3-1-1 "To be spiritually minded": The Essence Of Christianity
The state of our hearts, what we think
about, is of supreme importance. We all carry on conversations with ourselves,
often involving us imagining certain situations and how we would speak
or act to a person. The intended result of all our trials and experiences,
of our belief in all the true Bible doctrines which comprise the good
news, is that we should become spiritually minded. This is the end result
of believing; membership of a denomination, Bible reading, believing the
right doctrines... all these things are only means to an end, and that
end is to develop the mind of Christ, to “let this mind be in you, which
was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). The wicked will be rejected for
the state of their hearts, rather than their specific actions; hence God’s
summary of why He rejected the wilderness generation was that “It is a
people that do err in their heart” (Ps. 95:10). Similarly, God could have
condemned Babylon for a whole host of sinful actions; but His essential,
repeated reason was because of how they spoke in their hearts (Is. 47:10;
Zeph. 2:15; Rev. 18:17). And He gave the same reason for His condemnation
of Tyre (Ez. 28:2) and Edom (Obadiah 3). The more we come to know ourselves,
the more we will perceive the importance of self-talk. I take Ecclesiastes
to be Solomon’s self-examination at the end of his life. Five times in
this short book he describes how “I said in my heart...” (Ecc. 2:1,15
[twice]; 3:17,18). As he looked back and analyzed how and why he had lived
and been as he had, he appreciated that it was all a result of his self-talk,
how he had spoken to himself in his mind. His introspection reveals just
how we talk to ourselves- e.g. “I said in my heart, “Go on now, I will
prove you with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure”” (Ecc. 2:1). We all talk
to ourselves; and the records of the Lord’s wilderness temptations are
an amazing psychological window into the self-talk of God’s very own son.
As we know, He answered every temptation that arose within His self-talk
with quotations from Scripture. He lived out in reality David’s words:
“Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin” (Ps. 119:11-
cp. how God’s word was in the heart of men like Jeremiah and Ezekiel,
Jer. 20:9; Ez. 3:10). This, then, is the ultimate fruit of familiarity
with Scripture, of the “daily reading of the Bible” which has been the
catchcry of every serious Christian community.
need to let passages like Eph. 5:3-5 have their full weight with us.
Fornication, covetousness, all uncleannes should not be "named amongst
us", in the same way Israel were not to take even the names of the
Gentile idols onto their lips (Ex. 23:13)- "but rather giving of
thanks", knowing that those who do such things will not be in the
Kingdom of God. A thankful attitude, thinking and speaking of those
things with which we will eternally have to do, is to replace thinking
and talking about all the things which shall not be our eternal sphere
of thought in the Kingdom age. And yet our generation faces the
temptation like none before it- to privately watch and read of those
things, vicariously involved in them, whilst being under the illusion
that we're not actually doing them ourselves. For this is what the
entertainment industry is based around.
a strange juxtaposition of ideas in Jer. 4:12-14. Jeremiah promises
that Yahweh's horrendous judgments will come upon His people, through
chariots, clouds and whirlwind. But for what? Because of the wickedness
of Judah's heart / mind. No other God, no penal code, would stipulate
such extreme judgments 'merely' for an internal attitude of mind. The
pinnacle of Judah's sin was that "it reaches unto your heart" (Jer.
4:18). This is all how seriously God views the state of the human
Knowing the truth about Satan leads
to us being far more in touch with ourselves, aware of the nature of our
thought processes and the crucial importance of our own personality and
character. "Self-talk is based on your beliefs. And what you truly
believe is manifested both in your inner and oral conversations"
(1). All the angst expended in worrying about an external personal Devil
is put into self-control and personal spiritual development. For we are
to be in a living personal relationship with the Father and Son, responding
to them both in absolutely unique ways. For there are as many responses
to Jesus as there are human fingerprints. And it is this personal, deeply
internal response to them which becomes sidelined if we are mere spectators
at a show, watching some cosmic battle play itself out up in the sky.
