Safeguard Your Thinking Ability
“Safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability, and they will prove to be life to your soul.”—Prov. 3:21, 22.
1. Who originated thinking ability, and why is it important to guard it?
JEHOVAH God is the great thinking Personality who has existed eternally and who is the Source or Creator of all existing things. As a demonstration of his wisdom he has created other thinking personalities in spirit bodies and in fleshly, human bodies. In human bodies the mind of a thinking personality exists as the function of the living brain. The existence of intelligent, reasoning personalities with minds is one of the proofs that man was created by a higher intelligence, a personal God, because mere unreasoning force or impersonal unintelligence could never bring forth the reasoning, intelligent, individual thinking personalities existing in humankind. Though scientists can weigh, measure and analyze the physical brain and determine certain of its functions, yet with all their instruments, they cannot search out the mind or intelligence of man. Their efforts to judge the mind by comparing behavior with certain theories are neither exact nor scientific. Yet the training of one’s mind and the guarding of one’s thinking ability are more important than anything else, because one’s everlasting life is dependent upon it. “Safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability, and they will prove to be life to your soul.” (Prov. 3:21, 22; Matt. 15:18-20; Rom. 8:6) Sound advice concerning guarding one’s thinking ability is found in the Word of Jehovah, the One who can measure man’s thoughts. “Jehovah is knowing the thoughts of men.”—Ps. 94:11.
2. What examples illustrate the use of thinking ability?
2 Thinking ability enables man to do more than simply follow a set of detailed rules. But, just as the perfect involuntary digestive system required that man take in food, water and air before functioning properly, so with the perfect man’s voluntary thinking ability, he had to receive knowledge for processing before this ability functioned. Adam was given certain instructions, but he had to think over this information and determine how he could carry out these instructions, such as in cultivating the garden and naming the animals. Likewise with Noah, an imperfect man; God gave him some detailed instructions about preparing the ark, but Noah still had to think over these instructions, compare such with other knowledge he had received while walking with God, and then plan and execute such plans in assembling building materials, building the ark, gathering the animals and providing for their food. Jehovah expected humans to use their thinking ability.—Gen. 2:15, 19; 6:13-21.
3. What is the thinking process, and why is it necessary to train it?
3 What is this thinking ability? It is the process of taking in through the senses knowledge or information consisting of statements of principle or of practical examples, the analyzing of, comparing and connecting together of all these ideas, the drawing of conclusions from this process, remembering them, and then drawing on such ideas and conclusions for making decisions, for coping with problems or even for initiating constructive and progressive plans for future advancement. The thinking process begins to function at birth as soon as the senses begin sending information to the brain. As knowledge and experience grow, the ability to think and reason grows. No one should feel that this matter of developing his thinking ability is only for those who are the studious type. Every normal man has received a fine thinking mechanism, and throughout one’s entire life one has been taking in information through reading, seeing, hearing and experiencing things; and it is the way one has taken in all this information and reacted to it that results in one’s individual personality. But because many persons have not used their minds for much more than the essentials of daily living, it is necessary that they learn to train, develop and guard this thinking ability if they will get life everlasting.
SUBMIT THINKING TO CREATOR
4. (a) What is required for the thinking ability to function? (b) What knowledge is essential for proper thinking, and why?
4 The first essential in developing one’s thinking ability is the taking in of knowledge. “My son, . . . when wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way.” (Prov. 2:1, 10-15) One should notice here the use of knowledge, wisdom and discernment or understanding. Since God created man in his image, it follows that the only realistic way to train one’s thinking ability is to take God’s purposes into consideration. No one can gain knowledge without recognizing his relationship to God. “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov. 1:7) Knowledge pertaining to God’s purposes is found in the Bible.—Ps. 19:7-11; John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
5, 6. (a) Why avoid independent thinking? How does this not make for mass psychology? (b) In what respect should one co-ordinate his thinking with others, and why?
5 Today the trend of this world is to seek independent thinking as the ideal goal, but even as the unrealistic thinking of a scientist who tries to ignore the law of gravity is doomed to failure, so also is the unrealistic thinking of those who try to ignore the fact of man’s dependence on God. “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his steps.” (Jer 10:23; Prov. 16:1-3) When men try to think independently of God, they set aside the perfect standard of goodness, righteousness, virtue and faithfulness and become victims of their own selfish, sinful inclinations and degrade their own thinking ability.—Rom. 1:21-32; Eph. 4:17-19.
