Light to Live By

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

Category: Mind

Calibrating Your Life to God

New Testament scholar J.B. Phillips once wrote a book entitled Your God Is Too Small.  The indication is that there is a direct link between our view of God and the way we think about and conduct ourselves in life. A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He went on to say that the most foreboding and prophetic “fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.

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How big is your God? The writer of Psalm 113 revealed something of his perception of God when he queried, “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?” (vv.5-6).

We are told that light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Were we to discover and board a vehicle that could travel at that rate of speed, after lifting off the face of the earth we would pass our moon in approximately one minute. Were we able to continue at such a rate of speed we would blow by our sun in approximately 8.3 minutes. If we wanted to continue on our joy ride it would take us approximately another 80,000 years to reach the far side of our galaxy!

With those phenomenal dimensions fixed in our minds, do with me as someone once invited me … in your mind travel to a far off place. Imagine yourself walking barefoot along miles of sandy beach. After a long walk you take your seat in the warm sand and with your hand reach down and draw up a handful of the grainy substance. You allow the sand to trickle out from between your fingers. They you blow, ever so gently, upon the surface of your palm until one tiny grain of sand is left in your palm. That solitary grain of sand would represent our earth and the grains of sand stretching out for miles on either side of you would represent the number of other planetary bodies in our Milky Way!

Now put your hands together and dust away that grain of sand. Start over. With a new handful of sand, again allow it to run through your fingers. Blow once again until you have one lone grain of sand left in your palm. Now consider that grain to be our Milky Way and all the grains of sand stretching out in the distance in either direction around you to be the approximately one trillion other such galaxies now estimated to exist by our scientists. It is believed that every one of those one trillion galaxies probably averages some one billion stars within it.

How far could you go into God’s creation if you traveled the rest of your days at the speed of light upon your marvelous vehicle? God tells us, through His psalmist, that He is so vast, infinite and beyond our measure that He must stoop to even behold the galaxies He has made. “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?”

The prophet Daniel lived in difficult days. He prophesied about even more difficult days yet to come. But in the midst of his troubles and with the revelation from God that even more difficult days were on the way he said that “Those who know their God will display strength and take action” (Daniel 11:32). Far from being overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, those who know their God will display strength and take action! What we think of when we think of God is the most important thing about us.

I hope that this summer you get the chance to be outdoors in God’s vast creation, to look up into a cloudless night sky, to gaze over some scene of natural beauty, to be still, observe, and be amazed. Not primarily at the creation—marvelous as it is—but at the One who created it all, providentially rules over and directs it, and who gave it as a hint at the vast greatness of His infinite being.

Take the moment to sing out from your heart: “O Lord, my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee.  How great Thou art, How great Thou art!”

Entertaining Thoughts

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, emphasis added)

“The finest art has always offered transcendence – inviting us to stand outside ourselves and gain perspective. Artistic images, music, and stories engage our rational faculties, which mediate and critique our emotional and visceral responses. Entertainment makes an end run around the intellect, stimulating the nervous system in much the same way as drugs do.” (Lael Arrignton, A Faith and Culture Devotional, 54).

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.

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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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