It would be fair to say that the Biblical
Devil often refers to our self-talk- the very opposite of the external
Devil idea. Jesus pinpointed the crucial importance of self-talk in His
parable of the rich fool, who said to himself that he had many goods,
and discussed with his own “soul” the need for greater barns etc. (Lk.
12:17-19). If we at least realize that our self-talk is potentially our
greatest adversary [‘Satan’], then we will find the strength to move towards
genuine spiritual mindedness, bringing into captivity every thought to
the obedience of Christ. Paul’s wording here suggests that naturally our
“every thought” is not obedient to Christ; and this is his way of speaking
about ‘the Devil’.
Dt. 15:9 has Moses warning Israel: “Beware
that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart”. The Hebrew for ‘thought’
really means ‘word’- the idea is to ensure that you don’t have a self-talk
that says… that because the year of release was coming up soon, therefore
you would not lend your brother anything, knowing that you had to forgive
him the debt in the year of release. Here we have the OT equivalent of
the New Testament ‘Devil’. We can control our self-talk, but we must be
aware that it takes place. Moses is basically saying: ‘Beware of your
own self talk; see how you speak to yourself in unfinished sentences like
“The year of release is at hand…”, resulting in you ‘finishing the sentence’
by unkind deeds’.
Perceiving the reality and power of
our own self-talk is one outcome of truly comprehending who the Devil
is. Ps. 36:1 warns: " Sin speaks to the wicked man in his heart"
(Heb.). The path of Cain involved reviling what he did not understand
(Jude 10,11). He didn't understand, or didn't let himself understand,
the principles of sacrifice, and so he reviled his brother and God's commands,
he became a true child of the Biblical Devil- because he didn't understand.
Our self-talk actually defines where
we go in our relationships. If we keep reacting to events, encounters,
stimulations etc. with the same kind of self-talk, this cuts a groove
in our brain as it were, and ends up affecting who we are as
well as how we interact with others. It's not really true that certain
events make us inevitably act or feel in a certain way. What they do is
trigger our self-talk, those attitudes, evaluations, opinions, mental
pictures, imagined reactions, which we already have worked out in our
previous conversations with ourselves. And it is this self-talk which
then dictates how we will feel or act when things happen or are said.
If we have a certain ‘self-talk’ opinion of someone and yet speak and
act nicely to them, sooner or later we won’t be able to keep up the act
any longer. The gap between your real self and the image you project will
become so great that all manner of depression, anger and dysfunction will
result. I remember underlining a phrase of Soren Kierkegaard, quite stunned
by how intensely true it was, and how much truth is compacted by him into
so few words: “An unconscious relationship is more powerful than a conscious
one”. This says it all. What you say to yourself about your wife, how
you analyze to yourself the actions of your child… this has the real power,
far beyond any forms of words and outward behaviour we may show. Yet sadly,
this world thinks that how you say things is all important; it’s a running
away from the importance and crucial value of the real self within. And
it’s yet another reason why self-talk is crucial to true, real living
and spiritual development. And this is all an outflow from a clear grasp
of the fact that the real Satan is the adversary of our own internal thoughts,
and not some external Devil or some guy who fell off the 99th floor back
in the Garden of Eden. Not for nothing does the Bible at times
describe our self-talk as a 'devil', a false accuser. For so much of what
we are tempted to think about others in our conversations with ourselves
is slanderous, untrue, and negative. Our self-talk tends to over generalize,
over-interpret, gets things way out of perspective, magnifying some things
and minimizing others. Whereas to have the mind of the Spirit, the mind
influenced by God's word rather than the word of our own self-talk,
will lead to truth, life and peace. Well does the NCV translate Prov.
4:23: "Be careful what you think because your thoughts run your life".
We are to gather together "the loins of your mind" (1 Pet. 1:13),
make a conscious effort to analyze our thinking, get a grip on it and
gather it together into Christ.
