Renewing the mind may sound like a straightforward endeavor but it rarely ever is. Our minds and hearts are multi-layered, like an onion. Peel away one layer and it seems another layer is hiding beneath.
After his grievous adultery and conspiracy to murder, David wrote a psalm of confession and repentance. It is listed as Psalm 51 in our Bibles. In this song of confession, David writes, “Behold, you [God] delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” This is a profound statement coming from David. He was unaware of the hidden sin and evil motives that were lurking in him. His recent sinful actions had brought all of that to the surface. He came to realize just how deep his sinful heart really went. He cries out to God for deep inner-cleansing, reaching to the most hidden parts of himself. David believes that God’s great desire is for him to learn truth and wisdom in the “secret heart.”
David’s son, Solomon, would articulate this idea in another manner: “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). Real wisdom, Solomon insists, involves the ability to draw out the deep and hidden motives in ourselves and others.
So how do we fully renew our minds when all that is in our minds is not evident, even to us? The short answer is: we don’t. We are not capable of dealing with the deep things hiding beneath the surface we have yet to see. We are responsible for knowing we have a “secret heart” and allowing the Word of God to become a searchlight that peers into the depths of our being.
What does this look like on a practical level?
– – – –
Search Me, O God
First, it involves praying the words of Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (v.23-24). We must practice “forward repentance,” an attitude that recognizes that we are likely to harbor selfish and self-centered motives, even if we don’t fully comprehend them; it’s an attitude of repentance in advance. We ask God to search our hearts knowing that in time He will strip away the layers that offend Him.
– – – –
The Discipline of Listening
Second, it involves the disciplines of vulnerability and listening to others. Just as the prophet Nathan’s interaction with David was key to exposing the “secret heart” of David, so the church is one of God’s great tools for unearthing our hidden issues. We have probably all been in situations where someone else’s character flaws looked so obvious to us but were hidden from them. God calls us to the brave task of being known by others in the church so that they might be a tool in God’s hand to sharpen us.
The Bible calls us to a kind of community where we as the family of God know each other intimately and speak truth into each others’ lives. We are urged to act as the one “who listens to reproof” to gain wisdom (Proverbs 15:32), to walk with the wise to become wise ourselves (Proverbs 13:20), to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16), and to restore each other when we are caught in sin (Galatians 6:1-2). Hebrews 3:13 calls us to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” In other words, there is a level of interaction we are called to have in the church that allows us to give daily, honest and helpful feedback that actually helps us see how deceitful sins operate at the heart level.
I remember one of the most fruitful experiences that I’ve ever had in the context of Christian community was with a small group of believers who gathered chiefly for the purpose of digging deep into the mire of each others’ hearts. One of the first times I gathered with this group we had a discussion called “If you really knew me.” One at a time each person was given 2 minutes to speak, starting every sentence with the phrase “If you really knew me . . .” Each person could say as much or as little as they felt comfortable saying. I was shocked to see how open and honest each person was about their lives, confessing great moral failures, doubts, anxieties, and hidden hurts. The more we did this each time we gathered we were allowing one another into our deep, inner worlds. As a result others began to detect hidden patterns of sinful thinking dwelling beneath the surface. As we did this we could regularly practice confession and prayer for one another, and then sing songs of praise to God.
When we begin practicing the art of opening up to trusted brothers and sisters in the Lord, it is important not to leave one another open and exposed without applying the healing power of God’s Word. At the heart of our speaking to each other needs be the Word of God. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). God calls us into little communities of the heart: communities where we expose the fissures in our mind, confess our sins, pray, and then allow the words of Christ to sink deep into the hidden parts of us.