This past semester, I delivered a series of chapel messages titled, “Sound Judgment: Thinking Biblically About the Disciplines of Mind and Heart.” My hope was that it would provide the students some perspective and challenge them to step back and think about the way they react and respond to life, others, and the circumstantial realities they face. I am convinced that this is always a struggle given our human nature but is acutely more problematic and chronic in this age of social media, excessive individual expression, and comfort and convenience orientation.
Too often we find our sensibilities shaped by the context in which we live, patterned according to the cultural norms and expectations for thinking and feeling. If we live in a world that values personal comfort, convenience, and personal expression as highest priorities, we tend to resist and react to anything that would infringe upon those values. If we live in a world that views us as victims of our circumstances with no ability to choose how we react to life, ideas, or people but are rather enslaved to our impulsive emotional reactions and knee-jerk judgments, and find that same context does not expect us to filter, modify, or suspend our immediate feelings or judgments, then all too often we find ourselves thinking, feeling, saying,
and doing whatever we want in the immediate. But is this biblical?
The Bible teaches that self-control is not only possible, it is expected, and it is a fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians. This self-control is a form of mental and emotional discipline that reflects faith, wisdom, and spiritual
maturity. It is also reflective of the conviction that our whole being is to be yielded to the word and will of God. This does not mean we do not experience real anguish, grief, despair, frustration, anger, fear, disappointment, or confusion. It simply means we are under control and not controlled by these things. The practical challenge with this is that life happens. We are human, and the flesh (and mind) is often weak. This reality is not new to God’s people. A great example, as well as a helpful discipline, can be found in the University verse and the verses around it. Lamentations 3:22–23 declare the great faithfulness of God and his enduring “hesed.” But taken in its context, the passage is profoundly instructive regarding emotional and mental discipline.
In chapter 3:1–20, prior to declaring the ceaselessness of God’s lovingkindness, the renewing mercies He shows each day, and “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” the prophet Jeremiah is in the midst of dire circumstances, despair, ruination, anguish, bitterness, unrest, weariness, and much more. His emotional state is unvarnished and his evaluation of his life is honest, powerfully described in ways that make us feel his pain and torment. In verse 1, the prophet writes that he is the man who has “seen” afflictions. This term in Hebrew carries the idea of sharing in it and experiencing it, even in the present. This characterizes his suffering as pervasive and persistent. He also feels abandoned by God and attributes his pain, anguish, and torment to the Lord. In verses 2–20, Jeremiah laments that his suffering is as if his bones are broken and his internal organs pierced and destroyed by arrows. Not only that, but he is in the dark. God has shut him out and walled him in. His prayers go unanswered. This is as bleak an assessment as you will find in Holy Scripture. In verse 14, we read that the prophet is also the subject of mocking and jokes. His reputation is destroyed as is his stature and pride. Verse 16 has always seemed to be a painfully vivid word picture. His teeth are broken with gravel and his body trampled in the dust. There is no peace, no prosperity, only constant pain and agony that he cannot forget or pretend does not exist. Verses 19–20 sum up the description outlined in the preceding lines by making it clear that this will not relent, will not be assuaged and cannot be denied. I am stuck, the prophet laments.
But then, it all turns on 3:21 and the exercising of the spiritual discipline of preaching truth to oneself. Jeremiah says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” He reaches down deep and pulls from memory the truths he internalized, the qualities and attributes of God that he has embedded in his mind and spirit. The prophet is preaching to himself! He begins to list out what he knows and believes to be true even though his circumstances, feelings, and judgments in the immediate might persuade him otherwise. He recalls and declares in verses 22–23 things about God that do not simply overshadow his experience and feelings but wash them out in the glorious light of the ceaseless love and kindness and mercy of God. The balancing of his words is profound. 21 verses of lament wiped away by two verses of truth.
“It simply means we are under control and not controlled by these things. The practical challenge with this is that life happens. We are human, and the flesh (and mind) is often weak.”
This is just one example of a discipline of mind and heart we see in Scripture; that of calling to mind eternal truths about God, about ourselves, and about the world in which we live. In others words, we preach to ourselves. Like the prophet in Lamentations, we can cry out in honest grief and misery, expressing our pain and anguish and disappointment. But then, we stop and call to mind the goodness, kindness, and ceaseless love of God, because, as 3:24 reads, in Him alone are our portion and hope. Jeremiah was not whistling through the graveyard, or leaning on some spiritual cliché. He called to mind what he knew to be true of God. The Word was in him, committed to memory, there for the accessing. And his mind and heart were attuned to the reality that all we think and feel is to be brought under subjection to God. This is an important lesson for us as Christians. What we preach to ourselves, when, and why matters. We should not settle for lofty or trite platitudes or self-help drivel. Neither should we capitulate to a cultural romanticization of despair and despondency. We should drive for
honesty and truth and always strive to realign ourselves with God’s Word.
Dr. Todd J. Williams has been the president of Cairn University since January 2008. He served on the faculty and administration from 1996 to 2001, and then returned as provost in 2005. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.