The psychological intensity of our inner
battles is recognized throughout Scripture. Take Ex. 23:5: "If you
see the ass of him that hates you lying under his burden, and would forbear
to help him, you shall surely release it". This Divine law perceived
that in such a case, there would be the inner temptation to "forbear"
assisting; but no, "you shall surely release it". The very structure
of Biblical Hebrew as a language is often instructive as to how God wishes
us to perceive things. There is actually no literal word in Biblical Hebrew
for 'to think'- instead there is a word meaning 'to say in one's heart'.
And there are times when the word is wrongly translated simply "say"
(e.g. 1 Sam. 16:6- NEB correctly renders as "thought"). This
provides a window into understanding how the Greek logos means both 'speech'
and 'reason'; and sets the backdrop for the repeated teaching of Jesus
that God counts human thoughts as if they are the spoken word or acted
deed. But my point in this context is that the Hebrew Bible continually
focuses our attention upon the internal thought processes- for here is
the real 'Satan', the real enemy to true spirituality.
If we keep telling ourselves something
about ourselves, we’ll act accordingly. So much depression and anger is
caused by people speaking negatively about themselves in their self-talk:
“I’m bad, I’m no good, I can’t make the grade...”. There’s a huge amount
of negativity in the world, and increasingly the value of the individual
is glossed over- we’re treated as nobodies, and it rubs off. But our
self-talk should be based around the unspeakable joy of knowing that we
are in Christ, that we are secure in and with Him. As we wait in line
at the supermarket checkout, we can be telling ourselves: “He... loves
me, yes me... I will be there”. And pounding in our brain
as we find ourselves caught up in yet another traffic jam can be the urgent
reminder: “He died for me... tormented by flies probably too... He had
me in mind”. Or recite a Bible verse to yourself... whatever, “Don’t let
the world squeeze you into its mould, but be transformed by the renewing
of your mind” (Rom. 12:1 JB Philips). This positive self-talk will enable
us to maintain our basic human dignity, as well as our faith and spiritual
integrity, in the face of rejection, slander and breakup of human relationships.
It’s all too easy to be negative. Moses said within himself “I
am a foreigner in this land”- and his self-talk led to the very public
‘word’ of naming his son ‘Gershom’ (Ex. 2:22). David kept telling himself
that Saul would defeat him: “David said in his heart, I shall now perish
one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Sam. 27:1). And he acted accordingly,
and his negative self-talk led him into a faithless situation. Yet it
seems that David later perceived his error, and the importance of self-talk.
For in the Psalms, he characterizes the wicked in Israel as being distinguished
by what they say in their heart, in their self-talk. Take Psalm 10: “He
has said in his heart, “I shall not be moved”... he has said in his heart,
“God has forgotten; He hides His face; He will never see it”... he has
said in His heart “You (God) will not require it”” (Ps. 10:6,11,13). Notice
how effectively the wicked man prays to God in his thoughts- “You will
not require it”.
How could David be so confident that
he knew what was going on in the hearts of others? Surely because he perceived
that actions are so certainly the fruit of self-talk, that he could reason
back from the words and behaviour of the wicked to know what their self-talk
must be. So certain was David, as the Lord Jesus was later, that thoughts
are directly reflected in words and actions. For sure, the wicked whom
David observed would have denied that they said such things about God.
Especially would they have denied David’s confident assertion in Ps. 14:1
that “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God”. For atheism was
unheard of in early Israel; it was a perversion of far later times. But
their actions reflected a deeply internal assumption that God doesn’t
actually see and know all things; that He’s simply not watching when we
sin. And the self-talk of the wicked is effectively that ‘There’s no God
out there’. Like David, the Lord Jesus saw through peoples’ actions to
the self-talk behind it. He observed the body language of the Pharisee,
despising the repentant woman; Lk. 7:39 records that the man “said within
himself... ‘She is a sinner!’”, but “Jesus answering said unto
him...” (Lk. 7:40). The Lord perceived the man’s self-talk, and responded
to it. For Him, the Pharisee’s unspoken words were loud and clear, and
Jesus acted as if He was in a conversation with the man. He correctly
read the man’s silent disapproval as actually saying something, and responded
to it as if in conversation. Of course we could argue that the Lord was
empowered by a flash of Holy Spirit illumination to be able to read the
Pharisee’s mind; but it seems to me altogether more likely that it was
His own sensitivity, His own perception of the other’s self-talk, that
enabled Him to know what was being silently said within the man’s mind.