6 Since the purpose of preaching God’s Word is to make every thought obedient to the Christ, it follows that one should reject the goal of independent thinking. (2 Cor. 10:5) The Christian is to put on a new personality created according to God’s will. (Eph. 4:20-24) This will result in all Christians being united with God in their thinking, as well as with one another. (1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 15:5) Such does not make for collective thinking or mass psychology, as some have claimed. It results in each dedicated believer being trained to use his thinking ability not independently but individually, yet submissively to God and in co-operation with one’s fellow man. For such development of the individual personality God has created the human mind and heart and provided all the necessary knowledge and instruction so that countless millions of persons, though being individual personalities, will live in unity and peace because they recognize their dependence on God and the interdependence of all members of God’s human family on one another.—Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14, 25; Gal. 5:26; Eph. 4:16; 1 John 4:7, 20, 21.
HOW TO LEARN, RETAIN AND RECALL
7. What should be one’s attitude when taking in knowledge?
7 In taking in knowledge one should apply himself with diligence and urgency and be teachable as a child. “Call out for understanding”; “keep seeking for it as for silver.” (Prov. 2:1-5) “A wise person will listen and take in more instruction, and a man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction.” (Prov. 1:5) This means willingness to learn new ideas and a willingness to adjust one’s thinking to new knowledge, to correct one’s thoughts where necessary and clear away old ideas that are found to be false. Here is where some make a mistake. When they study God’s Word they accept only the ideas that agree with their preconceived opinions, but every thought that requires them to change their minds they reject. This is not trying to train one’s thinking ability in harmony with God’s thoughts, but simply a checking into the Bible to see if it agrees with one’s own ideas. One should follow the psalmist’s example as he expressed his attitude in Psalm 119. Notice how often he studied, meditated upon and accepted God’s ways, his reminders, his orders, his commandments, his sayings, his law, his judicial decisions, his regulations or statutes and his Word.—Ps. 25:9; Matt. 18:3; Rom. 12:2; 1 Pet. 2:1-3.
8, 9. (a) How can one improve his ability to retain and recall information? (b) What Scriptural advice is given on remembering what one learns?
8 Correct thinking requires one to get the sense of knowledge and retain it, as Jesus explained in the parable of the sower. (Matt. 13:23; Luke 8:15) In order for the memory, which is the very basis of thinking ability, to retain and recall thoughts one must pay attention and observe accurately. Jesus emphasized this in the same parable, saying: “Pay attention to how you listen.” (Luke 8:18; Mark 4:23, 24) Never let the senses become dulled or blunted so that important things escape one’s notice. (Rom. 11:7; 2 Cor. 3:15; 1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Pet. 3:5, 8) Next, one must fix such information in the memory so that it can be recalled and used. One does this, not by memorizing words but, in the case of events and illustrations, by visualizing these as vividly as possible. With statements of principles or other abstract ideas, one should connect such ideas up with what one already knows, fit the information into the pattern of truth one understands, compare the thoughts and look for new, different or more complete information that may require correcting the thoughts one has. In the examples of human conduct try to see which principles were in operation. It is most important to determine what all the knowledge means to oneself, what responsibilities it will give one, how it should be applied. This is the thinking ability in operation, and from this one forms valuable conclusions and retains the information in the memory in a way so that it can be recalled when needed.—2 Pet. 1:15.
9 To avoid forgetting, one must continue to stir up the memory. (Jas. 1:25) “For your statutes I shall show a fondness. I shall not forget your word.” (Ps. 119:16, 93) Consider the advice about stirring up the memory: “For this reason I shall be disposed always to remind you of these things, although you know them and are firmly set in the truth which is present in you. But I consider it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to rouse you up by way of reminding you.” (2 Pet. 1:12, 13) “Beloved ones, this is now the second letter I am writing you, in which, as in my first one, I am arousing your clear thinking faculties by way of a reminder, that you should remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2 Pet. 3:1, 2) This stirring up of the memory is done by reviewing what one has learned and experienced, doing so by meditation, talking with others, attending meetings and preaching from house to house.—Ps. 119:52, 61; Rom. 15:14, 15; Heb. 10:32, 33.
