“Not again!” she said as her daughter spilled milk all over the kitchen floor. She had barely finished cleaning up the first mess. It seemed like lately all she was seeing were the negative things in her children. She knew that this was not the best way to go through a day, but she was tired, and she was missing her husband since he had to be away working long hours as a Covid nurse. Something had to change!
Let me introduce you to a creative momma who came up with a marvelous idea. Instead of focusing on all the negative things that the kids were doing throughout the day, she chose to look for things that were an encouragement, and she wrote them down on an “encouragement board.”
If she came across something that was nice, she would jot it down ~ maybe the children played quietly for half an hour mid-morning, or perhaps one child said ‘thank you’ without being prompted, or she observed a kind gesture. These were the things that Lori would record.
Then after dinner, she would gather the kids around and read the compilation from the Encouragement Board out loud for all to hear. The kids smiled, giggled and added comments. What a nice way to end the day before bed! The children would head to bed thinking of the blessings that had made their way to mom’s Encouragement Board. And of course, a seed thought was planted in their minds of what they would do the next day that might make it to the board.
We could say that “adversity is the mother of invention.” Below is this precious family.
Focus is a Choice
When you are going through particularly difficult days, what do you meditate on? It is the slack, lazy and simple mind that goes with the flow; it chooses not to choose; it selects the “slave to external stimuli” mode.
A wise mind embraces the conscious discipline of choosing what to think on. With introspection, it considers options; it rejects lies and worthless, dead-end, dry-well ideas and, guided toward a God-perspective by the Word and the Spirit, selects things more positive and edifying. Thankfulness is at the core of this mindset.
I love how Paul in Romans 12:1-2 challenges us to be transformed in our thinking. The Greek word means metamorphosis, like when Jesus went from His normal appearance into a transformed, radiant appearance. This is no small thing in our lives. It takes mental choice to change thought paths and embrace God’s admonition to give thanks in all situations.
It is easy to be physically lazy; it is easy to be mentally lazy. But in the long run, it can kill you. Following impulses, emotions and the values of the world is just so natural, but God has called us to lives of supernatural thinking, speaking and behaving. How about starting your own “Encouragement Board?”
Do you have a secret about how to do something well? Some little-known way to make a meal or a moment really special for other people? Something that is a winner every time? Not a bad secret. Not luscious gossip about another person. Not a way to get rid of people you don’t like. A delightful secret to getting a job done.
Recently I became aware of a secret to making grilled cheese ~ mayonnaise!!! Spreading a layer of mayo on the bread before grilling the sandwich makes it grill evenly, look delicious, and taste like you used butter. 🙂 I was overjoyed to learn this secret, I love knowing this secret, and well, ok, I guess I love passing it along … so it can hardly be called a “secret” anymore.
Learning A Secret Cure
But there is another huge secret that I would love to whisper in your ear. This secret is much more important than grilled cheese. This secret has to do with fighting depression and angst. It is a key to processing life, the downs, dark shadows and despair that come our way.
This secret did not originate with me, but instead with the One who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. The Apostle Paul had a life and ministry that was hard on his body – hiking mountain passes, coping with his ship going down, and getting attacked by mobs. Sometimes, he received a financial gift; at other times he had to pay his own way. He wrote this from prison:
Learning Paul’s Secret
Here is Paul’s secret: I have learned to be content.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “content” as an adjective meaning “in a state of peaceful happiness.” Someone has said that “contentment is wanting what you have, not having what you want.”
Whether I am going through a very discouraging time or whether I am riding high on the wind of accomplishment and joy, I can choose to be content and be th(i)nkful. That seems almost impossible. How can I be content, in a state of peaceful happiness, when I feel my life is falling apart? Feels bizarre.
The secret key is how you process the happenings in your life. What are you thinking about? Whose perspective are you choosing?
Fight for the Secret Key
Importantly, Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13 that he has learned the secret of being content. Learning typically means chosen and fought for. When you learn another language, you must choose to do so and then persistently fight to follow through. Paul learned contentment. I wonder how many times he failed while trying to learn.
Can I also learn this secret? Can I craft brain neural pathways of contentment? Of course I can. God gives the “how-to” in the last verse. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Christ wants me to choose contentment, to fight for contentment, and when I fail, to choose contentment again. Call out to Him for His strength in order to be content with what He has allowed in my life.
The Outside and Inside
But contentment is about my view of things outside of me, my circumstances. My only discontentment should be about what inside of me is unlike Him. I must never be content with the extent of my fallenness, my fleshliness, or my rebel sighs against my circumstances and their Author.
You see, in God’s mind, our externals are about our internals. Our circumstances are meant to test and change our hearts and the hearts of those watching us. He does not waste pain or difficulty. God has designed my challenges and my successes, my wealth and my poverty, my health and my disabilities. He is behind everything in my life. In Isaiah 45:7, our God makes it very plain:
Part of the choosing and fighting for contentment is choosing to search for things for which you are thankful. Th(i)nkfulness produces contentment. I can be thankful for what is going well and talk about the “glass half full.” I can be thankful that I don’t need whatever seems to be lacking because God has promised to meet all of my needs.
I can be thankful for pain and loss and sorrow because I am learning, I am dying to my own will, I am becoming deep and not shallow, I am praying more than ever, I am more sympathetic to others suffering in the same way, I am receiving His grace to overcome, I have His presence and attention through this, I may get extra gospel opportunities, I have a hope that this too will pass, and if I die, it will be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Summing up, the secret to fighting depression and angst is to repeatedly express my thankfulness to the Author of my circumstances, and then to fight my way through many, many lessons, with His strength, to learn contentment. Now, go and share your secret with somebody else.
