The Discipline of the Mind – Part 1

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  • The Discipline of the Mind – Part 1
  • **As we continue our theme In the Classroom, today we are Elisabeth’s students as she begins teaching us about cultivating the discipline of the mind and learning how to think.  Distraction has always been a challenge—even for Elisabeth Elliot—and even in the days before the internet. Be encouraged as we learn this discipline as a work of the Holy Spirit.

    In her biography of the seventeenth-century French archbishop Francois de Fenelon, Katharine Day Little writes, “Simple and orderly living was the secret of his power and efficiency, for his austerity was in reality a purposeful and rational expenditure rather than a self-conscious mortification. It represented the beauty of an orderly and clean mind that naturally turned away from gaudy gewgaws and the disorder of the unnecessary.”

    A simple and orderly life represents a clean and orderly mind. Muddled thinking inevitably results in muddled living. A house that is cluttered is usually lived in by people whose minds are also cluttered, who need to simplify their lives. This begins with simplifying and clarifying their thinking. Mind and life need to be freed from the “disorder of the unnecessary.”

    “Be mentally stripped for action, perfectly self-controlled,” is what Peter says we must do.

    Jesus said that the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.”

    We have been discussing making an offering of the body, which is an act of worship “offered by mind and heart.” The next thing we are to do is to let our minds be “remade” and our whole nature “transformed.” We cannot do this by ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit who must do the work. But we must open our minds to that work, submit to His control, think on the things that matter rather than on the things that come to nothing in the end. Here again we see both the necessity of a sovereign God working in and through us and the responsibility of the disciple himself to adapt to what God wants to do. “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking,” wrote Sir Joshua Reynolds. Try following a single idea through to its conclusion. How many detours did you make? How many times did you stop to pass the time of day with another idea, utterly unrelated to the first? How often did you sink into the grass as it were, at the side of the road, and let your mind float with the clouds?

    Today as I write I have a perfect environment for thinking. I am in a Norwegian hytte (hut) on an inland waterway of Norway’s Sorland. There is no human being nearby so far as I know, and if there were, I could not say much more to him than jeg snakker ikke Norsk (I don’t speak Norwegian). There is no telephone, no mail service, nor any plumbing or electricity. It is almost like being back again in the jungle. Who could ask for a situation more conducive to writing and thinking?

    Yet I find my mind wandering to a thousand things that have nothing whatever to do with this chapter. Wondering if it is going to clear up, I go over to check the barometer. I go down to the dock to see if the mink who lives in the bank will show himself again. I pick a few wildflowers to put in a vase—Lars will be here later today (he has been spending some of his time in his hometown nearby, Kristiansand). I read a bit of Malcolm Muggeridge’s diaries. I fix a peanut-butter sandwich and a very expensive California carrot for lunch. I hear children’s voices and go out to listen more closely (It is wonderful to hear children speak a language foreign to me!) 

    Before I had even finished that paragraph, I heard a familiar whistle. Lars. He was not supposed to be here for another three hours, but it is a welcome diversion from the thinking I intended to do but always find the hardest part of writing. We drink tea and read mail from Massachusetts, England, Illinois, and Idaho. Now Lars is sharpening the scythe before cutting the grass. Back to my typewriter and thinking.

    “Think our way to a sober estimate based on the measure of faith that God has dealt to each of you.” Think your way to. Do we know how to think our way to anything?

    . . . to be continued next week

    **Excerpt originally published in Discipline:  The Glad Surrender (alternate title: The Joyful Surrender) p. 57.