Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

We become what we think about

All of our brains are wired to work without us really telling them to work, though. I mean, how many processes go on inside your body that you don’t have to control? Do you tell your lungs to breathe? Do you tell your eyes to blink or your heart to pump? I hope you don’t. If you do, you might consider talking to a doctor. There are just some things your brain is supposed to do that you don’t have control over, but there is a level of processing that we do control.

Choosing to be happy and choosing to look at life with a perspective that honors God is difficult sometimes, but it’s a lot easier if you’ve already chosen to alter the way you think anyway. Some people operate under the assumption that we can’t choose what we think about. But that’s not true. Just because your brain starts thinking about something, that doesn’t mean you have to think about it.

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:8-9.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

I’ve heard this verse described as a filter on more than one occasion, something to run our thoughts through before we allow ourselves to think them. If it’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and/or excellent, you can think about it. Thinking about things that meet those requirements will encourage you, will enrich you, and will help you be a light to other people who don’t necessarily think the same way.

But does it really matter what we think about? Does our thought life really mean so much to how we live?

Well, I haven’t done any major studying about it. I haven’t researched it. But I know I’ve heard plenty of secular people talk about the power of positive thinking, that if you think positively about something you can overcome it. And from what I know about psychology and mental exercises, I would say that the content of your thought life is a direct reflection of how you live and it has a direct influence on your attitude.

I know personally when I spend a length of time thinking about something that upsets me, I become upset. If I think about the things I don’t have that I still want, I become discontent and unhappy. If my brain wanders down the road of any random topic with a negative bent, it won’t be long before the rest of me follows right along. What I spend my time thinking about shapes my mood and my attitude and my conversation and my choices.

So what do you think about? Are you thinking about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and/or excellent? Or do you think things that are degrading? Do you think things that are bitter and resentful? Do you think things that are hurtful? Do you think in lies? Do you think about things you shouldn’t?

It’s difficult to keep our thoughts true and pure, especially when we’re surrounded by so much garbage that leads us to think things that are the opposite. But the beauty of how God has designed our mind is that we have control over our thoughts. We don’t have to think about things we shouldn’t. We can choose what we think about, and we need to choose to think things that are true and right and good. Each thought we have is a seed, and we need to choose which ones are worthy of nurturing and which ones need to be thrown away.

Don’t misunderstand. A single wrong thought isn’t going to send you toppling out of control. Most of our brains run on overdrive all the time anyway, and in many instances, we can’t control that very first thought. But we can control the choice to keep thinking about it or let it slide away.

So the next thought you have, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it right? Does this thought honor God? Does it honor the people around me? Is it something worthy of praise? Is it something God would have me focus on?

If it is, think about it.

If it isn’t, drop it. And don’t go back to it. Don’t dwell on it at all.

We become what we think about. So it’s a good idea to think about something worth the time.

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Rough road to San Miguel - Peten, Guatemala

The opportunity in a challenge

Life is full of challenges, and, in my experience, we like to tackle a challenge by throwing optimistic clichés at it. Nothing worth having was ever easy to get. It will be worth it in the end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And so on and so forth.

But rather than regurgitating the same “power of positive thinking” messages over and over again every time something difficult appears in your path, wouldn’t it be more effective to alter your perspective entirely? After all, why does a challenge have to be challenging? What else is a challenge but an opportunity in disguise?

Rough road to San Miguel - Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is James 1:2-4.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

At work yesterday, I found out that my office is going to be majorly restructured — again. My department was part of a major restructure about a year and a half ago. It was a big deal for many people, but my department escaped relatively unscathed. Not this time. And the result is that my boss (who I love) will be staying in one place while the rest of us move to another division.

At first, I tried to think positively. I really don’t like change. I try to like it. I try to accept it, but it’s difficult for me. So when change comes along and I am forced to comply with its wishes, I do my best to look on the bright side. But positive thinking can only get you so far. And that’s the wall I hit yesterday because no matter how positively I think, I can come up with a possible negative scenario for each positive option.

What if our new boss (who hasn’t been selected yet) is uptight and controlling? What if our new boss is a micro-manager and a OCD-ish bully? What if he or she is stingy about vacations and FlexTime? What if we aren’t allowed to take off an hour early for emergencies?

No matter how many positive spins you put on any of those, having a challenging boss could make my professional life very difficult. It could be a challenge. And I could treat it like a challenge. But if I treat it like a challenge, I’m going to be defensive. I’m going to spend all my time scrambling to hold whatever ground I think I already occupy. I’m going to clamp down hard to cling to my rights and my privileges and my this and my that.

