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Diseases of the Maturing Mind

Eugene Prewitt
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Eugene Prewitt

Director, The Institute of East Asia Training (IEAT)


  • March 7, 2009
    4:00 PM
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If all we were going to have tonight was a Bible study, I wouldn't bring the computer up here because I could have you turn, and you could read it with me in your Bible. But tonight I want to share with you some things from the Testimonies, and I don't suppose that you have them with you, and I don't have them right here, so that's why this is up here.


Two years ago, I took a class at Ouachita Hills College. It's one of the benefits of being a teacher there, that you can take a class any semester for free, if it fits in with your schedule. So, while I told you I don't even have an associate's degree, I am working towards a bachelor's that, at the rate I'm going, will take about 20 years. And this semester I'm taking Hebrew, which is hard. But a couple years ago, I took the class called "Biblical Counseling," and in that class, just like all the other students that were my students in other classes, I was given a research paper, and I was told to research about the imagination and the writings of Ellen White. And what I found there has been so incredibly enlightening that I think I've probably shared it in 50 locations since that time. And you can find a full version of what I want to share tonight at that website: bibledoc.org. It's an 8,000-word document, and I think I'll probably only be able to cover about 1,000 words of it tonight, so I'm referring you there for the rest of it. That was bibledoc.org.


Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Jude, Jude, looking at verse 5, just before Revelation, "I will therefore put you in remembrance, though you once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not." I hope that verse reminds you of Ezekiel 20; that's what we talked about in our last talk. But it's so concise that it highlights an idea that you might not see in Ezekiel 20 or think it through there, and that is that God, the very same people that He saved, He later destroyed those same people. Isn't that a solemn thought, that He saved them and a little bit later destroyed the same class?


Turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Peter, 2 Peter in chapter 1. Jude said, "I'm going to tell you something that you once knew." That reminds me of this passage, 2 Peter, chapter 1, verse 12, "Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you know them, and be established in the present truth." Peter was speaking, well, of whoever he was…I think he was sending this letter to everybody, so it was a very optimistic view. What did Peter say about them? Did they know the present truth? Are they established in it? Then why does he need to tell it to them again? In fact, do you see here the idea that he needs to tell it to them repeatedly? And what if he doesn't share it with them repeatedly? That would be negligence on his part. Can you see that in the passage?


The thought I'm trying to gather from 2 Peter 1 and from Jude verse 5 and on, is that truth only affects us when it has our attention. It's when I'm thinking about the fact that the same men that were saved were later lost, that that softens and warns me and has an impact on my feelings. It's when the present truth is repeated to me, that is when, for example, the fact that Jesus is coming soon; when I'm thinking about that, it affects how I think about everything. And when I don't think about it, that doesn't have much of an impact on my experience at all.


Look at 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, and looking at verse 1, "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also you have received." So, had he talked to them before about the gospel? He had. How did they relate to it when he preached to them the first time? They accepted it, didn't they? Well, how are they doing now? Look at the last part of the verse, "and wherein you stand." He preached it, they accepted it, and now they're holding onto it. Verse 2, "By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached unto you, otherwise,” that's what the word "unless" means there, "otherwise, you have believed in vain."


According to Paul, and it's echoed by Peter and Jude, the gospel has the power to save my soul, but only if it keeps my attention, even if I accepted it. Even if I'm holding onto it, I need to hear it again because it can only save my soul as long as I keep it in mind. And that's why Peter said it would be negligent on his part not to tell us the things that we already know, because though we know them, they might not have our attention, and that is when they change us. Do you follow what I'm communicating? As a teacher, that was discouraging. How many of you really are following and just didn't nod your head? Thank you. Okay.


So, that thought I just shared, is that the truth can save me when it has my attention, but it needs to have my attention repeatedly if it's going to do the work in me it needs to do. Turn back to 2 Peter, 2 Peter, chapter 1, and we're glancing at verses 2 and 3 and 4. Let's work backwards through that. Look at the end of verse 4. Do you see there where it says, "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust"?  So, let's turn it into a quiz question. How is it that the world is being "corrupted"? That's it, and "corrupted" means it's getting worse, if we just want to use a simpler phrase. The world is getting worse because of lo…I almost said love, lusts. Because of lusts, because of its appetites and its desires, the world is getting worse. And the verse looks like, in the last half, that many people are stuck into this process. The world isn't the dirt, it's the people. And if the world is getting worse, then the people in the world are getting worse.


