The Power of Impossible Thinking
Bill Tenny-Brittian

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Cogito, ergo sum.  "I think, therefore I am." (René Descartes)

You are what you think.  Not only that, you become who you think you'll become ("For as he thinketh in his heart, so he is" Proverbs 23:7).  Jesus reminds us that our treasure is found where our heart lies.  As Intel® and Prego® remind us, it's what we find inside that's most important.

In North America, Christianity is facing some hard truths.  The church has lost millions of members over the past few years.  "Christians" are giving up on Christianity to become New Agers, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Muslims, and agnostics.

Why?  Largely because they got involved in the church in order to find the life-changing power of Jesus Christ but instead all they found was churchianity.  Religion doesn't change lives, no matter how badly we'd like it to.  Kids raised "in the church" are just as likely to end up divorced, in jail, having an abortion, doing drugs, etc. as someone not "raised" in the church.  We've entrusted the schools to educate our children and the church to moralize them.  As adults, we go to church with a similar expectation - that the church is going to spiritualize us in some way.  Our Mental Model is flawed.

Pause for a moment and consider: what do you expect your local church affiliation to provide?

  • Christian education?
  • Spirituality?
  • Fellowship?
  • A worship center?
  • Social & crisis services purveyor?
  • Evangelism?
  • Membership services (weddings, funerals, counseling, etc.)?
  • All of the above?

Now, which of these are biblical mandates for the church?

Evangelism is the only item on that list that the Bible lays at the feet of the church, local or otherwise.  Jesus spoke of the church twice Matthew 16:18 - "On this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."  This is the church's mandate for evangelism (storming the gates of hell to free the prisoners); and Matthew 18:15-20 which is about repairing broken relationships within between the one-anothers (people within the faith). 

Now, I'm not suggesting that the rest of those bullet points aren't important.  They are.  But they aren't the responsibility of an organized institution called the local church - or even called the church.  That's our North American Mental Model.  The biblical responsibility for all of the bullet points, including evangelism, is on the individual.  And that's a different Mental Model.

Okay, I've said all that to say this.  The Power of Impossible Thinking by Yoram (Jerry) Wind, Colin Crook, and Robert Gunther provides a way for us to put into practice the biblical directive of transforming our minds.  Although those who have embraced Christianity have "become new, old things have passed away," there's that "renewing of the mind" part that doesn't happen overnight.  Old habits, the thoughts we've shaped over the years, our Mental Models are ingrained thinking patterns that need to be transformed.

"To change your world you have to change the way you think."  To be an effective, life-changed and life-changing disciple of Jesus Christ means our world, and thus the way we think, has to change.  The Power of Impossible Thinking provides a four-step process to accomplish it.

  1. Recognize the Power and Limits of Mental Models.

First, recognize that your senses only partially shape how you perceive the world.  If you're walking down an alleyway in the dark and you hear steps behind you, you are likely to be uncomfortable or even frightened.  However, if you spin around and the steps are coming from a colleague trying to catch up with you, your attitudes change immediately.  Why?  Because your senses only give you part of the picture - your thinking, your Mental Model, is a huge part of what you perceive.

Second, your thinking limits your vision and options for action.  If you think "inside the box" you can't see options outside the box.

If you've been relying on the church to provide you with your spiritual depth, you've been trapped by a crippling Mental Model.  If you don't know any other options, though, your thinking is limited.

  1. Keep Your Mental Model Relevant.

John Maxwell is fond of saying, "If you're riding a dead horse, dismount."  The earth isn't the center of the universe.  The world isn't flat.  Some of us have difficulty letting go of beliefs we once held dear, even when they stop "working" for us.  When our thinking isn't working for us, it's time to change our thinking.  It took my father years to buy a home computer.  He just couldn't think what he'd do with it that he couldn't do with pencil, paper, and a calculator.

But just because the computer is a part of most of our lives today, that doesn't mean the old paradigm is useless.  As I write this, my outline is to my right - handwritten in pen on a yellow tablet.  I use both.

If you're active in a local church, but you're not the Practicing Christian you want to be (were created to be), a House Church or a Church-Without-Walls alternative will likely make a difference.  However, I wouldn't advocate withdrawing from your local church.  You can do both for as long as they each serve your needs.  For instance, my wife loves "big church" worship, so she does both House Church and attends a local church when she feels a need for large corporate worship.  On the other hand, I love the intimacy of small group and individual worship, so I don't go.  Both are legitimate options.

  1. Overcome Inhibitors to Change

If we're going to change the way we think, we have to dismantle old habits and raze the existing infrastructure.  In other words, we need a new "playground" to practice in.  Alcoholics in recovery learn quickly that if they hang out with the same friends they used to drink with, especially if they're still drinking, it is far too easy to fall off the wagon. 

But just changing our playgrounds won't change our thinking.  We have to be analyses what we're doing and what we're trying to do.  We need to measure our movement - set goals and move forward.  And we need to achieve small victories over small battles. The more often we succeed in the little things - and celebrate them - the easier it will be to achieve the great changes.  If we don't plan to change, we plan to fail. 

Paul had this to say to the Ephesians: "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph 4:22-24 NIV).  Put off the old habits in order to pick up the new attitude.  If you want a fulfilling Christian life, you will have to take personal responsibility for your own spiritual practices.  The old habit of counting on the Sunday morning 11 AM to change your life has got to go.  Go to your local church?  Sure.  Count on it to change your life?  No way.  You will want to take up prayer, and accountability, and Bible study, and devoting your gifts and talents to serve others, and on and on and on.  As you practice the new habits, your life is literally transformed.

  1. Transform Your World

Up until this point, the changes in your thinking, in your Mental Model, have been add-ons into your life.  It takes time for your thinking to be transformed and thus transforming your world.  That only comes with practice, practice, practice.  And with practice comes an internalization until the new Mental Model has supplanted the old one. 

How do you practice?  By using your new thinking in how you make decisions at work.  If you're "putting on Christ" it means asking yourself what kind of decision would be Jesus-like in your job - would he really recommend that product to your client?

It means practicing your new thinking in your personal decisions.  If you're becoming Christ-like it means asking yourself how Jesus would spend your money - would he really rent that video or buy that brand of running shoes? 

And it means practicing your new thinking in your relationships.  If you're renewing your mind it means asking yourself how Jesus would treat your spouse, your children, your neighbor, and the homeless woman who is talking to herself on the corner.

Transforming your world doesn't happen in a vacuum.  It is best practiced with one or two others who are also trying to renew their minds and transform their lives.  If you aren't already, build a spiritual friendship to share your life with, someone who will walk with you and share your journey as an encourager.  Get them to ask you the tough questions about your Mental Models.  As s/he does, you'll discover that your thinking changes - and as you think, so you'll be.