Taking Control Of Our Thinking
Someone has said that the greatest addiction our society faces is the addiction to anxiety. We talked about overcoming Anxiety in our last study in Philippians. Now as we move to verses 8-9 we note a connection. In verse 7 we are told that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds when we pray rather than fret. Notice how the next two verses ends.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8,9]
The focus in both texts is on how to experience the peace of God rather than the churning of the world. In our last message we looked at the importance of talking to God. In a sense, this text challenges us in the way we talk to ourselves. What we think about and how we interpret the things that are happening around us create the churning that so often is a part of our living.
There is a famous scene in Peter Pan. Peter is in the children’s bedroom; they have seen him fly; and they wish to fly too. They have tried it from the floor and they have tried it from the beds and the result is failure. “How do you do it?” John asked. And Peter answered: “You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts and they lift you up in the air.” That sentiment is a little sappy but it also contains a measure of truth. The only way to defeat evil thoughts is to learn to think differently.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Cor. 10:5
Our thinking is something we must take charge over. If we don’t, it will control us. Paul tells us that we need to be intentional about focusing our minds. This morning I want to look at two general principles that are contained in these verses.
We are to Focus on What is True Rather Than on What is Not
The word true can stand in opposition to many different words. Something can be true instead of false; true instead of fickle (as in a true friend), true instead of crooked (a wall that is “true”), true instead of phony (the true Messiah). So which use of “true” does Paul intend. Could it be that he means all of them? We are to spend our time thinking about the things that are accurate, genuine, and reliable. In order to do this we need to do at least three things.
First, we must become aware of the falsehoods that masquerade as truth
We must learn to think consciously. I know that sounds redundant but I don’t think it is. We are being given ideas and philosophies all the time. Sometimes we are aware of those ideas. But often time we are not. Much of what takes place is on a sub-conscious level. Our brain is hearing them and receiving these messages, but we aren’t really aware of it.
It wasn’t all that long ago that we learned that many people were (and maybe still are) using subliminal messages. In a movie the theatre would insert several scattered frames into the movie that might show a bucket of popcorn, a icy glass of soda, some candy. You wouldn’t be able to see these frames because they would go by so quickly, but your brain would see it and immediately you’d start desiring popcorn. It was a subtle form of mind control and it is illegal to engage in such practices.
But this doesn’t change the fact that our subconscious is receiving much more information than we realize. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.
- Have you ever awakened to a clock radio and then found that all day long you were humming the song that was playing? You may not have “heard” the song but you “heard” it.
- Have you ever been watching a ballgame and suddenly found yourself humming the music from some Commercial? Not only are advertisers trying to persuade us to buy their product, but commercials are also presenting certain values. The PBS program “Merchants of Cool” reveal that marketers are very deliberate in selling not just products, but also sell culture and attitudes that will be advantageous for their product.
- We watch movies, television, theatre and even the news. These things are often promoting certain values and behaviors that we don’t quickly see because we consider entertainment values neutral . . .it’s not.
- You may remember the story of the woman who always cut off the ends of the beef roast before cooking it. Her husband didn’t understand all the waste, so he asked her why she did that. She said she didn’t know, that just the way her mother always did it. The next time she was with her mom she asked why she always cut off the ends of the roast before cooking it. Mom said that was the way Grandma always did it. Fortunately Grandma was still around. When Grandma was asked why she always cut off the ends of the roast she responded, “Because it was the only way I could fit it into the pan I had.” Even our family and friends influence us in ways we aren’t aware of.
We must work to make these messages conscious so that we can interact with them. How do we do this?
- Talk to the television and to the movies you watch (if you’re in a theatre it is probably best to speak silently or quietly, though others need to interact as you do . . . they may not want to think.). Ask, “what are you trying to get me to believe?”
- Turn the television and radio off if it is just serving as background noise because you are hearing more than you realize.
- As yourself why you do and think the way you do. If it is “just the way you think” then take some time and try to identify WHY you think that way.
- Learn to ask newcasters, “Is there more to this story?” Try to always find out the “other side” because it usually gives a very different slant on the “truth”.
