What you think about is important.
Lately I’ve been reading from Paul’s letters. And I can’t get over how much significance he gives to our thoughts and our minds. What we think about, and the way in which we consider it, greatly affects our lives — especially those of us who aspire to be like Christ. Here are three principles I’ve taken from Philippians 4:4-9 and Colossians 3:1-11. The passages themselves are well worth a read. But today I’ll leave you with only the principles.
Preface: The way I understand (and experience) it, there are three things on which I can meditate: evil, the anxieties and concerns associated with the future, or that which is good. And Paul addresses how we should deal with our thoughts in each of these situations.
I Will Control My Thoughts
- I will put to death all evil thoughts. Any temptation will be immediately dismissed from my mind. When a bad attitude comes to my attention, I will deal with it both severely and with immediacy. Sin will not be further entertained or regarded as having any value.
- I will turn my anxieties into prayer requests. I will not meditate on my worries or concerns, but instead will offer them to God. He is both able and willing to give me peace.
- I will think on what is good and right and pure and lovely. I am to direct my mind and my heart to dwell on the things of God.
What’s On My Mind
- We (or I at least) have a tendency to believe we are not sinning unless we perform evil acts. Whether it be lust, rage, greed, or some other sin, we convince ourselves it’s okay to think about it (consider it, even) — provided we don’t act on our thoughts. [This despite Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.] I’m convinced Christians entertain far too many* sexual thoughts about women (or romantic ones about men) to whom they’re not married. We hold anger tightly in our hearts as if it were meant to be there. We spend much of our free time meditating on what we could do if only we had a little more cash. We’ve become accomplished at keeping our hands clean — while our minds remain filthy.
- Some of us may have a tendency to tell others they shouldn’t worry. I am
sometimesextremely guilty of this. I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 and don’t understand why some people worry so much. “Just don’t do it,” I think. But that’s not Paul’s solution to ridding our lives of anxiety. He doesn’t say to put these worrisome thoughts to death (as he says of sinful thoughts); instead he suggests we turn them into prayers to God. We give our anxieties to God, and he exchanges them for peace.
- We think of “meditation” as a good thing (I think) — but it can only be as good as those subjects on which we meditate. Meditation on evil is sin. Meditation on tomorrow is worry. Meditation on that which is of God, though, is both healthy and beneficial.
- Thinking on those things which are good does not limit our thoughts to scripture, cuddly angels, and service to old people. I’d argue it has more to do with recognizing God at work in the world, and doing away with this false dichotomy of spiritual versus physical. God is present in all, and when we meditate on what is good and true, we see our relationships and daily activities in the light of a God-filled existence. That is good — seeing kingdom principles at work in the “mundane.”
A Few Practical Ideas
- Becoming a Christian isn’t a magical charm by which our thoughts are transformed overnight, or Paul wouldn’t have had to write these things. If we’re not actively working to train ourselves to think better, we won’t. We need a plan of action. You need to develop one.
- When evil enters my mind, I say aloud, “Get away from me, satan. I’m a child of God, and you have no power over me.” Or something like that at least. And then I pray that God will help me to cast these sinful thoughts out of my mind. [Many of us are open to the prayer part, but shy away from the speaking aloud bit. But I know for me…] Opposing the devil out loud with words seems to be more helpful than prayer alone. I believe there is much power in our words. [And it doesn’t hurt that we’re calling something sin out loud, and will therefore hear it called that as well.]
- I don’t worry a great deal. Very rarely, actually. I suppose it is a gift that God has given me; and I’m thankful for it. But my best practical advice in this area, then, is not for those of us who worry, but for those of us who don’t. We should have patience with those who do struggle with anxiety and worry. Encourage them to hand every worry over to God. Help them to turn those anxieties into prayers. Don’t oversimplify it and discount their feelings by saying, “Just don’t worry. It’s a sin.”
- I’m currently trying to think of ways to train myself to meditate on that which is good. My best idea so far is to wear a bracelet (I don’t normally wear a watch or anything on my wrist). For at least a time, then, I’ll not be able to forget I have something on my wrist. And every time I notice it there, I will take a moment to think on God’s goodness in my life and to say a short prayer of thanksgiving.
Do you guys have some other thoughts on the subject — or better yet practical ideas for training our minds?
* Not that even one is appropriate.