STUDY 3 – GUARDING YOUR MIND
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well-spring of life. (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life. (Pr 4:23 AMP)
Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. (Pr 4:23 KJV)
- All three versions translate the Hebrew word leb as heart. Figuratively speaking, this refers to the will, the emotions and the intellect – in other words, the soul.
- The Hebrew word totsa’ah, meaning deliverance or source, is translated as well-spring, springs, and issues in the three given versions.
- The Hebrew word mishmar is literally a guard, and the KJV also translates this word as diligence, and elsewhere as prison, watch.
This verse then commands us to guard our souls – our minds, emotions and will – with the utmost diligence, like a guard keeping watch over a prison, to the extent that it is the most important thing that you can guard (AMP). And why? Because it is the source of life.
Let’s consider why it is so important to guard your mind.
It is because your emotions are followers. Where your thoughts go, there your emotions will follow. The emotions of fear and anger don’t spring forth of their own volition. They are a reaction to a thought. Someone who is unable to think, will feel no fear or anger.
Both fear and anger have a common source – stress.
Consider the effects of long term stress on the brain itself:
- It increases the risk of mental illness
- It changes the brain structure
- It kills brain cells
- It shrinks the brain
- It hurts your memory
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Consider the effects of long term stress on brain chemicals
- Chronic stress creates cortisol, which creates the neurotransmittor glutamate, which in excess causes your brain to ‘rust’.
- Chronic stress depletes serotonin, the happy hormone, so that you become anxious, irritable and depressed.
- Chronic stress depletes dopamine, the motivation molecule, so that you become lethargic, unmotivated and depressed.
- Chronic stress enlarges the fear centre of the brain, the amygdala, creating more fear and stress, which enlarges the amygdala, creating more fear and stress… A vicious cycle indeed!
- Chronic stress increases your risk of developing panic disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
- Chronic stress impairs your memory and ability to make wise decisions.
- Chronic stress causes brain inflammation, which leads to depression.
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Chronic anger is equally devastating to your health, both physical and mental. Besides increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, the stress effects on the brain are the same as in any fear-based stress.
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About three thousand years ago, through King Solomon, who was renowned for his wisdom, God told us that guarding our minds and emotions is of crucial importance to our well-being (Proverbs 4:23). We really need to pay attention!
We have thus established why it is imperative to guard our minds:
- Stress results in negative thoughts
- Negative thought patterns result in negative emotions
- These thought patterns and related emotions form spiritual strongholds in our minds.
- Satan uses the strongholds to torment us.
It is obvious that there are some sources of stress which are very difficult to guard against.
For example, severe, chronic, physical pain and illness also cause stress with devastating results. I personally experienced this when my daughter suffered for fourteen very long years with severe Fibromyalgia (muscle pain) and Chronic Fatigue. Before my eyes, a sunny, cheerful, optimistic, funny young woman gradually became a shadow of her former self and was eventually diagnosed with Clinical Depression. Because we live in a fallen world, terrible things can happen to us over which we have little to no control. However, even in those cases, guarding the mind can do much to ameliorate the emotional consequences, and help to stop the vicious cycle in its tracks.
This brings us to considering how we can control our response to stress.
Let’s take another look at the purpose of our spiritual weapons.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and all arrogance that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV)
We must take every thought captive.
The million dollar question: HOW?
How do you control your thoughts when Satan, using your circumstances and the people you deal with, attacks? Especially as he is both merciless and relentless and will launch his attacks when you are at your weakest.
Let’s look at how Jesus, our perfect example, countered the attacks of the enemy. He did it so effectively that the devil gave up and left, deciding that he’d rather come back some other time.
You will find the accounts in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. (It is also very briefly mentioned in Mark 1:12-13) The Matthew and Luke accounts differ slightly as to the sequence of events. We will take the sequence from Matthew (simply because it suits my purpose better!).
After Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, He was led into the Judean wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He spent forty days and nights there fasting. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that at the end of this period, Jesus was hungry. Hungry? I think we can safely assume that he was ravenous!
This was the perfect moment for the Tempter to launch his first assault.
Take careful note of what he said. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Now, there is no sin in satisfying one’s hunger, nor in turning stones into bread. After all, it was not long after this that Jesus turned water into wine.
The actual temptation lies in the first part of what he said. “If you are the Son of God…” This was an attempt to sow doubt into Jesus’ mind.
