Renewing Our Thinking Through Thankfulness

(This week I am excited to welcome our guest WholeLifeWorship blogger, Pastor Michael Westfall, to share his insights with us. I’ve known Michael for 14 years, having served with him on our church pastoral staff. Michael is currently Associate Pastor at GracePoint Church near Portland, OR. He and his wife, Krista, are dear close friends to Letty and me. So, let’s welcome Michael to our WholeLifeWorship platform – and we welcome your comments and questions, as he shares about an important WholeLifeWorship transformational concept: the renewing of our minds. – Doug)

As we all have probably read in the Bible at some point: if we follow Jesus and are a Christian then we should be striving to live our whole life, every aspect, fully surrendered to Him (Romans 12:1-2; 1 Luke 9:23-24; Mark 12:30).  We all would probably say that we know that this is true but I would also venture to say that we would all also express that this is definitely, “Easier said than done!”  As we all tend to do as humans, when we see a mountain that is bigger to climb than we are able, we usually gravitate toward throwing up our hands in the air and we stop trying all together.  And this is sometimes how we respond when we think about trying to live our whole lives for God.  But what I have found lately is that, with the help of the Holy Spirit and His power, my role is simply to focus on taking the next step in front of me, and to be faithful with that…and then simply leave the rest to Him. 

As of most recent, I have discovered that my next step in WholeLifeWorship is to focus on being thankful and grateful for all that I have, for all that God has given to me, and for who God is.  More and more science is coming out with studies of the brain and these studies are showing that if we focus on the bad it literally only takes seconds for those thoughts to take root in our brains, and exponentially longer for us to get those thoughts out of our brains.  At the same time, the opposite is also true!  

Think about it: it also only takes a few seconds for our brains to have a thought of thankfulness and gratefulness take root and for this to fill our thought patterns.  The amazing thing is that our brains and our minds believe what we tell them.  If we are more often telling them positive things and things that we are thankful and grateful for then our minds are going to believe that.  But, on the other hand, if we are telling our minds negative things then our minds are going to believe that.  

God has been revealing to me that this mindset of thankfulness and gratefulness is a real game changer in helping me focus on Jesus in the everyday ordinary.  Thankfulness and gratefulness has also helped me live in a way that is more fully surrendered to Jesus.  So many times we quote Philippians 4:6-7 when we are talking about anxiety and obtaining peace in our lives, but we have no clue what the next verse says.  Philippians 4:8 is a verse that I have discovered to be even more helpful and powerful than the previous (and more well-known) verses in my pursuit for thankfulness, gratefulness and less anxiety.  This verse says: “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.”  Did you catch it?  The way to beat anxiety, have peace, and keep our whole life worshipping and surrendered to Jesus is to think about what is good!  Because, after all, our minds believe what we tell them. This is what it means to renew our minds for transformation (Rom. 12:2).

Therefore, one really important application that my mom shared with me a few years ago was the concept of rethinking the negative to a positive.  We can always find a way to rethink something negative into something positive.  For instance…“I got a “C” on my spelling test…but at least I didn’t fail it.”  Or, “I totally lost it on my kids and it was horrible…but at least I recognized it and apologized to them.”  Or, “We had one more bill come in that just adds to the mountain of debt that we owe…but at least we still have a house to live in.” And a second application would be buying a journal and beginning to write down 10 things every single day that you are thankful for, no matter how big or small (And do it for a whole year).  It takes time to start living this new way—it has taken me three years and I still haven’t arrived—but I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was and I am living with more peace and surrender toward God than ever before.  

Being thankful and grateful has made all the difference!  Would you be willing to give it a shot?  

(It’s no accident that the Apostle Paul instructs in 1 Thess 5:18 to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We don’t give thanks when we feel thankful. We give thanks as a way of redirecting our minds towards whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Then, and only then, are we in a place to be transformed and to be a vessel of transformation to our world – which is the noble will of God. Thank you, Pastor Michael, for your insights and encouragement!)

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4 thoughts on “Renewing Our Thinking Through Thankfulness

  1. I have been learning that lesson this year myself. Life got really challenging awhile back and fear had a grip on me. The first thing to go was my thankfulness, and that started changing my heart negatively. After a time I was able to start seeing what I was focusing on and realize I had a choice. I purposefully had to interrupt my thoughts and choose to think about something good, noble, praiseworthy, etc. Fortunately I had wonderful Christians around me and those “good” thoughts were their warmth, kindness, and love that I was experiencing when I was around them. It was too difficult to experience God’s goodness (even though it was there). In my hurt and negativity the only good thing I could focus on was tangible self-focused good experiences. I was so self absorbed in my problems that it took a community of genuine Christians to break through. I still have to be purposeful to think about things to be thankful for, but as I persist, the negativity is dissipating and I am able to acknowledge and see so much of what God is still doing and has been doing all along. He is a good God, and I have received so much Grace that I now am becoming more and more aware of, and thankful for, and my heart is healing and transforming. I am once again grateful for God’s incredible love and Grace and patience and forgiveness, and for his light that shines through others who love him as well.

    • Thank you, Lynne, for sharing your journey about the power of community in helping transformative renewal of the mind. There are things that we need to do, but, as you shared, we need to see tangible evidence of the goodness of God as shared by His people. As one person put it, “I need God with ‘skin on Him.'”

  2. I think about how many of the writers of the Psalms realized this. They would often list their trials and tribulations, and the end with a very powerful “BUT, still I will focus on You”, turning all of that negativity into an opportunity to focus on the goodness of God. That final thought gave them strength and a clear reminder of where that strength comes from.

  3. Thanks, Kathy! Excellent insight. The concept of renewing our minds through focusing on the good, excellent and praiseworthy is an ancient one practiced by God’s people throughout time. But it is a practice that we constantly need to remind each other today in our present age.

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