If someone gave us a really simple "list" of the things we absolutely have to do in this life, that would make it easier to know the path we are to take, right? In fact, if the list were kept to just a few items, this should help us figure out the stuff we should dismiss as not really worth our time, and then focus on the stuff which would yield a higher return. Yet, with all kinds of help identifying these things already being given to us, we still continue to wonder what it is God wants us to be doing! We question the "list" we have been given, because it either doesn't seem like enough (for those of us who still think that being right with God comes by doing good works), or we don't know how to fulfill the things listed, so we go off hoping there is another list which might be a little easier (for those of us who still struggle with obedience more than once in a while)!
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8-9 MSG)
Our list starts with what it is we do with our minds - what we allow to fill the empty spaces of our synapses. As we add thought upon thought to the grey matter of our brain, we form relationships between this piece of data and another, until several pieces of data come together to form a concrete thought which might help us with reasoning and choice. What we allow INTO our minds affects what comes OUT of our minds - so being diligent to "monitor" our intake is paramount to us learning the correct actions to be taken. The "list" of what should "go in" is quite clear:
- Things true vs. things which cannot be trusted. Trust is based upon truth. In the absence of truth, it is quite difficult to trust. Therefore, the basis of sound thought is truth - the facts we can stand upon and count as "solid". We can get involved in all manner of "make believe" thought, can't we? In fact, we do this more often than we might imagine, simply by taking this thought and adding it to the next until we "perceive" something to be a certain way based on what we "imagine" in our minds. Keeping thoughts firmly fixed on reality is most important in ensuring we have a right perspective.
- Things noble vs. things vulgar. Noble thought is that which is morally sound and possesses a certain "excellence". Some might call this manner of thinking as thinking on things which are honorable and principled. This is a good place to start in our thinking - for thought which is "principle-driven" will produce actions which are right and wholesome. If we struggle with wrong action, perhaps the place to start in correcting the action is in considering the "principles" God lays out once again.
- Things reputable vs. things which will bring dishonor. Reputation is based on the set of standards by which we live. Form the right set of standards - those laid out clearly for us in the Word - and your reputation should be one of excellence. Allow things of ill-repute to get mixed up in the standards we adhere to and we will likely live a little "tarnished". Remember this - even the best of silver tarnishes when left unattended. Reputable thought requires attentiveness and continual "brushing up" on what it is which keeps us in line with the standards God expects.
- Things authentic vs. the stuff we just copy from another. We are all subject to this idea of going along with the others in the crowd. When we allow our thoughts to be conformed to the "norms" of the group, we often forget we are expected to think for ourselves. God expects us to not just copy the behavior of another, but to understand the value of living uniquely as he designed us to live. In other words, when we begin to live authentic lives, it starts by learning to think through who we were created to be, complete with all our unique qualities and quirks, and then allowing God to use those authentic things within us to touch others in truthful and wholesome ways.
- Things compelling and gracious vs. those things which make very little impact in our lives. When our thought begins to embrace the possibilities of grace within, it is not uncommon that this grace just begins to permeate all the other parts of our lives. What begins in our brains works its way out into our actions. Grace-filled thoughts make an impact in our actions and then in the lives of those who are touched by those grace-filled actions.
- Things which encourage and build up vs. the stuff which pulls us and others down. This is probably one of the hardest parts of active thought - keeping the stuff which discourages us and others out of our brains. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to just embrace the "bad stuff" and how hard it is to see the good stuff hidden just underneath? When someone asks you to outline the hurdles you might encounter in a particular endeavor, it is often quite easy to outline those. On the other hand, when they ask you to outline all the benefits of taking the first step in that endeavor, you have a harder time because the mind gravitates quite easily toward the impossible and forgets that the possibilities are just around the corner. We need to begin to see the possibilities - being encouraged and lifted by even the slightest of hope.
We won't get this right all the time, but as we practice this, it becomes easier in time. The control we give our mind makes all the difference to the control we exhibit in our actions. To whom we submit the control of our minds makes all the difference in what we think! Just sayin!