‘Said in his heart’ is a common Biblical
phrase (e.g. Gen. 17:17; 1 Sam. 27:1; 1 Kings 12:26; Esther 6:6). Further,
there are many instances where we read that a person ‘said’ something;
but it’s apparent that they said it to themselves, in their heart. Take
Gehazi in 2 Kings 5:20: “But Gehazi said, Behold, my master has spared
Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought;
but, as the Lord lives, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him”.
For sure, Gehazi said this to nobody but himself. Or Moses- he’s recorded
as saying “People have found out what I have done!”- surely he said this
within himself (Ex. 2:14 GNB). Samuel’s comment about Eliab was likewise
presumably to himself (1 Sam. 16:6); Saul’s “I’ll strike [David] to the
wall” was surely said to himself (1 Sam. 18:11); likewise his explanation
of his plan to trap David via his daughter Michael was all hatched out
within his own brain (1 Sam. 18:21); other examples in 1 Sam. 27:12; 1
Kings 12:26 etc. Only God knew what those men ‘said in their heart’; and
yet He has recorded it in His inspired word for all generations to see.
In this alone we see how ultimately, nothing remains secret; at the day
of judgment, what we spoke in darkness (i.e. in our own minds) will be
heard in the light of God’s Kingdom (Lk. 12:3). Note how Paul read the
Lord’s words here in this way- for he surely alludes here when he speaks
of how “the hidden things of darkness” are “the counsels of the hearts”
which will be revealed at His return (1 Cor. 4:5). The implications of
this are awesome. The thoughts and intents of our hearts in this life
will be eternally open and manifest in the eternal light of God’s Kingdom.
In that day, our brethren will see every one of our hidden thoughts. To
live now according to the principle ‘I can think what I like, but I won’t
act like it, for the sake of appearances to others’ is therefore foolish.
Who we are now in our hearts is whom we shall ultimately be revealed to
be. So we may as well get on and act according to how we really think;
for throughout eternity, what we think now will be manifest to everyone,
seeing that a man is as he thinks in his heart.
Prayer is largely carried out in the
mind- how we ‘speak in the heart’ is effectively read as our prayer to
God. We find the phrase used about how Abraham’s servant prayed, ‘speaking
in his heart’ (Gen. 24:45). Thus our self-talk merges into prayer; Hannah’s
“prayer” appears to have been the same (1 Sam. 2:1). Solomon’s prayer
for wisdom is described by God as “in your heart” (2 Chron. 1:11). This
close link between thought and prayer is developed in the Lord’s teaching
in Mk. 11:23,24: “ Truly I say unto you, Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be taken
up and cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall
believe that what he says comes to pass; he shall have it. Therefore I
say unto you, All things you pray and ask for, believe that you receive
them, and you shall have them”. Our self-talk is to be fantasy about the
fulfillment of our prayers. Yet how often do we hit ‘send’ on our requests
to God, like scribbling off a postcard, and hardly think again about them?
It’s a common mistake in the Christian
warfare to think that we can think what we like, but we must strive earnestly
to control our words so we don’t let the thoughts out publicly, as it
were. Our thoughts are our words; the intention is the action.
In any case, there is a Biblical theme that what we say in our heart comes
out into the open: “Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are
at hand. Then will I slay my brother Jacob. And the words of Esau her
elder son were told to Rebekah” (Gen. 27:41,42). What Esau said to himself
became public knowledge through his actions. Haman is described as having
‘presumed in his heart’ to destroy the Jews (Esther 7:5); but the Hebrew
word translated “presumed” is also translated “accomplished”. The thought was as if
he had done it. Perhaps the Lord Jesus had reflected
upon these things, and it was this reflection which led Him to teach that
our thoughts are counted as our deeds and words. It all underlines the
simple fact that we cannot think one way about a person, and hope that
brutal self-control will somehow stop us acting out those thoughts in
some way. Perhaps this was one of the many Old Testament examples which led the
Lord towards His firm conviction that thought and deed are the same. In
passing, let’s not take this as only negative. Our intentions to do good
can also, on this basis, be counted as if they were performed. Thus if
we have a generous spirit, and would love to be generous to the needy,
but just can’t do it- it’s counted as if we’ve done it. The generous poor
at Corinth are the parade example: “For if there first be a willing mind,
it is accepted according to that a man has [to give], and not according
to that he hasn’t got [to give]” (2 Cor. 8:12).