And can we escape that corruption, according to the end of the verse? We can't, so the "how" was in the first half of the verse. It's by the precious promises, particularly by partaking of the divine nature. The promises are how I partake of the divine nature, and if I have the promises, I can escape the corruption. Said simply, "Things are getting worse; people I know are getting worse; I can escape getting worse myself." How do I escape getting worse myself? It's by having Jesus living inside of me, by His promises. But look back at verse 3. We have to do that because verse 4 starts with the word "whereby." Verse 3 says, "According as His divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness." So, His power gives me things that I need for living and for living godly.


I don't see anywhere in Scripture any evidence that those things ever come apart from each other, but I get all the things that I need that way, through…what does it say in verse 3? "Through the knowledge of Him that called us to glory and virtue." It's by the knowledge of God. By the knowledge of Him is how I get everything I need to live a godly life. It's by a knowledge of Him that I get access to the divine promises. Look at verse 2, "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord." What these verses say is the idea of John 17, that is, life eternal is to, “know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." But the idea is that, it's by knowing Jesus that I get access to His divine power inside of me. And if I have that divine power inside of me, that's how I escape the world. And what's going on with the world? It's getting worse. I escape that through the knowledge of God. I've said this like three or four times, and I intended to, because truth only affects us when it has our attention.


Turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians, chapter 10. 2 Corinthians, chapter 10. I'm imagining, though I don't honestly remember this as a concrete memory, but I'm imagining that I probably talked about this at camp meeting last summer. I just imagine that because I often talk about this. But if I do, I'm not apologizing to you because I think that we need to hear these things over and over. Is that very clear from the first few verses we looked at? Look at verse 5, "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God."


Now, let's remember from 2 Peter 1, it's by a knowledge of God that I get everything I need to live and to live godly. It's by a knowledge of God that I escape what the world is going through, namely getting worse. I want to escape those things, and is there something that is competing with the knowledge of God in my experience? It's the imagination in 2 Corinthians 10:5. The imagination has somehow exalted itself in such a way in my mind that it is competing with the knowledge of God for my attention. And I think you can understand that, so I'm just going to teach it to you in illustration and then tell you some things Ellen White says and then read you a few of them and refer you back to the articles. You can read the rest of them yourself.


My imagination was given to me for an incredibly important purpose. God knows that I'm not omniscient. I don't inhabit eternity, either. So, I have heard about the Flood, but I never saw it. I think I know that a judgment is coming in the future, but I haven't been there. I think there's a judgment going on in Heaven right now, but I can't see it. My Savior took my sins on Himself in a painful way. He bore them willingly so I wouldn't have to suffer for my own sins. I've heard about this, but I've never seen it. Except for, do you remember what is says in Galatians? "Before whose eyes [Jesus] Christ has been [evidently] set forth, crucified among you." What Paul was saying was, that in one sense they had seen it. It was with what he called "their mind's eye." Elsewhere in Ephesians 1 he calls it "the eyes of our understanding." These are just Paul's ways of referring to what I'm calling the imagination.


In short, the imagination was given to me to allow me to benefit from truth in such a way that my heart can be softened by Calvary. I can be warned by the judgment going on. I can prepare for the seven last plagues that are coming. I can take warning from the experience of the people at the time of the Flood. I can benefit from the faith of Abraham. All of these things that are not available to my eyes in experience are available to me through the power of my….that's it, through my thoughts.


What a wonderful tool God gave me so my character could be changed. Satan is afraid of the imagination, and he has worked with incredible ingenuity to lead the imagination to exalt itself over the will. So, instead of the will placing the imagination on the judgment, or on Calvary, or on the time of Noah, or remembering Lot's wife, instead of the will being in charge of the imagination, the imagination takes charge of itself. And Ellen White describes this condition as a disease of the imagination. Just like the body has many diseases, so also the mind. It's not just one disease of the mind; Ellen White describes, perhaps, a score of them. I refer to them in that article I told you about.


I want to read you a list; I was just scribbling on it during the song service back here. I was going through my own article because I can't remember everything. I can't remember even part. (That was such an understatement.)  I wrote it down so I could share it with you. Do you know, a diseased imagination aggravates one's own illness. I mean, Ellen White describes how someone who's sick, as he uses his mind to think about what might come of his sickness, or about how sick he is, as his thoughts dwell on that kind of morbid state, it literally has an impact on his body. And through disease of the imagination, the body is enfeebled.


