Friday, February 9, 2018

3 Steps to Healthier Spiritual Thinking

I had the opportunity to speak on healthy spiritual thinking earlier this week, and studying for that lesson reminded me just how important our thinking is.  The Bible says that all the springs of our life come from inside us, from our heart (Prov. 4:23).  Jesus said that sinful actions come from our hearts (Mark 7:21-23).  Being transformed in Christ comes from “being renewed in the spirit of our mind” (Rom. 12:2, Eph. 4:22-24).  Those verses tell me this: the battle for our souls will be fought inside our own thinking! 

So it’s worth reflecting on what my thoughts are, and where they’re going.  Am I thinking more like Jesus?  Do I see the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) more in my attitudes?  Or is negativity and bitterness changing my heart?  Is materialism or temptation or pride getting a foothold in my thought process?  We are surrounded by people who have been changed for the worse by years of sinful thinking, and we must not allow ourselves to go down that path. 
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What can we do to move our thinking patterns in a more Christlike direction? 

1)      Remove sources of negative thinking.  Philippians 4:8 tells Christians to “think about” things that are good, so we need to avoid things that are producing unhealthy, frustrating thoughts.  Turn off the news for awhile if necessary.  Get off Facebook if it’s a problem.  Distance yourself – while still being polite – from the people who are continually bringing you down by the way they talk.  Take a break from the sports world or the world of political talk if they are putting you in a bad mood.  If there is a consistent source of negative thinking in your life, see if it’s something you can avoid.

2)      Match bad thoughts with godly thoughts.  The only problem with #1 above is that it has limitations.  We can avoid some bad voices in the world, but we can’t avoid all sources of frustration.  We still have to go to work every day and see the self-centered co-worker or the overbearing boss.  We still have to face rush hour traffic.  We will still see things on TV or Facebook that make us shake our heads.  Parenting will still produce frustrating days, and I don’t think God wants us to avoid our kids!  Some sources of frustration will always be there.  What do we do then?

Well, we must learn to match bad thoughts with better thoughts.  Instead of letting negative thoughts grow in our minds, we must find the self-control to cancel them out with something better.  Eventually, that negative way of thinking will lose its power, and the better thoughts will become more natural.  This step is even more powerful when we use Scripture for matching thoughts.

Do you need to keep some of these ready when you are tempted to bad thinking?

·         I will be strong and courageous.  I won’t be frightened, because God will be with me wherever I go. (Joshua 1:9)
·         I won’t be overcome by evil, but I will overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
·         I will show love to others because God has shown love to me. (1 John 4:11)
·         I will put God first and trust His promise that I will always have what I need. (Matthew 6:33)
·         I brought nothing into this world and I won’t take anything out, so I will choose contentment (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
·         I don’t want sinful things, I trust God’s way is best and He will bless me (James 4:10, Proverbs 3:5-6).
·         This situation is too big for me to do anything about it, so God I hand it to you, trusting that you know what to do with it (1 Peter 5:7).
·         I won’t stress about tomorrow because Jesus promises it will take care of itself (Matthew 6:34).  Besides, God is already there.
·         This is not my home; I’m seeking something bigger and better (Hebrews 11:13-14, Colossians 3:1-2).

Reflect on what negative thoughts you’ve been battling, and have a Scripture ready to match those thoughts when they arise.  Don’t let a spiritually negative thought remain unchallenged in your head.

3)      Make time for “thankful prayers.”  In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul says that the bridge from “anxiety” (verse 6) to “peace” (verse 7) includes prayer, and he specifically mentions prayers “with thanksgiving.”  Do you have a time when your mind rolls through things that frustrate you?  When you’re driving to work?  When you’re laying in bed at night waiting to go to sleep?  During a commercial break?  Instead of letting those unhealthy thoughts keep growing in our minds, perhaps we can shift to more godly thoughts by praying to God, and simply listing things we are thankful for.  How great would it be to make a “thankful prayer” the last thing we do each day, as we lie down in bed?  To go to sleep each night, not replaying the unkind word someone said to us, but instead drifting off in the midst of positive, thankful, godly thinking about all the blessings God has given us.  More “thankful prayers” can’t help but produce a more healthy, God-centered attitude.