10. (a) In what way should one take correction? (b) How does discernment aid one’s thinking?
10 The thinking ability must also be kept balanced. “Brace up your minds for activity, keep completely balanced.” (1 Pet. 1:13) This will insure one that he does not “think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind.” (Rom. 12:3) It includes willingness to accept correction and reproof. “Reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” (Prov. 6:23; Ps. 141:5) By not thinking too highly of oneself one will be ready, yes, anxious to accept correction. (Heb. 12:5-11) Not all reproofs come to one from others. Since each person is in a position to see far more of his own mistakes and faults than others are, and since he can discern the faults in his own thinking, it follows that self-correction and reproof are very important. (Ps. 19:12, 13; 51:3; Prov. 28:13) One should compare his thoughts and actions continually with God’s Word, testing to see if they are in harmony with the truth. (2 Cor. 13:5) By developing self-criticism in the light of God’s Word one can benefit from much correction. (Ps. 119:59, 60, 71; 139:23, 24) This is not suggesting self-condemnation, but the ability for constructive self-criticism, which is upbuilding and beneficial. It is a part of one’s discernment, enabling one to make sure of the more important things. (Phil. 1:9, 10; Col. 1:9, 10) Such discernment keeps one humble in his thinking, keeps one aware of the fact that his knowledge is limited, keeps one from becoming too sure of himself, self-opinionated and critical of others. It guards one against prejudiced opinions based on part knowledge, which could stumble others.—Prov. 3:7; 26:12; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 8:2; Gal. 6:3.
11. How can older persons keep learning, and with what additional effort?
11 Keeping thinking ability active will enable persons to keep learning and thinking soundly even though getting well along in years. Some argue that since they are getting old they should not be expected to learn new things. This is not true. The most important thing is that such persons retain the will to learn and keep the mind active.* They need to be willing to accept new ideas and change their ways. Of course, since an elderly person has much more information filed away in his memory, it may require much more effort and time to compare the new ideas and fit them into place. New and more complete information will affect the older one’s greater number of established ideas and it will take more work to adjust his thinking to the new knowledge, to clear out the incorrect information and correct the conclusions that were based on wrong or incomplete information. But years of training and mental activity should enable the older person to do this. “Give to a wise person and he will become still wiser. Impart knowledge to someone righteous and he will increase in learning.”—Prov. 9:9.
TRAINING PERCEPTION BY ADVANCE THINKING
12. What is the real object of mature thinking ability, and how is it attained?
12 The real test of whether the thinking ability has been properly trained is in the applying of knowledge to productive and constructive thinking and activity. Though being teachable as children, all should strive to be mature and full-grown in understanding and productivity. (1 Cor. 14:20) “Solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Heb. 5:14) Perception is the ability quickly and accurately to judge an idea or action with a fine sense of feeling as to what is right and wrong. How does one train his perceptive powers? Not by studying and thinking objectively and keeping oneself detached, but by thinking continually as to how this information applies to oneself. (1 Cor. 10:6-12) Then when making decisions, one learns to assemble the fund of Bible principles and examples, see how they fit the problem and decide accordingly. This will be slow and difficult at first, but with practice it becomes quicker and more accurate.
13. How might one illustrate the difference between right and wrong thinking, and why do the results differ?
13 An example of hasty thinking would be in the case of one who has to decide on a matter of holding fast his integrity to Jehovah when it brings his life in jeopardy. His sentiment may tell him he should at all costs spare his life, and by reading Matthew 12:1-12 he may conclude that Jesus justified the violating of God’s sabbath law if it would benefit human life. Such wrong thinking resulted from using incomplete information and observing incorrectly. The wise person will consider Matthew 10:28; 16:25; Acts 5:29; Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17; 35:1-3; Numbers 15:32-36; Deuteronomy 5:12-14, and he will first learn that maintaining integrity until death is a fixed principle of God’s Word. A more careful comparing of Matthew 12:1-12 with the other scriptures on the sabbath will show that Jesus never violated the sabbath law, for it was never against the sabbath law to eat, to release an animal that has fallen into a pit, or to heal the sick. With accurate knowledge and discernment one is able to think soundly and make right decisions.
