How can we cultivate the mindset of Christ?
If you’ve been listening to The Bible Speaks to you Podcast for a while, you know that one of the things I like to talk about is imbibing the mindset of Christ.
There so many different ways to approach this topic and bring it into our daily lives.
It’s spring here in the Northern Hemisphere and I’ve been working in my garden a lot this month. So today I’m going to use some of the lessons I’ve learned in the garden to illustrate how we can have the same mindset Jesus did.
When I was a kid I loved growing things
At a very early age, my mom helped me know the difference between the plants I was trying to grow and the weeds that seemed to grow without any help from me.
One day when I lost my temper and said some things I shouldn’t have, my mother said to me, “James, your thinking is like a garden. Every time you say something loving, you are planting beautiful flowers in your thinking. Every time you say something mean or angry, you are planting weeds in your thinking.
“And that’s what other people will see in you. What do you want to plant in your thinking, flowers or weeds?”
Well, I wanted to plant beautiful flowers in my thinking.
I got the message and that simple little parable has come back to me many times over the years. And it took years for me to really learn this lesson, and I still have to work on it sometimes.
But I still hear my mother’s voice and I remember exactly where I was standing in the living room of our home the first time she said this to me. Yes, she said many times to me.
There’s a term used in gardening that I love: cultivate. It means to prepare (land or soil) for crops or gardening. It can mean to break up the soil, and grow the plants or crops. It can be in your own personal garden or for a large scale commercial purpose.
Figuratively it means to acquire or develop a quality, sentiment, or skill, or it can mean improving and developing yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually.
The word cultivate is rich with meaning.
So today we’re going to talk about spiritual cultivation, and how to cultivate a Jesus or Christlike mindset.
Now you could argue that we don’t need to cultivate a Jesus mindset since Paul says we already have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
I can see the validity of that perspective. And I agree. We already do have the mind of Christ. But I must say, it’s one thing to have the mind of Christ and another thing altogether to use the mind of Christ, to think, and act, and live with the mind of Christ. That’s really what I’m talking about.
By using the mind of Christ, we don’t make the mind of Christ more Christly, we become more aware of the Christlike nature and become more like Christ. We don’t cultivate the mind of Christ, as much as we cultivate our engagement with it. You could even say, it cultivates us.
Gardening in the Bible
In this spirit of cultivating, let’s look at a few gardening examples in the Bible and see what they can teach us about how to think more like Jesus.
The first thing that comes to mind is the parable of the tares and wheat. I did a full podcast episode on this topic in November of 2021. It’s called How to Separate the Wheat from the Tares, Episode 108.
In this episode I talk about eight important lessons from this parable. The ones that are most important for this discussion have to do with when to pull out the tares, or weeds, and who will do it.
In the case of wheat and tares, knowing when to pull the tares out is crucial to the proper cultivation of the wheat. Another crop might require a different approach.
How does this relate to us cultivating a Christlike mindset?
In the parable, it’s the angels who pull out the tares. That means we can trust the angels to help us in this process, of pulling out the weeds in our thinking, the unhealthy, ungodlike thoughts that would choke out our spirituality.
But if you try to force the process too soon with human will, just wanting “to get things done,” you may make a mess of things. Or if you wait too long, the tares get mixed up in the wheat and ruin the taste of the flour, or go to seed and are in the ground for next year’s crop.
Human will can be a terrible weed in your spiritual garden. If you try to get rid of it before you are actually ready to follow God’s will, you’ll have no direction in your life or you’ll wander aimlessly without knowing what to do.
Or, if you let self-will rule your life and never learn to submit to God’s will, in effect, never pulling the weed of self-will out of your spiritual garden, it will go to seed. You’ll be even more willful and the problem will be much worse than it was before.
Self-will is a very stubborn weed in my garden. And it’s very sneaky. Just when I think I have gotten rid of it all, it pops up again!
More mental weeds
But self-will is not the only weed in our spiritual gardens. There are so many: greed, envy, hate, anger, hypocrisy, egotism, self-depreciation, materialism. The list goes on and on.
Laziness and procrastination can be prolific weeds in our mental gardens. What is the result?
The book of Proverbs paints a vivid picture of what happens when you let laziness grow in your mind.
I walked by the field of a lazy person, the vineyard of one with no common sense. I saw that it was overgrown with nettles. It was covered with weeds, and its walls were broken down. Proverbs 24:30, 31 NLT
Have you ever tried to plant flowers or vegetables in a garden that was overtaken with weeds? Or maybe there were no weeds when you planted your plants, but the weed seeds were in the soil.