Ellen White talks about how the imagination often runs off. In her day, it was through novel reading that this often was touched off. In our day, I'm sure it would be television or kindred disasters. The imagination envisions some ideal kind of life, and in thinking about the way it wishes things were…For example, she talks about how it troubles the real-live marriage in the home because one or the other spouse is imagining what marriage ought to be like, but the picture did not come from any real source. Marriage problems are often a result of a diseased imagination. She describes how some people are unfitted for work. By thinking about life, how wonderful it could be, it makes their own life seem unbearable, how much lower it is than what they would like; and just thinking about that, it spoils them.


She talks about how some people, when they're ill (and I know that she describes this happening to people even who aren't ill), that they begin to imagine what other people think about them. That is a very unhealthy use of your imagination. It's a common one, to set your mind as if you could read someone else's. And a diseased imagination often thinks that others don't care for it. I could imagine that in my illness, no one really loves me. Some of you may have had thoughts and feelings like that, and if you have, I'd like you to consider the possibility that that is a symptom of a diseased imagination. It's very unlikely that it's based upon any real fact, as it might seem to you it is. Many times, preachers touch off diseases of the imagination when in religious work they make appeals that appeal to the imagination. That is, in their appeals, in the use they make, for example, of stories, Ellen White describes these kinds of appeals, how they affect the imagination. The imagination gets excited, and it responds emotionally to those kinds of appeals, but then there are two negative effects.


First of all, the commitment doesn't end up lasting, but second of all, the imagination doesn't need much encouragement to head off on a trip of its own. And I'll just say it to ministers and gospel workers and those who want to be something like that, realize the imagination is competing with you for the attention of the people, and you don't want to encourage your competition.


That sin that Ellen White calls "secret vice" and what usually goes with it, fantasizing, is perhaps one of the most common and easy to recognize diseases of the imagination. And perhaps surprisingly to some very discouraged males, Ellen White distinctly describes how to be free and cured of that disease. I will read that statement to you tonight before we're done. I'll read that one.


I'm embarrassed to say this next one is one that I've experienced. If I hadn't experienced it, I probably wouldn't describe it to anybody because it seems so unreal. Thinking about yourself kind of as a hero in an imaginary scenario or scene or of trouble or problems or whatever it could be, thinking of yourself that way is just a normal (I say normal hoping that I'm normal)…is part of the list that she gives of diseases of the imagination. From my little experience, I think it's more common to men than it is to ladies. But in the same vein, castle building, building up a wonderful, imaginary situation of how you'd like life to be, might be the same other side of the coin for the other gender. It's a disease of the imagination.


The imagination, going after…do you see a pattern? God intended the imagination to be used on things that are real but not accessible. Satan has so worked with that part of the mind, that even its name gives the idea that it was designed for things that are unreal. But it was never created to be set on things unreal.


So Ellen White describes how some people imagine that they are poor when they aren't really poor. They imagine that they have needs. She talks about "health paranoia" and even "health superstition" as diseases of the imagination. The extreme cases of these I think are kind of famous, and we talk about it. The word isn't coming to me right now, but I don't even want to use it in case someone here has been accused of having it. But from what I've read of what she says, it's a very common illness where people imagine that certain circumstances will make them sick, for example. Like going outside in the cold. She described people who were afraid if they had a window open, that it would make them sick. And she describes that, as a disease of the imagination, that makes them sick.


Thinking about my own weakness, that is, in a dejected-type way, to be aware of my own weakness is very healthy. It can make me dependent on my Savior. But to spend my time thinking about a way that gets me down, about my weakness, instead of uniting my weakness to His strength, I just unite my weakness to my imagination, and that combination is just horrible for the self. Here's one, and those of you who are on church boards, you ought to listen to this: Losing a calm frame of mind when in a religious discussion, Ellen White attributes to a disease of the imagination. It's because the mind isn't healthy and working right that it gets so easily excitable. And if you've realized that's you, you ought to read this article.


Maybe that's enough telling you about problems, and I should just start reading you some incredible statements. You could gather some of the material in these statements, even if we never read it, just from the Bible study we had earlier. I mean, what should the mind be placed upon? Wholesome scenes. The Bible, for example, thinking through the stories of the Bible and imagining scene by scene the things that are there. That's exactly what the imagination was given for; that's the tool; that's how it's to be used. I'm not going to give you the references here because almost every reference is from the second volume of Mind, Character, and Personality, the chapter called "The Imagination." You can find them all yourself or go to the article where all the references are there.


