How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your reputation to be? As infants, human beings think only of their own wants and needs. But as we move into the teen years and beyond, we become more concerned with what others think of us—and rightly so. We read, “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11).
However, reputation is not built by magic. Rather, it is established by our actions and our words. The decisions we make—regarding what we do and say, what we laugh at, how we spend our time and with whom we spend it—all reflect who we are. But what determines those decisions? How are they made? Do we have any control over them?
You have heard people say, “Make up your mind.” Or you may sometimes try to “change someone’s mind.” So, how does the mind change, and how is it “made up” in the first place? There are three basic building blocks. The first is knowledge, the second is experience and the third consists of our emotions or feelings.
As our bodies grow beyond infancy, we are changing in ways other than the physical. As we begin to crawl, walk and then run, our minds are also changing. We are learning about the world around us, and how we fit into it. As we grow, the people around us influence how our minds are “wired.” Our parents tell us the sky is blue and grass is green, and our minds form the concept of color.
Parents playing their God-given role take a leading role in this process of growth. God commands them to do so: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Parents are to guide their children into a right way of thinking by teaching them the principles of life. God also commanded the ancient Israelites to teach His ways to their children: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
However, parents are not the only ones who influence our minds. We are also taught, from our earliest childhood, by friends and playmates, by teachers and by the media. We store the knowledge that we collect from these different sources, and use it to create ideas and impressions that the mind draws on to understand our world. In addition, we experience life. We compare what we have heard and read with what we have discovered firsthand through cause and effect. We eat a lemon and we learn what “sour” is. From that point on, we understand what something “sour” will taste like. Perhaps a parent says, “Don’t touch the stove, it’s hot!” We hear the words, but if we are compelled to experiment anyway, the experience of touching a hot stove will be seared into our mind from that day on!
Our mind is also stamped with our emotions. God has placed in our human minds the ability to experience a range of emotions that influence our thinking. We learn what it feels like to be excited, frustrated, joyful and angry. We learn to feel pleasure when our taste buds are tantalized by ice cream. We learn about anger when a playmate takes a toy away from us. And we learn about sadness when we have to move away from friends. All of these emotions—and how we exercise them in daily life—profoundly affect our mental development.
As we transition from childhood into adulthood, we begin to develop more independence. We begin to think for ourselves and make up our own minds. We decide what to wear in the morning, what to do with our free time and which friends to spend time with. Those decisions reflect our ability to apply facts, experience and even emotions from the past to current situations. This is what “thinking for ourselves” is all about. As we exercise good judgment, our parents gain confidence in us, and they feel able to give us more independence and responsibility. Ultimately, the role of parents is not just to enforce obedience to their rules; it is to develop in their children the mind and the character to apply the spirit of those rules to new and different situations. Indeed, as young people exercise their growing decision-making ability, the things they do, the words they say and the friends they make reflect the patterns of their growing minds. Naturally, as we grow, we will choose to walk in harmony with others of like mind. As the prophet Amos wrote, “Can two walk together, unless they be agreed?” (Amos (3:3).
Eventually, when we enter into adulthood, we begin to face challenges that are bigger than what clothes to wear, or what to do with our free time. We face decisions such as what to do about further education, career and marriage. We face decisions about our fundamental beliefs in God, and we grapple with questions about our Creator and our ultimate destiny. We come to decisions about how we will obey God’s law, and how to apply it to daily life. We face the question of making a permanent commitment to God through baptism. One day, it seems that we look up from our daily activities and face an overwhelming array of challenges and choices. How we handle these choices ultimately reflects the state of our minds.
If you are wrestling with these decisions, and desire to serve God with understanding, then God may be calling you. Those whom God calls come to realize that their minds, by themselves, are not completely adequate for handling the challenges of life. From the account of Adam and Eve forward, mankind’s history has shown that the human mind is not up to the challenge of establishing peace and prosperity on earth, and in fact is at odds with God. We can humanly manage many of the simple physical decisions we need to make, but for the biggest challenges we absolutely need the mind of God. The mind of God brings love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). These are all attributes that bring true happiness and contentment in life. But they are attributes of a mind that is in harmony with the mind of God. And if we can develop a mind in harmony with God as a young person, we will imprint a way of thinking that will result in good decisions, and a good life.
Who you are, and what you do, is a direct result of what you put into your mind. What knowledge, experiences and emotions fill your mind? Do you read and think about God’s words and God’s ways? Do you make decisions that allow you to experience the fruit of living God’s way? Do you ask God to guide you through His Spirit with you to have emotions that are guided by God or are you like a puppet on the string of the passing natural human emotion that courses through your mind?
Make a choice. Take on the mind of God to help establish you in a wise and fruitful way of thinking and feeling. Mind your mind.