Friday, June 6, 2014

Just thinking ...

Everybody asks the question, on a routine basis: "What do you think?"  A businessman makes a presentation to his boss, or two football coaches watch a kid trying out for the team, or a wife shows off a new dress to her husband, and the question is always, "What do you think?"  But that simple question, so easily answered in everyday situations, becomes much deeper when applied to our lives as a whole ... and to the thoughts of our hearts.  In a very real sense, the question has implications, practical implications, for the way we live our lives ... and our eternity. 
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Two other questions follow in the wake of the first, when we examine our own lives and our own thought processes.   Not just, "What do you think?"  But also, "What do you think about?"  and, "What do you think of what you think?"  When you're alone, or when you're reacting to conditions and people around you, what do you think about?  Are you satisfied with those thoughts?  Do they seem appropriate to you?  Or do you get the nagging feeling that your thoughts or reactions are improper?  Or is it possible that, like so many people, you don't even think about it?  You don't question it? ....

This is not an abstract, fanciful subject.  The matter of a person's "thought life" can't be compartmentalized as "psychology" or "personality types" or "epistemology."  The very simple fact is that we're thinking creatures, and our thoughts, one way or another, determine our actions - - - even those secret thoughts that we never act upon. 
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The Bible has a lot to say about our thoughts: our reasoning, our motivations, our fantasies, our dreams, and our discouragements.  God, Who originally made man in His own Image, is a thinking Being, not an amorphous "force," and He created us to be thinking creatures.  And God is very blunt about the importance of our thoughts.  Speaking of man - - - any man, or any woman - - - God says, as he thinketh in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).  In a very real sense, in God's sight, our thoughts don't merely determine our lives: our thoughts are our lives. 
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That's not how we see it, of course.  We see our lives in terms of our actions, our words, our experiences; and those things are certainly important.  But that's not what defines us.  We're defined by our thoughts - - - and, after all, our thoughts are what determine those actions and words and experiences. 
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Let's spice up this rather dry discussion with a very obvious example - - - one that drove the Pharisees crazy, and drives the "religious people" crazy even today.  With the exception of many Roman Catholics and some Buddhists and Hindus, nobody on earth thinks that sex, in itself, is "bad." Moral people (religious or not) believe that there are certain ethics involved, and, for Orthodox Jews and Christians, the marching orders are clear: sex is to be enjoyed, really enjoyed, within the context of the marriage bed.  Sex outside of marriage is off-limits, and sex before marriage is off-limits.  The Jews of Jesus' time spent hours discussing this subject.  Christians today spend hours talking about it.  Everybody talks about it, one way or another.

But the Pharisees saw only the act of illicit sex, be it fornication or adultery.  They defined improper sexual activity as something that two people did with their bodies.  But then Jesus came along, and upset the applecart - - - not only for the Pharisees, but for anyone who's ever experienced and savored a moment of lust.  Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).  Jesus didn't downplay the significance of the act, but he got to the root of the matter: the thought.  And He even went so far as to say that, in God's sight, "mental adultery" is precisely as wicked and improper as physical adultery. With the exception of the physical consequences, it's the same thing.  Thus, the world is full of men and women who can be faithful to their spouses, or even remain virgins, but who, in God's sight, are adulterers and adulteresses. (Think of what this says about the business of pornography.)  Because God knows that as a man thinketh, so is he.  
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peeping tom

