Mindfulness is a popular subject these days. For many Christians, the term evokes images of “people sitting in pretzel poses on tiny cushions while they appear to hum unintelligible sounds.” This type of mindfulness is often really mindlessness as the goal is to empty the mind of all thought. Charles Stone wants to introduce us to a distinctly Christian form of mindfulness that he calls holy noticing. Is this just some Eastern meditation with a Christian label slapped on? No, holy noticing is very different: “We don’t stop thinking when we practice mindful living. Rather we stop to think. Rather than thoughtlessness, we become thought-full and mind-ful of God’s truth, power, promises, and presence.”
Holy Noticing by Charles Stone. Moody Press, 2019.*
Stone builds his mindfulness on Christian disciplines rooted in Scripture and on modern neuroscience. He says, “Holy noticing is an ancient Christian practice that helps us flourish spiritually and engage the present moment to pause and notice what is happening now, all with a holy purpose.” He says the goal of holy noticing is spiritual flourishing, what the Hebrews called shalom – “completeness, soundness, wholeness, and experiential peace.”
Noticing Real Life
This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky theory; it’s rooted in Stone’s own struggles as a father and pastor. His interest in neuroscience started when his daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of one. He wanted to know everything he could to help her. Years later, he would apply this learning to his own stress in ministry:
“At times I could not stop the incessant mental chatter about such issues as an ongoing conflict with a church leader, uncertainty about our church’s financial future, or discouragement that my church was not growing. As I lay in bed at night unable to sleep, I prayed. I quoted Scripture. I commanded Satan to leave me alone. I took melatonin. I ate Cheetos. But whatever I did to quiet my mind failed.”
Sound familiar? Every pastor has had a similar experience, and most people know how deep-level stress can be so overwhelming. Stone’s journey took him deeper into both science and spirituality. There he discovered the emotional side of spirituality and how mindfulness can help with those emotions.
“As I continued to learn more about it and began to incorporate the practice into my spiritual disciplines, I began to experience greater peace. I slept better (far less Cheetos). I felt better physically. I reacted less. I was more present and engaged with others in their pain. My relationships improved. I controlled my thoughts better. I became more comfortable in my own skin. My spiritual life moved to a new level. My soul seemed more alive and awakened to others and to Jesus.”
Practicing Holy Noticing
Over the years, Stone developed various mindfulness practices to help him notice what God is doing in and around him. In an earlier book, People-Pleasing Pastors, he used the acrostic BEETS to guide his practice (I wrote about this practice in an earlier article). This acrostic has evolved into the more mature (and less likely to stain the carpet) BREATHe. The acrostic forms the practice and serves as a reminder to use your breathing to help you focus. Each letter carries a God-focused purpose and practice. I won’t describe each practice here – you’ll have to buy the book.
- Afflictive emotions
- engage the world like Christ
Note that the final letter is lowercase because it isn’t actually something that you do in the practice. Rather, it describes the purpose of the practice – a reminder to be fully engaged with God and others for the sake of Christ.
In addition to various practices, Stone offers what he calls “Anchor Verses.” These are passages of Scripture that, when memorized, help us focus on the holy purpose of each step. By using these verses, he keeps the whole practice focused on God. “Holy noticing is a way to bring intentional awareness in the present moment to what and who is around us and what we’re doing, thinking, and feeling – all from God’s perspective.”
You might be thinking, “But I enjoy my regular Bible study and prayer times. I don’t want to give those up.” Don’t worry. Those times are about to get better. “Holy noticing does not replace but rather complements other spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, and Scripture meditation. It’s a way to make other disciplines richer, more effective, less boring, and more meaningful.”
Does Holy Noticing work?
In short, yes. I’ve been using an earlier version of this practice for over a year. It has really enhanced my ability to notice God’s presence not just in my quiet time but in most moments of my daily life. You can read more about the 10 Powerful Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness. However, I think the only way to be fully convinced is to incorporate the practice into your own life and don’t stop until it is a habit.
Who Would Benefit from This Book?
Like most books on spiritual discipline, skeptics will find little value. Disciplines need to be practiced until they become comfortable before we truly notice the full benefit. However, if you are interested in mindfulness, emotional health, soul care, or seeing God in more of life – this book is for you. I suggest you read through it quickly to get the big picture and then go slowly through each practice. Take a week or two to incorporate each letter into your life. Don’t try to do it all at once; ease into it so it doesn’t become a shock to your spiritual system.
While there are other books on a Christian approach to mindfulness going all the way back to the Desert Fathers. I don’t know of any other books quite like this one. What makes this book unique is how Stone applies neuroscience to not only tell us what to do but why it works. He gives us confidence in God’s creation design as we connect with the practices that the ancients knew.
A Note to Pastors
This book would be very useful in discipleship. I know of no other practice that so fully incorporates the whole person in meditation on Scripture, prayer, and relationship with God. It is highly biblical in that every practice is rooted in texts from the Bible (not just proof texts).
More importantly, this book could save your ministry. If you, like me and Pastor Stone, have ever been overwhelmed by the stress of ministry; if you are one of the more than 30% of pastors at risk of burnout; if you are neglecting your spiritual life in order to get more done – this book could help you find freedom and focus that will impact your whole ministry. These practices helped me to be still and know God, and that can make all the difference!
For more information, check out the podcast and video below. If you have questions about the book, leave a comment and I will try to respond to each one.
Interview with Charles Stone on the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcast
Book Trailer YouTube
*I was given a review copy of this book because I’m a huge fan of Charles Stone’s other books. He invited me to be part of the launch team. All the publisher asked is that I provide an honest review and that is what I’ve tried to do.