Saturday, February 14, 2015

Think On These Things

Photo taken from: www.unlearning101.com
                I think too much. I do, I admit it. My mind is constantly processing something. Whether it is focusing on something that just happened, something that is going to happen, or something that I think might happen; either way, I am always thinking about something. The problem with this is that I am noticing that what my thoughts dwell on, my heart, then begins to react to the thoughts I am
dwelling on. Then, eventually, if I am not careful, my feet soon follow and I wind up angry, upset and I just want to take someone’s head off. Nine times out of ten, it is my husband’s head that I want to take off, because usually he is the one that is pushing all my buttons. Today I found myself focusing on all the negative things about my marriage, and my husband. I found myself getting angrier and angrier about all of it, all twenty years of it. Then it hit me, my thoughts were the problem, not my husband.
                “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of a good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy- mediate on these things.” Philippians 4:8
                Every time I read this verse that Paul wrote for us, I am filled with a peace that calms my heart and soul. Paul writes to us in the previous verses that we should be “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) This morning I boarded a cruise line for disaster my thoughts. I have to admit and be one hundred percent honest with you that the mere presence of my husband this morning brought me to the breaking point of my anger. I had to get my heart right, and I knew it. I knew that my heart was as unloving as unloving could get, and I needed immediate help. So I ran to my Lord, and to His word. The only place I knew I could get the heart surgery I so desperately needed today.
                Paul tells us that we are to meditate on these things in verse 8 that he has listed for us. Now, this is not a literal list, not a check list of things we are to concentrate on all at once. But at times we will need to be reminded that when our thoughts start to take the cruise line for disaster, there is a way off the boat before it goes too far out to sea.  I believe Paul writes these things to help guide us into a peace not only with God but with our fellow humans as well.  You see, our thoughts control so much more of our lives than we consider. Paul starts in verse 6 by telling us not to be anxious. Don’t get all worked up about things that don’t matter. (Can I get a witness?!)
After being married for twenty years, if someone were to ask me to give them a tip for a healthy marriage, one of the first things I would say to them is to choose your battles. Don’t get upset and worked up over things that don’t matter one way or the other. Why are we anxious for anything, anyway? Why are we worried or fretting about things that God has complete control over? If we love God, we trust God, and if we trust God then we have nothing to worry about. Take our focus off of the situation and turn it back to the One who has it all under His control. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if it is really worth fighting over, most likely it isn’t.
                Paul then goes on to tell us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard {our} hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7, parenthesis mine) The peace of God will guard our hearts and our minds because they are stayed on Him and in Him. What got my heart off course were my thoughts. I was going over in my mind all the things that my husband has done these past few weeks that have hurt me or upset me. I get upset when he yells at me for no reason, or when I ask him to do something and two days later I am still waiting for him to start. I get upset when he does not behave in life the way that I think he should behave. Then it hit me, the answer to all the relationship problems I have ever had lies in these eight simple words- the way that I think he should behave. We expect people to live like us, to walk like us, and to talk like us, and when they don’t behave the way that we think they should, we become upset and begin to dwell on things that mean very little in the eyes of God.
               Paul goes on to tell us that the peace of God will also guard our hearts, because we will be focused on Him and not on ourselves or others. Have you ever noticed that when you are being selfish you tend to be unhappy or angry? I know for me, that is exactly what was happening. I was being selfish and thinking about myself and my feelings, not thinking about how God was viewing all of this. I was focused on me, myself and I, the unholy trinity. You see, what we think about, what we dwell on has a direct impact on the way our hearts react to situations. Negative minds are unhappy and unsettled minds. Besides, think about this for one minute- God is not a negative thinker, and we shouldn’t be either. God does not look at me and see all the bad, ugly and ungodly attitudes of sin that are in my heart. He could, but He chooses not to. Instead, He looks at me and sees the glory of His Son Jesus Christ, and sees the goodness of His grace upon me. He looks at me as a glass half-full, not a glass half-empty. Perhaps we all need to start seeing life the way God sees it. Maybe then our lives would be filled with an unsurpassed peace rather than an unsettled hunger for it.
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                Paul tells us that we need to change the focus of our minds if we want to live a peaceful life in the presence of God and our fellow brothers and sisters. Paul tells us that we need to meditate upon, to think and train our minds to focus on whatever is true. The word Paul uses here for true, means actual. Sometimes I find that I think on things that are not true at all. I focus on the “would be’s”, the “what if’s” and the “maybe’s”. All these end up doing is leading me down a path of worry and I end up getting all worked up over nothing because all of the “would be’s”, the “what if’s” and the “maybe’s” never actually happen. If we desire a heart of peace towards the people in our lives, and a heart of peace with our God, then we need to focus our minds on what is actually true, not the what if’s, the would be’s or the maybe’s. We need to stick to the truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God!
                Next Paul tells us that we need to focus our minds and our attention on those things that are noble. Some bible versions have honorable or honest. They all mean the same thing. Focusing our minds on whatever we can that is honest, and honorable. Is what we are thinking about honorable? Does it bring us to a reverential state of mind? People are going to hurt us, and say things to us that are going to be harsh and hard to take. Sometimes things are going to happen in our homes, in our jobs, even in our churches that are going to cause us to take a step back. Life is going to happen to you, no matter how you try to avoid it. How we react to a situation or a hurt is just as important as how we think on it. If our thoughts are leading us down paths that cause us to shy away from the Lord, or that we know would not be pleasing to the Lord, then they are most likely less than honorable, and we need to cast them aside, focusing our mind on the One who is honorable above all.
