My last post was on the importance of thinking about God. Today, I offer up five exercises that can help you turn your distracted mind into one that
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regularly thinks on God.
1. Count Your Breaths – Distracting thoughts are like a buzzing mosquito that keeps flying around your head. You try to ignore it but it keeps hovering and forces you to give it your attention. We have to find ways to swat these thoughts that are insignificant and annoying. One way to begin doing this is to count our breaths. If we can make it to 10 without losing track than we are getting closer to being able to focus on one thing – preferably God.
2. Take a Walk – I can focus better when I am moving. Sit me down in one place and a thousand things cross my mind but being active brings added concentration.
3. Finish Something From Start To Finish – Experts like to call this the information age but what it should really be called is the distraction age. I have trouble writing this blog without wanting to check my email or Twitter. In many ways we are all addicted to distractions. If we want to focus our mind more on Christ, then we need to develop the skill to overcome this addiction. Make a habit of finishing a task before indulging in common distractions such as texting, TV, and social media.
4. Set Your Watch – We all fall into a task or role that occupies our minds and allows us to be carried away. Sometimes this is good but is it good for us to go hours without thinking about God? Try setting your watch so that it beeps regularly. Every time it beeps, focus your mind on Jesus.
5. End The Day With A Blessing Inventory – As you fall to sleep, review your day and think about all of the good things that God provided for you.
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. ” Colossians 3:2
As we pursue doable spiritual formation, one of the first places we start is with our minds.
I used to think that hard work and determination was the only path to change. I used to think that I didn’t need Jesus to be Lord of my life, just a helpful resource in times of need. I used to think that only certain aspects of life could benefit from Christ and his kingdom. But I have changed my thinking.
As much as Christians talk about their feelings and emotions, it is their thinking that is the most important element to a transformed life.
The New Living Translation takes a familiar verse about renewing our mind and phrases it this way:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12: 2
Jesus turns the world’s way of thinking upside down. Everything we think is important as feeble humans is turned on its head by Jesus’ life and teaching. Jesus presents a radical way of thinking about the world.
Here are three steps to changing your thinking:
1. Read the Gospels. This is the only way that we can understand how Christ wants us to think.
2. Memorize scripture. Pick a verse such as Galatians 2:20 and put it to memory.
3. Pray for new thinking. What area of your life do you struggle with negative or destructive thinking? Ask God to change your thinking to see this part of your life the way that he does.
I have been trying to find ways to simplify my life but I am terrible at it. I am easily distracted by media and the latest information. (I guess that is why I am a librarian) I am hoping to find time and space in my life for God, reflection, and family. That is one good thing about all of the running that I have been doing. I don’t have much else to do on a 30 minute run but think and pray. But, still my mind wants to wander in other directions.
Dallas Willard says that spiritual formation should start with our thought life. He is right but this taming the thought life is a lifetime process that I am sure I will be struggling with until I die. One thing that has worked for me lately is to practice being more relaxed. The more relaxed I am, the better able I am to focus on God. Running has helped here as well.
I don’t know where I first heard this but one aphorism for running long distances is “Just relax and endure.” So, if I am in a tense situation, I slow down and try to stay relaxed and my mind starts to take the reigns off a little and God then steps in and gives me wisdom, or comfort, or strength to handle the situation. We often hear the excuse that we are too busy to think about God but the reality may be that we are too stressed or tense to think about God.
Take a moment right now and try to relax your body and your mind. Say a prayer, asking God to make you more relaxed and for Him to speak to you in these relaxed moments.
I try to pray every day. I also try to have some moments of silence where I am just thinking about God. But, inevitably these exercises will be made more difficult because of the flood of random thoughts that cross my mind and often take control of my mind to where I end up thinking about something that has no relation to anything. I suspect that this problem is one that most Christian’s experience in some form or the other. So, how can we overcome these distracting thoughts so that our prayers and our meditation on God can be more meaningful? Let me offer three suggestions. Choose whichever one works best for you.
Walking Dog – In most cases we are not able to shut off our random thought process but we can learn to dismiss them quickly. We can begin to treat these thoughts like a dog on the street. The thought surfaces but instead of dwelling on the thought, we simply let it pass on by “down the street” and out of our thinking.
Chalkboard – Here is another instance where we don’t force ourselves to stop the thoughts, we simply acknowledge it and remove it from our thinking. In this method, we envision the thought as if it is written on a chalkboard but as soon as we see the thought on the board we take an eraser and erase the thought. This allows us to return to our prayer or refocus on God.
Breathe In, Breathe Out – This one is simple. First, we focus on our breathing. Then, we take our next breath and as we are breathing we let our minds be filled with thoughts of God. As we exhale, we let go of any thought that will be a distraction to our time with God. Simply put, breathe God in, breathe distractions out.
Pick one of these methods or try all three today as you say your prayers or spend time with God. See if it helps you overcome some of your more persistent distracting thoughts.
Dallas Willard says that the first freedom that humans possess is where “they will place their mind.” In other words, no matter our situation or circumstance our minds can still dwell on good, positive things. I am not concerned with the power of
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positive thinking but the power of God thinking. Willard goes on to say that where we choose to place our mind is the first step to spiritual transformation.
Have you ever been in a meeting, class, or even a church service that barely held your attention? This should be a situation where it should be easy to think about God but in my experience it is not. Our mind primarily likes to think about “when will this be over?”, “how much more can this person talk?” and other petty complaints. I like to turn these times into a game to see how often I can think about God.
I take a pen and clear off a space on my paper to make “tick” marks. Every time I have a thought about God, I make a mark on my paper. Whenever I do this it always turns what I thought was a boring meeting or gathering into a time bursting with life, discovery, and opportunity. I begin to think about the subject of the meeting in light of God’s purposes and will and nothing seems boring anymore. This is similar to Frank Laubach‘s Game With Minutes.
Give it a shot today. Anytime you find yourself in what would normally be considered an unexciting or boring setting, start marking how often you can think about God. You might even keep your results so that you can compare your performance to the last time you tried this experiment.