Grow Sunday #1 – Loving God with all your mind
Preached Sunday 19th February, 2017 by Rev Phil Swain at North Rocks Community Church.
[Sermon Notes & Reflection Questions on attached as a .pdf]
So … how are you in your relationship with God at the moment? Come on it is a question that I as your pastor is allowed to ask … how is it going? I know that for some of you, things are going ok. Even great. But from a number of other conversations that I had recently I know that some of you are feeling a bit spiritually dry, or struggling to find that connection with God at the moment or just not feeling God’s presence or feeling a little stagnant in your spiritual growth.
This is an experience that all people of faith go through. Even the psalmists had these feelings… Psalm 13:1-2 for example:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart
Can you relate? I think we can agree that while we might feel like this, this is not the character of God. God loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. It’s just that sometimes for lots of different reasons that relationship from our perspective feels disconnected or flat or stagnant.
So what do we do when we feel this way? How can we reconnect with God or to nurture some sense of spiritual growth? Our bible reading today encouraged us to love God and love others and I think that is part of the answer. With the understanding that we all connect with God in different ways … today I wanted to focus in on one phrase in our reading … what does it mean to love God with all our minds.
One of the ways that I nurture my own spiritual growth is to listen to other people’s sermons. A few weeks ago I was listening to a sermon by an American Pastor called David Andrews on this topic of loving God with all our minds and was sharing some research that he found about our minds.
He started by saying that the theory about only using 10% of your brain is rubbish. Isn’t just not true … however, he did find that we are only conscious of about 10% of the things our brains are doing. Most of the stuff that we think about is actually happening in our subconscious.
For example, think of a child learning to walk … we hold them by the hands and they are so concentrating. Lifting one foot, moving it forward, putting it down. Lifting the other. But once they learn it … they don’t think about it … they just do it.
There are so many things that our minds just do in the background. Physical things like walking, breathing, blinking, observing. But it can also do other things without us being conscious including problem solving and creative thinking.
For example, I have found that sometimes when I am trying to come up with something creative I might just sleep on it or do something else and somehow later I will have come up with a creative idea. I don’t know how it happens but this is how I write many of my sermons.
Pastor Andrews said that we underestimate the power of the subconscious. He went onto say that our subconscious holds and guards our beliefs or the ideas that we hold dear and internally checks the things that we see or hear against this whiteboard of beliefs or valued ideas.
But the think I found most interesting in his sermon was the idea of how we tap into both our conscious thinking and our subconscious thinking to love God with all our mind.
He referred to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
There is similar words in other parts of the Bible … and yet on the surface it seems impossible. How do we pray all time? How do we continuously rejoice? How do we give thanks in all that we do? Pastor Andrews suggested that we need to build these things into our mind so that they become so natural and normal that our subconscious does them without thinking. Just like being taught how to walk … how can we teach our mind to do things that are spiritually helpful so that we get to a point where we don’t even have to think about them … our subconscious just does them.
Pastor Andrews suggested three words that are helpful in teaching our subconscious or reprogramming our minds to help us in our daily relationship with God. These three words were mediation, imagination and stimulation. I think it will be helpful just to spend a little time on each one.
The sort of meditation that I want to talk about today is not the sort where you empty your mind of all things and just “ummm” but rather the sort of Meditation you focus in on something and dwell on that. This is the sort of meditation that is mentioned in the Bible.
Psalm 1:2, “[Blessed is the one] whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”
Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night … “
How do we meditate on something “day and night”? That is impossible – unless we can get it into our subconscious and allow our mind to continue to focus on it day and night.
Dave Andrews raised a good point. He said that we read a lot of scripture but how often do we dwell on a verse. Just sit with it and allow it to settle into our minds and hearts. This is the sort of meditation the bible is talking about.
How about we give it a try. Here is a well-known verse from Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”. Let’s just pause the sermon for a moment and sit with that. Why don’t you close your eyes, put your other thoughts aside for 60 seconds and just focus on the words of this verse.
Be still. Be still. Be still and KNOW. Be still and KNOW that I am God. Be still. Be still and know that I AM God. Be still – and know – that I – am God. Be still and know that I am God.
What other part of the bible come to mind when you think of this verse? Is there a picture that is in your mind as you reflect on this verse?
Ok … you may open your eyes now. How was that? It was 60 seconds worth but it was a bit like setting a glass of silty water down on the bench … it only takes 60 seconds for the sentiments to settle – and then the clarity comes. This type of meditation is like allowing God’s Word to settle within you and in a way that we don’t understand, your subconscious will continue to dwell on it – and the clarity will come. If you do this for a week or so … it may even get written up on your internal wall.