How we think is important – that’s where our battle with Satan plays out, and the results of that internal battle will be seen in our actions.  Satan will try to grow “roots of bitterness” in our hearts and minds (Heb. 12:15), and we must not allow that to happen.  I believe these 3 steps are a good start down a better path.  Let’s turn our thinking toward God and more godly attitudes, and we will see our hearts and lives transformed into the Christ-centered, fruit-of-the-Spirit people God knows we can be.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Where To Go When The World Feels Unfair

Jason turned off his phone, and sat on his couch for a minute in silent frustration.  Everyone else had gone to bed, but his mind couldn’t stop running.  Clicking through the news headlines had made it feel like the world was falling apart.  It felt that way at work too.  Dealing with difficult people – demanding, ungrateful people – had tested his patience, and he had to clench his teeth to keep himself from saying some things he knew he shouldn’t say.  And when he heard that his co-worker – the one everyone knew was dishonest, rude, and incredibly self-centered – had gotten promoted to a much bigger position, with a much higher salary, he wondered why no one seemed to notice the people who were actually doing the work right.  A look through Facebook and Instagram didn’t help either – he felt like everyone had an agenda, or wanted to make a political statement, or wanted to tear down other people, and he felt himself starting to feel bitter and annoyed at everything.

He also started wondering: why does God let stuff like this go on?  Why do the bad guys win so often?  Why are good people overlooked and ignored?  Why wasn’t God showing everyone what was right and what was wrong?

In Good Company

My guess is you’ve had similar moments.  Frustration at life, feeling that the wrong side is winning, and wondering if maybe you’re wasting your time trying to stay on the right path.

If you have had those moments, it might make you feel better to know that many people of faith before you have wondered the same things.  Job, for example, was one of those people.  He was among the most faithful people the world has ever seen, but he couldn’t understand why bad things were happening to him, while everyone else seemed to have it all.  In the conversation with his friends, Job essentially says “Look around us – those that are evil have luxury and get everything they want!  Good people just get run over by the wicked!” (Job chapter 21)

But the person I want us to learn from in this study is a man named Asaph.  Asaph tells his story in Psalm 73, one of my favorite psalms.  It reminds me of one reason we love the Psalms: they reflect all the ‘real’ emotions of life, emotions we have all felt, and filter those emotions through faith in God.  In Psalm 73, Asaph tells us about the faith struggle he had with the unfairness of life. 

Learning From Psalm 73
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Let’s notice 3 things about this psalm…

First, Asaph tells about his struggle:

“But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, My steps had almost slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:2-3)

He looked around, like we often do, and felt frustration at the unfairness of the world.  The wicked seems “always as ease” and “increased in wealth” (verse 12). 

It made Asaph question whether he should still be trying to live for God and do right.  He says that he thought:

“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning.” (verses 13-14). 

Second, if we skip ahead we notice that Asaph ends the psalm with renewed commitment to God.  

He says that when his heart was “embittered” that he wasn’t thinking straight, acting “senseless and ignorant” (verses 21-22).  He reaffirms his commitment to continually be with God and letting God guide him (verse 23-24).  He says that he desires nothing on earth besides God (verse 25), and that “the nearness of God is my good” (verse 28). 

What an amazing change from the beginning of the psalm!  That’s the kind of faith I want to have, even on the frustrating days.  So what changed Asaph’s perspective from bitterness to renewed commitment?  We see it in verse 17…

Third, the hinge point of the psalm in verse 17.  

Asaph said his frustration at the world was troublesome “until I came into the sanctuary of God” (verse 17). 

What changed Asaph’s perspective?  Asaph went to worship.  He went to the sanctuary (for him, probably the Jerusalem temple), and simply being in the presence of God reminded him that God will eventually make everything right.  The wicked may win for awhile – they WILL win for awhile.  The innocent will often suffer.  Those who do right for God will be mocked and ridiculed and blamed.  But eventually, as Asaph was reminded, there is an “end” to the wicked’s path (verse 17).  The path away from God ends by going over a cliff, and sin results eventually in God’s judgment, in this life or the next.  Those who stay with God will face different types of earthly hardships, but afterwards God will receive them to glory (verse 24). 

Where To Go On Those Days

That’s worth remembering: on the days when I find myself frustrated at the world, feeling that life is unfair and wondering why God won’t do more about it, I need to remember the bigger picture.  And a great way to regain that perspective?  Worship.  Go into God’s presence.  Go to church assemblies with God’s people.  Get away to a quiet place and spend time in prayer and study.  Sing a song of faith to God. 

When worship is done the right way, it has a way of shaping us the right way.  And one of the ways it shapes us: worship gives us a higher perspective on the world.  It reminds us that God is good, and that He keeps His promises.  It reminds us that life is temporary, and that God is big enough to make everything right at the end.  It reminds us that we are aiming for something bigger than the earthly stuff that everyone else seems so obsessed with.  That’s what worship did for Asaph, and that’s what it can do for us as well.

My guess is we will have many more days when life’s unfairness tempts us to bitterness.  When those days happen, let’s not just sit and soak in frustration.  Let’s not check out on our faith.  Let’s certainly not withdraw from God and His people.  Instead, like Asaph, let’s remember to go spend some time with God in worship.  Being with God is a powerful reminder of what is real.  And in a sin-broken world, that’s a reminder we are going to need.   

This week, when everything feels frustrating, remember Asaph: go spend time with God in worship!