"Few realize that it is a duty to exercise control over the thoughts and imaginations. It is difficult to keep the undisciplined mind fixed upon profitable subjects. But if the thoughts are not properly employed, religion cannot flourish in the soul. The mind must be preoccupied with sacred and eternal things, or it will cherish trifling and superficial thoughts." Someone's chafing and saying, "He should give the reference," so that's page 587, and everything else I read is from the three or four pages after that.


"Had you trained your mind to dwell upon elevated subjects, meditating upon heavenly themes, you could have done much good. You could have had an influence upon the minds of others to turn their selfish thoughts and world-loving dispositions into the channel of spirituality." If you say that backwards, "Why are we so inept at changing people's minds to a higher train of thought?" This diagnoses the problem because our own minds are not steadfastly set upon a higher train of thought. We have a deficient quantity of heavenly thoughts to draw from, and it makes it difficult for us to carry on or to change towards a better end a heavenly conversation. I mean, change towards a heavenly conversation one that isn't that way. 


I'm going to find for you that statement about dealing with immoral thoughts. "The first work of those who would reform is to purify the imagination. Our meditations should be such as will elevate the mind." I'm going to go on reading, but I hope you listen to that thought enough to know that if you have found that your spiritual growth is so slow compared to what you wish it was, I want to suggest to you that it's very likely because you're just missing a fundamental, simple idea about how the mind was designed to work. That my experience in what I've read and my experience in what I've experienced is that, if we use the mind the way God intended, spiritual development keeps pace with physical development. I mean, that we just can grow at a fast rate.


So she quotes at this point Philippians 4:8. I'm going to skip over the quotation, but you should remember how it ends, "think on…,” and it really wasn't intended to be an optional business for us.


"Here is a wide field in which the mind can safely range. If Satan seeks to turn it to low and sensual things, bring it back. When corrupt imaginings seek to gain possession of your mind, flee to the throne of grace, and pray for strength from heaven." Listen carefully, "By the grace of Christ it is possible for us to reject impure thoughts…Jesus will attract the mind, purify the thoughts, and cleanse the heart from every secret sin." She wrote that idea in more than one location, and you know how sometimes she varied the wording of the same idea in several places? In one of them she says, "He will attract the mind like a magnet." What she communicates is that He is looking, God is looking to see if we are determined to keep our mind on holy things. And when we try to keep it there when we're being attracted to sensual thoughts, while we add to this process our effort, He adds to the process His divine power. And in the process, we're enabled to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.


This next one is particularly easy for those that live in this part of the United States. "The burden of sin, with its unrest and unsatisfied desires, lies at the very foundation of a large share of the maladies the sinner suffers. Christ is the Mighty Healer of the sin-sick soul. These poor, afflicted ones need to have a clearer knowledge of Him whom to know aright is life eternal. They need to be patiently and kindly yet earnestly taught how to throw," listen carefully, "how to throw open the windows of the soul and let the sunlight of God's love come in to illuminate the darkened chambers of the mind. The most exalted spiritual truths may be brought home to the heart," listen carefully, "by the things of nature. The birds of the air, the flowers of the field in their glowing beauty, the springing grain, the fruitful branches of the vine, the trees putting forth their tender buds, the glorious sunset, the crimson clouds predicting a fair morrow, the recurring seasons—all these may teach us precious lessons of trust and faith. The imagination has here a fruitful field in which to range. The intelligent mind may contemplate with the greatest satisfaction those lessons of divine truth which the world's Redeemer has associated with the things of nature."


I talked to you how the mind could be placed on the past, on Heaven, on the future, on Calvary, and also with great benefit can be placed on the lessons that God has placed in nature. This is healing to the mind. There's just far too much here for us really to summarize. I think instead of reading you more, I'm going to tell you just a bit more what's there and then leave it with you to go after it. It's worth your going after.


I've had, in my last few years of teaching (I've been teaching 19 years), I've had, in my 19 years of teaching, a number of students who struggled with schizophrenia. I think some of you in a group this size, perhaps some of you have relatives that have this illness. Schizophrenia is just one of the most commonly understood—it’s not understood—one of the most commonly named and diagnosed diseases of the imagination. And I tried some things I found here, and I found them to be honestly helpful, even with the advanced case. I hope you're following me. I think most of you have a diseased imagination, and I'm using schizophrenia as an example of how God's principles even work with advanced illness only as a way to encourage you to try it with the moderate diseases that we're facing.


