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  • Writer's pictureTrent Murray

Mindfulness: Productivity Through the Spiritual Disciplines Pt. 4

Do you ever feel like your mind has too many thoughts to keep up with? Or maybe some of you wouldn't know how to respond if I asked you "what are you thinking about right now". Sure you think about things but thoughts seem to be like a wet salmon in the fish market of Seattle, slipping through your hands before you can get a good grip of what is actually happening.

Have you ever felt like you struggle to focus on the people and relationships around you because you are too busy thinking about a bunch of things in your past or future?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are certainly not alone. But if we are honest sometimes we know we think but we are not very mindful of our thoughts. The average person has 6,000 thoughts per day, and what we do with those thoughts matters.

In fact I argue that what we do with our thoughts is stewardship of our brains that God has blessed us with. And as we examine Mindfulness as a spiritual discipline, it's important to establish what exactly we mean.

Mindfulness is essentially thinking about what you are thinking about. But we are not simply pursuing a secular achievement of mindfulness. We are pursuing a biblical understanding of our thoughts and how to organize them.

Mindfulness is essentially thinking about what you are thinking about.

Unlike the meditation practices of Eastern religions, christian mindfulness and meditation is not merely an emptying of the mind but rather disciplining the mind to think about what matters most.

The Apostle Paul urges us:

"whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4:8

if we are to pursue these godward thoughts we must properly steward our thoughts and focus them in on the things of God.

We have also established that our purpose as born-again believers is to do good works for God's kingdom to bring glory and honor to our Heavenly Father and point others to glorify him as well. This is why it is necessary to bring our mind to the present in mindfulness. Do you see the connection?

We cannot do good works without being mindful of the opportunities and needs of the present. Nor can we do the good works we are called to if we are immobilized by regret of the past or fear of the future.

Ryder Carroll, author and entrepreneur, presents mindfulness as being in a traffic jam in your mind and rather than being stuck in the log jam you remove yourself from the car to step to the side of the road and observe the cars taking up all of the road and begin to direct traffic.

I believe this is a very helpful way to understand the organization of our thoughts and how to avoid being stuck and immobilized. My late mother always told me: " Son when you feel overwhelmed, you have to eat your elephant one bite at a time. What's the next thing you need to do?" When we are overwhelmed by our thoughts the first step of eating that elephant is to see what thoughts are hogging all the road and begin to put them in their proper place.

The illustration I used with our students is imagine you have a glass full of bitter pickle juice but you have a gallon of sweet tea you want a sip of. You would not want to fill that glass with tea with the pickle juice still inside, it would sour the tea. Before we fill our mind with what matters most, we must empty it of the things that are clogging up our mental bandwidth.

There will be some things that we need to write down for later, tasks that need to get done, some things we need to lay at the feet of Jesus in repentance, some things we need to lay at his feet as burdens that we are unnecessarily carrying, and sometimes there are thoughts that are honorable and good and need to be highlighted instead of focusing in on the things that frustrate us or worry us.

Exercises in Mindfulness:

If we are to put this into practice what are some examples of how to become mindful of our thoughts and fill our mind with what matters most?

1.) Stillness/Silence

For some of you, you need some peace and quiet. However, I was surprised to hear from a few students though that silence gives them anxiety. I don't have time to go too far down that rabbit trail but I wonder if it is because the technological age we live in today that is bombarding us and stimulating us at all times making it silence seem abnormal causing us to be uncomfortable.

Augustine said that "entering into silence is an entrance into joy." And I believe Job reflects this idea when he says in Job 3:26 "I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, I have no rest, but trouble comes." Job used the absence of quiet in his life to describe his distress. On the contrary we can find peace in our quietness of mind.

I like to think of it as a stillness or quietness of the mind and spirit, not necessarily absolute auditory silence.

Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God" is my favorite verse and it hangs in my office right in my line of sight every day to remind me to have a stillness in my spirit that trends toward restlessness and constant activity.

Silence and stillness give us enough space to hear our thoughts and God's voice.

2.) Solitude

Mark 1:35 tells us that early in the morning Jesus, while it was still dark, went out to a desolate and solitary place where he prayed. This one may seem out of place in the age of COVID where we all feel like solitude is not in short supply. However I do believe the people of God need to find intentional time to be alone with our thoughts and alone with the Lord. We need to remove distractions and turn on "Do Not Disturb" as we are always accessible in this technological age.

Of course I must remind you that you find solitude in moderation to avoid loneliness. God did not make man to be alone. So find time to get alone with your thoughts and the Lord, but don't dwell there past curfew or you may get stuck in a rut you can't make your way out of.

3.) Journaling

My journals are some of my most precious possessions, and I certainly will write a number of blogs in the years to come over how I use my journal. I personally have adapted Ryder Carroll's "Bullet Journal Method" and have found great success, but your method is not what is most important here. I simply encourage you to begin the process of writing your thoughts, hope & dreams, prayers, biblical insight, and life events.

From a neurological standpoint, journaling your thoughts makes it

Easier to visualize thought.

Easier to process thought.

Easier to remember thought.

But from a spiritual standpoint it helps you remain focused on your pursuits, prayers, and the word.

Writing down your dreams and goals after prayerful consideration can keep you accountable to pursuing the things that God desires you to pursue. When things are on paper it is difficult to hide from them and the process of journaling can make you aware of what you are pursuing and if it is a worthwhile endeavor.

Both keeping a prayer list and writing some of your prayers leads to a more consistent and focused prayer life. In keeping a list it is harder to forget to pray for those you have told you would pray for or those you know you need to lift up. And if you find yourself wandering aimlessly in your prayers you should try to journal some prayers even if you just start with a one sentence prayer every day or a page long prayer every week. Our thoughts do not wander off task as easily as we are physically writing with pen to paper.

Finally, journaling can be greatly beneficial to applying the word of God to your life. Read with a pen and paper and write down questions about the text. What is it saying, in your own words? What is this text calling you to do? What does this text say about God? There are endless amounts of things you can write about God's word that helps you not only chew on it but digest it!

There are most likely other ways to incorporate biblical mindfulness into your routine of spiritual disciplines, but I believe this is an extremely important discipline that is often overlooked or discounted. Be a good steward of your thoughts this week. Put away what is malicious, overwhelming, wicked or worthless, and fill your mind with the things of God.

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