Hi, my name is Charles Stone and I’d like to talk to you about spiritual practices that can help us deal with our anxious brain because we’re living in a world of perpetual anxiety.
I want to share with you what I believe to be a secret during this time to help us deal with the anxiety and worry that we all feel in varying degrees. It’s called mindfulness. Now, I recognize that mindfulness is kind of a questionable practice among Christians and it’s a fair question to ask.
Scripturally, you look in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, and you see a lot of these practices, especially as King David wrote about that in the Psalms. The Hebrew language was developed before the language where we get the common term “mindfulness” that’s used in the secular world today. So our Hebrew forefathers actually developed this language and began practicing these things far before Buddhists figured it out. Multiple biblical words, Jesus’ example, Christian history, many historical figures either wrote about it or practiced it, including desert monastics in the 2nd or 3rd centuries. More about that in just a minute.
I’m defining mindfulness this way: holy noticing. Holy noticing is noticing what the holy purpose is that God has in his handiwork, our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings. Fundamentally, mindfulness from a biblical perspective is being present to God, to others, to ourselves, and noticing with a holy purpose.
So practice number one, the Jesus prayer.
The Jesus prayer is actually rooted in what early Christians learned in the 2nd-3rd century. There were two waves of Christians that left the cities and went into the desert around Palestine and Egypt because they saw the desert as a place like a laboratory where they could learn to love Jesus better. The first wave was because of persecution. The second wave was when Constantine made Christianity legal in 300-something. Many believers felt like the church was getting too cozy with the state, so they left the cities and went into the desert. They started this “laboratory” to learn to love Jesus and they begin to develop some of these practices, realizing that their minds wandered a lot, often into negative territory. They’d have these thoughts that weren’t pleasing to God, so they developed the Jesus prayer. It was based on a couple of verses in the gospels and basically what they would do is begin their time of meditation or prayer with a prayer on the inhale and on the exhale. The inhale would be something like “Lord Jesus” and on the exhale: “have mercy on me.”
They found that as they tied this internal prayer in their heart and mind to Scripture, it helped calm those extraneous thoughts and focus in on their time with God, on their Bible reading and study, on the meditation, on their prayer. One of the key ways that we can do just that is practicing this thing called the Jesus prayer. I do this as I begin my quiet time. I also have this app called Time Out. I have no relationship to the company, but this app will slowly dim your computer screen for however long you want – maybe just a few minutes. I do that several times a day. It makes me pause, step back, and be still, and I practice this Jesus prayer when I do it.
The second practice is called a body scan.
The apostle Paul talked about the body in 1 Corinthians. He says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we must honor God with our bodies. How do we honor God with our bodies? We keep them sexually pure, we take care of them, exercise and sleep right and eat right and those kind of things. But another way that we do that is by managing our stress. A body scan actually helps us do that.
Here’s how I like to do a body scan. Think about your body here, just like that bone scan. I imagine a scanner starting at the bottom of my left foot, going through my left ankle, my knee, my upper thigh, my right foot, right leg, my torso, my left hand, left arm, my right hand, right arm, my body all the way up through. What I’m doing is slowly noticing what I’m experiencing. This will do two things as you go through this body scan for a couple of minutes.
it will remind you of where you’re keeping your stress.
it’ll help you learn to be more grateful. One of the things I recommend people do as you do this body scan stop at various parts of your body and just thank God for that.
Here’s the third practice, the one I call the “rocks in the river” exercise.
1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Now the question is, how do we do that? How do we cast our anxiety on him? Let that rock, that pebble, that boulder, represent these negative emotions you’re feeling, this anxiety you’re feeling. Imagine you’re on the bank of a river, a big, giant, deep-flowing river, and that river represents God’s grace, his limitless flow of promise of his grace to us and our time. He says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Now you go back to your rock again. Imagine this rock is that anxiety you’re feeling right now imagine you just throwing it into that river and that rock going all the way down, out of sight in that water, in the limitless flow of God’s grace. Just imagine doing that. If those boulders show up again, throw it back in. Just keeping doing that.
I think here in these times as we’re clearly under a lot of uncertainty and the brain doesn’t like uncertainty, it tends to engage the fight-or-flight centers of our brain. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But we know who holds it: Jesus himself. God is in control. We can trust him. We can, by our thoughts, by our choices, effect neuroplasticity, strengthening those calm peace centers of our brain. We can do the Jesus prayer. Do it in quiet time, do it often. We can do it through the body scan. Do it a couple times a day. And finally, we can do it by casting our anxiety on him. I pray that God will sustain you during these uncertain times. We know that he will, and we have these practical ways that we can actually reduce our anxiety and calm our brains.
Watch the full video: https://www.instagram.com/tv/B-e5wJuloT8/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
DR. CHARLES STONE (M.Div., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, D.Min., Trinity Evangelical Divinity Seminary) has served for 37 years in ministry, 24 of those years as a senior pastor. He currently pastors West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada, a multicultural congregation with over 1,000 attendees. He founded StoneWell Ministries to serve pastors and churches through coaching and
consulting. Many of his articles have been featured in magazines such as Outreach, Leadership Journal, REV, New Man, and In Touch and his blog posts have appeared on sites such as Pastors.com, SermonCentral.com, ChurchCentral.com, and Churchleaders.com. Charles and his wife Sherryl have been married for 36 years and have three adult children.
This content originally appeared at www.moodypublishers.com/help for the Moody Publishers Rethink Rhythms. Find Joy. campaign. Used by permission.