Second, we must be intentional about pursuing the truth
Paul tells us to think about the pure (that which accurately reflects God) and to focus on the right (or the righteous . . .that which pleases God.) We don’t naturally think godly thoughts. We have to work at it. It is somewhat like programming a computer. We must put the information in the computer before it is of any use to us.
Obviously the place to start is with the Word of God. As we think on God’s Word we are anchoring ourselves to a truth that will not drift and is not subject to the whims of public opinion. We need to do more than simply read the Bible, we must know the Bible. We must meditate on God’s truth and apply His values and direction to our life. So what can we do?
- Make time to read and interact with the Bible daily
- Memorize verses of the Bible so you can have them when you need them and so they can get deep into your heart. Go into any Christian bookstore and they can show you a number of Bible memorization aids. If they can’t, I will.
- Discuss your day with the Lord. Talk to Him about the troublesome people and situations in your life. Seek His perspective and then listen to what He says.
- Take notes during a sermon
- Get involved in a Sunday School Class
- Read books that expound or point to God’s Word
- Make it a point to ask, “What is God’s perspective on this situation?”
We must be diligent and intentional about pursuing the truth.
Have you ever been on a river with a canoe or a boat? Suppose you were going to paddle upstream from Fort Madison IA. North to Burlington IA. It would be a good challenge. Now suppose after awhile you decided that the view was wonderful and you decided to just lay back in the boat and enjoy the day. What would happen? If you waited too long you would not only float back south to Fort Madison, you soon become aware of a the loud sound of water because you would be racing toward the Keokuk Lock and Dam! The reason for this is the current in the river. The current is active even when you are not.
This is a true picture of the Christian life. There is no such thing as static Christianity. If you are not growing toward Christ, you are drifting away from Him! We must be intentional and persistent in our intentionality!
We Must Tell Ourselves the Truth
About our Nature We need to remind ourselves that we are created by and for God and reflect His image. But we also need to remember that we are sinners saved by grace.
How easy it is for us to forget this. It is so easy for us to start feeling that God is lucky to have us on His side. And before long we begin to believe that He exists to serve us, rather than we existing to honor Him. We must constantly remind ourselves of our weakness, not because we want to beat ourselves up but because we need to understand our weaknesses.
The person who has a problem drinking, or with drugs, or with gambling needs to remember their problem. They need to remember how weak they are so that they will stay away from anything that might lead them back into their addiction. You and I must constant remind ourselves of our addiction to sin so that we can combat pride and rebellion in our hearts.
About God’s Love. Yes, we are sinful people at heart, but we are also sinful people who have been saved by grace . . . by God’s wonderful and undeserved gift. God cares about us. He loves us and has provided the way for you and I to be forgiven and transformed. He provided Christ’s death as payment for our sin, and He has granted us His Holy Spirit to help us in the process of growth.
About the circumstances of Life Do you know what creates the greatest amount of anxiety in our lives? It is drawing premature conclusions on the circumstances of life. We must cling to what we know and be careful of how we interpret those things.
- Suppose a family member is delayed in getting home. You begin to imagine all kinds of things. You imagine they are in an accident, or they are having an affair, or they have been abducted, or any number of other things. Our imagination robs us of our peace and our anxiety builds. In these times we must remind ourselves of what is true: our family member is late. That is the only true fact we have. Of course, we could remind ourselves that this family member is a careful driver, is responsible, and sometimes loses track of time.
- Suppose as you have gotten older you are finding that you can’t do what you used to do. Maybe you can no longer play sports. Maybe you can’t drive anymore because your eyesight is bad. Maybe you are having trouble getting around because your body doesn’t work as well. Maybe you have had to retire because you just can’t do the job anymore. At this point there is a tendency to tell ourselves that life is over. We can’t do anything anymore. We start to feel sorry for ourselves. At this point we need to tell ourselves the truth. Yes, we can’t do what we used to do . . . just because we can’t do what we used to do doesn’t mean we can’t do anything! We simply need to find different things to do and different ways to get around.
