A circuit-riding minister came upon a farmer and joyfully called out, “It’s a fine day the Lord has made!” The farmer called back to the minister: “It might be a fine day for you, riding around on that horse thinking about God all day. Me? I have to work from dawn to dusk and walk home in the dark. You have things so easy while I have to work hard.”
The minister eased over to the perturbed farmer and said, “On the contrary, thinking about God is hard work too, and I’ll prove it. If you can sit down here and focus your mind on God alone for just one minute – and nothing else – I’ll give you my horse.”
The farmer laughed, slapped his knee, and said, “You’re on, preacher!” and sat down in silence to think about nothing but God. After thirty seconds he looked up at the minister and asked, “When I get the horse, do I get the saddle too?” The preacher chuckled, got on his horse, and rode away.
That preacher was right. It’s hard to think about God. In fact, it’s hard to deliberately think about anything for very long. The human mind is simply too easily distracted, too fragmented to stay on task. And what most of us call “thinking” isn’t really thinking at all. It is the mind’s self-obsessed recycling.
Our “thinking” is just the reprocessing of our problems. We revisit how a person has hurt us; how we have failed; how we have been mistreated; or how life could have been different. None of this is thinking! It is the self-involved sorting of our emotional garbage. It’s not unlike chewing on a piece of tough meat – the longer we chew on it – the tougher and bigger the problem becomes. Is it any wonder that what we call “thinking” only results in increased anxiety?
How then do we find peace of mind? The Apostle Paul’s answer is to directly link proper thinking with prayer. “By prayer present your requests to God,” he instructs, “and whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy – think on these things. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Here is a clue on how to think properly: Learn to direct your heart and mind toward all that is holy, good, peaceful, and true. Learn to detach from all the self-cycling that keeps you imprisoned. This type of learning is accomplished by focused prayer, contemplation, meditation, and centering. These are all good practices that settle our minds and help us to experience God’s peaceful presence.
I find it ironic that when someone behaves eccentrically or makes preposterous claims, we respond, “He’s out of his mind!” But “being out our minds” isn’t a bad place to be, given how noisy and worrisome it is inside our own heads. By getting “out of our minds,” we find the mind of Christ and the peace of God, “a peace that surpasses all understanding.”