But what if I change my mind about what defines a challenge? What if instead of focusing on how I react when it goes wrong, I focus on what opportunities I will have to make a difference? How will that change my attitude? How will that help me grow, not only as an employee but as a believer?

If I look at my professional life with a difficult boss and I treat the situation like an opportunity to make a difference instead of a challenge to be overcome, my entire attitude will change. There won’t be any defensiveness. There won’t be any arguments or scrambling to get out of the kill box. There won’t be a stampede or a rush to gain as much ground and hold on to as much as possible. There will just be meekness and agreeableness and pleasantness.

Isn’t that the way we’re supposed to be anyway?

Now please don’t misunderstand. If you’ve got a boss (or even a coworker) who’s deliberately taking advantage of you, you probably need to say something about it. Or it could be a sign that you’re supposed to move on. But more Christians that I have met are developing an entitlement mentality about their jobs. Yes, as employees we have a right to expect certain things, but I think we take it too far sometimes. A job is a job; your boss is your boss. If you don’t like it, don’t just sit and complain; either change your perspective or quit.

It’s better to change your perspective, honestly. Because if you can learn to change challenge to opportunity in your own mind, there’s not much that will be able to slow you down in every other area of your life. If you can tackle difficulty with true joy, what can Satan throw at you that will stop you? If you can look disappointment square in the eye and try again, knowing that God’s timing is perfect, what can keep you down?

Challenges are a part of life. We have to deal with that. But they don’t have to be challenging. Turn the challenge into an opportunity to grow. And you’ll not only succeed professionally but you’ll learn how to handle the things that really matter in life.

I think therefore I am

What do you spend your time thinking about? Everybody thinks about something and it’s usually all the time. Your brain is constantly moving, constantly thinking, always working, never stopping. Granted, there are times when your brains takes over and starts thinking for you, but when you are awake and have the choice about what to think, what do you choose to think about?

For me, I’m usually trying to remember and plan my day at work. And if it’s not that, then I’m brainstorming plot lines or skits. Or, I could be thinking about a book I’ve read or a movie I’ve seen. Or I could be thinking about what I’m going to cook for dinner.

How many of you know people who think negatively all the time? They’re so sad and grouchy all the time that it seems there isn’t a positive bone in their body? All they think about is how unfair life is or how they’ve been mistreated or how people around them have been mistreated or how they don’t have any friends. Those are the people you avoid at work and at church and at family reunions, right?

Negative thinking is a vicious cycle. And it’s silly. Because what do we have to be negative about anyway? I mean, those negative thinkers can always find something to complain about, but in the grand scheme of things, how can we complain about anything?

The verse for the day made me think of all this.

Philippians 4:8

 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

 A lot of people call this the “filter verse” and say it should be used to determine what you watch on television or at the movie theatre or what you read, and I’m sure that’s a perfectly good use for this verse. But a lot of times people don’t apply it to their own personal unending mental conversation.

Fix your thoughts on what is true.

What is true? God loves you. That’s true. In the face of something like that, how can we complain about the weather?

Think about things that are exellent and worthy of praise. That doesn’t sound negative to me.

But it’s so much easier to be negative. It’s easier to focus on the downside of life. Honestly, life does have a lot of downs, but it also has a lot of ups. If you choose to focus on the ups and truly believe that God knows what He’s doing, you’ll find your outlook on life turning a bit sunnier. And as soon as you have some sun shining, it’s not long until everything else starts to brighten up too.

I remember a cartoon show when I was young called Rainbow Brite. I adored that show. I actually have the movie they made. It’s total 80’s awesomeness. Rainbow Brite is the main character and she brings light and color to the world; she’s this genuinely happy little girl who laughs a lot (I know; I think the creators were on crack). The main antagonists (read that bad guys) of the show are these two creepy guys who live in a cave; one is really stupid and the other one is a really stupid schemer. Their names are Murky and Lurky Dismal, and they don’t like color or rainbows or happiness or anything cheerful. That’s basically the show.

Not a lot of redeeming qualities other than demonstrating to kids that being grouchy and sad isn’t a good way to make friends. Well . . . maybe it had redeeming qualities after all then.

We can choose what we think about. Even in countries where we can speak our minds out loud, our minds can still work in silence. So I say it’s better to think positively. God has everything under control, so why be a Gloomy Gus (or a Murky Dismal)?

Murky Dismal

Murky Dismal