                Now Paul asks us to take a moment to think about those things that are just. Just is a word that describes something upright, something virtuous. It can also refer to the keeping of God’s commands. Is what you are thinking about in accordance with God’s Word? For me, the only thing I know of that is truly just is God’s Word. When I start to think about all the injustice in this world, and the injustices done to me by others, my heart begins to find its way into anger, and the next think I know I am complaining and railing against those who have hurt me. I am angry and I want revenge. But we know that the Lord alone is the only one who has any right to take vengeance upon anyone. (Romans 12:19) If my thoughts are dwelling on the unjust, then I need to refocus them on His word- which is Just.
                When we look around this world today there is not a whole lot that we can call pure. Even Creation itself is tainted with sin. In all its splendor and all its glory even creation is not pure in every form. It is not without fault. But I know who is. Jesus. He is without fault. He is pure from every possible sin, every possible fault, every possible negative thing that can enter into our lives, He is pure from it. Sin is a sneaky vice that makes its way into our thoughts, and then it gets into our hearts, and then the next thing you know you are walking down the path, following wherever it may lead you.  When we are tempted in our thoughts to think or dwell on the faults of others, we need to be reminded that Jesus Christ is the only one who ever lived without fault or blemish. We are not pure, only He is pure. Turn your attention off of others, and put them back on the one who died for the sins of the whole world. Besides, Jesus reminds us that the speck we are pointing out in that other person is only seen by us because we have a much larger version of it in ourselves. (Matthew 7:4)
                Next Paul tells us to focus our attention and our minds on those things that are lovely. Whatever is pleasing to the Lord should also be pleasing to us. My thoughts were not lovely, in fact they were unlovely. All I could think about was how I did everything and he did nothing. I was so focused on what he didn’t do that I could not see what he did do. For instance, he is an excellent and faithful provider. He works diligently and faithfully so that I don’t have to work full time. I own and operate a small pet care company, but only because he has worked faithfully and long enough to give me the opportunity to do so. Whatever is pleasing to the Lord, think on that instead. Seek out the glass half-full, not the one that is half-empty.
                Paul now goes into things that are of a good report, and if there is any virtue, and if by chance there is anything praiseworthy our thoughts need to be focused on those things only. When I looked up the definition of “a good report” I was a little, okay a lot, convicted in my heart. For something to be of a good report it must be uttered words of good. The words that were going through my mind were not good ones, they were less than good, and to be completely transparent here- they were really bad. My thoughts were thoughts of leaving him, and begging the Lord to just let me divorce him! (It is true- I was actually letting my thoughts go that way) But that is how bad my thoughts were getting, because I let them have complete control and I did nothing to stop them. I did not seek any virtue or moral excellence in my thoughts towards my husband. I did not seek to find anything of worth in him or about him. All I cared about was tearing him down in my thoughts because he was not living his life the way that I thought he needed to be living it.
Paul tells us that we must learn to cast down “imaginations and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,” (2 Corinthians 10:5) We must take that stand against our thoughts and give them over to our God who alone can guard our hearts from the disastrous road our thoughts are travelling. We must learn to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” His will for us is to think and dwell on the things of good and not of evil. He desires us to have peace, and He knows that peace begins in our thoughts. Take them captive, cast them down and bring them into His care, we can do it if we truly want to.
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                The majority of our problems with our spouses, our friends, our co-workers, our children, or with people in general are because we don’t like the way they are doing things, or the way they are living their lives. We want them to change, to do better, to live more like us. When truth be told, none of us are actually living very godly lives either. The way we see a situation, or a person, directly impacts the thoughts that we will have about it, and them. If our thoughts are focused on the things of God, then our hearts will follow those thoughts. Not every single thing that Paul lists off for us in Philippians 4:8 will be in our thoughts all the time. There will be instances when I need to take my mind of the “what if’s” and the “would be’s” and the “maybe’s” and focus on the facts. There will be times when I will be so focused on the faults of others that I will need to refocus my mind on the things of God, on Jesus Christ, the only one to ever live a pure and faultless life. There will be times when my heart seeks revenge and retaliation and I will need to run to His word and seek out His justice, not mine. No matter what is happening to us, or who is doing it to us, our thoughts will determine how our hearts react to all that life throws at us.

              The way we see people, the way we think about them in our thoughts will determine how our hearts respond to them and to whatever else might come our way. Paul tells us that if we want to live our lives in a peace that surpasses all understanding then we need to allow God to guard our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. The way we think leads our hearts, and our hearts lead our feet. What we allow our minds to dwell on, our hearts will also dwell there, and then, before we know it, we are walking onto the boat headed out to sea, straight for disaster.  What you think about is important and will determine where your feet take your heart, whether you want to go that way or not.  Think, therefore, on these things, and if all else fails, think on Jesus, for He is all these things. Amen.