I entitled last month’s Newsletter article Refusing Trashy Thoughts and quoted from James Allen’s book As a Man Thinketh—“A person’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must and will bring forth.” I want to go further this month in my focus on the power of the human mind. Your mind is a muscle. It needs to be stretched just as your physical muscles need to be stretch and used lest they atrophy. One of the wonders of education is that it is designed to prod and push the mind to perform. If we allow our minds to be idle and lazy our brains become a mass of flab in short order.
How can we stretch our minds? What are some good mental exercises that keep the cobwebs away? There are two that I try to practice more in the summer than at other busier times of my year. First, READ. You may be too poor to travel or too crippled to walk—but for most of us we can always READ. And between the covers of a book are ideas and insights that await the joy of discovery. William Tyndale was up in years when he was imprisoned. Shortly before his martyrdom he wrote to the governor asking for: “…a warmer cap, a candle, a piece of cloth to patch my leggings…But above all, I beseech and entreat your clemency to…permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, and Hebrew Dictionary…that I may spend my time in study.”
The power’s of perception will be magnified through good reading. Read wisely. Read Widely. Read Slowly. Read history as well as current events…magazines as well as classics and poetry…biographies as well as novels…daily news…devotionals…and most of all the Sacred Writings of Holy Scripture. You say “I simply don’t have enough time.” We typically find time for what is important to us. Consider my favorite historical Christian figure John Wesley. Wesley’s passion for reading was so serious that he made it part his of schedule—history reveals that much of his reading took place while on horseback. Wesley rode between fifty and ninety miles daily with a book propped up in his saddle—now don’t confuse this with texting and driving at the same time. It is estimated that Wesley got through thousands of volumes during his lifetime. Knowing how important reading was to sharpness of thought he told many younger ministers to either read—or get out of the ministry. The great Evangelist Billy Graham was once asked if he had any regrets about his long ministry and he said he regretted most that he didn’t take more time to study and pray.
I have found that the most interesting people to talk with are avid readers. So much of conversation today is shallow and predictable, obvious and pointless. When we read deeply we are capable of much more substantive conversation. I also think that when we read broadly we have a tendency to ask more questions—we become more probing and more curious in our thinking. Socrates was considered wise not because he knew all the answers, but because he knew how to ask the right questions. When we are feeding the habit of learning it enriches stimulating, inquisitive, and substantive conversation.
Along with READING is the importance of WRITING. I have learned the value of writing notes over the years—especially as a means of remembering things I want to include in a sermon. The reality is that thoughts come and go—and the older I get the easier a good thought evaporates right out of my mind. Many keep a journal—a journal isn’t a diary. It’s much more—a journal doesn’t record what you do so much as what you think. It spells out your ideas, struggles, discoveries, dreams, hopes, fears. In short it helps you articulate who you are. I am reminded of the phrase A mind is a terrible thing to waste. But the mind is also a beautiful thing to enrich. I hope that these summer months will provide us all with opportunities to expend and enrich every dimension of our lives—especially in the enrichment of our thoughts—Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”