What Do You Think? [Philippians four verse eight]

By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: If you could put a price on your brain, how much do you think it would be worth? Well, Thomas Edison had thousands of patents in his lifetime. Around the time of his death, an economic analyst for the New York Times estimated that the brain of this notable genius was worth $25 billion, which the analyst derived largely from the business interests from his inventions.

If you are anything like me, you rarely think about your thinking. And sadly, thinking usually "just happens" for most of us. It is much like a ship that doesn't have an anchor or a rudder, and whichever way the wind blows or the current moves, that's where our minds go. Rarely do we focus our thinking as did Thomas Edison. I want to challenge Christians to think more about what they think.

Good thinking is something we can train ourselves to do like any other discipline. If we can learn to play the piano or speak a second language, we can also train our minds to think well in just about every possible circumstance. And this is absolutely crucial as we head into the last days of earth's history: to have strong, sharp minds ready to recognize and refute the devil's challenges. I submit therefore that it is very important for us to learn to think the way God wants us to think.

Our ability to reason in abstract ways is perhaps the most fundamental difference between humans and the rest of God's animal creation. And it is a significant difference, because we will someday answer to God for what we choose to think. "The LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV). That means even if we can fool others with our so-called righteous actions, if we deliberately entertain sin in our minds and enjoy the pleasures of it with our imaginations, we cannot fool God.

Besides, as Proverbs tell us, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (23:7).

Controlling the Flood
Horace, an ancient philosopher, said, "Rule your mind, or it will rule you."

Before Hoover Dam was built, billions of gallons of rainwater would flood wildly through the Colorado River to the sea. But once that water was controlled, a tremendous amount of power was harnessed for electricity and the irrigation of millions of acres of farms. Most people let their thoughts flood aimlessly through their minds out into a useless sea of oblivion, but under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit a great deal of good thinking can be accomplished. Ever since I was a day-dreaming child in grade school, I have experienced problems controlling my maverick thinking. I suspect it's a battle we all face, but it is imperative that everyone start thinking about what we think because it matters to God.

Allow me to illustrate: We believe in keeping God's seventh-day Sabbath. We meet God on His time and refrain from our labor, which is typically something we think about doing with our bodies. But not long ago, my house was undergoing some overdue repair with new sheetrock and paint. I found that after the sun went down and the workers were gone and all the tools were put away, when I would wander by the room under construction, I started thinking about what still needed to be done. I also managed to find problems and make mental notes, "Oh, they missed a spot with the paint."

But the Lord convicted me. "Doug, it's the Sabbath. What are you thinking about?" Sure, I wasn't working with my body, but my mind was fully engaged in construction. I was doing labor in my brain. We might sometimes pride ourselves on keeping the Sabbath because we're not doing any physical work. But are we putting our minds into something as if we were working?

Sinful Thoughts
Are we really that responsible for what we think? Well, yes. Sure, thoughts tend to go through your mind as if they were on a conveyer belt. Sometimes we can't help what we start thinking, especially with the blizzard of information coming from our senses that our brains have to sort. Psychologists have estimated that about 10,000 thoughts go through our brains every day. But even then, we can choose what to keep in our brains for processing and what to discard. And a lot of Christians dwell on very unhealthy, very sinful things rather than focusing on that which is holy.

Jesus taught that we can commit perjury, murder, and adultery in the mind. (See Matthew 5:28). He added, "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man" (Matthew 15:18-20).

According to Jesus, sin always begins in the mind. That's why we can't be indifferent about what we think. Yet the emphasis of most churches is on actions, leading many Christians to consider sin as just an action rather than an attitude.

Let me be clear: This does not mean that when a tempting thought hits you - for instance, you are tempted to shoplift an item from a store - it is necessarily a sin. If I told you not to think of a purple monkey with polka dots, you would be hard pressed not to think about it. I imagine you are thinking about it right now! There are times when you are unable to control the stimulus around you, or the evil suggestions the devil may plant in your thoughts.

In a world convoluted with shameful advertising and revealing fashions, the devil has an easy job planting the seeds of sin in our minds. If you reject the thought and evict it from your mind, then it is not a sin. But if you choose to dwell on it and embrace the idea, it becomes a sin.

The Mind's Gatekeeper
But be warned: As they say in flying, "your attitude determines your altitude." When you adjust an airplane's attitude, the angle at which the wings hit the air, the plane will either ascend or descend. In the same way, the attitude of your mind toward sin is going to affect the altitude of your life.

If your mind is constantly floating in the trash, that's where you're going to go in your life. If your attitude is focused upward on the spiritual, you will glide up to heaven. Yet God's people are often blasé about the connection between our thoughts and our success as Christians. George Barna, the famous researcher, put it this way: "The vast majority of Christians do not behave differently because they do not think differently."

How does a person become spiritually minded, to think the thoughts God wants us to think? Part of training and exercising the mind is controlling the inputs. We're likely to let our minds slip into sinful thoughts if we're constantly eyeing what passes for entertainment. What we take into our minds will certainly affect how and what we think. How much more likely will you have nightmares if you start watching horror flicks before going to bed?

The reason this is so crucial is that we never really stop thinking. You are practically unable to stop when you are awake, which makes what you think and how you control your thinking so potentially dangerous. You are what you think. The more poison you let into your mind, the more poison you are likely to process in your thinking and the more poison you are likely to leave in the world.

If our thinking is influenced by what we take into our minds, shouldn't Christians be particularly careful about what we choose to watch and hear? Some Christians wonder, "Lord, why can't I be more like Christ? Why is the Christian walk so difficult?" Yet they're filling their minds with things that are totally opposed to Christ. We don't think we would ever consider murder or adultery or stealing or lying, yet we deliberately choose to do these things vicariously by beholding entertainment filled with those behaviors. (See Matthew 15:17.)

