Monday, December 12, 2011

Change Your Mind Before Christmas

I confess: left to my own devices, I’m a crammer.

Maybe it started with a few exams in college; maybe it’s the natural tendency of my personality, maybe it is an occasional lack of maturity. Whatever the cause, pushing against those tendencies has become vital to my way of life, and especially to my way of leadership. I know what an out-of-control-busy schedule can do to my soul. Perhaps you can relate.

And at this time of year, the temptation to cram even more into an already full schedule escalates. The Christmas season adds not only ministry opportunities, but also the potential for financial stressors, volunteer and key partner recognition, family expectations, and more… It can fill our minds with distractions and worry.

Slowing down for “a long, ardent gaze at God” will not simply creep into my schedule. But this year, I’m making sure it finds a home there. I know from experience what frequent times of meditation—even small bits here and there—can do to improve the health of my soul. As it reads in the Psalms, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:12)

It’s been fascinating to learn that meditation not only helps our spiritual lives, it also actually changes our brains, which, in the end will change our minds. Here’s an excerpt from Huffington Post that discusses these findings:

“Quite literally, sustained meditation leads to something called neuroplasticity, which is defined as the brain’s ability to change, structurally and functionally, on the basis of environmental input.

For much of the last century, scientists believed that the brain essentially stopped changing after adulthood.

But research by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has shown that experienced meditators exhibit high levels of gamma wave activity and display an ability — continuing after the meditation session has ended — to not get stuck on a particular stimulus. That is, they’re automatically able to control their thoughts and reactiveness.” – Amanda Chan, Nov. 23, 2011.

Amazingly, this research shows how meditation changes your brain and can also change your mind.

Is it any wonder that scripture strongly commands us to meditate, and also points to the impact this will make on our minds and on our life? Consider the wisdom from Psalm 1:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

And in Isaiah 26:3 we see a connection between our minds and our peace;

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.

Ultimately, the Spirit of God can govern our mind, which will yield life and peace. (Romans 8:6). So this Christmas, consider what difference opening your mind to God could achieve. What difference might that make in the kinds of decisions you make and relationships you build?

Through a focused effort in meditation on God as described in the definition above, you will open yourself up to exactly those kinds of changes in your brain that will allow God to move powerfully in your life.

If you’re looking for next steps:
- Practice ten to fifteen minutes of silent meditation each day.
- Ignore the tendency to be strategic or intentional—and please please don’t cram anything else in!!
- The only “end” is to still and quiet your soul (like Psalm 131:2), and to consider/meditate/focus on God.
- Learn about A Leader’s Soul, 7 week online learning course.

Mindy Caliguire (@mindycaliguire)
Transformation Ministry Team, Willow Creek Association
Founder, SoulCare (a Spiritual Formation Ministry)

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