Think On These Things
July 24, 1994
Listen to this Sermon
Almost a generation ago, when the computer revolution had just begun, the pioneers in the field coined a brand-new word. In those days not many people knew how to operate a computer and those who did made many mistakes. Sometimes the neophyte experts entered the wrong data only to discover a universal truth: If the raw data is bad, the computer can’t do anything good with it. What you put into a computer determines what comes out. If you put the right data in, the right answers come out. The reverse is also true.
In order to express that truth, a new word was coined. It describes in four letters both the cause and consequences of putting the wrong data into the computer. Most computer buffs know what word I’m talking about. The word is GIGO. It stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out. Those four letters summarize a huge truth about computers: What you put in determines what you get out. If your input is garbage, guess what your output will be? Garbage.
What you put into your mind determines what you get out.
What is true of computers is also true of the human mind. That comparison is apt because the human mind has often been compared to a computer. In fact, the human mind is far more complex than the most advanced computer ever designed. But the basic principle of GIGO is still true: Garbage In, Garbage Out.
10,000 Thoughts A Day
Did you know that the average person has 10,000 separate thoughts each day? That works out to be 3.5 million thoughts a year.
If you live to be 75, you will have over 26 million different thoughts.
Already most of you have had over 2,000 separate thoughts since you got out of bed this morning. You’ll probably have another 8,000 before you hit the sack tonight. Then you’ll start all over again tomorrow.
Every one of those 10,000 thoughts represents a choice you make, a decision to think about this, and not about that. Suppose someone gave you $10,000 this morning and said, “Spend it any way you like as long as you spend it all before you go to bed tonight.” You’d be careful how you spent it, wouldn’t you? I’ll bet you’d sit down and take inventory of what you could do with that much money.
How sad that we devote so much time to how we spend our money and so little time to how we spend our thoughts. How sad that one seems so important and the other so trivial.
But are your thoughts really so unimportant? Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Beware of what you set your mind on because that you surely will become.” Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change the world.” Henry Ford gave that truth a different spin when he declared, “Thinking is the hardest work in the world, which is probably why so few people engage in it.” Then I ran across this perceptive comment by Betty Sachelli: “Two thoughts cannot occupy the mind at the same time, so the choice is ours whether or not our thoughts will be constructive or destructive.”
Change your thoughts and you change the world.
My whole sermon is in these four words: “The choice is ours.” God gave you 10,000 thoughts today, but it’s up to you what you do with them.
How’s your thought life, Christian?
1. Four Kinds of Negative Thinking
So many people struggle with negative thinking. Negative thoughts poison the mind, and ultimately the soul. Here are four common examples of negative thinking:
We all fall into this trap sooner or later. Life is hard for all of us. As the saying goes, into each life some rain must fall. It’s easy to think that somehow we’ve been dealt an unfair hand, that while our neighbor is basking in sunshine, we’re living in a perpetual downpour. This self-pitying person says, “You don’t know what I’m going through” or “You try living with this 24 hours a day and see how happy you are.”
This is the other extreme. Blaming is an attempt to find a scapegoat for your problems. You can’t face life on your own, so you find another person who seems to be the source of your problems. It might be your husband or your wife, it could be your children or your parents. It often is a friend, a neighbor, or your boss or someone at church. Blaming is dangerous because it leads to perpetual victimhood.
3. Unwillingness to Change
This more or less follows from the first two categories. Once you immerse yourself in self-pity and once you discover that you are a victim, the logical conclusion is that you can’t or won’t change. Unfortunately, this type of negative thinking tends to reinforce itself. Since you can’t change, then your behavior can’t be your own fault. So you never have to face it honestly. This person says, “It’s no use trying. I’ll never change” and “I have every right to be hurt and I’m not going to give it up” or “I know it’s wrong but I’m not going to stop” or “God made me this way so it’s not my fault.”
4. Anger and Bitterness
Usually this is the logical outcome. Once you begin to pity yourself, you become a victim. But victims can’t be blamed, right? Therefore you refuse to face the possibility that you yourself are the source of your own problems. When others suggest otherwise, you get angry, defensive and bitter. You remember every miserable thing ever done to you or against you. You stew in your juices over the slightest negative remark made by others. You bristle at any notion that your life could be different. You hold grudges—even though you say you don’t. You glare and turn your head when you see your enemy coming toward you. You shut them out cold.
Your thoughts matter! Negative thinking leads to negative living.
2. The Benefits of Positive Thinking
But that’s not the only option. Our text reveals another possibility. Years ago Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote a best-seller entitled The Power of Positive Thinking. But he wasn’t the first positive thinker. That honor should go to the Apostle Paul. At the end of his letter to the Philippians, he gives a prescription for positive thinking that if followed has the power to transform your life. Listen to his practical advice in Philippians 4:8.
