Philippians 4:4-9 Think About These Things
The first laboratory confirmed case of Covid-19 was on 20 January 2020 and it began affecting our lives sometime in March. Throughout the world there have been over 15.5 million confirmed cases and over 4 million in the United States. There have been about 635,000 deaths in the world and over 144,000 in the USA. The virus has affected everyone's life at some level. Fortunately, it's been just an inconvenience to most of us. However, having our daily routine turned upside down is no fun. Personally, I'm tired of worrying about the virus and hanging round the house. I'd rather be on the road out west but feel stuck.
I don't know about you but I'm finding myself fighting negativity and discouragement. This is open season on fear and worry about the future. I'm certain that there are millions who are in a worse situation than me. I'm just inconvenienced. Given the negative thoughts I've had I suspect that I am not alone. I suspect many have moved into worry, despair, and fear of the future. I keep asking myself, "When will this end and when can we go back to normal?" And now there has been a resurgence of the disease. When will it end and when can we go back to normal?
People who have been in recovery from addictions and other physical and psychological ailments recognize that their minds have been taken over by what the experts call "Stinking Thinking." Have you ever experienced Stinking Thinking? I suspect most of us have dealt with it once and awhile. One expert says stinking thinking is "a bad way of thinking that makes you believe you will fail, that bad things will happen to you, or that you are not a very good person." It is thinking that is destructive and tears us down instead of building us up. It is clearly thinking that is deception from the evil one. Life in the current pandemic can open us to stinking thinking.
Dr. David Burns wrote that there are ten good examples of stinking thinking. Perhaps it is helpful to briefly go over them.
(1) The first is "all or none thinking." It is thinking about things in extremes. Things are either good or bad with nothing in between.
(2) In a similar way, people can get caught up in "over-generalization." You can spot over-generalization when you hear one talk about always or never. One partner in a marriage may in the face of no evidence say, "You always/never do such and such." In marital counseling, one tries to bring reality to the situation and destroy such over-generalizations.
(3) The third example of stinking thinking is "mental filtering." A person who does this only looks for the negative in life and ignores the positives. While this country is dealing with a lot of negative things, the person who is mentally filtering overlooks the abundance of positive things that are happening. In the same way they overlook their positive aspects and focus only on the negative ones. They only have eyes for their negative aspects.
(4) The fourth aspect is "discounting the positive." One rejects positive experiences by insisting that they "don't count." If you do a good job, you tell yourself that it was not good enough or that anyone could have done as well. This distortion of reality takes the joy out of life and makes one feel inadequate and unrewarded.
(5) The next is "jumping to conclusions." Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who jumps to conclusions? A person who jumps to conclusions believes they know the facts but ignore the proof to the contrary. This seems to be a favorite in the news media today. Ignore the facts and jump to conclusions. Such thinking is quite disruptive to a person's life especially to the relationships.
(6) Some like to "magnify things." They exaggerate the importance of their problems or shortcomings or minimize the importance of their desirable qualities. Notice that these ways of thinking ignore reality and magnify the negative.
(7) A large amount of faulty thinking is "emotional reasoning." We humans are emotional people. Sometimes folks let their emotions color their view of things. Emotional reasoning is thinking your emotions are facts without proof. We've all done this at one time or another. A wise person deals with things that are real and knows when their emotions are deceiving them.
(8) One favorite piece of faulty thinking is using "should statements!' These are statements with words "should," "ought to," or "have to." We are big on should statements. "I should have done better." "I should have gone to church." "I should have done this or that." They are statements that lay a heavy negative burden on us and we do well to avoid them.
(9) The next aspect is "labeling." It too is quite negative. People who label and make mistakes judge themselves losers. They give negative, unearned labels to themselves and others. Labeling ignores reality and moves one into the realm of negativity. We humans like to label others with negative words. Such labeling demeans the other and harms one's soul.
(10) The last is "personalization and blame." Personalization comes when you hold yourself personally responsible for something that is not entirely under your control. A mother gets a note from her child's teacher that the kid is having difficulty and she responds by telling herself that it is proof she is a bad mother. She would do better to stop blaming herself and stick with the facts. All aspects of stinking thinking are negative and are in conflict with reality.
Our thoughts are important to the way we live life and to the way we live as followers of Jesus. The experts say that we have 10,000 thoughts a day or 3.5 million thoughts a year. I don't know how the experts come up with such figures but I do know we have a lot of thoughts each day. Our thought life is part of the battleground for the fight we wage for our souls. The evil one is a deceiver and loves it when we are caught up in stinking thinking. A follower of Jesus does well when they guard their thought life. Paul has much to say about one's thought life. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 he writes about the spiritual conflict we have: For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of strongholds. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and [listen carefully] we are taking every thought captive to obey Christ. In other words, our job is to monitor our thought life, challenge every thought as it conforms to the mind of Christ. Those thoughts that do not build us up in faith are best removed quickly. The standard for which we judge our thoughts are set by God and found in Scripture. We are to demolish strongholds. Those stinking thinking words can become serious strongholds that hold one back or even harm one's soul. Paul tells us to root that kind of thinking out and destroy it.
I built a couple of raised bed garden areas and planted the "garden variety" of eatable plants in them. As soon as I was finished planting, I noticed intruders. Nearly every day I have to examine the raised beds and literally root out the weeds. If I would ignore the weeds, they would quickly take over and crowd out the desirable plants. In the same way, our mind is a garden and we need to root out the thoughts that act as weeds or they will take over and cause us great difficulty.
Paul writes the Christians at Philippi many good things. In chapter 4, verse S he writes: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. At first when I read this, I thought he was a bit overboard. I realized my thinking was affected by the culture around me. The culture around me is focused on lying and other ignoble things. It highlights the impure and corrupt. Today we see a culture around us that is in serious conflict with Christ and his teachings.
If a person watches his or her thought life and simply removes the stinking thinking, one still has a problem. Removing something and not replacing it with something else creates a vacuum. There's a dictum in physics that states: "Nature abhors a vacuum." It always will fill it with something. If you don't replace the stinking thinking with something of Christ Jesus, it will quickly be filled with something of the evil one.
Paul gives us things from the mind of Christ Jesus to focus on, to take in and with which to fill our minds. Instead of focusing on the negative stuff, Paul gives us positive material that is good to focus on. The true, the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely, the admirable, and the excellent is the material that builds one's soul. It does not tear down or destroy. A good part of our culture is focused on the negative—the things of destruction. We can get sucked into it and find ourselves in despair or we can reject the destructive negativity and concentrate on the things of Christ Jesus that build us up. Paul gives us the command to "think about such things."
There's a battle going on for your mind. The evil one wants you to fill your mind with stinking thinking that tears you down and harms your soul. People of faith reject such thinking and dwell on those things which build one's soul. Guard your thoughts. Submit every thought to Christ Jesus. You have the power of Christ Jesus behind you. He is the greatest power in the universe. Follow him and you will be victorious over destructive forces.