By Hal Lindsey
A new year seems to always bring with it a renewed sense of optimism. It carries the feeling of a fresh start and a new beginning. We see it as a clean slate, and see the future as a place of boundless possibilities.
That’s why so many people make New Year’s resolutions. We sense that as we turn to a new page in our calendars, we can fill those pages with what ought to be, and not what used to be. We know we can’t change the whole world, but we think we can change ourselves because that’s what we think we can control.
New Year’s resolutions can be good. A few people have had significant life changes because of them. Maybe they quit smoking or improved their diets. But let’s face it. Most of those kinds of resolutions don’t last a day, much less a year.
Throwing away an old calendar does not remove the events, choices, and habits of days gone by. We enter the new year with the same tendencies, feelings, behaviors, and attitudes we had in the old year. Many of those things were self-destructive last year, and they will be again this year.
Real and lasting change takes more than a firm resolve. It requires a course correction that involves thousands of what we might call “micro-decisions.” According to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California, we have about 70,000 thoughts per day. (Some scientists believe the real number is much higher.) Many of those thoughts involve decisions. Among our most important decisions is a choice that we make countless times a day. We decide what we will think about.
Modern science is beginning to see the tremendous significance of our thought choices. In other words, modern medicine is beginning to see the wisdom of words written 2000 years ago. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” (NASB)
The King James Version goes through that list, then says, “Think on these things.”
We now know that the direction of our thoughts has an immediate impact on brain chemistry and a long-term impact on the physical structure of the brain. Neuroplasticity, sometimes called “brain plasticity,” speaks of the malleability of the brain throughout life. The brain changes according to our thoughts. Healthy thinking makes for a healthy brain.
Children’s brains are more malleable than those of adults. The brain continues to grow until at least age 18. Obviously, if it’s still growing, it has greater flexibility. That’s why the scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV)
But even though most of the shaping of the mind takes place in early years, modern medical science shows that neuroplasticity lasts for your whole life. This understanding is one of the reasons stroke patients recover so much better now than in the past. Physical therapy forces the brain to create new neural pathways. Even badly damaged brains can be trained so that healthy parts take over the functions previously handled by the now damaged areas.
In the same way, you and I are never too old to change how we think. But as adults, we have a major challenge. We carry the accumulation of years of the old thinking. And we fight our old, fallen nature every time we move toward a more godly life.
But if you are in Christ, you have Help. Your greatest Ally for positive change is the Holy Spirit in your life.
The best example of this is salvation itself. I know of cases where people in their seventies and eighties came to Christ and received a whole new outlook on life. Their thoughts changed and their actions changed. That’s not just brain plasticity. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit!
But salvation is not the end of His work in us. It is only the beginning!
Resolutions rarely work because years of use have created patterns in your brain. You can doggedly resolve — determine with your whole might — but it usually won’t work because you have limited control of the tens of thousands of micro-decisions that are the real determiners of your life’s direction.
Romans 8:26 gives us hope. It says, “The Spirit also helps our weakness.” (NASB)
That doesn’t mean He makes decisions and forces them on us. He doesn’t act like demons — evil spiritual entities that can possess and control humans. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way at all! He’s no puppeteer. Rather, He empowers us to make the right choices we have wanted to make, but that were impossible for us.
Galatians 5:23 lists “self-control” (NASB) as one of His fruits in our lives.
Can’t quite get a handle on your life? Struggling to get things under control? Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17 NASB)
Resolve now… to let the Holy Spirit help you.