14. How did the three Hebrews show they had safeguarded their thinking ability?
14 This was illustrated by the three Hebrews in Babylon. They knew God’s law regarding bowing down to images and understood the principle involved. An idol was an idol whether political or religious, and Jehovah’s having told them to serve the government did not mean they could violate his law. Their positions, personal freedom or lives were not as important as faithfulness to God. The principles of faithfulness and loyalty were ingrained in their minds, and their perceptive powers were well trained. They did not ponder long over their decision but immediately answered that, regardless of whether God chose to deliver them or not, they would not bow down. Their thinking was sound and decisive and had Jehovah’s blessing.—Dan. chap. 3; Heb. 11:34, 39, 40.
15, 16. (a) What does correct, decisive thinking require? Illustrate. (b) How did Jesus and Peter show this?
15 To think soundly and decisively requires that one meditate on such problems before they arise. One cannot take the attitude that one will worry about that when the time comes. At the time one studies the Bible or The Watchtower is when one should carefully think over all principles involved. When reading about faithful Christians maintaining integrity, one should weigh the principles involved and determine for himself a similar faithful course. (Heb. 12:1-3) It is this type of sound, thorough, subjective thinking done when one studies that trains one for future decisions. When under the actual pressure of a decision, perhaps under severe persecution, and without a Bible or even opportunity to recall and weigh all arguments carefully, the Christian will nevertheless be able to make sound decisions. If he lies badly injured and is under pressure from nondedicated family members and an imposing array of doctors to take a blood transfusion, his advance thinking and decision will enable him to explain his decision calmly and hold fast to it. Failure to consider God’s Word in advance subjects one’s thinking to sentiment and expedience instead of principle.
16 Proper advance thinking strengthened Jesus in his faithful course. He knew God’s Word and how it applied to him and was able in advance to strengthen his decision to endure the suffering. When Peter, without having given this same consideration to God’s will in the matter, objected, Jesus rebuked him with the words: “You are a stumblingblock to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men. (Matt. 16:23) It was this same lack of proper advance thinking that left Peter weakened so that he denied Jesus. (Matt. 26:33-35, 70-75) But how soundly he thought when, strengthened with God’s Word and spirit and having trained his thinking powers, he declared: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men”! (Acts 5:29) So all should safeguard their thinking ability by strengthening it when they have opportunity. Then one’s thinking mechanism will be alert, sound and well able to guard one in time of trouble.
17. Why is it so vital today to safeguard one’s thinking ability, and what final factor is mentioned?
17 Now in these last days the thinking ability of all men is being put to the greatest test of all times, with Satan the Devil practicing greater deception than ever before. Therefore, all should be diligent to take in accurate knowledge, alert to observe correctly, to compare all ideas and fix them in the memory, and to keep their own thinking ability active and at all times submissive to God’s will. (Gal. 6:5) “The complete end of all things has drawn close. Be sound in mind, therefore, and be vigilant with a view to prayers.” (1 Pet. 4:7) Safeguard your thinking ability with study and prayer, and “the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”—Phil. 4:6-9.
That older persons can keep their thinking ability active though well up in years was well illustrated in an article “Your Mind Improves With Age,” which was condensed from The American Weekly and printed in The Reader’s Digest, January, 1959. A group of 127 persons who as college freshmen had taken an intelligence test in 1919 were given the same test more than thirty years later. Not only were the scores of this test higher in general information quizzes and in practical judgment, but also in tests requiring logic and clear thinking. Another group of persons have regularly taken “concept mastery” tests since childhood. Their mental abilities have increased steadily from twenty to over fifty years of age with no sign whatsoever that advancing age was limiting such growth. Persons of average intelligence have kept getting higher scores right through their seventies and eighties. A University of Michigan study showed that the memory and the ability to learn do not decline with advancing age any more than general intelligence. There was no difference in the ability of the young, middle-aged or old to recall specific incidents. And in a nonsense-paragraph experiment the older people, though taking longer in preparation, were more accurate in remembering the words. In another test at Columbia Teachers College, persons up to seventy could learn Russian and shorthand as easily as their younger classmates. The vital factor is that persons train their thinking ability when young and keep such active through use through the years. This matter has also been tested strictly physically by the young Danish doctor, Niels A. Lassen, who showed that, unlike other physical functions that deteriorate with age, there is no lessening of the brain’s assimilation and consumption of oxygen and hence possibility of mental activity with advancing age.