A penny for your thoughts.
That is a question you might ask someone who is deep in thought. They are looking into space and you simply wonder what this person is thinking about. To me this is especially interesting when a little child is deep in thought. What occupies the mind of that little boy or girl? This question once haunted me as I watched a three-year-old boy sitting at his mother’s funeral with a blank expression on his face.
The mind is powerful. Someone once said, “We are what we think.” We know our thoughts can often become very confused and produce some sick behavior. But we also know that same mind can think great thoughts, which bring forth a lot of joy and good.
As St. Paul was closing his letter to the Christians at Philippi, he counseled them to keep their thinking healthy. Here are his words:
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Why did Paul close his letter with these words? Remember, he was under house arrest. He had been taken out of the stream of society and his schedule was not busy. His appointment book was empty, he had plenty of time to think, and Satan would not leave him alone.
What were some of Paul’s thoughts when he reminisced about his visit to Philippi? He must have had some negative thoughts, because he had called some of the people living there dogs. To quote Paul, he said, “Look out for the dogs.” Now a dog in our day has an exalted position. I know a lady who just paid a bill of $3,000 for her dog to have a new hip. Wow!
Not so in Paul’s day. Dogs traveled in packs. They would snap and bite as they prowled around looking for food. Nothing could be any lower than a dog. Well, who were those people Paul referred to as dogs? They were the enemies of Christ who wanted to destroy the faith that dwelt in the hearts of new converts to the Christian faith.
Paul had thought about what these people were doing to his Philippian brothers and sisters in Christ. The longer he thought about these “dogs,” the more angry he got. His thoughts controlled his speech.
But Paul had other thoughts about his stay in Philippi. Lydia became a Christian under Paul’s ministry. She had invited him and his coworker, Silas, to stay at her house while they were in Philippi. No one was more genuine than Lydia, and he thought of her often.
Paul and Silas had also been beaten by a Philippian jailer, who had thrown them into an inner cell for casting an evil spirit out of a fortune teller (Acts 16:16f). As they sat in the jail, an earthquake opened the cells, and the prisoners’ fetters fell off. The jailer was about to kill himself when Paul said, “Don’t do yourself any harm. We are all here.”
In desperation the jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). To their surprise, Paul and Silas were invited to the jailer’s house where their wounds were washed and Paul taught them the way of salvation. It was a happy group who gathered around the table after Paul had shared with them the way of salvation and the family had been baptized. They were now a part of the family of God.
You can be sure that Paul thought often about that night and the jailer’s conversion. They were good thoughts that made him rejoice. What did it matter that he had to suffer for the cause of Christ if people were being saved? These thoughts kept Paul going, and so he encourages believers to see what the Gospel can do in the lives of those who have no hope.
One night I sat down on our davenport and picked up a news magazine. The news was pretty sad, and I didn’t need that, so I put it down and picked up an attractive book my wife had just purchased. It’s title was, “An Artist with the Corps of Discovery.” It told the story of Lewis and Clark’s journey to the northwest.
Yet this book is unique. It not only tells this fascinating story of the expedition that unlocked the mystery of what the northwest was like, it also gives an artist’s vision of the expedition, the people they encountered, and the land they traveled through one of the country’s most respected western artists, Charles Fritz. He did his work right out in the territory where Lewis and Clark walked.
What makes this book extra special for us is that, while we do not know Mr. Fritz himself, his mother is a college friend of my wife. They are in regular contact together with several other college friends. Can you imagine how proud this mother is of her son and how personal this book is for all the friends of the Fritz family?
The point of this illustration is to remind us that, even in the secular world, we need to immerse our minds on that which is good, noble, lovely, and gracious. After spending an hour with the book, I went back to my study completely refreshed. What if only the news magazine had been on the coffee table? The news would not have been nearly as refreshing.
The same is true when our thoughts turn to the spiritual life of our nation. There is an indifference to what God is telling us in his Word. The pews in many of our churches are empty. People are biblically illiterate. This age of relativism Ð where absolutes have gone out of style and pluralism makes Christianity just another religion among many Ð produces moral decay.
Do we have to expose ourselves to these depressing realities?
Yes, they cannot be avoided. We must address them and expose the danger of becoming a part of this culture that can spiritually corrupt our thinking. We must make our voices heard even though leaders in our congregations shut their eyes to the spiritual decline and say that all is well.
But there is another side to this picture. We need to be thrilled with the many people in our churches, not least the youth, who are vocal about their faith. They will not be tied to a congregation that fails to feed them spiritually, and they are not hung up on denominations.
Think on these things and become involved. This is St. Paul’s counsel.
A healthy person is not only physically well, he or she is also spiritually well. They take these words seriously: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable Ð if anything is excellent or praiseworthy Ð think about these things.”