Once I planted a large crop of pumpkins in a patch that had been full of weeds the year before . The soil had been tilled and there were not weeds growing at the time. I came back to check on them a couple of weeks later. The weeds were a foot high and the pumpkins were pathetic looking. They were completely strangled by the weeds.
This is a metaphor for how we need to cultivate our thinking, how to watch the thoughts that come to us about God, others, and ourselves, to reject and remove any thought that is unlike God.
Jesus, the master spiritual gardener
Any ungodlike thought is a mental weed that needs to be pulled out of your thinking.
Jesus never let a mental weed, or ungodlike thought, take root in his thinking. He was instant in his mental weed pulling.
And just as important, he never let the weed seeds from the minds of others blow over into his mental garden to sprout and take root.
He knew the difference between a good seed and a weed seed, a good thought and a bad thought. How? He knew the origin and fruit of each.
That can be a clue for us. Is a thought from God or is a thought from the opinions of men, or even the darkness of evil? What grows when these thoughts are planted or allowed to germinate in your mind?
There have been times in my life when it seemed all I was doing was pulling out weeds, there were so many. I mean that literally in my garden, but also metaphorically in the garden of my mind.
And as soon as you get all the weeds pulled, either literally or spiritually, it seems they grow back quicker than they did the first time.
It can be a vicious cycle.
There’s more to gardening than just pulling weeds
But… if you want to garden, you can’t spend all your time just pulling weeds. If you plant no flowers or vegetables, all you’ll have is dirt.
Just so, you can’t spend all your prayer time pulling mental weeds, always trying to get rid of the problems, the temptations, and the challenges in your life.
You need to plant the seeds of truth and love, the Godlike thoughts that will germinate, take root, and produce the fruits of the Spirit.
Way back in April of 2020 I did a podcast episode called What Kind of Seeds Are You Planting in Your Heart? That was episode 27. It talks in more detail about this.
What did Jesus plant?
What kind of seeds did Jesus plant in his spiritual garden? What did he cultivate in his mindset?
The obvious first thing is love. Love for God, love for all his neighbors, and love for himself.
Yes, I believe Jesus loved himself. Not in an egotistical, look-at-how-great-I-am sort of way. But in a genuine appreciation and affection for who he was as the Beloved Son of God.
Jesus valued who he was. He loved himself.
This love for God, mankind, and himself was the most important crop in his mental garden. And there were many other related seeds he planted and tended: forgiveness, mercy, gentleness, tenderness, compassion, listening for God’s direction, doing God’s will instead of his own, being aware that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
These are the things we need to cultivate in our spiritual gardens. Once we have the weeds removed, we can plant these same thoughts in our hearts and minds that Jesus did in his.
When the weeds come back…
But those darn weeds keep coming back. So we get down on our prayerful knees, at least metaphorically, to pull those weeds of anger, hate, egotism, etc. It can seem like a never ending process.
But there is a better way sometimes than pulling each weed, one at a time. It’s called mulch, which can prevent seeds from even sprouting in the first place.
For the last several years, there has been a very invasive weed in my yard and some of my garden beds. It sends out the tiniest little trailing roots and then sends up new leaves a foot and a half away from where it was before. I have tried all kinds of things to get rid of this weed, even digging up part of the yard trying get all these roots out of the soil. But it just grows back.
This year I have put down a large 15’ x 15’ black plastic tarp over the area with these weeds. I am going to smother them. They’ll get no water or light. And everyone in the neighborhood is wondering what on earth is going on.
Other places in the garden I put down a thick layer of mulch. When the mulch is thick enough, it prevents the weeds from germinating.
How does this work spiritually? How can we smother the mental weeds in our thinking? How can we prevent ungodlike thoughts from germinating and growing in our hearts and minds?
- As always, Jesus has the answer. How did he do it?
- Well actually, there were lots of things he did.
- He got up early to pray, to commune with God, to listen, to learn, and to love. (Mark 1:35)
- He only spoke what God told him to. (John 12:49, 50)
- He did God’s will, not his own. (John 5:30)
- He did not judge people or situations based on what was happening on the surface appearance of things. (John 7:24)
- He knew the Scriptures and understood their spiritual meaning.
- He was so conscious of the presence of the kingdom of heaven, (Matthew 4:17 ) that the so-called kingdom of this world did not impress him or cause him to doubt what God revealed to him.
- For example, that’s why he could say that Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus were not dead. He saw that in the kingdom of heaven there is no death. (Luke 8:52; John 11:11) He bore witness to that fact and they were both restored to life.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
This is the spiritual mulch Jesus used to prevent weeds, or ungodlike thoughts, from even germinating in his thinking. He was so conscious of his relationship with the Father, his oneness with God, the seeds of evil could not even come close to him. (John 14:11)
Because we do already have the mind of Christ, we have these same spiritual resources that Jesus did. We have the same abilities to think like Jesus did. And we can act with this spiritual birthright of ours.