Nicespeak No More
What we say in our heart may well not
be revealed by us public ally in those very words of self-talk. Prov.
23:6,7 warns that a mean person will say to you: “Eat and drink!”, but
his heart is not with you; “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he”.
In his heart, he’s counting the cost of those vegetables, that meat on
your plate, rather hoping you won’t help yourself to too many of the candies
he ‘generously’ offers you with his welcoming words. He thinks in a mean
way; so this is how he really is. His heart isn’t with you; his words
are just nicespeak. Nebuchadnezzar had been warned by Is. 14:13 that the
King of Babylon would be brought down because he would say in his heart
“I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of
God”. Yet the promised fall of Babylon’s King only happened when he said
out loud: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house
of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”.
The record continues: “While the word was in the king’s mouth (i.e. he
spoke this out loud), there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar,
to you it is spoken” (Dan. 4:30,31). What was the “it” that was spoken
about him? Surely the prophecy of Isaiah 14, which was a prediction waiting
for a king of Babylon to come along and fulfil it. So the king’s self-talk
was that he would rise up to Heaven; but his actual words were an admiration
of his Kingdom as opposed to God’s. And yet he was judged for the
self-talk behind his words. And this is the kind of relentlessly analytical
judgment which a loving Father applies to us too. The culture of nicespeak
comes crashing down before His piercing eyes; for the world teaches us
that it’s all about how we put it over, the words we choose, the
image we cut; and yet God looks upon the heart. God is the God of all
grace; He judges (it’s not that He doesn’t judge- He does!), but with
grace. And the extent of that grace becomes the larger, is given greater
backdrop, as we appreciate the more how He searches and analyzes our lives
constantly, always taking our words and actions right back to their essential
root- in our self-talk. And how does He do this? Heb
4:12 answers: “For the word of
God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing
even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and
quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart”. Through our interaction
with God’s word, our deepest self-talk is revealed to us (if we read properly,
and not as a conscience-salving dashing through some Bible reading for
the sake of it); and yet perhaps it is through our response to God’s word
that our thoughts are revealed to God. That’d be to say, that His knowledge
of us may not be as it were ‘automatic’, but He uses His word as the means,
the mechanics as it were, by which He has such piercing knowledge of human
hearts. No wonder we ought to pray before we read Scripture...
The miserly man we spoke about hasn’t
got his heart ‘with you’, Prov. 23:7 warns. The implication is that if
our words and actions are truly congruent with our thoughts, then there
will be an attractive openness about us which more easily binds us in
meaningful fellowship with others. What we all like is someone who is
real; the more real, the more credible. We’re too used to seeing through
hypocrisy; we want a real person to befriend, to open our hearts to, to
bare our self before. And the reason we tend not to do this is because
we realize that people aren’t what they seem. 21st century
humanity has become too smart at faking it, weaving words, throwing up
blinds, building a brilliant disguise. As our interactions between each
other these days become increasingly online, they rely more upon written,
premeditated words than they do upon spoken words and personal contact.
There’s not much we can do about the way society is going, but there is
a crying need in this kind of society to be real, to have utter
congruence between who we internally are and who we show ourselves to
be in the words we tap and occasionally speak.
Some Practical Suggestions
“To be spiritually minded” can’t be
achieved by brutally willing ourselves to ‘think spiritually’. If we spend
an hour in encounter with a particularly inspirational person; meet a
dying person; witness a man being murdered; deeply share another’s joy...
the impression remains quite naturally in our thinking. We don’t have
to force ourselves to think about these things- they come to us naturally.