But most folks don't see it the way God sees it - - - and don't want to.  It's too radical, too demanding, too inconvenient.  People sit back in their self-righteousness and say, "Well, I'm not so bad.  I never killed anybody!"  And Jesus comes along and upsets the applecart again:  Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment (Matthew 5:21-22).  He equated anger and hate with physical murder.  And we can sense this, even if we're not "religious people."  Have you ever heard the expression, "She looked daggers at him with her eyes?"  Well, what do you think that means?  It means she was angry enough to kill!  And, according to Jesus....  
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There's an old maxim, quoted by preachers and non-preachers alike, that can scarcely be emphasized enough.  (Clichés often become clichés because they happen to be true.)  It concerns sowing and reaping.  "Sow a thought, and reap an action; sow an action, and reap a habit; sow a habit, and reap a character; sow a character, and reap a destiny."  Our acts, our habits, our characters, our destinies, all begin with our thoughts.   
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I don't know what your "thought life" is like.  I don't know what you think about, in the privacy of your heart.  Neither does anyone else.  But I know what mine is like, and to be honest, it would make a vulture vomit. I read the Bible, any part of the Bible, and I react like Hamlet's mother: "Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul, And there I see such black and grained spots as will not leave their tinct."  I see God's holiness, and God's purity, and God's goodness, and I weep; as David says in Psalm 51, "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." The sin that I committed with my body, or with my actions?  Sometimes; but, more often, the sins of my mind.  It may be, if you're honest with God and with yourself, that you feel the same way. 
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worried woman

If you're a Christian, who has received Jesus Christ according to John 1:12, your "thought life" is eternally important, because your thoughts, and/or the actions they produce, will be weighed and evaluated at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10 ; 2 Corinthians 5:10).  Your salvation won't be in jeopardy, but your rewards, or lack of rewards, will be decided.  (If you're not a Christian, then the issue, in this post, isn't your "thought life;" the issue is "What will you do with Jesus Christ?" Of course your mental processes are of critical importance, but your most pressing concern is to come to terms with your Creator.) And the Christian has access to two absolutely foolproof remedies for an inadequate or bad "thought life."
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Maybe your thoughts are worldly: not necessarily sinful, but simply caught up in the affairs of this world: your job, your money, your entertainment, whatever.  In any case, you're not thinking about your Saviour, and His word, the Bible.  Or, perhaps you're plagued with really bad thoughts, thoughts that you know to be displeasing to God, thoughts that you wouldn't share with your closest friend.  In both cases, you have hope. 
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First: Think about Jesus.  That sounds so simple, doesn't it?  But it's not.  We have too many other things that rush in and crowd our thinking, in addition to having an Enemy who wants us to think about anything but Jesus Christ.  Nevertheless, that's the answer: Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Think of the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  Think of what His eyes must have been like.  Think about Him protecting the adulterous woman, or talking to the Temple elders when He was just a Boy.  Better yet, get out your Bible and read about Him.  Read the Gospel of John, like you would read a novel or watch a movie, all at one sitting. (It can be read, by an "average" reader, in less than two hours.)  As the author Roy Hession has said, "It is enough to see Jesus, and to go on seeing Him."
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Second: Instead of filling your mind with entertainment, or lust, or financial worries, or politics, think of something else.  What should that be?  Paul tells us:  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).  Are you troubled with thoughts of covetousness?  Think about charity, which simply means love in action.  Are you obsessed with politics?  Think of the perfect Reign of Christ, which is coming on earth in the future.  Are you introverted, and can't stop thinking about yourself?  Well, the answer is obvious: we're back to thinking about Jesus again!  Jesus is the Personification of all the things Paul mentioned.

But, by the grace of God, and through the power of God, get control of your thoughts .... or your thoughts will control you, as they do most people.  This is is so important that Paul alluded to it as one of the cornerstones of the Christian life: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:1-2).  Yes, presenting our bodies to God is fundamental; but we're transformed by the renewing of our minds.
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So .... what do you think?  And what do you think of what you think?  Are you satisfied with your thought life?  Or do some changes need to be made?  If they do, God has given us the tools to make the changes ... and He expects us to use them.

After all, when He hung on the cross, His "thought life" wasn't occupied with merely the agony and shame.  He was thinking of us.  That's why He was there!

3 comments:

  1. In light of Proverbs 23:7 and Mtt 5:27-28, what does Proverbs 16:3 mean? "Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established." That verse seems to put actions ahead of thoughts?

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  2. It's cyclical, isn't it, Laura? Our thought affect our actions, and our actions reinforce our thoughts. The difference is that one can commit a sinful act through ignorance, but a sinful thought is regarded by God as the same as an act.

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  3. Well done, a blessing in so many ways.

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