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.
This verse gives us eight questions to ask about our thoughts. Before you think and before you speak, ask these six questions.
1. Is it true? “Whatever is true.” Truth is the first test. Knox translates this as “all that rings true.” Before you open your mouth, are you speaking the truth? Do your words have the “ring of truth” about them? This question rules out all that is dishonest, untrue and unreliable.
2. Is it noble? “Whatever is noble.” The word means “honorable, worthy of reverence.” It refers to that which is majestic and awe-inspiring. One person translated it as “noble seriousness.” This word is used in another place to describe the proper qualities of an elder. Is your thought life honorable? Do you ponder things that are noble and of serious purpose? Or do you dwell on the frivolous and trivial?
3. Is it right? “Whatever is right.” This means “in conformity to God’s standards.” Not, “Is it right in my eyes?” or “Is it right in the eyes of others?” but “Is it right in God’s eyes?” If your thoughts were broadcast for the world to hear, would you be ashamed and embarrassed? If others knew what you were thinking, what would they think of you?
If your thoughts were broadcast for the world to hear, would you be embarrassed?
4. Is it pure? “Whatever is pure.” The word means “undefiled, chaste, clean, holy.” It touches the whole area of moral purity. Is your thought-life clean? We used to say, “Get your mind out of the gutter.” If you live in the gutter, don’t be surprised that your mind is covered with slime.
Seven Tough Questions
A few months ago I picked up a list of probing questions from the Promise Keepers organization. They suggest that men who truly want to live godly lives should ask each other these seven questions each week as a means of staying pure in a dirty world:
– Have I been with a woman in the past week in a way that could appear compromising?
– Have all my financial dealings been filled with integrity?
– Have I viewed any sexually explicit material?
– Have I spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
– Have I spent quality time with and given priority to my family?
– Have I fulfilled the mandates of my calling?
– Have I just lied to you?
That last question is a killer. It’s not enough to blow smoke in these areas. If you want to come clean, you’ve got to start telling the truth.
5. Is it lovely? “Whatever is lovely.” This word is used only here in the New Testament. It literally means “love towards.” It has the idea of attracting loveliness as a magnet attracts iron filings. One person translates it as “those things that grace attracts.” Do your thoughts automatically attach themselves to that which is beautiful and lovely? A thought may be true and even right but still not be lovely. Here’s a simple rule: If it’s not lovely, if it doesn’t make you lovely, don’t say it, don’t think it, don’t do it, don’t dwell on it, and don’t repeat it!
6. Is it admirable? “Whatever is admirable.” That is, is it worthy of study and contemplation? Or is it cheap and tawdry? This question asks us to focus on the things that are positive not negative, constructive not destructive, things that build up not the things that tear down. This means editing your words so that you simply delete the non-admirable things from your vocabulary.
Roses and the Sewer
Some things may be true, but that doesn’t mean we should dwell on them. Paul in Ephesians 5:12 speaks of certain things that are so evil that “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” I take it that he is referring to certain forms of sexual sin, certain gross forms of idolatry, certain areas of Satan’s kingdom that should be off limits for the people of God. Don’t dwell there! Don’t focus on the evil around you!
From time to time we receive material from various Christian watchdog groups that seems to go across the line. Sometimes these organizations are so zealous to expose evil that they send along pictures of things Christians simply ought not to look at. I have seen videos that I wish I had not seen. They were true in the sense that they accurately recorded the depraved practices all around, but I felt unclean after viewing them. We as a church have been fairly bold about exposing sin here in Oak Park, but there are some things we simply won’t talk about because they are so perverse and evil.
This principle of concentrating on things that are admirable and lovely puts to rest the foolish notion that we should expose our children to sin so they will know what it is like. First of all, our children see enough sin all around them without any help from us. Second, exposing our young people runs the risk that they may be attracted to it. Sin is so sinful that we do well to stay as far away from it as possible. You don’t have to lift the top off the sewer in order to know it stinks.
Sin is so sinful that we do well to stay as far away from it as possible.
Think of it this way. A house has a living room and a toilet. Both are essential for life. Which one do we display? We show people our living room, not the bathroom. Many people grow roses in their front yard. They also have a toilet that connects to a sewer. We put roses in the front yard and bury the sewer. Why? Because some things simply shouldn’t be put on public display.
