Learning How to Think

Hey TD!

Now that we are fully vested into the summer, I’d love to encourage you to brush up your mental game, so to speak.  The Apostle Paul exhorts us to not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but to be TRANSFORMED … how? … by the RENEWING OF OUR MINDS (Rom. 12).  In a culture that is increasingly thinking with its feelings, Ravi Zacharias cautions us to remember that our feelings ought to be connected to thinking, and our thinking ought to be right; if we don’t think rightly, we will feel the repercussions of whatever it is that we’re thinking.  As Proverbs 23:7 comments, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

RZIM’s  Margaret Manning perceptively and honestly challenges us to work through the origins of our own thought patterns with the following contribution to RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity.  Think about it! – Arthur

Learning How to Think

by Margaret Manning Shull

There are patterns of thought that come as natural to us as our daily routines. These patterns of thought emerge from constructs and experiences that color and shape the way in which we view the world and they can emerge in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes we simply repeat what we have heard. Mindless phrases spill out of our mouths forming the patterns of response—even when the response is incongruent with the situation. “It is what it is,” we say, when compassionate silence is called for or “Everything has a reason” when faced with inexplicable chaos.

I recognize in my own life how these patterns of thought belie my true way of viewing the world, much to my chagrin. Oftentimes, they reveal callousness to the suffering of others. I’ll tell someone, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers” as a substitute for tangible assistance. Or my desire to fit every happening into a neat, understandable package compels me to speak when I first should listen.

Alexej von Jawlensky, The Thinking Woman, oil on canvas, 1912.Regardless of the situation, it seems a sad reality that so often these patterns of thought and action revolve around placing the self at the center of everything. Many function as if the world really does revolve around the immediate and urgent demands of living one’s own life. Everything is simply an incursion into the routine of putting me, myself, and I front and center. I automatically feel offended, for example, when cut off in traffic. I instinctively feel slighted or defensive that my very presence doesn’t delight and soothe the unhappy. I groan at the inconvenience of having to wait in another line and when I finally have my turn, I take offense at the clerk who doesn’t smile at me the way in which I think I deserve.

In his lauded address to graduates of Kenyon College, the late author David Foster Wallace exposed the routines of thought and action that place the self at the center.(1) In his remarks regarding the benefits of a liberal arts education in shaping one’s ability to think, he suggests that it is the “most obvious, important realities that are the hardest to talk about.”(2) In other words, one of those obvious realities is that when left to our own devices humans think and behave in self-centered ways. But it is one of those routines of thought that mostly goes unmentioned. He continues, “The choice is really about what to think about and how we think about it…to have just a little critical awareness….Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.”(3) Rarely, Foster Wallace notes, do we think about how we think because what is revealed is that we are basically selfish in action and thought 99% of the time.

But what if we really made thinking about how we think the routine? Foster Wallace conducts a thought experiment to illustrate how this can be done. What if the car that cuts me off in traffic is not about being in my way or being rude to me, but is a father trying to rush his sick son to the hospital or the doctor and I am in his way? What if the person who is critical of me or sullen towards me has only known criticism and neglect her whole life? What if the grocery bagger is not without social skills, but someone who has had little opportunity, whose parents’ have recently split up, and whose general home life is nothing but misery? How different these situations might look if I took the time to think! Indeed, what if my routine became first thinking of the other person?

One of the beautiful aspects of the Christian story is that we really don’t have to live for ourselves in order to find the good life. In fact, the opposite is true: those who seek to save their lives will lose them. Jesus offered an alternative vision as the one who came to serve. As the apostle Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians to not merely look out for their own interests, but also to have the interests of others in mind, he looked to the life of Jesus. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant and made in the likeness of human beings.”(4) How different the world might look if each day we took time to think about the needs of someone else—even just once per day? In so doing, how might that change the very patterns of thought that conspire to keep us living at the center of our own universe, embittered by all the ways we’ve been slighted?

Foster Wallace concludes his address by telling the Kenyon graduates:

“Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation…. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad of petty and unsexy ways every day.”(3)

In a world that isn’t always sure what it thinks about Christianity, Jesus stands inviting us to encounter a very different kind of kingdom at the center of all creation, a kingdom in which he, the suffering servant, is Lord. In this kingdom marked by his living example of sacrifice and care, it is most freeing to discover you are far from alone.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) David Foster Wallace, “This is Water,” Commencement Address, Kenyon College Graduation, Kenyon, Ohio, 2005.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.

