BY JENNIFER RUTHERFORD
"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
If you’re anything like me, without even knowing it, your focus is negative before it’s positive. From the moment I wake, I’m mentally assaulted with the “to do” laundry list of the day. I’m preparing for what I need to get done and who I need to deal with in order to accomplish those tasks. Throughout the day, I am only too aware of something I said to someone that I’m not sure how they took? I’m keenly focused on how I just blew my diet and there is zero time to exercise. My time is side-swiped by a problem that has emerged with my children that makes me scared and fearful and on top of that an unexpected bill popped up. I’m annoyed with how someone treated me. I have a list of things I need to accomplish and no time to fit everything in. I’m bummed I still haven’t reached out to so and so who has been waiting for a response. I didn’t complete a task or assignment. The list of joy suckers IS BIG and long. Before I know it, I can grow a negative, joyless mindset and FAST! Take a moment, my list might be different from yours, but can you relate? I bet we all can as it’s part of the human condition in a fallen world.
I don’t mean to be a negative Nancy. Sure there are some tasks that are more pleasant than others. Sure, there are happy things throughout the day, but by-and-large, I’d say as a society, we treat life and our responsibilities as an odious task we need to get through. After-all it’s called “the grind” or “the rat race” for a reason, right? If there isn’t some truth to those statements, escapism through media, drugs, food and on wouldn’t be such a struggle. We wouldn’t have the same level of problems with anxiety, depression and we wouldn’t live our lives for the weekend! Look back at my list above. Is it any wonder why I flip on my device, click facebook or insta and scroll? Just a little numbing please.
Most of us, I’d say, rehearse, (to go over and over something), our trouble and problems. We think about them almost non-stop. We tell our friends, family and co-workers (another form of rehearsal). We wake up and go to bed with many of the same things on our mind. At night, we are often super aware of what we didn’t get done and what we need to muster up for tomorrow. The truth is, long before we ever rehearse the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness or self-control, our mind and actions do a deep dive that fixes itself on a negative thought life.
Our brains are one of the most amazing and complex organs in our body. It’s responsible for our ability to walk, talk, feel, see, hear, remember things, breathe and more. Without straight geeking out, I’m going to give you the super basic 20,000 feet above ground version. Our brain is comprised of over 100 billion neurons connecting with other neurons around themselves to send and receive information in the form of electro-chemical signals. Neural pathways are the connections established between those neurons that give the information sent and received meaning.
When we learn to ride a bike, or maybe a baby learns to walk, it rapid fires laser like signals through the brain. At first, those signals are weak. With repetition, we strengthen those signals, which form our neural pathways. Now as an adult, I don’t need to think about walking or riding a bike because it’s a well formed “dominant” neural pathway in my brain. If that’s true about walking and riding bikes, you can imagine how repetitive patterns of how we think and feel can also create “dominant” pathways. Our thoughts shape our reality. Is it any wonder why secular spiritualism has attached itself to things like “manifesting” and there are whole practices of cognitive behavioral therapies. Our minds are powerful and our enemy, Satan, knows it and uses it to his advantage.
Is it any wonder that in Philippians 4:8 we are instructed to think about, (and fix our mind on), whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praise worthy? In 2 Corinthians 10:5, 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. In 1 Peter 1:5 we are instructed to cast all of our cares or anxieties on Him because He cares for us.
My husband, Jason and I had a similar dream about leeches. We both marveled at how weird it was that we had such a similar dream. I started to look up Biblical interpretations of leeches. I read about the science of leeches and how their teeth puncture the skin, they insert a venom that creates blood flow and then they suck away! They suck blood! The very marrow of life. As I was writing this, I became aware that the list I started with above is like little spiritual leeches sucking the blood and marrow of my walk in Christ Jesus. They are joy suckers and joy is the marrow of our walk in Jesus!
In Hebrews 12:2 the Bible says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What we know about Jesus’s time in the garden before his brutal murder was that he was terrified. He was sweating blood. He was asking the Father if this cup could pass. Clearly, that was a “no”. The Bible says, “for the joy set before him he endured the cross”. Hang out with that verse for a minute and put yourself in his shoes. How did God’s son suffer through one of the most heinous murders ever committed? He anchored himself to joy. He anchored himself to joy? He anchored himself to joy!
Look, I don’t know about you, but this is one of those moments when I get a ‘heaven’s talking download’ in my brain (some call it epiphany) and I realize when the Bible says “we haven’t striven unto death” and “pick up your cross and follow me” that I’m being challenged to look at a thing differently and to make a change. If Jesus could somehow make it through a literal death anchoring himself to the joy set before him and we are calling ourselves “Christians” and we are playing ‘the game of life’ sporting heaven’s jersey... what is our life supposed to look like and HOW do we have joy in the midst of all the trouble?
There are a couple of keys in the verses above. Joy is a mindset that requires making up your mind. Let’s look at the word: mindset. We set our mind. We take every thought captive that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. This means we become aware of our thoughts and we break agreement with the ones that don’t align with the kingdom of heaven! Most people that have ever had a leech sucking their blood, want it off RIGHT AWAY! And that is how we have to treat those pesky leech like thoughts that try to attach themselves to our joy and suck! We can’t wait until we have the feeling of joy. We have to cultivate joy. To grow it! To make it become the “dominant” pathway in our brain and to do that, we need to stop rehearsing trouble!
We learn to cast our cares and anxieties on Jesus because we know that he cares for us. Notice I said “learn”. You might not be in the practice of going to Jesus with your cares and anxieties. Those mental pathways might be weak because you’re like the equivalent of a baby learning to crawl. The good news is, perfect practice makes perfect. “We have not because we ask not or we ask amiss.”
If there is anything lovely, of good report, peaceable, righteous and on, we let our mind focus on those things. If you’re like me, (yes, I’m aware that I’ve said that a lot), your mind rehearses trouble before it rehearses good. I’m a lot like Peter. I step out of the boat, I’m stoked to be doing something with God and then I lose my focus, start to think about my circumstances and before you know it, I’m sinking! Half the time, I think I’m afraid to believe the good because you never know what might sideswipe you and steal that joy and it’s better to stay realistic in our expectations than to feel the crash and burn of sadness. That might be safe, but it isn’t kingdom. Jesus didn’t stay safe.
Let’s go back to how powerful our brains are in creating our reality. How you look at your children, parents, spouse, siblings responsibilities, interactions and oh hey… how you look at yourself and the grace you give yourself – all the things MUST bow it’s knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is our plumb line. The thing we measure our lives against. He is our standard. Hebrews says “fix our eyes on Jesus”. When we change the focus of our thoughts to joy, to Jesus, to gratitude and praise – we anchor our self to joy like Jesus and we more than overcome the world.
Pro tip: it doesn’t all happen over night. How long did it take you to build your thought patterns? Start by asking Holy Spirit to help you watch your thoughts and cultivate a heart of gratitude. The Bible says “in everything give thanks”. Yeah, I know how annoying I sound. Yes, give thanks for your problems. Find the joy in them. If you can’t see it, ask Jesus to show you. Don’t beat yourself up for slipping into old patterns, just cast that care on Jesus and give thanks that you recognized it. You’ve got Jesus and He’s got this, which roughly translated means - you’ve got this!