If that’s not enough, the Apostle gives us two catch-all categories: “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” Excellent refers to virtue and praiseworthy means “those things that God himself would approve.” So here you have two final questions:
7. Is it morally excellent?
8. Is it something that God would approve?
Taken together, these eight questions point the way toward positive thinking. Paul says, “Think on these things.” It’s a command. It’s in the present tense. Keep on focusing your thoughts in these eight areas. Find the true and think about it. Find the noble and think about it. Find the lovely and think about it. Find the virtuous and think about it. Do it, and verse 9 tells us that “the God of peace will be with you.” Those who think on these things experience God’s peace in their lives.
3. How to Change Your Mind
That leaves us with only one area to consider. All of us fight the tendency to let our minds dwell on the negative. How do you “change your mind?” Here are some practical suggestions for those who want to take Paul’s advice seriously.
1. Analyze Your Input
It all begins right here. Remember GIGO? If you put garbage into your mind, garbage is what you will get out. This touches so many areas of life because we receive input from so many sources.
What about the music you listen to?
What about the movies you watch?
What about the videos you rent?
What about the radio stations you flip on in the morning?
What about the books you read?
What about the shows you watch on TV?
What about the conversations you have at work?
What about the phone calls you make?
What about the people you date?
What about the places you go to on the weekend?
What about the places you go to on vacation?
What about your secret habits?
What about your hobbies?
What about your daydreams?
What about the things you do when you are away from home?
What about the magazines you look at in the airport?
What about those porn movies they offer in the hotels?
What about the letters you write—and the ones you read?
2 Corinthians 10:5 says that we should “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In order to do that, you’ve got to look at the sources of your input.
If you truly want your life to change, find a friend who can hold you accountable.
You may be suffering spiritually because you come to church for one hour and then spend 40 hours a week cramming your mind with falsehood, evil and impurity. Or it may be that you simply fill your mind with spiritual junk food all week. If so, don’t think that an hour on Sunday is going to somehow clean you up.
B. Change Your Diet
This is the logical second step. First, find out what you’ve been putting in your mind. Then, decide to change. It won’t be easy because you’ve been hooked on trashy novels, cheap TV, soap operas, trivial conversations, and living off gossip and salacious rumors. But you still have to do it.
One suggestion: If you truly want your life to change, find a friend who can hold you accountable. In my experience, lasting change happens much faster when someone you respect is holding you accountable for your thoughts and your behavior.
C. Examine the Influence of Your Friends
I Corinthians 15:33 warns us that “bad company corrupts good character.” Do you know what that means? If you run with the pigs, you’re going to smell like the pigs. If you run with the rats, you’re going to look like the rats. Let’s face it. You become like the people you hang around with. If they love to party, you’re going to have to party with them or you’re going to have to get some new friends. If they like to drink, you’re going to feel uncomfortable unless you drink with them. If they use coarse language, you’ll pick up their vocabulary. If they are angry at the world, guess what? Pretty soon, you’ll be angry too. If they are negative, hostile, critical, filled with self-pity and convinced that the world has cheated them, those traits will rub off on you sooner or later.
So many Christians fall into the trap of thinking they can lift their friends up. All too often they end up being dragged down.
You’ll never get a new mind unless you examine your friends and the impact they have on your life.
D. Begin to Memorize Scripture
This has been the place where my own life has grown in the last few months. When Mark Bubeck was here for the spiritual warfare conference, he challenged us all to begin memorizing Scripture. You may remember that he began his message on Psalm 91 by quoting the entire Psalm from memory—slowly, with deep emotion, bringing out the meaning of every word. I felt deeply challenged by his example and determined then and there that I would begin memorizing Scripture.
I started with Psalm 91. My plan was simple. I photocopied the Psalm and carried it with me on the four-mile walk I take three or four times a week. I found out that if I concentrated, I could easily memorize six to eight verses on the back side of my walk, and sometimes quite a bit more than that. It took me about a week or so to get Psalm 91 down cold. Then I went on to Psalm 90. That took another week. From there I went back to Psalm 1, which I had memorized in the King James Version years ago. Then Psalm 2 and Psalm 3. When I spoke at Camp Nathanael at the end of June, I memorized most of Psalm 73. Then a week or so after that I picked up Psalm 20. I’ve been working on Psalm 34 for the last few days. That makes eight Psalms in a little over two months.
I’m not trying to memorize all the Psalms (although that’s certainly a worthy goal), but I’ve found that the Psalms introduce me to God in a way I’ve never known him before. Besides that, if you read enough of the Psalms, you discover the whole gamut of human emotions—anger, sorrow, fear, despair, frustration, joy, excitement, exultation, and profound worship.
As you begin to hide God’s Word in your heart, it will slowly but surely “change your mind.”
More than once I have found myself waking up in the night bothered by some problem or gripped by some nameless fear. In those moments, as I begin to quote “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1), I discover that God’s Word soothes my soul, chases away my fears, and brings my problems down to their proper size.
