Six weeks into the “shelter in place” order in New York state, my husband prays, “Lord help Roberta to focus and not sit at her desk organizing her colored pencils all day.” Even though I laughed, the question “how does he know that I do that?” ran into my mind.
Having our two home offices about 7 feet down the hall from one another had its down side. I appreciated his prayer because I had been suffering from pandemic brain. I found focusing and concentrating very challenging, and I was slow to admit the impact that it was having on me. According to a mental health professional that I spoke with online, this was normal. Situations such as pandemics cause a low-grade stress even if you are not personally impacted by the virus. There are many good ways of coping when the world feels out of control. Organizing my collection of colored pencils restored order and beauty to my world that felt out of control. This quarantine life made little sense to me.
Interruptions such as these invite us to face how we have been living. Have we been mindlessly living our days by the force of habit? If so, living in quarantine will likely give us a chance to examine our habits. Healthy or not-so-healthy ways of coping kick into overdrive when crises like pandemics hit. Even these ways of coping have their roots in our thought life. The human mind is the most powerful force in creation. It is in the mind that all behavior has its beginning.
Jesus illustrates this by pointing to a tree saying, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit” (Luke 6:43). The really great news is that God is in the business of making us thoroughly good. To draw out Jesus’ example even further, if the roots and trunk of my thought life were healthy and producing good fruit before the crisis, it is likely that there is good fruit being produced now. Not only is God eager to answer my prayers for focus in times of stress, He is able to remake my mind over time. If I am willing to listen and yield to the process, it will result in having the mind of Christ.
Setting Our Minds
Paul makes the audacious claim that having the mind of Christ is possible (1 Corinthians 2 and Colossians 3:1–3). In Philippians, Paul instructs us to “be of the same mind” as Christ (Philippians 2:1–3 NRSV). He also draws the comparison between those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ as ones whose minds are set on earthly things with those who are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:19–20). In summary, God’s Spirit is able to recreate our minds. We are active participants in the process.
We have the ability to “set” our minds. There are a few time-tested ways of doing this: study, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture are three. These practices, just like any habit, can feel like a lot of work at first. However, it is critically important to remember that when it is difficult to concentrate, God is eager to meet us and is able to clear out the clutter in our minds in order to help us see and encounter Him in Scripture. For instance, when I recognized that sorting my coloring supplies was my way of ordering the universe, I got honest with God.
What if I were to pick up each colored pencil and with it recall the great God who in truth is in control of the chaos? With each colored pencil, I allow it to represent my anxious thought, and I place them in a stack and release my concerns to God. I say, “God, with this voltage violet, I remember Your promise to show Your power, so please come now and speak peace to my anxious heart. God with this laser lemon, I remember that You heal, so I am asking right now to come and heal my friend with COVID-19. God with this battery-charged blue, I remember that You created a beautiful world and that, in the end, You will make all things new so start with my mind right now!”
This kind of recollection, of praying, of meditating on God’s goodness and greatness brings calm because I know that I can trust this God.
There are several Psalms that I have memorized, and I’m grateful for that. At any time and in any place, I can call to mind how great God is because I have Psalm 145 memorized. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable. … On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Psalm 145:3–5 NRSV).
I can quickly place my mind on God’s intimate care for me as I recall Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1 KJV).
While out of bed during a sleepless night, I recall Psalm 16. “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:7–8).
When we have Scripture memorized, we have ready access to the truth of God at any time. We will find that this practice bears fruit for our thought life. We will have much to place our minds on, and, with practice, it becomes natural.
If you are a beginner to this, I recommend that you immerse yourself in the Psalms. These poems and songs, present us with the truth about God. We have a mighty, glorious, merciful and tangibly present God. We study, meditate on and memorize these words so that we can have the mind of Christ. It requires time and dedication. It will not happen by accident. It may be tempting to give up if we do not see results quickly.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Jesus uses a tree as an example of what authentic goodness is like. Newly planted trees need long, slow and deep watering. In a similar way, those newly planted in Christ need to spend long periods of time in God’s Word. It is not sufficient to hear one sermon a week and think that will be all that is necessary. Having to shelter in place may afford you time like never before to develop habits of being in God’s Word that life before did not. Like any healthy habit, practice and more practice are what it will take to form the habit. Ask God for creative techniques that fit your particular life.
Banishing the Deceptions
You and I are different from those who are not in Christ. Minds that are continually being transformed bear fruit in all aspects of life. Minds that are being nourished by God’s Word will be able to notice and banish the subtle deceptions that trap us. Thoughts of how great and good God is results in minds that naturally return to what is most real and reliable. If our minds are set on earthly things, we will find ourselves being anxious, afraid, angry and condemning. We are orienting our lives on things, money, security and controlling others. Scripture clearly states that this means self-destruction (Philippians 3:19).
The opposite is true for those who are in Christ. Paul’s exhortation to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” will result in a life that is overflowing with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:2, 12).
The qualities that come from having minds set on Christ make us strikingly different. Imagine what it would be like if you resembled Jesus in such a way that others were suspicious of you. What if having such a renovated mind made you so fruitful in kindness and patience that after an interaction with you, even your enemy would scratch his head and say, “I’m not sure that person is for real, but I would sure like to find out!”
Roberta Mosier-Peterson, D.Min., is the lead pastor of the Gerry (New York) Free Methodist Church. Her Northeastern Seminary doctoral dissertation was adapted into “Lived Experience,” a documentary film covering the ministry experiences of women pastors. Go online to fmchr.ch/lived for the documentary and pastortiedye.blogspot.com for more of her writing.