Break up your fallow ground
Another aspect of cultivating our gardens that is helpful is breaking up fallow ground.
What is fallow ground? It’s either land that was plowed at one point but not planted for several years, or it hasn’t been plowed at all.
In the Old Testament, it’s used as a metaphor for neglecting the moral and spiritual way of life God has shown us. I love both of these translations
For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Jeremiah 4:3 KJV
The New Living Translation brings out the intended metaphor:
This is what the LORD says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:
“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts!
Do not waste your good seed among thorns. Jeremiah 4:3 NLT
Does that sound familiar. This is what we’ve been talking about.
Sometimes life seems to run away with itself and we neglect our spiritual needs, we get caught up in what the world gives and tells us, and we don’t feel our connection with God.
This is the fallow ground, the unused potential in our spiritual garden.
Cultivating spiritually fallow ground is hard work
When I have created a new flower bed in the lawn, I have to get out my shovel and dig away the grass. Sometimes the soil is very rocky. So I built a giant sieve and sifted the rocks out of the soil. It’s a lot of work.
There have been times in my life when I have let the demands of daily life crowd out my active relationship with God. My prayers and Bible study were either completely neglected or not in depth enough to really be helpful.
I didn’t really feel connected with God.
When I realized what was going on, I had to plow the fallow ground, so to speak. I had to make a lot of effort to get back to cultivating my spiritual garden on a more regular basis.
It is easier to pull a few weeds when they’re little than when you let them grow all summer and go to seed. It’s easier, for me at least, to tend my spiritual garden on a regular basis and nurture and cultivate my relationship with God daily.
The last aspect of cultivating I want to mention is about using fertilizer. And the best fertilizer I have found is compost. Compost is the decayed and decomposed plant materials, dead leaves and plants, as well as vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Any rotten vegetables from the house or garden go in the compost pile.
The process take about two years, and I have the best, most amazing fertilizer for my garden. And it all came from dead and rotten plants.
Jesus mentions this same principle in a parable, although he refers to using manure instead of compost. Any gardener, back then or today, would know this refers to decomposed manure. If it’s fresh, it would harm the plants.
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9 ESV
What’s the spiritual lesson here?
Jesus is saying that sometimes the things from our past have to decompose and become fertilizer for our spiritual growth and progress. The bad experiences we’ve had, the man-made doctrines we believed which weren’t true, or the ungodly way we lived our lives have to dissolve.
As these experiences begin to decompose, the lessons we learn from this process act like fertilizer, that causes our spiritual garden to flourish.
I did an episode on this topic as well referring to my spiritual compost pile. It’s called How to Redeem Missed Opportunities from God, Episode 80.
So, I’ve talked about several ways to cultivate our mental and spiritual gardens, to cultivate our thinking to be more Christlike.
Cultivating the mindset of Christ
Jesus didn’t just sit on a mountaintop all day praying and bearing witness to the truth in his mind. He acted upon the truth he bore witness to. He went to people in need and taught them how to bear witness to this truth for themselves.
Here is the example we are to follow. Yes, we need to pray. We need our private time with God. We need to cultivate our relationship with the Father. Just as Jesus did. We discover that we can uproot any ungodlike thoughts from our hearts and minds, our mental gardens, just as Jesus did. And Christ empowers us to be so conscious of the kingdom of heaven and the full glory of God’s nature that evil seed-thoughts are smothered and have not even a chance to germinate in our thinking.
And as we let past mistakes and hurts decompose, we are fertilized with the spiritual compost of lessons learned.
And what happens next? We get off the mountaintop. We get out of our prayer chairs. We go to the people who need to feel loved. And we love them. This is the mindset of Jesus.
And just like my mom said, they will see the flowers you have planted and cultivated in your spiritual garden.
Download the prayer project: 22 Ways to Pray with the Mindset of Jesus in 2022
If you have questions or comments please contact me. I’d love to hear from you..
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
1 Corinthians 2:16 NLT
16 …we have the mind of Christ.
Proverbs 24:30, 31 NLT
30 I walked by the field of a lazy person,
the vineyard of one with no common sense.
31 I saw that it was overgrown with nettles.
It was covered with weeds,
and its walls were broken down.
Mark 1:35 KJV
35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
John 12:49, 50 NLT
49 I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.
50 And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”
John 5:30 KJV
30 I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
John 7:24 NLT
24 Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”
Matthew 4:17 KJV
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Luke 8:52 NLT
52 The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”
John 11:11 NLT
11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”
John 14:11 KJV
11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me:
Luke 13:6-9 ESV
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.
7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’
8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.
9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”