"You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming."
- Frank Shorter
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)
Yogi Berra is credited with this wonderful quote. "Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical." Although Yogi’s math is off he understands a significant truth about life. Everything that we do outwardly is born in our minds. If we believe that we cannot do something we will not do it. If we believe we can do something we will overcome enormous obstacles to make it happen.
I often play mind games with myself when I go running; especially if I really don’t feel like doing it. I will tell myself that I will run to this spot and see how I feel. Or I’ll tell myself if I am at a particular time at this spot I’ll keep going or turn around. These things really have nothing to do with my actual physical condition. They have to do with my attitude. These little mind games often are enough to get me moving.
We play mind games with ourselves every day. If we are having a particularly difficult time at work we may steel ourselves by looking forward to lunch or to the weekend. If we are struggling to lose weight we might rationalize one thing against another. For example we tell ourselves, I will eat this chocolate donut now and walk an extra mile after work. We play mind games with our relationships. We set up all kinds of scenarios about how the other person should act or react. We draw conclusions about motive and intent without ever engaging the other person. These mind games literally shape our everyday world.
Not all mind games are negative. In fact positive mind games are just as powerful to shape our lives as negative ones. If I can envision a positive outcome to a situation then I am more likely to attain that outcome. If I begin my work day expecting to be productive I will be. If I expect good things from other people I usually find them.
In his letter to the Philippians Paul stressed the importance of focusing our minds in the right direction. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, 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.” [Philippians 4:4-8 (NIV)] Whether our minds are at peace or in turmoil is dependent upon what we choose to dwell on.
I have found that running is a great time to think. The normal distractions of life are eliminated. After I have found my pace, my mind is free to focus on other things. I often use running as a way to process things I am struggling with. I also use running as a time to pray. Prayer is a powerful tool that God has given to us to capture and control the mind games we all play. When we tap into this powerful tool we are able to gain a godly perspective on life. This doesn’t come naturally or easily. That is why we often struggle with prayer. In fact prayer can often become a battle ground; a struggle to see who and what will gain control of our minds. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” [2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)]
You could say that prayer is the ultimate mind game. Prayer is a dialogue with God. It is not just wishful thinking or even positive thinking. It is bundling up all of the cares, concerns and desires that clamor for our attention and offering them to God. Prayer is inviting God to work in our lives, even more than that, to be in charge of our lives. Prayer is not just unloading our minds but allowing God to speak into our minds. Whether we pray out loud or in silence the action is happening within our very souls. We are consciously inviting God to be an active participant in our world. Rather than carrying the burdens of life all alone we are inviting God to carry the burden with us. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)]
There are some positive steps we can take to win the battle for our minds and ultimately our lives.
The first thing we can do is pray in the Spirit. Have you ever found yourself involved in some activity outwardly but not engaged inwardly? We have all had that experience at some point in your lives. Maybe even right now. Human beings have the remarkable ability to be physically involved in some activity and have their mind in a different universe. Our body goes through the motions while our mind freely roams somewhere else. This can happen at work, at home, at church, even driving the car.
When Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit he is challenging us to be fully engaged when we pray. We all know what it is like to have a conversation with someone but not be fully engaged. We are physically present but our mind is somewhere else. We can, and often do, experience this in prayer. The Holy Spirit is our advocate with God and our pipeline to God. As we pray we need to be fully aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not just speaking words into the air, but we are holding a conversation with a real person, the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus left this earth he promised to send his Spirit to be with us. He is the very presence of God in our lives. To be in the Spirit therefore means to be in active cooperation with him.
The Spirit plays a very significant role in our lives. After we receive Jesus’ invitation to be His disciple the Spirit takes up residence in our lives. He becomes our constant companion and guide. His role is to lead us to Christ. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” [John 14:26 (NIV)] Many times when we pray our focus is on us and our needs. Our prayers can become just a wish list of things we want God to do for us. When we invite the Holy Spirit to guide us in our prayers they become more centered on Christ and less on us. This does not mean that God doesn’t care about our needs. He does. Jesus himself told us to bring our requests before God. The difference is that the Holy Spirit helps us sort out what is only self-seeking from what will help us grow in our faith. As someone once said, God does not want to make us happy, he wants to make us holy.
There are two ways that I can approach prayer. I can approach prayer in my spirit. My spirit is often like a spoiled child who demands to have his way. It is not that my spirit is completely evil, but it is tainted by evil. If I approach God only from my perspective I will have a very hard time seeing Him at work in my life. On the other hand I can approach prayer in the Spirit. When I do this I consciously submit my will to the will of God. The content of my prayers may not be substantially different but my perspective will be. I intentionally allow the Holy Spirit to reshape my thoughts and words to conform to God’s will for me. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” [Romans 8:26 (NIV)]
When I pray in the Spirit I can be totally honest with God. I don’t have to bargain or play games. I can freely unburden my mind and my heart to Him knowing that He will act on my behalf. When I pray in the Spirit, I release the perceived right to determine the outcome. Instead of telling God what He needs to do, I submit my requests to Him and trust Him for the best answer. To pray in the Spirit is to acknowledge that God is God and I am not.