The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.
When it comes to our thought life, I daresay we could do with a few less 'alternatives' to ponder, rehash, and ruminate upon. We all probably struggle a little bit with the 'clutter' of thought we encounter all day long as we go about our regular tasks and chores. Any 'alternative' is simply means we have to make choices - one becoming more demanding or clearer than the others. We choose when to begin the laundry, whether we will leave the vacuuming another until another day, or even if we will listen to music while we go about those chores. We choose to hold onto or let go of the thought 'alternatives' when it comes to our misadventures that leave us feeling a little less than 'right' in the end. Guilt can lead to shame all because we don't let go of something we have spent way too much time ruminating on in our minds. Anger can lead to bitterness because we continue to turn over the embers of some unkindness done. Indeed, we need to clear our minds of the 'alternatives' we have been holding onto if we are to have clarity of thought and certainty of purpose.
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)
An alternative is really a choice between two courses - take one and the outcome will go one way; take the other and you could see a different alternative. In science lab we would see what each 'alternative' produced - some ending up with spoiled projects, while others showed huge potential and even success. Look at the alternatives put forward for us in this passage and you will see there is one that produces a good outcome - the other producing a less than desirable one. It is also important to realize making the right choice in determining the 'alternative' we will pursue isn't by accident - it is a matter of practice. In science lab we didn't just do the experiment once and say we would get the same results time after time again. We practiced it over and over ensuring the results remained consistent. God expects us to change the way we think - the alternatives we consider - not just once, but repeatedly until the consistency of choosing the 'right alternative' is 'built into' our thoughts.
I think we might just struggle way too much in our thought life because of all the 'alternatives' we have allowed to amass in all those brain synapses. We store away all manner of thought, good and bad alike, sometimes without even being aware we are doing so. We see something and it gets stored away. We hear another thing and we tuck it away. We do it unconsciously - without purposeful thought or action on our part. Don't believe me? Have you ever been engaged in a conversation with someone and then find your mind drifting a bit, only to come back to the conversation knowing you were just asked a question? You were unconsciously 'listening', but not 'consciously' hearing. Engaged once again and you are more purposeful in the conversation. God isn't going to brainwash any of us and get rid of all the 'alternatives' that clutter up our thought life just because we pray one time for him to bring clarity. It takes active 'practice' on our part to sort out those thoughts, confess they exist, and then rid ourselves of them by choosing to think on the 'alternative' to those thoughts. This is what our passage says - rid yourself of the worst, considering instead the best. Time to 'whittle down' a few of those alternatives, my friends. Just sayin!