I recommend serious Scripture memory to everyone. As you begin to hide God’s Word in your heart, it will slowly but surely “change your mind.”
E. Remember: You’re not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.
This brings us back to where we started. The King James version of Proverbs 23:7 reads, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” What you think today, you become tomorrow. Your mind is the best predictor of your future.
If you think you can’t, you probably won’t.
If you think angry thoughts, angry words are sure to follow.
If you fill your mind with sexual fantasies, your body will find a way to fulfill those desires.
If you dwell on your problems, they will soon overwhelm you.
If you feel like a victim, soon you will become one.
If you give way to worry, don’t be surprised when you get ulcers.
If you think low thoughts, low living is soon to follow.
If you expect defeat, you’ll probably lose.
If you dwell on rejection, you will set yourself up for even more rejection.
If you focus on how others misunderstand you, you will soon become angry and bitter.
What goes in must come out. Sooner or later your thoughts translate into reality.
You’re not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.
The flip side is also true.
If you focus on the truth, you will speak the truth.
If you look on noble things, nobility will mark your life.
If you seek out lovely things, your life will be lovely to others.
If you dwell on that which is right, that which is wrong will have no attraction to you.
If you think on pure things, you will become pure.
If you look for virtue, you will find it.
If you search for higher things, you will elevate your own life.
Here is God’s prescription for believers trapped in unhealthy living: Think On These Things! Focus on the good, the pure, the true, the holy, the right, the lovely. Find those things that elevate the mind and think on them!
“Find them,” you exclaim. “But where do I look?” Look all around you. Even in a fallen world, beauty is everywhere, truth is right by your side, purity is yours for the asking, things that are admirable are all around you.
You Have the Power!
One final word and I am done. If you are a Christian, you have within you the power to obey this command. You can literally change your mind if you want to. How? By remembering that all that is best is embodied in a Person! I speak of Jesus Christ.
He is the Truth!
He is the Most Noble Son of God!
He is the Standard of Righteousness!
He is the Fountain of Purity!
He is Altogether Lovely!
He is the Admirable Savior!
He is the Source of All Virtue!
He is the One Whom God Entirely Approves!
If you link yourself with him, you are joined with the highest moral power in the universe. He is the embodiment of everything Paul has commanded us to do.
If you link yourself with Jesus Christ, you are joined with the highest moral power in the universe.
It’s all in Jesus. All virtue, all beauty, all holiness, all truth, all that is good and right is found in him!
Think on these things! This is not some abstract philosophy but a call to a personal relationship. If Christ is in your thoughts, then all these things must also be there.
So, then, my brothers and sisters, my exhortation is simple. Hold on to Jesus! Think about him! Rest in him! Live in him!
Last Wednesday I was privileged to attend “Harvest ‘94” at the Rock Church in Austin. They set up a huge tent and had evangelistic services every night. Through Wednesday over 250 people had come to Christ.
At one point in the service a young man gave his testimony. It went something like this: “I grew up in Austin. I was raised in this neighborhood. I was part of everything that went on here. For a long time I sold drugs on these streets. I had to do it because my habit was costing me $2000 a week. I would do whatever it took to get that money so I could get what I needed.
Then one day someone told me about Jesus Christ. They said that if I would trust Christ, I could have a brand-new life. I did that a few months ago. I’m here tonight to tell you that I don’t drink anymore and I don’t do drugs anymore. Since Jesus came into my heart, I love to read my Bible and I love to pray.”
As I thought about that man’s testimony, the words of the gospel song by Stuart Hamblen came to mind:
It is no secret what God can do,
What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.
With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.
When Jesus Christ reigns in your heart . . .
You will love the good and hate the bad.
You will love the truth and hate the falsehood.
You will love the lovely and hate the ugly.
You will love the pure and hate the dirty.
When Jesus reigns in your life, you will love the lovely and hate the ugly.
That’s what happens when Jesus Christ takes control of a life. He changes it from the inside out.
If you trust him, he will give you his life. He will be your companion. He will lift you out of the gutter and put you on a solid rock. He will transform your desires.
How does he do it? He does it by the magnetic power of his transforming life. As you hold on to Jesus, he pulls you up from the muck and mire of the old life. He pulls you up from bitterness, up from futility, up from resentment, up from impurity, up from dishonesty, up from selfishness, up from greed, up from pessimism, and up from despair.
Do you want to change your mind? You can. God has put the possibility within your grasp. You don’t have to stay the way you are.
Lay hold of Jesus by faith. Walk with him. Talk with him. Learn of him. Hold on and don’t let go. Take Christ into your mind. Enthrone him in your mind.
Then you will find it easy to “think on these things.” Do that and your life will never be the same!