Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).
The human mind is a most wonderful and profound entity. Its depths and its abilities are only now beginning to be plumbed and understood. There is much about the mind that is beyond our understanding; perhaps it will always be that way.
Yet there is one undeniable aspect of the mind– the power of its meditations. We humans have been given the ability to think our way through all kinds of challenges and difficulties. We have the ability to focus on the positive in the worst of times. But we can also focus on the negative even in the best of times. On account of our mental attitude we may survive and endure; we can just as quickly wither and fall apart.
This is why Paul encourages Christians to focus on the positive– that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Paul’s idea is that if we focus our minds on things like that, our attitude, emotions, and actions will conform to those excellent standards. We will be better able to express the love and joy that should mark believers (John 13:35, Philippians 4:4).
We all know what happens when we focus on the opposite. When we think about what is false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, and grotesque, our attitudes and actions easily follow, and we find ourselves tempted in sin (cf. James 1:14-15). If our minds are focused on what has no virtue and can have no praise, it cannot be pleasing to the God Who is excellent, virtuous, and praiseworthy!
Yet there is an even more pervasive and subtle difficulty– the “middle ground.” In the “middle ground,” one might not be thinking of practices that are sinful, but one is surely not thinking about what is good. Instead, the mind is filled with anxiety, worry, and negativity. Cynicism and pessimism dominate such a perspective.
As it is written in Proverbs 23:7a, “for as he thinketh within himself, so is he.” While we may not always choose an instantaneous reflex, and while there are some circumstances when the brain’s chemistry is not properly aligned, in general, we have the choice about that which we focus upon with our minds. We may try to blame our circumstances, our past, or some other external factor in an attempt to justify negative or sinful thinking, but in the end, such is just an excuse.
In times of distress it is easy to focus on the worries and to believe that things will continually fall apart; at such times we must endeavor even more to remember what is of value, honorable, lovely, and praiseworthy, so that we can be sustained through the difficulty. Yet it is no less important to remember the positive when things are going well. Too many spend the good times worrying about the bad ones they know are just around the corner.
What Jesus says about the heart is also true for the mind: “for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). If we know that we are of God, and that we belong to God, then we will direct our minds to God and to all of the blessings and benefits of this life. We will dwell mentally about all the good with which He has blessed us and all the wonderful things that He has provided in the creation and through His Son Jesus Christ. But if our treasure is in the perishing and fading world, then our thoughts will focus on the dark and negative, and will lead to our own fading and perishing.
While not everything is in the mind, the mind controls a lot more of our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being than we would perhaps like to admit. Where have we placed our minds? Let us focus on what is divine, holy, and of benefit, and serve Christ the Lord!
Ethan R. Longhenry