 

‘When You Feel Like a (Christian) Imposter’

Hey TD,
Do you feel like a “Christian” imposter? You know the Christian life is meant to be lived much differently than the way you’re living your life, but you don’t really know where to start in beginning to change.  You’re in a comfortable routine (aka a rut) that doesn’t really require much thought or active Christian love; but it looks “Christian” enough.  On the inside, though, you know there’s no transformation taking place.  What to do?
If this sounds like you, please read on and then reach out to your small group leader, who will discuss it with you and help walk you through the rut.  What is there to lose? – Arthur

What if you feel out of place among Christians or in church? What if we feel we don’t belong?

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This piece originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition on October 27.

 

It’s called Imposter Syndrome, and while the name might not be familiar to you, the concept behind it is sure to be. Imposter Syndrome is the haunting feeling that you can’t really do what everyone expects you to be able to do. It assumes any success you’ve experienced was an unrepeatable fluke. You’re a fraud, and any moment now everyone is going to realize that.

It’s common to experience this in our work contexts. I’m actually experiencing it right now. I’ve just been speaking at a conference where all the other speakers are people I deeply admire, people unusually gifted and able. So what am I doing here? Surely there must have been some mistake.

There’s a similar feeling that easily creeps into our Christian lives as well. We walk into church on Sunday and look around. Everyone else looks as though they belong here. They seem to have the Christian life figured out (or so we think). But Christianity doesn’t feel so natural to us. It feels far from second nature.

Holy Is Who You Are

Perhaps this applies most when we think of holiness. We hear the commands to “be holy, as your Father is holy.” We know we’re meant to live in a way that’s worthy of the gospel. Yet it feels so alien to do so. All our default settings seem lined up in the other direction. And in the fatigue we can start to think, There’s no point. This isn’t me. I’m just trying to be someone I’m not.

But natural though it might seem to think this way, it’s actually completely untrue. The Bible is, of course, deeply realistic about the continuing presence of sinful tendencies in our lives. We aren’t yet rid of our sinful nature. But that’s not all there is to say on this point. Yes, the sinful nature is still kicking around, but it’s not who we now truly are.

The key to all this is understanding our union with Christ. Being a Christian doesn’t just mean that we’ve decided to “vote Jesus” or that we admire him from afar. The most common way the New Testament describes believers is as those who are “in Christ.” We’re united to him, like a branch to a tree (John 15:1) or a body to its head (Eph. 4) or a husband to his wife (1 Cor. 6).

One of the glorious implications is that who we are now is who we are in Jesus. Listen to these startling words from Paul:

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17)

This means our relationship to our old self, our sinful nature, has decisively and dramatically changed—forever. So Paul can say:

Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ. (Rom. 6:11)

Sin is no longer our master. This doesn’t mean it exerts no influence over us, but that it has no authority over us. We never have to do what it says. This doesn’t mean we won’t ever sin. But it does mean that every time we do, we didn’t have to.

Sin Is Not Who You Are

Grasping this point is life-changing. Most of us will have particular besetting sins that seem so established we can’t imagine them ever going away. So when temptation comes, it says, This is who you are. This is how we roll. Stop pretending to be something you’re not. It can sound so compelling, and we can easily give up.

But here the message of the gospel is wonderfully liberating. This or that sin may well have defined our lives. Perhaps it was who we were. Even so, it’s no longer who we are.

Paul makes this point to the Christians in Corinth:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9–11, emphasis added)

This or that sin may well have defined our lives. Perhaps it was who we were. Even so, it’s no longer who we are.

When the New Testament calls us to holiness, it’s calling us to be who we now are. If I am who I am in Christ, then holiness—not sinfulness—is truest to who I am in the deepest core of my being. However deep sinful feelings may go, the new love and life I have in Christ goes deeper still. Sin goes against the grain of my true self; therefore, pursuing Christ is the most “true to self” I can ever be.

I write this as someone who has wrestled with homosexual temptation his whole Christian life. It defined my affections and feelings for so many years. At times it still exerts a powerful gravitational pull on my life. But while it may describe some of my temptations, it isn’t who I am. Indulging such feelings is never being true to myself as I now am in Christ.

Danger of Getting It Backward

What is most true of believers is never going to be an aspect of our sinful natures. If we get this backward, though, we’ll never feel that we have the power to live like Christ.

Attempting Christian ethics with an unchristian identity produces an unstable compound. We need to reform our identity in order to live out our ethics, or else we will give up the fight for holiness as we cling, well-meaning but deceived, to “who we really are.”