What’s On Your Mind?
It often feels like our thoughts control us more than we control them. Concerns, worries, and issues relentlessly attack, feeling like uninvited guests. So, here’s the question for us: how much control do we have over the thoughts running through our minds? This question is especially important for Christians because the Bible commands us to determine our thoughts. For example, Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” So, are we victims to our thoughts or masters of our thoughts?
A few months ago, I heard about a book called The Sleep Solution. The person who recommended it talked about how helpful it had been for them. So, I was curious about what it said, even though I’ve never really struggled with sleep myself. Just ask my kids. They know if we sit down to watch a movie together as a family, I’ll likely fall asleep. Of course, in a bit of irony, this book would say that means I do have a sleep problem; I’m not getting enough during the night. Regardless, when I turn off my light, it’s rare that I have any trouble falling asleep.
Here’s the interesting thing that happened to me as I read the book. Even though I don’t really have issues falling asleep or staying asleep at night, I found myself constantly thinking about ways not to hinder my sleep. When I read the chapter on the impact of coffee, even early afternoon coffee, I started limiting my coffee intake. Which, by the way, is significant. In fact, I feel like I almost have coffee immunity now because of how little it affects my sleep. But, I still cut back . . . for a little while.
The book also talks about the need for your bedroom to be pitch black at night. That’s something else I’ve never been concerned about. Yet, after I read that chapter all I could think about while getting settled in bed was the glow emanating from the blinds on the window. The book even said we shouldn’t have a clock next to our bed because of the light it gives off. So, I stopped using my phone as a digital clock on my nightstand.
By now, you get the picture. Issues regarding sleeping at night weren’t something I gave much thought. But, as I was reading this book, I found myself thinking about it all the time. I would offer my wife unsolicited advice to improve her sleep. I would hear other people talk about sleep and find myself evaluating their sleep habits. I would see commercials for sleep medication and remember what the book had to say about those prescriptions.
Where did my sudden concern about sleep come from? It came from spending time reading a book that made me think about it. You see, we control what we think about more than we realize. It begins with what we allow into our minds. You probably haven’t thought about whether Zebras are black with white stripes or white with black stripes in a while – or ever. But, now you’re picturing a Zebra and trying to remember what they look like. And, at some point after you’re done reading, later today or tomorrow or maybe even next week, this thought will pop into your head again. Why? Because reading this influenced your thought life.
The control function of our minds is often managed on the intake side more than the processing side. In other words, controlling what we read, watch, and consume is one of the best ways we can seek to obey Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
We pursue obedience to commands concerning our thoughts by first controlling the gateway to our minds. For example, if you struggle with anxiety it’s not a good idea to read books or watch shows that create those thought patterns. So, don’t watch the movie Contagion in the middle of a pandemic! It may lead some of you to sinful anxiety. If you struggle with impure thoughts, don’t watch or listen to things that plant those thoughts in your mind. If you battle depression, you should avoid reading and watching stories that take you to dark places.
I want to be clear that I’m not dismissing the very real struggles people have. There are people who battle depression and anxiety without watching or reading anything that would lead them to those thoughts. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also strive to intentionally give further protection to those thoughts.
Finally, we must not only avoid content that leads our thoughts to sinful places, we must also fill our minds with what leads us to obedience. If we are going to obey Philippians 4:8, then we must fill our minds with things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. Just like sleep became the center of my attention when I read The Sleep Solution, these characteristics will become the center of your attention when you intake material that holds these things high. The Bible is the most obvious place to see these traits, but it’s not the only place. Church history and Christian biographies contain incredible examples of people who exemplified living for what is true, honorable, pure, and lovely. So, whether it’s the Bible, Christian biography, or a book about the Bible – reading or listening to these resources will push you toward obedience in “thinking about these things.”
You can control your thought life. But, it’s a lot easier to filter what makes its way into your thoughts than it is to control what thoughts arise from the storehouse of your mind.