We tend to think that because Jesus was also God, He had greater strength of mind and faith than we frail humans are capable of. But this is not true. Yes, because He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and not of sinful man, He did not have our inherently sinful nature. Our default position, right from birth, is sin. No human is born naturally good. If you think so, you are deceived. It is not our environment which causes us to sin. Do we have to teach our children to be selfish, to lie, to be disobedient? They manage it very well without any assistance from us! Jesus escaped this taint. His default position was righteousness. He was not born spiritually dead.
But His body and soul were fully human. Philippians 2:6-8 tell us that Jesus gave up His divine glory, majesty and power in order to be born as man. It is ironic that man is born with pride and so often is his own god, while Almighty God humbles Himself in order to become a frail man to deliver us from that pride!
Jesus was not born knowing that He was God.
And the child grew and waxed strong in spirit and the grace of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40 KJV)
The Greek word for spirit is pneuma. In the divine sense it refers to the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. In the human sense, it refers to the rational soul.
Jesus was born a helpless baby, totally dependent on his mother and father for his every physical need. He was also born with an undeveloped mind. His brain had to grow, just exactly as ours do.
We know next to nothing about Jesus’s childhood. We only have one account from that period, given in Luke 2:41-52. This was when he was twelve and amazed the religious teachers in the temple with his understanding.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:52 KJV)
Note, Jesus grew in wisdom. He also grew in favour with God and man. He was not born mentally and emotionally and spiritually mature. He had to learn, exactly as we do! He had to develop His character, exactly as we do!
How, then, did Jesus know that He was the Son of God?
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19 NIV)
But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:51b NIV)
What things did she remember and ponder over?
- Everything described in Luke 1:26-56: An angelic visitation; a miraculous pregnancy; the angel’s announcement as to the identity of the child to be born; her cousin Elizabeth’s extraordinary greeting.
- The events of Jesus’ birth described in Luke 2:1-40: the shepherds’ description of what they had seen and heard; what Simeon prophesied in the temple, what Anna said about the baby.
- The occasion when Jesus remained behind in the Temple as described in Luke 2:41-52: what He said to the religious leaders and how they responded to Him; what He said to His parents.
It stands to reason that Mary would have told Him all this when He was old enough to understand. As He entered His teens, He would also have learnt the Hebrew Scriptures. He would have learnt what was written about the coming Messiah. This is clearly illustrated when He visited the synagogue in Nazareth, the town where He grew up, as described in Luke 4:16-28. He reads a Messianic Scripture (verses 18-19) from the Isaiah scroll. Here He is, in effect, announcing (verse 21) that He is the long-awaited Messiah.
And how do the men in the synagogue react? They were so furious, they tried to kill Him! (Verses 28-29)
Take note – they knew Him well. (See verse 22.) There was clearly nothing about Him in his childhood and early adulthood, other than His character and His wisdom (See Luke 1:52), that marked Him out as being unusual.
The idea that Jesus was performing miracles in his childhood is not backed at all by Scripture. If He had, the townspeople would have known all about it.
See Matthew 13:53-58 and Mark 6:1-6 for another account of Jesus in Nazareth. His preaching deeply offended the townspeople and they clearly did not believe a word He said. This unbelief even prevented Jesus from performing any great miracles there, aside from healing a few sick people.
He could not do any miracles there, except lay hands his hands on a few sick people and heal them. (Mk 6:5 NIV)
And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Mt 13:58 NIV)
These two verses establish a crucial spiritual principle. In the material world, seeing is believing. In the spiritual realm, believing is seeing. This applied as much to Jesus as it does to us. Faith is a choice we make. It is not part of our DNA, nor is it divinely forced upon us.
He would have received the final confirmation of who He was when He was baptised by John the Baptist. (See Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22) In the Mark and Luke accounts, God the Father addresses Jesus directly. “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”
(As an aside. The slight differences in the Gospel accounts, far from casting doubt on their authenticity, in fact, add weight to it. If these were fraudulent accounts, the writers would have made sure to eradicate all appearance of contradictions. If you continue to doubt, I challenge you to ask each of your family members for a written account of some important family event, and see for yourself whether the facts in each are identical. Try getting them together to discuss it and the chances are there will be some heated arguments as to the accuracy of the differing details!)
Back to the temptation in the wilderness.
We have established the following:
- Jesus was not born with the knowledge that He was God.
- Although untainted by sin, He had human limits to His power.
- He had to operate in faith as much as we have to.
Thus, when the Tempter came and said, “If you are the Son of God…” Jesus was as vulnerable to doubts as we are! He only had the testimony of His mother, the testimony of John the Baptist (see Mt 3:13-15) and the voice of God at His baptism to go on. (I am sure that whenever He read the Scriptures, the Word would have resonated in His spirit, but that was not concrete evidence.)