Do you know that Ellen White describes how working with the hands is excellent for the imagination? How that being primarily a "brain laborer" is not good for the imagination. Not that you all should quit your "brain-laboring" jobs, but people that have "brain-laboring" jobs ought to be careful to make sure they get some physical activity because the imagination can become diseased if it doesn't have that kind of outlet.


What does work do? Work makes a connection between the thoughts and reality. That is, if I'm not paying attention to what I'm doing with my hand, I could get my finger badly injured. There's just something about really working that makes a connect, that in, for example, schizophrenia has been lost.


So then, I have two students, one named Chadwick (I probably shouldn't say their names), one that I just mentioned his name, and I shouldn't have, and another whose name I won't mention because I shouldn't. One of these I once had to take to a mental hospital because of the state of disease of his mind. I mean, I couldn’t take care of him any longer where I was. But years later, I found him working in a wallpaper business. He owned it himself. He was making a go at it. And that business of connecting and doing what had to be done, and working for his own food, just the opposite of what many treatments for people like him would do, largely eliminated the disease of his mind.


I had another whose disease progressed to such a stage that he was stalking an old lady, and he followed her into her house. And at that point, we just couldn't keep him around. And I so don't recommend that you join the military, but he did. And something slipped in their process of trying to evaluate people's mental health, and he made it in. And, you know, after four years, he called me from Germany. He asked about what the state of his school bill had been when he was forced to leave. He described for me how he was bringing people to church there, and he sent a check to pay off his school bill in the amount of thousands of dollars. What had happened is, in the military there had been quite a reconnect. You see, I didn't understand these things when he was with me, but it was so bad for him to be in a room by himself just thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. It was the very worst thing for him, but that didn't happen when he got into that disciplined situation. There was a reconnect between his mind and his hands, and it helped.


So, do you think I'm recommending military service? What I'm recommending is a connect between your mind and your hands. I recommend that you read the paper because so much of what we learn about lifestyle is designed to help the imagination. So much about what I talked about in that little Bible study about you just using your will to conquer your imagination, that is, how do you conquer the imagination? You make it a tool for you instead of it guiding you, and you place it on healthy places. When you use your mind to think about nature, for example, you're doing the right thing with your mind. You've cast down your imagination to where it ought to be.


So, that's the entire thought. The summary of this entire weekend I can give, then I'm going to have just a few minutes of question and answer, and then we'll close. If no one has any questions, then we'll close even sooner. But this weekend I've tried to talk to you about how to think. I think that bothered a couple people, I know it does because they told me so, but here's what I was aiming at: That we would learn to distinguish between thinking and concluding; that we would learn the proper way to gather data and to evaluate it, so that we can come closer to what is right; that we would have in our mind that this is such a worthy endeavor, the truth can save our souls, and lies tend to create rebellion.


So, thinking correctly has a lot to do with overcoming the devil on this planet. The devil is afraid of the power of the mind when set on holy things and has worked overtime, he has, to disease our imagination. So, after I studied this topic, I began to see entire congregations as diseased individuals. I really think that we don't have a high level of mental health, but we can have it. The cure is there. It's not a complex one; it doesn't involve any fancy "goos." It's just using our minds correctly.


When we do these things, our lives become so much more pleasant. We become so much more pleasant to the people around us. So many of the things that utterly perplex us, Ellen White describes in one of those statements. She says, "To the mind that is sound, they won't even…" She says, "The sound mind will not even notice them," that is, the kind of things that really annoy those that have a diseased imagination.


All right, I said I would close, and I am done. Back somewhere on this side, in the middle, is a little package full of information about the academy and college where I teach. The college has had incredible growth this year. Three semesters ago, we were at 25 students, then the semester before this, we were at 35 students. This semester we started out with 50 students, and that's really bucking the trend in education right now. So, if you're interested, anyway, see me; I'll give you the information. I'd be happy to do that. God can teach you where you are, and I'm very glad about that. Let's kneel for prayer.


Our Father in Heaven, I ask that You would fulfill Your promise, that You would finish the work that You started in us. I ask that You would lead the very souls with the greatest need to that website, really, to the councils that You penned through Ellen White, to find their cure for the diseases that plague our minds. And I ask for each young person here, that You would find a way to lead them to a maturing process that would not include a rebellion against You and Your truth. I ask for these gifts because we need them. And in the name of Jesus. Amen.


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