How to Get Your Mind Back on Track
From Gospel Translations
How are you feeling? What’s on your mind?
These are very important questions, not just polite conversation starters. They’re questions we should ask ourselves (and others) frequently because they tell us what direction our train is heading.
Our Train of Thought
The train of the mind is linked together like this: the car of our thoughts is hitched to the car of our emotions, which is hitched to the car of our hope, which is hitched to the engine of our trust.
Here’s how the train operates:
- Trust Engine: The engine that pulls our mind in a certain direction is trust (or belief or faith). And trust is always pulling us toward some trustworthy destination (something we’re believing). When I say “trustworthy” here, I mean that our mind believes it’s trustworthy or might be trustworthy. In reality, it could be completely false. But if our mind believes the destination is credible, our trust will pull in that direction.
- Hope Car: Hitched to the engine of trust is the car of hope. If the destination our trust engine is pulling toward promises a good future (near or distant), we feel hopeful. If the destination promises a bad future, we feel some measure of hopelessness (or hope deficit).
- Emotions Car: Hitched to the car of our hope is the car of our dominant emotions. The measure of our hope is directly reflected in how we feel.
- Thoughts Car: Hitched to the car of our dominant emotions is the car of our dominant conscious thoughts, the things that are occupying our minds at the moment. If we’re hopeful, our emotions are happy and expansive, which results in optimistic, forward-oriented, eager thoughts. If we feel hopeless, our thoughts are fearful, depressed, sad, pessimistic, defensive-oriented, apprehensive, etc.
Experientially, we tend to “ride” (so to speak) in our emotions and thought cars. These are what we are most aware of most of the time. But what’s important to remember is that our dominant emotions and thoughts are not driving our train. They are being pulled.
So, when we are struggling emotionally, when we, like Martha, are “anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41), more often than not we have a directional problem. Our trust engine is pulling toward a troubling destination that for some reason we believe is trustworthy. We’re going down the wrong track.
Think About These Things
That’s why the Bible almost always addresses our emotional trouble by redirecting our minds toward the right objects of trust. Here’s a prime example:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, emphasis added)
Two verses earlier Paul instructs us to “not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). Then he instructs us to “let [our] requests be made known to God” because hope-saturated, heart-guarding peace results from trusting God’s promises, like “ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). And then in verse 8 he lists all these hopeful destinations and instructs us to “think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
In other words, the mind must be directed. If we want to be happy, our trust must have its sights set on the right destination.
Meditation Is the Track to Joy
That’s why Bible reading, memorizing, and prayer are so important. Prayerful Bible meditation directs our trust engine toward the right destinations (God’s promises, 2 Peter 1:4), which causes our hope to abound and us to experience “joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). And this makes us more able to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We’re completely wrongheaded whenever we lapse into thinking that private devotions somehow win us merit points with God. Devotions aren’t for impressing God or anybody else. They are for daily pointing us in the right direction and fueling the engine of our trust in God.
So, if you are struggling today, walk up the line of your train of thought. Where is your trust engine taking you? If you are on the wrong track, the Bible has provided you a track switcher: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). Set your mind on them and then “think about these things.”
It takes work to redirect your trust. Expect it to be a fight (1 Timothy 6:12). But it is very much worth the fight. It will direct your trust in a Faithful One (Hebrews 10:23), give you a hope that won’t disappoint (Romans 5:5), exchange anxiety for peaceful joy (Romans 15:13), and cause you to think clearly and faithfully (Romans 12:3).