Now, after forty days of fasting, with His body having the same physiological reactions as ours (which Satan was very well aware of), it would not have been surprising if He had had a doubt or two. But Jesus believed His mother, He believed what He had learnt about Himself in the Scriptures, and He believed the testimony of John and the voice He had heard. With unwavering faith, He faced the Tempter and responded to the temptation to doubt His identity and His mission.
“It is written: Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4 NIV)
Satan then took Jesus to the highest point of the temple. (How this occurred, is debatable. It is possible that this was a visionary experience.)
If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Mt 4:6 NIV)
The first thing to notice is that Satan knows the Scriptures! He quoted Psalm 91:11-12!
Let’s go back to the Fall in the Garden of Eden for a moment. Look at what God said to the serpent: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen 3:15 KJV)
Not only would Satan vividly remember the curse which God had pronounced, He would also know from the Scriptures exactly who Jesus was and what His ultimate purpose was. It was therefore vital, for Satan’s purposes, to circumvent the plan of God. This was an assault on Jesus’ mind. He was being tempted to think of another way to fulfil God’s plan.
Remember the spiritual principle: Believing is seeing. If Jesus had done as Satan suggested, He would have been hailed by all as the Messiah in exactly the way that He was expected to be by the teachers, leaders and general population – a secular leader who would deliver them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire. (In other words – they would have seen and then believed.)
No one had yet grasped that the Son of God did not come to deliver Israel from her enemies, but that He had come as the atoning sacrifice for the whole world to deliver us from the curse that our first parents had brought upon us.
If Jesus had been accepted by all, in a secular sense, not only would faith have played no role, but He would possibly not have been put to death. It was through His death – His innocent blood being shed – that He was able pay the price for our sinfulness and our sins. (Hebrews 9:22) There would have been no atonement, and therefore no forgiveness of sins and salvation. And we receive our salvation and all the benefits of the atonement through faith.
Once again Jesus faced the Tempter with unwavering faith.
It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ (Mt 4:7 NIV)
Finally, Satan took Jesus to a very high mountain to display before him all the kingdoms of the world. “All this I will give you,” he said, “ if you will bow down and worship me.” (Mt 4:9 NIV)
This was no idle boast. Remember that Adam had been given authority over the whole earth. This authority he had ceded to Satan, who thereafter had the title, god of this world. Authority over all the kingdoms of the earth was indeed Satan’s to give. However, considering what a liar he is, it is debatable whether he would have kept his promise. This was a direct spiritual assault. Satan was tempting Jesus to disobey God. He was tempting Jesus to sin!
Jesus replied, “Away from me Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Mt 4:10 NIV)
Take note that Satan had, at last, overplayed his hand. (He usually does.) Up until that moment, Jesus had responded firmly, but temperately. The fact that Satan was tempting him to sin roused Him to righteous anger. He wasted no time and commanded Satan to leave.
- The temptation to turn stones into bread was an assault on Jesus’ weakened physical condition, to get Him to prove to Himself that He was who he believed Himself to be.
- The temptation to throw Himself from the temple was an assault on Jesus’ mind, to get Him to prove to all mankind who He was in such spectacular fashion that there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind.
- The temptation to worship Satan was a spiritual assault, to get Him to sin. The moment Jesus sinned, He would no longer have been able to be the atoning sacrifice. The sacrifice had to be unblemished. Innocent. Sinless. Satan would have won the war and mankind would have been forever lost.
Did you notice Jesus’ response to each of the temptations? Every single time, He countered Satan by quoting the Word of God.
The Scriptures tells us of only two other occasions when Satan came to tempt Jesus.
The first was towards the end of His ministry when he began to explain to His disciples that He was going to undergo great suffering and finally be executed. (See Matthew 16:21-28)
Peter was appalled. He took Jesus aside and took it upon himself to rebuke Jesus. “Never, Lord, this will never happen to you!”
Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Obviously, it was Peter talking, not Satan. But Jesus instantly recognised that it was Satan who had fed this thought into Peter’s mind.
The second occasion was when Jesus was already crucified. See Matthew 27:38-44 and Luke 23:32-43. Notice how some of the passersby, the Roman soldiers, the chief priests and rulers and even one of those crucified with him mocked him: If you are the King of the Jews; if you are the Messiah, the Chosen one; if you are the Son of God…
Satan was using all these people to tempt Jesus to save Himself.
And this is exactly what he does to us! He is constantly feeding thoughts into our minds to tempt us into sin or he is using others to attack us. We are engaged in a war, 24/7, and the battlefield is our mind.
In the next study we will examine the weapons which we have been given to protect our minds.