s character and therefore of ours, now became explicit. We are to honour God in the way we think.
A flurry of recent books on the way we think, both well-researched and well-written, should make us think again about thinking, and what it means to honour God as we do it. Here are seven areas, and another one for good measure.
- Honour God with our understanding. This is perhaps the area we gravitate to, and we’re right. Understanding truth and the words that capture it are critical for understanding the God who has spoken. Right understanding about God leads to right understanding of ourselves, others and the world in which he has placed us. Our understanding is foundational for honouring God with every part of our minds.
- Honour God with our analysis. We do not live in a time which places a high value on logic. In my experience (what a giveaway!) presenting a clear, logical argument can make people feel less willing to accept what is being said. I’ve even heard a high calibre Christian apologist and felt the need argue for the other side! But if we present our case fairly and sensitively, it is part of our discipleship that we join dots, pursue consequences, admit the holes in our knowledge, confess to mistakes and seek to be consistent.
- Honour God with our intuition. Hunches? Really? Yes. A Christian mind, formed by long and deep exposure to God’s Word, can make fast connections with a spiritual sensitivity with breath-taking speed. Afterwards it feels like we are making up the reasons for it, or post-rationalising (ever had that experience?) but I suspect that it’s often one part of our brain explaining to us why it reached a particular position.
- Honour God with our assumptions. Assumptions are the comfortable ruts our minds run in. Some stuff I know because I have been forced to think and decide. Other stuff is just ‘obvious’, because it’s in the air we breathe. Until we meet a Christian from another context, and the world tilts. Take one controversial issue which plays out very differently in different places: gun control and the right to own a gun for self-defence. I have British friends with guns and have signed licences for them – but it’s only for the purpose at taking aim at an occasional rabbit. I have never met a British evangelical who wants a gun for self-defence, and when the topic comes up everyone assumes that view is right. And yet I have many American evangelical friends for whom that right is so beyond arguing, that to deny it is to deny something God-given. Both sides have made assumptions, and both need to bring them into the open and make sure they are honouring God with them.
- Honour God with our imagination. Because music, and drawing, and dance, and kicking a ball, and sinking a beautiful putt are as much an aspect of our minds as anything involving words. Even though the best performers in those areas all say that words are a distraction when they act well. I once joined an art class to meet some non-Christians. I discovered that painting filled my mind so much that there was no space for words for any of us, and yet our minds were fully engaged.
- Honour God with our pleasures. Some things are deeply enjoyable, but putting them into words is close to impossible (perhaps that’s what we recognise in a really fine writer). Sometimes the words kill them. But that pleasurable hum is still part of our minds, isn’t it? Understanding what we enjoy and why, and thanking God for the experience, is part of honouring him.
- Honour God with our personality. I have taken a number of personality tests (most say I have one, ho, ho), and they are pretty consistent. I think I know what I am (INTJ, now there’s a surprise). So, first, I need to recognise the way God wired me, and honour him with that. I know what drains me and what fires me up, and I know how cut with and against my grain. But the whole personality test idea fails when we ask, what was Jesus? And the answer was, that he had the most perfect personality and therefore occupied every possible combination as necessary. And so when I am working with the way God made me, I’m being remade like Jesus. And when I’m stretched way outside my comfort zone I’m being remade like Jesus too. I need to tell my mind that.
And the extra one?
Honour God with our brains. The mind/brain relationship is a source of great scientific debate but that doesn’t need to bother us – we just need to agree that the brain is an organ like any other, and the good health of our brains is critical to clear thinking. It needs fuel (brains take up around 10% of our calorie needs), and it needs it regularly and of a high quality. Watch your blood sugar levels, your need for oxygen and Vitamin D (sunlight). Give it a break from one kind of activity to allow it to process stuff. Care for the physical nature of your brain as much as you do your heart, your lungs or your liver.
Your Mind Matters, John Stott. A brilliant little essay worth tracking down second hand.
And from the best sellers, I have really enjoyed these books. By enjoyed, I mean that they had a high number of ‘Aha!’ moments, when I recognised the experience they were describing.
A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink. On the right/left brain division, and how to use both.
Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman. Fascinating research on how irrational and lazy we can be when faced with complex issues
Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain. For all us introverts out there, a book on how to cope. Mind you, she’s wrong about Christianity.
Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer. This book’s been withdrawn because it turns out that Lehrer was a little (cough) creative with some Bob Dylan quotes. But it’s still really interesting on the hard science of the imagination
Blink, Malcolm Gladwell. Why and how you make snap decisions that are spot on.