Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Mind

The Way We Think

In the design and plan of God the mind is at the center of all human experience (cf. Prov. 4:23;  Matt. 12:34-35; Mark 7:20-23), and of our relationship to our Creator. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one line of evidence that powerfully makes this point. Repeatedly and in a variety of ways God, though Paul, emphasizes the significance and power of not just what we think about, but how we think. With the rest of Scripture it calls us not just to Christian thoughts, but to a Christian mind.

mind.Christ

The entire letter might we outlined (even if a bit overly simplistically) around this theme:

  • A United Mind. (1)
    • United in prayer. (1:1-11)
    • United in gospel witness. (1:12-17)
    • United in suffering and serving. (1:18-30)
  • An Unselfish Mind. (2)
    • The example of Christ. (2:1-11)
    • The example of Christ’s servants. (2:12-30)
  • An Undistracted Mind. (3)
    • Undistracted by the past. (3:1-7)
    • Undistracted from Christ. (3:8-16)
    • Undistracted from hope. (3:17-21)
  • An Undivided Mind. (4)
    • Undivided in fellowship. (4:2-3)
    • Undivided in worry. (4:4-9)
    • Undivided in contentment. (4:10-23)

The high point of all this focus upon the centrality of the mind is in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (NKJV).

But Paul is pervasive throughout the letter in making this point. It comes to a beautiful crescendo later in the letter, in what is an encyclopedic call to the way we are to think, as enabled by God through His Spirit: “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” (4:8, ESV).

As I thought about this beautiful, poetic expression of what the mind of Christ looks like in His people, I thought of how remarkably different is the standard way of thinking in our world. So I wondered, how would the world (and its proponents) write their call to a way of thinking that represents the loves and commitments of the world-system. I think it might go something like this: “Finally, sad comrades, whatever is grimly possible (however unlikely it might be), whatever is degraded, dark and depressing, whatever is askew and cockeyed, whatever is vile, whatever is gruesome, whatever is deplorable, if there is anything wrong, if there is anything that can be complained about, think about these things.”

Hold those two ways of thinking over against one another. If the disposition of the heart is largely established by the direction and devotion of the mind, then is it any wonder the world and its people are as sad and depressed as they so often seem to be. But we must also ask: Does this in some way explain why so many of us who bear the name of Christ find ourselves in such the sad, depressed and anxious state in which we too seem to pass through this world?

May God grant us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and thus enable us to experience relationship to Him and to His world in a way that is full of the joy of the Lord.

Remembering the Right Use of Memory

The Bible makes a really big deal about the role our minds play in life and discipleship. Our every thought is to be taken captive to Christ and His Kingdom rule (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

Memory

Not surprisingly, then, the Bible has a lot to say about the place memory has to play in a disciple’s life. God’s people are exhorted repeatedly to “Remember” (e.g, Ex. 32:13; Joshua 1:13; 1 Chron. 16:12; Neh. 1:8; Isa. 44:21; Eph. 2:11; 2 Tim. 2:8; Heb. 13:7; Rev. 3:3)!

But even when we “remember,” we may do so in a way that becomes spiritually or emotionally unhealthy. There is a particular way we are to remember.

I was recently helped, in this regard, by something Mark Buchanan has written about memory run amuck.[1] It has to do with the role of nostalgia. And the older we are the more vulnerable we are to these kinds of memories-gone-to-seed.

Buchanan says, “I think nostalgia is really misplaced anticipation.” That is to say, “nostalgia is expectancy in reverse. It’s our instinct for heaven rummaging around in the storage closet, hoping that our heart’s true desire is in there somewhere, hidden amid a clutter of keepsakes and accumulated debris.”

We all have somewhere in our memory banks a treasure trove of “golden days” when things were, in our estimation, a good as they would ever get. Buchanan says, “If we don’t fathom that [the] beauty [of those days] is a rumor of heaven, we’ll make a fetish of the rumor and miss what it’s pointing to. We’ll try to cling to [the] beauty [of those days], and resent its fading.”

In other words, “We’ll become nostalgic.”

He goes on, “We all know the past was never as clean and bright as we remember it. Nostalgia pains history with gold, just as unforgiveness paints it black. Actually, nostalgia, besides being misplaced expectancy, is also second cousin to unforgiveness. Both unforgiveness and nostalgia share the trait of an unreconciled past. Nostalgia is a vain attempt to reconcile the past through wistfulness, whereas unforgiveness is a doomed attempt to reconcile it through vengeance. The past is actually only ever reconciled through four things: thankfulness, forgiveness, acceptance, and repentance. Most of us have a season or two when we try to reconcile the past in these other ways, through wistfulness or vengeance. But all we find (if we’re noticing) is it makes the past accumulate not resolve. It makes history’s hand on us heavy, not light, confining, not liberating. The past ends up claiming us in ways God never intended it to; rather than imparting clear identity that shapes destiny, it twists and thwarts destiny. Nostalgia and unforgiveness both do this.”

“In fact,” says Buchanan, “one easily becomes the other. He who waxes nostalgic will usually, in time, turn bitter about how the past won’t return to him; she who nurses unforgiveness will usually, in time, pin for some pristine beginning, some imagined prehistory before all the trouble began.”

When our remembrances make us less able to engage the present and move hopefully into the future, it’s a sign that nostalgia has held up our memory banks and robbed us of the divinely intended use of our God-given capacity for remembering. When we can remember and be moved with simple, profound gratitude and then freed to trust that same God to offer us more good (but different) experiences in the present and on into the future, it’s a sign that His Spirit is filling and using that memory-space He’s created in each one of us.

Father, thank you for all you’ve been to us and done for us in the years that lie behind. Thank you that you’ll be nothing less in this present hour and as the days ahead unfold. We gladly trust you to show your goodness again, in whatever wise and wonderful ways you choose fit to do so. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

[1] Mark Buchanan, Spiritual Rhythm: Being With Jesus Every Season of Your Soul (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 2010), 118-120.

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