Have you ever gone on a picnic, realizing too late you forgot the picnic basket (piled high with scrumptious bites and sips) on the table at home? I mean, that’s kind of a major part of the outing’s whole point, right? You could call that the picnic that wasn’t. In the same way, you can make all the preparations for studying Scripture and leave your brain behind. (Not speaking from experience or anything. Nope, nope, nope. Okay, fine. Maybe.)
If you had to depict the typical posture of your brain, what would it look like? Sprawled out on the couch with glazed eyes glued to the TV? Running from distraction to distraction, consumed by each new find? Endlessly pacing around its own worries? Hibernating for the winter?
We each choose our mental attitude many times a day. The mindset that is ready to encounter Jesus is alert and focused.
If you, like millions of other dwellers in the twenty-first century, have a brain that tends to wander easily, please don’t assume this isn’t for you and give up. True, you’ll have to work at it, but there are such deep riches to be mined in the Bible that simply aren’t accessible to those unwilling to engage. You really can do this, I promise. More than that, God promises. Check out 1 Corinthians 2:16—”‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” As a new creation born into the kingdom, the old is passed away, and the new has come, including the brain you think with. See the great wealth available to you because of the cross? You’re not doomed to fail at this stuff. The Lord has given you everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
With that said, there are things you can do to sharpen this new mind of yours, and the most significant factor is what you feed it. Constantly pumping in unfiltered drama, fluff, and violence dulls the brain, while reading/discussing/hearing what is true and honorable and beautiful and excellent and praiseworthy revitalizes it. A really practical solution is a mind detox: a fast from media for a couple of weeks. I know it sounds like the opposite of fun, but I’ve found that by stepping away from the steady pounding of what everyone else is doing and who’s been killed on the show I’m binge-watching reorients the way I think. It gives my mind a new sensitivity, the built-in alarm system God meant to use to protect me and connect with me through.
A more regular method for readying yourself mentally is a brain dump. Put on a timer for five to ten minutes and jot down everything that’s been floating through your head, capturing big things and little things and questions and worries and super random ideas in a safe place you can refer to after you’re finished. Getting it all on paper is like spring cleaning your thoughts. (The trick is to make sure you do any necessary follow-up after concluding your study time.)
Journaling is another fantastic way to prepare. A few questions to prompt getting into the right headspace:
- What thoughts do I need to set aside in order to step fully into this moment with God?
- What truths should I consider about myself and about the Lord that will help me focus?
- What questions can I bring to the table during my study?
- Are there any obvious hurdles to deal with so that I can be attentive?
There’s no way you’ll be able to block out every distraction ever. Deal with as many as you can in advance and then be gracious in the rest.
Some people are under the impression that thinkers can’t be believers. But those of us whose minds have been captivated by Christ, who have nothing to lose and nothing to prove, are able to be the freest thinkers of all. We can ask big questions and wrestle with real issues. We are made in God’s image, and He’s the instigator of investigators. Think about His offer in Isaiah 1:18, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.” What kind of King invites the dust He created to a meeting of the minds? One worthy to be glorified.
God’s not after perfection in this; He’s after a deeper relationship with you. And come on—how cool is it that He doesn’t ask us to leave our brains at the altar? He could have turned us into robots without the ability to consider, remember, argue, question, discuss, and decide. But the Lord doesn’t want a mindless encounter with you. Believe it or not, He’s eager to be with every part of who you are, and He’ll do it without laughing or yawning. Our God is a safe place for thoughts and thinkers.