Finally, brothers, 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. Phil 4:8
While it is true that we can’t control every thought that passes through our mind, it is also true that we can deliberately cause our mind to think about what we want to think about. Here in Phil 4:8 we have a verse that affirms that, and, really, commands that. Thinking deliberate thoughts isn’t necessarily the easy thing to do, just like getting off the couch and going for a run isn’t the easy thing to do. Your mind may not want to put forth the effort to think deliberately, just like your body may not want to force itself to go run. But just like every other area in life, things that are worthwhile involve effort. Its much easier to turn on the news, or listen to the radio, or just to entertain whatever crazy thought is in your head at the time, but if we are going to obey God, and if we are to reap the benefits of godly living, we cannot always do that.
There are so many things that we can think about in life. We can think about how this world is such an evil place. We can think about all the bad things that are always happening. We can think about the bad things that have happened to us. We can think about trivial things. But we can also think about good things. We can think about truth. We can also think about things that are pure and undefiled. We can think about things that bring God praise. But since there is a steady flood of negative thinking that flows from every crevice of the world, positive, godly thinking comes unnaturally. We must paddle against the tide, giving constant effort, in order not to be swept into a worldly way of thinking.
This practice of controlled thinking is called ‘meditation.’ It means to take control of your thoughts and focus them on a particular subject. Some people may think meditation is only for eastern religions and yoga gurus, but the bible speaks a lot about the subject of meditation. Here are some of the many mentions of it in the bible:
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide – Gen 24:63
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night – Joshua 1:8
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. – Ps 1:2
I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds. – Ps 77:12
Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 1 Tim 4:15
All these verses have this in common, that they involve focused thinking on the things of God. Notice that Isaac made special effort to separate himself to spend time in meditation. Also, notice how the psalmist says, ‘I will also meditate…” showing us that puts forth the exercise of his will for meditation.
The point of all this is to understand that our thoughts need to be under the control of our spirit. There are certain things that we should think about and certain things that we should not think about. Paul, in Philippians 4:8 tells how we should qualify the thoughts in our mind: are they true? are they non-trivial? are they good? are they pure? are they pleasant? are they helpful? is it something that would be celebrated if others knew about it, and would it bring glory to God? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then whatever thought that is in our mind needs to be expelled.
The question then remains: how? How can I get control over my thoughts? Thoughts fly into my head all the time. How can I keep that from happening? Well, you can’t keep it from happening right away. When we are born again and come into the kingdom of God, our minds are not reprogrammed immediately. We still have some of that old thinking that we used to have. Over time, as you beging to transform yourself through the renewing of your mind with the Word of God (Rom 12), you will have less and less wild thoughts pass through your mind. You can get to the point of ‘to the pure, all things are pure,’ meaning your mind doesn’t interpret the things that it receives in an ungodly way anymore. For example, the carnal minded christian may see someone run a red light and automatically think, “that jerk isn’t paying attention,” whereas a spiritually minded christian may think, “maybe he is on his way to the hospital or something.” The spiritually minded christian uses the word of God to program his mind to think about things that only please God.
But even the most spiritually minded people still have uninvited thoughts pop in their heads. What do you do then? You shoo it away as you would if a pesky mosquito were buzzing around your head. You begin to speak OUT LOUD the word of God. No thought can remain in your mind while you are occupied with speaking out of your mouth. That is why God told Joshua not to let the book of the law depart from out of his MOUTH.
God doesn’t tell you what to exactly think about, but He does give you guidelines. So determine your own thoughts within those boundaries. Don’t let the world and the devil shove their thoughts into your mind. Block them out by setting up a firm defense of a solid knowledge of the Word of God. You will find that it brings a peace that passes understanding.