Scientist tell us that thinking hard weighs heavy on the brain. I stand in awe of the amazing mental accomplishments of Einstein, but he belongs to a rare breed. Few have the intellectual capacity, or the will power to compel them to engage in heroic mental exercises.
It is not heavy thinking that shapes our character, but the quiet attention of the mind on the surroundings of our everyday world. We are influenced more by common things than by some exceptional intellectual feat such as writing a great poem, or painting a famous picture.
Feats of great thinking may create reputation, but habits of thinking create character. The incredible mental accomplishments of Einstein had little to do with the kind of human being he was. On the other hand, the constant, undramatic, moment-by-moment interaction with his environment had almost everything to do with developing his character.
We live in two environments: one is the physical world around us, and the other is our thoughts about the world. The larger physical world affects us directly as we think about it and allow it to influence us.
Three men walking side by side may have different views of the world. Imagine a poet, a naturalist, and a lumberman walking through the forest.
The poet’s mind races back over the centuries to the time when the mighty trees towering over him were but tiny green shoots out of the grey earth. He dreams of powerful men who wore crowns and rode white steeds through the forest and swayed empires, but who have long passed from this earthly scene, forgotten by everyone but a few historians.
The naturalist sees a smaller and more detailed world. He hears the sweet, hardly audible bird song floating among the branches, and seeks to discover the hidden singer. He knows what kind of moss it is that clings to the base of the centuries-old trees. He notices the fresh claw marks on the bark of a tree, and discerns a bear recently passed that way.
The lumberman’s world is smaller still. He is concerned neither with history nor nature, but with the price of lumber. He judges the diameter and height of the tree, and by quick calculation determines how much it will bring on the market. His world is the exciting and energetic world of commerce.
External things and events are the raw material of our thoughts. The finished product is whatever the mind makes of it. When it comes to developing character, it’s not circumstances that produces it, but our reaction to them.
Our thoughts about God, and our relation to Him, produces character that enables us to master the external world. We ask a friend, “How are you today?” The often response is, “Oh all right, under the circumstances.” Through right thinking we can overcome the circumstances.
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
Right thinking gives strength for living.