Home > Miscellaneous > Fighting Your Battles in the Mind

Fighting Your Battles in the Mind

There is a study I read about the brain and how thinking about doing something without actually performing that activity is very much the same at a neuronal level as doing the activity. This is something that I read a while ago, so I don’t remember the exact details, but the basic concept is intact in my mind. The researchers in the study gathered 2 groups of excellent pianists and gave them a novel piece of music to play. They all played the piece without practice at the beginning of the study and the number of their mistakes was measured. After this, group 1 was to practice the piece on piano for x hours per day for a week. Group 2 was to imagine themselves practicing the piano for the same amount of time per day, but without actually playing the piano. When the researchers tested the individuals from the two groups after the week was up, there was no statistically significant difference between the amount of improvement between the two groups. The group that imagined themselves playing the piece learned as much as the group that actually practiced playing it.

That’s cool. And it has some potential implications that I find quite interesting. If we can learn to improve our performance on activities simply by spending time imagining ourselves actually doing those activities, then I think we can make great strides in obedience without actually being in situations where we are faced with a difficult choice to obey or disobey. We can learn to obey and practice obedience in our mind. We can transform by renewing our mind (Romans 12).

There is a lot of possible benefit to spending deliberate time of solitude focusing on Jesus and trying to get one’s mind (and heart and soul) in line with God’s. If we are taking time to test our lives (Galatians 6) and evaluate for ourselves what the motivation of our heart (our will) is, we can practice submitting our will to God and our actions to God while in prayer and focused on God’s presence. We can become more holy by the setting our minds and hearts right before they are tested and by having chosen what is right hundreds of times before we actually face a decision.

I don’t think that this is the magic solution to refraining from actively sinning by our action, inaction, or misaction, but I do think there is some power in it. I do think that sitting with God and talking through various temptations of lust, fear, sloth, gluttony, drunkeness, anger, or etc. can help us practice doing what is right and refusing to do what is wrong. If we imagine ourselves into situations that are difficult for us, feeling the fear and temptation, and imagine ourselves doing what would bring glory to God as we are experiencing the situation in our minds, I think our hearts will become more submitted to him. I know mine has as I’ve struggled with God over both temptations of actions and over things I don’t want to do and set my mind on humble obedience to Him as I sat in the presence of His love. Try it, tell me how it goes.

Categories: Miscellaneous
  1. Joel Morgan
    November 9, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    “Be still and know that I am God.”

    Intriguing. Kinda exciting to think of just sitting and dwelling on God and what proper action looks like.

  2. David C. Miller
    November 9, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    This makes me a little bit uneasy. Did God cancel our debt that was against us, nailing it to the cross, so that we could be set free to visualize and practice our way to not sinning?

    Sanctification is a wonderful subject, but I exhort you to be careful when suggesting practices that can ‘aid’ in sanctification, that they don’t turn into another law to follow. I’m not saying you’re crossing the line or throwing away the Gospel, or confusing Law and Gospel, I’m just saying that that is a danger.

    You’ve wisely picked a fine way to ward against that danger: keeping focused on Christ and his work. Sanctification is done by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word as well as the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

    So do you want to be sanctified? Continue as you’re doing to hear God’s Word. Read your Bible. Go to church. Eat Jesus’s body and drink his blood. Remember your baptism. If taking the time to systematically concentrate on God’s Word in this special way deepens your faith and helps you trust God more, who am I to tell you to stop?

    But be certain that you are concentrating on God and not yourself. Read what you just wrote:

    We can become more holy by the setting our minds and hearts right before they are tested and by having chosen what is right hundreds of times before we actually face a decision.

    Make sure the Holy Spirit is involved in this! If I could write a mirror image of what you wrote:

    We become more holy when God renews our minds and creates in us clean hearts through the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus faced tests and temptations and chose what is right and we are connected to Him through faith, we have the power to stand up under temptation.

    As long as we’re on the subject of things to try, I haven’t had hot wings in a while…

  3. Joel Morgan
    November 9, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    I think the second comment is well-said. There could be a a wrong way to interpret this but I don’t that’s Jeremiah’s intent.

    When I think this through, I think of the verse in Romans 12 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed through the renewing of your mind” I think this verse was included in the blog post, but the point is renewing our minds. Spending time dwelling on God, his love, sacrifice, and his continual grace in our lives is all a part of the renewing of our minds.

    I think the secular and wrong view of thinking through our actions and words would be to say that “I can fix myself through introspection.” This doesn’t leave a place for God, only self.

    I like this “We become more holy when God renews our minds and creates in us clean hearts through the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus faced tests and temptations and chose what is right and we are connected to Him through faith, we have the power to stand up under temptation.”

  4. David C. Miller
    November 10, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    The verse from Romans 12 is important, but without remembering what exactly Paul was talking about in Romans 1-11, we’re liable to misunderstand it. Remember that he says “THEREFORE I beseech you, brothers and sisters”. The THEREFORE means that Paul has just given the reason why we should offer our lives as living sacrifices and not conform to this world. He gave those reasons in the previous 11 chapters: that even though all men are sinful and have turned away, God has now revealed a righteousness that comes by faith in Christ. He revealed this righteousness for no other reason than that He loves us. This is Good News, and it is radical and freeing.