- Suppose you are heading out on summer vacation. You get a flat tire or have car problems. Is it really true that your vacation is ruined? No! What is true is that things are not going to go just the way you planned them. The one approach spoils the fun, the other begins looking for fun in new areas. The truth is that sometimes these unexpected things are the most memorable and enjoyable parts of the trip.
If we can learn to train ourselves to focus on the truth, we will find that anxiety will be replaced with peace.
We Need to Focus on The Positive Rather than Negative
Paul tells us that we should think about things that are “noble” and “lovely” and “admirable” and “praiseworthy”. In other words we should turn away from dwelling on that which is offensive, dirty, and negative.
Even those outside the church understand this principle. One of the most popular management books right now is called “Fish”. It is a small book that tells the secrets that the Seattle Fish company learned that made their business fun, effective, and more profitable. And the first secret to their success is that they understand that they choose the attitude they have toward their work.
We can moan about our jobs. We can complain about how little we get paid. We can simply “endure” or we can choose to enjoy. We can choose to make work fun. We can choose to focus on the service we can extend, or the benefit we can provide, and we can take pride in the product we produce. It’s a matter of where we choose to set our mind.
We choose the way we respond to our circumstances. We can see everything as a tragedy or view things as a challenge. We can see obstacles or opportunities. We can focus on our inability, or God’s great sufficiency. It’s our choice and we need to remind ourselves of this.
The same is true of people, we can spotlight their failures or their victories, the strengths or their weaknesses. Paul says we should look for the good in others. We choose how we will see others.
Have you ever stopped to listen to yourself? How much time do you spend spotlighting the weaknesses of others compared to talking about their strengths. I’d bet you spend more time on the negative than you’d care to admit. Why is that? Why do we feel superior when we are tearing someone else apart? How are we better off for ridiculing the weaknesses or quirks of another?
Paul tells us we should celebrate and spotlight people’s progress rather than their weakness. We should try to catch people doing things right rather than harping about the things they do wrong. We all have rough edges, we all let people down, but beating each other up over these things doesn’t help anything. When we focus on the negative several things happen,
- we develop a critical spirit rather than a positive spirit
- we push people away rather than draw them closer
- we hinder unity in the body of Christ by forcing people to choose sides rather than work together
- we are a poor witness for the gospel
- we reveal that we lack love
- we make others tentative rather than willing to risk because they are afraid of failure and the ridicule that will follow.
- and we are inviting others to be critical of us
What is the “up side” to a negative spirit? There is no up-side. But when we are positive toward others,
- we spur people on we give them courage and strength
- we build a spirit of appreciation and oneness in the body of Christ
- we find that people begin to open up to us and we discover some incredible treasure in the people around us
- we find that people speak well of us
- people try harder and dream bigger
- conflict, churning, anxiety gives way to laughter, joy and peace
- and best of all: God smiles
Sure, there is lots more we can say, and there is even more to learn. But hopefully we have enough to start working on.
- Are you living in God’s peace or are you constantly churning?
- Where do your thoughts go when you have some idle moments? Do you wallow in godlessness or are you feeding on the truth?
- Are you a negative person or a positive person? Do you build people up or tear them down?
- Are you evaluating the messages the world is subtly sending your way?
- Are you intentional about filling your mind with the good, pure, and valuable truth of God?
I can’t imagine that there isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t need a little improvement here? Ask God to help you and to help us. And maybe we can help each other. We’ll hate it at first, but what if when we saw the negative and destructive thinking creeping up in our mind we said things like this,
- Did you make a conscious choice to be grumpy today?
- Would you call that a positive or a negative comment?
- How do you think God would view this situation?
- Do you think you may be jumping to conclusions ahead of the facts?
I hope you get the idea. It would be annoying at first (and maybe a little dangerous) but I know I would appreciate the accountability. I don’t want to be a negative thinker, I want to be a godly thinker. I don’t want to suck the life out of a situation, I want to infuse life into the people and circumstances around me. I want to stand for that which is pure and not cave in to that which is not. I want to choose the good, enjoy the beautiful, pursue the noble, and I want to walk in the sweetness of God’s peace. So, I hope you will encourage me to think better thoughts. I may grumble at the time . . .but I will be grateful . . . eventually. And I hope the same can be said of you.