That's a startling contradiction. It is in fact one of the most dangerous problems in the church, virtually everywhere in the world. It's the frivolous, nasty things that people watch and hear and read, filling their minds with filth and tempting the Lord. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. "To be carnally minded is death. ... Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:6–8). What you sow into your mind, you are going to reap in your thoughts and actions.

Think the Positive
"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). The church and her members can't be spiritual if everyone is feeding on the world.

Romans 8:6 promises, "To be spiritually minded is life and peace." God wants us to be as positive and spiritual in our thinking as possible, and He enables us to think positive thoughts in spite of our fleshly struggles. That is what real faith is - that thinking God is with us in spite of what we are experiencing. In fact, Paul Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress while he was in prison. He decided not to stop thinking positively. While in prison, he only had time to think, but he used that time to think good thoughts and change countless lives.

We often talk and think based solely on our feelings, but your feelings don't have to dictate what you think. You might get grumpy when you haven't eaten in a while, but I'm not sure that low blood sugar will be a valid excuse in the judgment.

That's why it is better to think and behave based on principle rather than your feelings. Christ didn't turn to sin when He got hungry. He didn't allow His basic human nature to rule His mind. Instead, He remembered the Word and rebuked the devil. That is a tremendous example, and one we must strive to copy. Otherwise, if we could justify our wayward thoughts and actions based on how we are feeling, then any immoral action could be justified and there would be no need for a life-changing gospel.

Thinking the Hard Way
Babies vacuum anything their senses bring to them. It doesn't take much for them to receive these stimuli and develop them into something that will teach them about their world. But as children grow, they must learn to concentrate and study. That's hard even for adults, and it takes more effort to exercise a mind that television and other disengaged amusements seek to make lazy.

It's tempting for a pastor to entertain a congregation with hypnotic music, chanting the same lyrics over and over again. It's easier to bring people back to church with cotton-candy theology.

You won't get the same reaction when you teach brain-challenging, heart-churning doctrine. Why? Because the depth of thought necessary to process deeper theology requires effort. You can't just sit there like a lump and absorb the meat of the Word. You have to digest it and analyze it. It isn't always easy, but it is the kind of spiritual food that will make you healthy in a sin-sick world. (Read Hebrews 5:13, 14.)

But how can lowly, selfish humans think the way God wants us to think? By letting God control our minds. How does that happen? We simply ask and believe. And that can work wonders in your life. Before I accepted Christ, I had a nasty vocabulary. I habitually cussed by instinct because I was living in the world and the world's vocabulary is really terrible.

When I asked the Lord into my heart, I noticed that as I'd get ready to automatically say something inappropriate, God placed an emergency brake on my tongue. Suddenly a little voice would say, "Don't say that." And I praised the Lord, because I was actually in control of my thinking. Well, it was the Holy Spirit that was in control, and that in turn changed my mind and my talking. God will do that for you too if you are willing.

Steps to Better Thinking
Although it is a frightening thought, it might do every one some good to have a little LCD screen on our foreheads displaying our thoughts for our neighbors to read. If that happened, I imagine we would all be a lot more careful about what we were thinking. The sad thing is that God is already reading our thoughts, but that doesn't seem to make us care what we think. Many Christians "feel" that God is real, but treat Him like a fairytale invention.

We would all think differently if we would remember the first great commandment: "Thou shalt love the Lord with all your heart and all your mind." How do you love the Lord with your mind? I can tell you it isn't imaging a bouquet of flowers in God's honor. Rather, it is telling Him that you want to think like Him. In Isaiah 55:8, 9, God says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

God invites us to think with His mind. "Come now, and let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). We see a demonstration of God's thoughts in His two great books - the Bible and creation. The universe and everything you see in the world is an example of God's thought, with all of its magnificent wonder and beauty.

The other way is to commit yourself to prayer and Bible study. Just as pop culture can infect your thinking with all kinds of carnal thoughts, the Bible can infuse your thinking with holy and spiritual thoughts. Instead of watching that movie or TV program, covenant with God to read His Word and you'll see how quickly the Holy Spirit can change your thinking. "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation" (Psalm 119:97 NKJV).

Fall in Love Again
Thomas Traherne correctly mused that "nothing is more easy than to think, but nothing is more difficult than to think well." It will certainly take effort to experience any change in our thinking, but God will help us if we ask Him. "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23). And the act of renewing our minds is a process we must allow for.

But eventually, we are commanded to cast "down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5 NKJV). Is such a command even reasonable? Every thought into captivity? When you have the mind of Christ, it is.

When you're in love with somebody, you don't have to try to think about them. Instead, it is a natural, spontaneous behavior to dwell on the person you love. The heart is a magnet drawn toward what it loves. When we love the Lord with all our minds, we will find ourselves thinking about Him all the time and what He desires rather than what the world desires. Only then is it possible to bring every thought into captivity to Christ.

Conversion, whether you have been a Christian for 50 years or 5 seconds, is not made possible by feeding off what the world has for us to eat. (See Romans 12:2.) Rather, it is made possible by the renewing of our minds, which the Holy Spirit makes possible so we can prove "what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." You have to put off the old man of Ephesians 4:22, "which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (NKJV).

God is offering us that new covenant - "a new heart I will put within thee." And it is a wonderful thing, because "Blessed are the pure in heart," pure in thought and mind, "for they shall see God." No atom of your body is going to make it to heaven, not even your brain matter. So what is going to go? Your thoughts. So it really is important.

Are you beginning to think about what you are thinking about?

" 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' saith the LORD. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:8, 9).

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