Proverbs 23:7 teaches us that “as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Science is now beginning to understand this great truth taught by God’s servant thousands of years ago.
As we think and act, our brains build little connections between the brain cells affected by those thoughts and actions. These connections are like little bridges that enable electrical impulses or information to flow from one brain cell to the next. The more often we think or do the same thing, the larger and more numerous these bridges and expressways among the affected brain cells become, so the flow of information is expedited. That is why it becomes easy to ride a bike or throw a ball after we have done it several times. This is also how habits are formed and why they are so hard to break. We are literally wiring and programming our brain as we go through life. Consequently, the things we think and do are very important because that is who and what we are actually becoming.
The other night, I listened to a debate between presidential candidates. I am sure they each were sincere in some of the beliefs they expressed, but these beliefs were often diametrically opposed. We all have had a conversation with someone we felt was completely deluded. Yet that individual sincerely believed their position.
Understanding how the brain works helps explain why different individuals can have such divergent, sincerely held views of the truth. The more they think a certain way, the more entrenched that idea becomes. That is the cause of groupthink, in which individuals reinforce their beliefs by limiting their association to those individuals holding similar ideas. Academia, media outlets and political groups are accused of doing this, and social media exploits it.
Yet truth is not relative. Truth is how things actually were in the past, currently are, and will become. God is truth. The closer we get to God, the clearer our views are until we reach the point, like the prophets of old, where all things—past, present, and future—are revealed to us. Now, this will not fully happen until we become unified with God in the hereafter, but we can get a glimpse of it now as we learn to place our thoughts in tune with God and reality.
Thoughts also are precursors to our actions, good and bad. No wonder we are taught to control our thoughts. (Matthew 5:22, 28). Rarely if ever does an individual indulge in immoral action without first fantasizing about such behavior. Likewise, individuals need to first aspire, then plan, and then diligently execute their plan to accomplish great achievements. Athletes are trained to repeatedly visualize themselves successfully performing their event to increase the likelihood of winning. Again, the brain creates and expands connections between the affected brain cells as we engage in thought.
The more we think or do the same thing, the more connections are created, and the larger they become. The larger and more numerous these information bridges become, the more easily and readily our thoughts will flow through and follow the course they provide, thus reinforcing the likelihood of even further similar thoughts and behavior. Consequently, if we learn to control our thoughts, then we not only increase the likelihood of accomplishing our goals but also make it easier to do.
Conversely, it is important to avoid evil thoughts and bad behavior because they can become entrenched. When we went sledding as children, I learned that the first person to go down a hill of fresh snow would not go very far, but once the path was created, the next person would go down much faster and farther. Our thoughts and actions are very similar to this. That is why once we do something wrong, the next time it is much easier to do, until we eventually lose all sense of restraint and remorse. This is also why, once we start down a familiar path of bad behavior, we may find it nearly impossible to resist the ultimate outcome. Learning to identify and avoid these trigger points is vitally important.
The more we are aware of what we are thinking, the more power we have to control and direct our thoughts. We are not helpless creatures, doomed by our upbringing and past behavior. We were created to think and to act. We have free will because God has given each of us a portion of His spirit, which is independent and intelligent. Hence, the power is within us to accomplish things of our own free will and choice.
However, if we fail to exercise this power, we become subject more and more to our current and past thoughts and behavior. The scriptures talk about Satan beginning to lead his subjects with a thread, then a rope, and eventually with the chains of hell. However, with the Lord’s help, we have the power to break these bonds. Just as these connections between our brain cells grow when they are used, over time, they decrease when they are not used. Just as muscles atrophy from lack of use, these information bridges in the brain fall into disrepair unless they are maintained through repeated use.
I also strongly believe that when we have a born-again experience, the Lord has the power to burn the bridges that lead us down. However, unless we build new bridges in our mind to direct our thoughts in a new, positive direction, our brains will have a natural tendency to rebuild the old negative bridges. Once we remove something negative from our lives, we need to fill the void with something positive, or the vacuum will be filled by what used to occupy that space. (Luke 11:24-26).
It is a great blessing that the more we are aware of what we are thinking, the more power we have to control and direct our thoughts. When we find ourselves thinking something that pulls us down, we have the power to replace it with positive, uplifting thoughts. We may even want to keep a ready inventory of positive thoughts (such as our spouse, child, parent, friend, music, art, nature, or a peaceful location) handy so we can immediately choose to replace negative thoughts or temptations with thoughts that uplift. The key to controlling our thoughts is to consciously seek good things so consistently that this approach eventually becomes second nature to us.
Paul’s last advice to the Philippians tells us how this is done. He admonished:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Philippians 4:8 (Emphasis added)
I find it interesting that Paul admonishes us to start with being honest. Being honest and seeking truth are the foundation on which everything else is built. We need to be honest with others so we will have the power to be honest with ourselves, which is one of the hardest things to do.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will know, as the Savior said, “I can of mine own self do nothing.” Once we understand our own nothingness and God’s great love and mercy which He offers us, we are then ready to approach the source of all truth and goodness so that He can bless us. We must open ourselves up to Him and be willing to allow Him to destroy all those chains that pull us down.
Paul then admonishes us to seek after things that are pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy. We must pursue good things. If we really desire and look for goodness, then we have claim on the promise that we will find it.
The other day, I was driving down the freeway while deep in thought on a personal matter, and I drove right past the off-ramp I needed to take. I had been driving for quite a while and was oblivious to the world around me. Has that ever happened to you? Life can be just like driving that car, missing out on all the goodness around us that God placed here to edify us and help us come closer to Him. If we do not look for it, we will miss it.
We need to look for the good around us. If we look for it, we will find it and be edified in the process. Seeking or looking for good is how we remember Him so we can have claim on the promise to always have His Spirit to be with us. This is one useful way to increase our union with God, the spirit of truth and love.