Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.
Ever find yourself stuck in a negative thinking pattern? I know that I have; and sometimes I have struggled to get out of its ditch. But what is the source of negative thinking? Why does it overtake us at times? I believe one of the reasons is unfulfilled expectations. We expect something to happen, and when it does not come about, we feel disappointed. We might feel rejected when a relationship becomes severed. We might feel hurt when that new job opening at work was not granted and given to someone else. Such situations can cause our emotions … our flesh … to take hold of disappointment and allow it to fester into bitterness, or perhaps, even anger….
Sometimes negative thinking is rooted in low expectations and feelings of worthlessness. A person could believe that life is too hard, unfair, or unkind, and might not expect that any degree of happiness in this life is attainable. There are very real situations such as extreme poverty, oppression, the effects of violence and abuse, which can easily discourage or obscure reasons for hope. Yet, some of the most emotionally and spiritually healthy people that I have met in life have suffered these types of situations and circumstances. People I have met in third-world countries, who endure personal hardships beyond my imagination, have truly inspired me with their faith, joy, hope, and love. What causes their countenance to shine under such conditions? What changes low expectations or unfulfilled expectations into attitudes of gratitude? I believe it stems from how we choose to think about the contexts of our lives … the thought patterns that express our relationship with God.
In our Verse of the Day, Paul provides us some exhortations to elevate our thinking patterns, and it encourages us to not be unduly swayed by the temporal circumstances of this life. Things did not always go the way Paul wanted them to go. He bore a “thorn in the flesh” which he pleaded to the Lord to heal … but He did not remove it. Paul did not allow even this unfulfilled prayer request to sever his relationship with the Lord. He eventually learned there was a greater reason to keep it in place … to humble him … so that he might better understand the power of Christ to overcome our weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10) Paul suffered many things at the hands of those outside the church … as well as inside the church. Yet, Paul stayed focused on the hope of the resurrection. Paul declared, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Cf. Philippians 3:10-11) Yes, in spite of the sufferings and disappointments he experienced, Paul would write:
Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Our thought life is critical to having a positive, emotionally healthy outlook. The thoughts of our hearts are manifested in the exercise and expression of our faith. And though some of us might have been victims of unconscionable violence, abuse, hatred, cruelty, oppression, or injustice; our thinking patterns do not have to take up permanent residence in the darkness of those experiences. There may be deep wounds and visible scars … profound emotional or spiritual brokenness … justifiable anger … yet, in Christ Jesus we can find the healing and deliverance we need! In Jesus, we have access to a sanctuary of peace for our souls. Jesus is our refuge of light and hope! He is the peace of God which transcends all understanding.
I think the greatest precipitator of negative thoughts within our hearts are the emotions and memories that form during human interactions which fail to meet our expectations for love, acceptance, respect, trust, devotion, and so forth. Beyond physical interactions with others are the words we use to express our thoughts, ideas, and emotions. There are words which can speak love and affirmation into the heart of another. But more often than not, we tend to dwell on the words which cause piercing wounds to our souls. Harsh words spoken in haste … demeaning words spoken in hate … words spoken that inflict emotional, and possibly, spiritual harm. Such words reveal the inner thoughts of our fallen humanity. And so, I think it is important to examine and address our attitudes and mindsets which can have a more positive impact on our relationships:
Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Jesus knew first-hand the sorrow of humiliation; the dejection of being misunderstood; the painfulness of rejection; and ultimately the trauma of psychological and physical abuse. But on the cross of impending death, we find Jesus still interceding for us: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Cf. Luke 23:34) And despite the suffering and hardship that Paul endured to spread the Gospel, he did not let his mistreatment from the words or actions of others keep him from the zealous pursuit of intimacy with Christ. Paul allowed the transforming power and example of Christ to change the attitudes of his heart … and it is evident that his new way of thinking changed how he related to others.
Ephesians 4:22-27 (NIV)
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
There will always be disappointments in our lives. There will always be the failure of others to meet our expectations. There will always be situations and circumstances which God will allow to test our faith. So, when discouragement comes … when frustration arises … when bitterness or anger attempt to take root, Paul encourages us to think on better things – to take the higher road and a proactive approach regarding our thoughts – to follow the example of our Lord Jesus who suffered all these things and more. Paul advised: 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:
True: Sanctify them by the Truth; Your Word is Truth. ~ John 17:17
Noble: But noble people make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand. ~ Isaiah 32:8
Right: The word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does. ~ Genesis 4:7
Pure: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ~ Psalm 51:10
Lovely: How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! ~ Psalm 84:1
Admirable: If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is admirable before God. ~ 1 Peter 2:20
Excellent: And yet I will show you the most excellent way of love. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:31
Praiseworthy: We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. ~ Psalm 78:4
Paul urges us to meditate on these types of thoughts. Indeed, we will find the healing and deliverance we need when we seek what is true; moral; good; pure; attractive; and praiseworthy. When we do so, we demolish the strongholds of brokenness, unforgiveness, bitterness, and anger in our lives. Yes, we equip ourselves to take every negative thought captive to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) So, I pray these scriptures will empower you with wisdom and perspective to reduce the negative thinking and its unhealthy impact on your life.
So Now You Know…
Have a Blessed Day!
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. ~ Colossians 3:1-3