    Paul’s practical advice flows from the earlier doctrinal heavy lifting: now that you have been set free, here is how you might live so as to glorify the God who set you free.

    Let me put it another way. Who or what is responsible for ‘renewing your mind’? Do we renew our own minds by embarking on 12-step programs to achieve Serenity Now?

    Or is the Gospel so life-changing, is the Holy Spirit so powerful, that He can resurrect a person who was spiritually dead?

  5. Joel Morgan
    November 10, 2010 at 9:50 pm


    “I do think that sitting with God and talking through various temptations of lust, fear, sloth, gluttony, drunkeness, anger, or etc. can help us practice doing what is right and refusing to do what is wrong.”

    • November 10, 2010 at 11:29 pm

      Ha. This is kinda humorous. I think I’ll mostly sit this one out. I don’t think that anyone is undermining the power of the holy spirit and the way that he frees us to live. I certainly wasn’t doing so by mentioning a practical way to choose to live as a slave to God and not to sin. The spirit of Jesus frees us to live free, we still have a choice whether or not to do so.

      • David C. Miller
        November 11, 2010 at 6:33 pm

        But, as I said above, the Holy Spirit works through regular means. Those means certainly include baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and reading, learning, and hearing God’s Word. But I’m not convinced that ‘quiet time with God’ is one of those means.

        Prayer is a pretty one-sided conversation (or at least it is for me). I certainly know that God listens to prayers and answers them, but my prayers are not conversations. If God has something to say to me, he’ll say it through his Word. If I have something to say to Him, I’ll say it in prayer.

        I guess I’m interested in what this ‘sitting with God and talking through temptations’ actually looks like. Who is the one who is talking? Who is the one practicing doing what is right? Who is the one practicing refusing to do what is wrong? You’ve assured me that God is involved in the process, but if that involvement doesn’t go any further than ‘God listens to me and watches me practice’, then you can understand my uneasiness.

  6. November 11, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Well, let’s see… We think differently on a lot of levels. I think the Holy Spirit can work however the hell he wants. I think the Holy Spirit has already freed us from the power of sin and we can still choose to sin or to not to. I think a lot of things can help us not to make choices that are honoring to God (accountability for instance) and that doing something that helps one be like Jesus does not mean the Holy Spirit is not working and should not be glorified for His empowerment and redemption. I think, based upon what I read in God’s word, that God uses more than the words in Scripture to speak to people.
    What sitting with God actually looks like is a good question. For me, generally, it is a time of prayer where I talk to God about my heart and ask Him to show me where my heart does not line up with His. If I already know, then I tell God how I see that what I want to do in a particular situation and what He wants me to do in a particular situation are not the same. While I ultimately want to do what He desires of me, there is also an understanding in me that I might not do God’s will due to my weakness. And I ask Him to change my desires, and give me strength, and while I am at my most emotionally and mentally aware of God’s presence and actively humble before Him, I picture myself choosing His will over my wrongheaded and wrongfelt desires in situations where I suspect it will be most difficult to honor Him. I practice honoring Him with my actions, spending time thinking about doing those things that are admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, noble, pure. It is a humbling of myself before the Lord my God in specific ways where I know that my selfish ways can leak through. I don’t understand why it seems like you assume an activity that is done to honor God and to help one better live a life of worship to God is one that is devoid of the presence, power, and help of the Spirit of God.

    • David C. Miller
      November 11, 2010 at 9:35 pm

      I’m not a mindreader, nor can I see the Holy Spirit or tell what’s inside your heart. I have enough trouble telling what’s inside my own. If it helps you trust in God, do it. I didn’t mean to be argumentative or combative, but thoughtful.

      I just don’t want my sanctification to depend on me being ’emotionally and mentally aware of God’s presence’. I’m hardly ever emotionally aware of God’s presence. Is that bad? I just don’t feel it sometimes. A lot of times. I’m like the man who cried, “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” I’m like the apostles who cried, “Lord, increase our faith!”

      But I believe that God keeps his promises. And he’s promised that the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace to sanctify and keep me. And even if I don’t always feel it, that’s ok. He keeps his promises regardless.

      • November 12, 2010 at 11:01 pm

        I don’t feel like you’ve been combative. I think I’m fascinated and surprised in areas where it seems like we think or believe completely differently. I do hope you’re aware that I definitely don’t see my sanctification as dependent on my emotional awareness of God’s presence. I’m not talking at all about the magic route to being sanctified, as I think I’ve made clear. Just mentioning something that God has used and worked through to make me a better man. I am often unaware emotionally of Gods presence, but I also do believe that is a negative thing. I believe it is a part of the fall and something that Jesus came to redeem. I don’t think that I am loving God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength when I am not emotionally in love with Him. I’m not elevating emotions above anything, but I think they are a part of loving God well.

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