I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a slight problem with today’s verse: ‘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’ (Philippians 4:8 ). I’m not quite sure why. For me it conjures up an image of smiling a rather fake smile and saying you are perfectly fine, even when your world is falling apart. An image of living in denial about bad things, rather than facing reality. Not only that, but, somewhere in my heart is the thought that, although it’s a lovely idea, it doesn’t seem very practical. Surely we need to think about other things too?
Do you think that’s why I have a problem with it? Or is it perhaps that it’s just a bit too difficult? By nature I find it easy to spot potential problems and not quite so easy to focus on success. How about you? We all have our gifts and our weak areas. Spotting problems can be a gift if you are editing a book, but if that gift is not well balanced, it can also be a weak area. Let’s face it; few of us really enjoy relationship with someone who keeps pointing out our deficiencies!
We may not always verbalise our thoughts, but many of us find it easy to be negative in one way or another. So is it a problem if it’s only our thoughts? Well, Jesus pointed out that our thoughts soon turn into words. ‘For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of’ (Matthew 12:34). Or, as J.B. Phillips puts that verse: ‘A man’s words depend on what fills his heart’.
Much of what we say is spontaneous, not the result of a specific choice to say those words, in that way, at that time. Nobody gets up in the morning and thinks, “how can I irritate, upset or hurt someone today?” It just happens. That’s why some hurtful words are called “thoughtless” – we weren’t thinking. In the passage just mentioned, Jesus goes on to say: ‘I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty (idle, careless) word they have spoken’ (Matthew 12:36).
Is that an impossible standard? I don’t believe Jesus was being unfair or unreasonable when he said we will be judged on our spontaneous, unthinking, careless words. He was just continuing the subject of the verses before – that our words are a symptom. They indicate what is in our heart. Obviously we will occasionally speak without really thinking – but what comes out when we do? What comes out is whatever we fill our hearts with – our regular thought patterns.
If our mouth speaks what our heart is full of, then it follows that the only way to avoid uttering useless, thoughtless words - that we didn’t mean to hurt anyone with - is to give serious consideration to the thoughts that fill our hearts.
Which brings us back to today’s verse. ‘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’. If we make it a habit to focus on positive, approving, pure, true, loving thoughts, then we are more likely to say those things when we are not thinking!
This doesn’t mean we have to pretend everything is fine when it’s not (that would not be true – and we’re meant to be thinking true things!). But it does mean that we could practise asking “Lord, please show me a positive way of looking at this” and ask ourselves “what is praiseworthy here?”, “what is good here?”, “is there anything I can admire?”
In time perhaps I can train myself to think in such a way that only helpful, constructive comments come out of my mouth, even when my mind is on something else! Now that would be good!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for drawing my attention to the thoughts of my heart. I would really appreciate your help with this. Please forgive me for the negative, critical, impure or unreal things I sometimes choose to think about. Thank you that you don’t condemn me and that your blood cleanses me from all sin. I gratefully receive that cleansing. Please would you help me to get a grip on my thoughts and to turn around when I start down a negative thought track. Would you help me with this today? And please remind me when I forget! Thank you. Amen.
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