There are plenty of verses which would be helpful to meditate on …
The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want – Psalm 23:1
I can do all thing through Christ who gives me strength – Phil 4:13
My God shall supply all my needs according to his riches in glory – Phil 4:19
Cast all your worries onto God because God care for you – 1 Peter 5:7
Be anxious for nothing but in prayer and thanksgiving make your requests to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7
How cool would it be to sit with Gods word enough for it more from the conscious to the unconscious? So that we can meditate on it day and night.
So if meditation is setting your mind on something – a single verse or truth about God, imagination is about setting your mind free – to imagine, to dream, to wonder.
One of the key characteristic of God is that God is a creator. God is creative. And we are made in the image of God. It is a good thing to let your imagination and creativity run wild.
When we were kids we used to be able to do this so well. You can still see it in kids – the games they play, the stories they dream up – it’s full of imagination and creativity. But as we get older, we seem to get so practical that we squash our imagination. As soon as we begin to wonder or dream, our internal voice starts saying, “No, that will never work – that’s stupid – we don’t have the money – I couldn’t pull that off” and the dream dies. Yes … we need to be practical but for many of us, it is the imagination, the creativity, the dreaming that gives us life.
And it is the same with our spirituality. Yes, there are many aspects of our faith which are very practical or intellectual but how often do we approach our relationship with God with imagination or creativity.
Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God can do immeasurably more that we can ask or imagine. When it comes to this truth, we mostly get the “ask” part but I don’t think we get the “imagine” part. When we pray, we will pray the list that we need to pray … but how do we pray imaginatively or creatively.
When we pray … what would be like to spend some time imagining what God could do for this church, imagining what God could do through your family, imagining what God could do through you. Don’t worry about the practicalities too quickly … spend some time just imagining.
Let’s just try this for 60 seconds. Once again, if it is helpful just close your eyes. Now in your imagination … imagine standing on a beach looking out over the water. You are just standing there – watching the waves. Now imagine, Jesus has quietly walked up and is standing right next to you. He is also watching the waves with you. He is just standing there.
And now Jesus speaks. In your imagination, wonder what Jesus might say to you. Jesus knows you, he knows what you are going through, he knows how you are feeling … listen to your imagination. What is Jesus saying to you?
Ok … you may open your eyes now. How was that?
I remember someone doing that exercise with me when I was 18 and I had one of the most personal and intimate experiences with Jesus that I had ever had. Was it just my imagination or was it really Jesus speaking? I don’t know … but it is still a very cherished experienced.
Mediation can be helpful is setting our mind on something,
Imagination can be helpful in letting our mind go free.
There is one more word I wanted to touch on
Our minds also need to be challenged. Our minds function best when they are exercised, stretched, extended. It is a good think to be intellectually stimulated. This is not new. We get told that doing things like crosswords or Sudoku is good for us. People say that they feel alive when they are learning or discovering something that they did not know.
If we are going to love God with all our minds we also need to make sure that we are challenging and stimulating our minds, we need to feed our minds. But we need to be careful of the sort of things that we are using to feed our minds with.
Romans 12:2 – Don’t let your thinking be shaped by the world but rather let God transform your mind.
Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Now I am not here to tell you not to stop watching Game of Thrones … but we need to think about the diet of things that we are feeding into our mind. And we need to be finding the things that stretch and challenge the spiritual or theological part of our mind.
Facebook is ok but if we are reading our Facebook feed much more than we are reading our bible … then are we really spiritually stimulating our minds?
So … we have looked at three words … Meditation, Imagination and Stimulation. I hope that there was something in these ideas that might just help a little in developing a deeper relationship with God and nurture a little growth in your spirit.
I just wanted to finish with one last piece of advice which might be just the thing to help you along this journey. We live in an era where technology has become a real help with this. Your humble smart phone has now become a spiritual growth tool.
There are plenty of apps which can help – but I just want to share one this morning which many of you probably already have. YouVersion Bible App.
• Most people just use it to read the Bible. Type in the verse and it comes up and you read it. But this app does other things too.
• Bible verse of the Day … so you want a verse to spend 2 minutes each day meditating on? This app chooses a verse of the day for you. And if you set the notifications, it will make it pop up on your phone every morning.
• Or if you wish to go in deeper to stimulate your mind … there are all these plans that you can use … some of them are long, many of them are short. And the app can set a reminder to make you do it each day.
Not bad, eh? Worth a try?
I need to wind this up … but can I just say that as your pastor, more than anything I want you to feel connected with God and to be growing spiritually. I encourage you to try some of these things … and if you are struggling, chat with me. And may God continue to bless us as we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.