Perhaps the art of the spiritual life is making all the wonderful things
we know come real to us, so that we are deeply under the impression of
them in our daily thinking. The breaking of bread is intended as a special
gift to us in this regard. Let it have its intended power. "Do this
in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22:19) is an inadequate translation of
the Greek text- "the words do not indicate a mere memorial meal in
memory of a man now dead, but strictly mean "making present reality"
of Christ's saving death" (2). So let the bread and ine truly be
an aide memoire. That on a Friday afternoon, on a day in April,
on a hill outside Jerusalem, around 2000 years ago, Jesus died for me.
Three days later, a man dressed as a working man, a humble gardener, walked
out of a tomb, perhaps folded His grave clothes first, and saw the lights
of early morning Jerusalem twinkling in the distance. And 40 days later
ascended through cotton wool clouds and blue sky, with the necks and throats
of watching disciples moving backwards as they gaped at the sight; and
will just as surely come again, to take you and me unto Himself. These
things, and the endless implications of them, are what will fill our minds
if they impress us as having really happened. If we believe the Bible
is inspired, it will have the result of what Harry Whittaker called “Bible
television”; we will see these things as if they happened before our eyes.
And yet there are some more conscious things we can do and be aware of
in order “to be spiritually minded”:
- Garbage in, garbage out. It’s so true- if we fill our minds with
the trashy songs and soap operas of this world, then these are the themes
and phrases we will have in our self-talk. And truly “You never go anywhere
your mind hasn’t already been”. It’s why I don’t have a TV and don’t listen
much to the radio. Use time wisely. Make full use of CDs of Bible talks
and readings. Get into Christian music; “speaking
to yourselves (a reference to self-talk?) in psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).
- Read God’s word daily; carry a pocket Bible; grab verses to feed
your mind through the course of the day. Stick Bible verses around the
- Watch your company; for bad company corrupts good habits, and it’s
no good assuming that just because a person is baptized, they’re automatically
- If you travel to work, use that time in prayer, reading, listening
- Don’t let anything- and demanding daily employment is a classic example-
get such a grip on your mind that you have no time for God. It is
possible to be spiritually minded in the midst of busy lives.
- Identify and keep away from issues which you know are going to lead
you into unspiritual thinking. “I don’t wish to talk about it at the moment”
is a perfectly legitimate response.
- Above all, pray to be filled with the spirit / mind of Christ, open
your mind to His, open the door and invite Him in... and He will come
and dwell with you.
bit by bit, we will know the truth of Rom. 8:6: “To be spiritually
minded is life and peace”. Spiritual mindedness is the seal of the
Spirit, the guarantee that we will eternally be there with Christ in
His Kingdom; for having "Christ in you" is the hope of glory (Col.
1:27). I am stumbling along what has seemed for too long to be just the
early part of this road; and I think all of you join me in balking
somewhat at the height of the calling. To bring every thought into
captivity to Christ; to be able to say with Paul “but we have the mind
of Christ”. But I think that Paul got there (in the end), and like me
you’ve probably met even a few in your ecclesial experience who
apparently ‘got there’ by the end of their days- who had “the mind of
Christ”, and whom we laid to rest in sleep knowing that truly, “I knew
a [wo]man in Christ”. For all his failure and dysfunction, David is
given the amazing acolade- 'a man after God's own heart' (1 Sam. 13:14;
Acts 13:22). And remember, this was God's very own estimation of David.
We can, we really can, be 'after God's own heart / mind'. May
we find camaraderie and true fellowship with each other as we walk
towards that same goal, knowing that “we all, with unveiled face, reflecting
as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (Jesus), are (being, slowly) transformed
into the same image, from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).
(1) H. Norman Wright & Larry Renetzky, Healing Grace For Hurting
People (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2007) p. 105.
(2) Gunther Bornkamm, Paul (London: Hodder & Stoughton,
1982) p. 202.