Mind Habits

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:5

We usually think of  habits as actions we repeatedly take. They are part of our schedule and routine. Exercising, eating, shopping for groceries, reading the newspaper, etc. We truly are creatures of habit. Routine works well for most of us.

More important than the physical habits, however, are the mental habits we fall into or consciously develop. These are the "mind habits," or the usual ways we think. Scientists call mind habits our cognitive style.

In the NT we find many references to the mind and the way we think. Paul, a philosopher/theologian, used the terms for mind and thinking frequently some 23 times in his letters. Typical is our verse from Philippians for this week's GraceWaves: "have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." The word connotes an attitude or disposition based on careful and continual thought.

Broadly, Paul wrote of the mind in two important ways. First is the idea that God transforms our minds. The best known example of this is "be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom. 12:2). God is obviously the one who does the transforming in this instance. Without question God is at work in you. Changing your mind habits is partly God's responsibility.

The second and more common way Paul wrote of thinking is exhorting readers adopt certain habits of the mind. That is the emphasis throughout Philippians. We bring effort and discipline to our minds. We have a role in forming our mind habits.

Think of it as walking across your yard. If you walk the same path repeatedly day after day you will wear a path. You may walk a different way occasionally, but your habit is to go one particular way.

The same is true of your thinking. We develop "pathways" that become our mind habits, and Paul wrote repeatedly of disciplining our minds to think in ways that honor God. Consequently these godly mind habits are healthier for us. This is very important for several reasons.

First, many people don't realize they have a role in changing their thinking. It's enormously difficult, but very possible to develop new habits of the mind that are much holier and healthier. Not everyone has the same ability to do this, and we all face obstacles. Some people have depression. Others have a family history of negative and critical attitudes. Nevertheless, difficulty does not mean impossibility. Whatever the obstacles, you still have tremendous power to develop your mind habits.

Second, your pattern of thinking is self-fulfilling. Two students can fail an exam. One thinks "I'm awful. I am a failure." The other thinks, "I have to study harder or in a different way next time." They have both set a mental trajectory that is linked to their future actions and results. Having a good and hopeful opinion of yourself is not egotistical. In fact, based on what we read in the Bible, it is very much like God's opinion of you.

Third, your mind habits are contagious. Gerald Haeffel and Jennifer Hames, two Notre Dame psychologists, recently published a paper based on a very large study. They found negative temperaments tend to drag down people around them. No surprise there. But the very heartening discovery was that an upbeat temperament lifted people and helped them to be most positive and hopeful. Which would you prefer?

Now back to the NT text. To have the mind of Christ we must know the mind of Christ. His temperament, and I say this reverently, is grace-filled and eternally hopeful. Now that we know, or are reminded, that our mind habits are both malleable and effectual let's be about the business of changing them to be more like Christ's.


Dr. Terry Ellis

July 8, 2013