“Be content with what you have for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” Hebrews 13:5
Cure is an interesting word. Some define a “cure” as relief from the symptoms of a disease. Others define it as something that causes a recovery from a disease. And still other sources define a cure as a complete and permanent solution or remedy.
So, a cure can be defined on three levels … ending the symptoms, ending the disease in one person, or ending the disease in an area or globally.
What’s saddest is when the treatments or cures for a disease are out there, but people don’t know about them or have access to them. For instance, there are treatments and a cure for tuberculosis (TB), and yet South Africa has almost 60,000 deaths a year, about 7 deaths per hour, from TB, far worse than our Covid-19 deaths.
One of the greatest “diseases” the world says we face now is the dis-ease of the mind – anxiety. Our present world is infected with anxiety disorders.
“The early years of the 21st century have witnessed a worldwide epidemic of poor mental health and related illnesses. But while depression is the condition most will associate with mental health issues, and is the leading cause of disability worldwide, it is not the number one mental health concern people face. That unwanted accolade goes to anxiety.“
World Economic Forum
The very imprecise statistics regarding anxiety disorders worldwide are that 264 million people (4% of the population) struggle with anxiety disorders. Yet studies in places like the United States and South Africa consistently show almost 20% of the population struggles with some sort of anxiety disorder. Women make up roughly 63% of the total number.
A simple definition of anxiety could be: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune. The world says there are a multitude of recognized anxiety disorders that cause worry and stress due to social interactions, personal health, safety, work, or a particular phobia.
There is generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, selective mutism and separation anxiety disorder, to name the most common.
God Speaks About Anxiety
How I wish that there was a vaccine for anxiety! We could all have a shot and then be very unlikely to fall prey to the “disease” of anxiety. But alas, there is no such thing.
Some people seem to have a natural resistance to anxiety, an indomitable cheerfulness, a determination to see the bright side and to suppose that things will work out just fine. I love those people. I am not those people.
A grave mistake many strugglers make is simply taking meds to dull or mask the symptoms without those meds being part of a larger game plan to deal with root causes in the mind and heart. Anxiety takes root in our thinking.
There are quite a few verses on anxiety actually:
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad.
Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
I sought the Lord, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.
Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
There are many more. This is just a small sampling.
Here is God’s cure. Our Creator, who made all our emotions and abilities to think and reason, gave us this prescription. He encourages us to run to Him with our anxious thoughts.
Does He know how pervasive and consuming those thoughts and fears are in our lives?
How Do I Heal From Anxiety?
Anxiety is a cruel and excruciating struggle. It elevates your heart rate and blood pressure, steals away your sleep, shortens your emotional fuse, robs your joy, mocks your hope, draws in your entire prayer time on one topic, and distracts your focus, even destroying your ability to read God’s Word and think about what it says.
To rewind, unpack and process through deep anxieties is a very engrossing, difficult task, especially if the anxiety has had time to grow long entwining roots. If you are experiencing anxiety, here are several things to ponder and consider doing:
A loving and sovereign God is sovereign of my circumstances, present and future. God is God and I am not. Much of my anxiety has to do with loss of control, a projection that the ambiguous future will turn out badly, which is not trusting in my God or believing that He is loving and will help.
I am not alone. I am not the first one to face trials like mine. Others have done so successfully. God will suit the trial to my capacities – He has checked that I can handle it with His help. God will bring me out in His time and way if I wait on Him and trust in Him. All of these ideas are in 1 Corinthians 10:13.
God created the Sabbath for human beings, and Jesus called us to give Him our burdens so that He could give us rest. Much of my anxiety might be over-busyness and a corresponding loss of perspective. Perhaps I need to retreat to a quiet place or speak with an objective voice, an advocate outside my world to regain peace and perspective.
God’s Word is alive and can help me battle temptations to worry and despair. I can write out scripture verses that deal with anxiety and put those cards in a place where my eyes will see them. Twice a day, and when I feel the coming crush of anxiety, I will read those verses out loud, and meditate on them.
Rather than using my negative creativity to imagine a horrible future, I choose to look at the good that God has surrounded me with. I will actively, consistently choose to be grateful and form brain neural pathways of thinking thanks. I will get in the habit of writing out at least five things daily that I am thankful for.
Anxiety doesn’t forbid me to say thank you … or does it????
A Southern Living article highlighted some recent research revealing that when you complain on a consistent basis, it actually shrinks your hippocampus. Talk about a health hazard!!
For most of us, complaining has become such a part of life that it barely registers. We have developed “easy-complain” neural pathways that are greased and ready in our brains. Negative, murmuring, fault-finding, coming-up-short, not-quite-right, glass-half-full, this-will-end-badly thoughts find no barrier or balance but are drawn into the grooves quickly and easily. We have become pathological complainers.
A Medium post by Mission.org explains this phenomenon perfectly: “The more you complain about things like flakey friends or being asked to push up a project’s deadline, the more neurons in your brain stitch themselves together to easily facilitate this kind of information. Before you know it, complaining becomes so easy for your brain to grasp, you start doing it without even consciously registering the behavior.”
Obedience Brings Brain Health
But even more motivating than the fact that grumbling and complaining shrinks our brains should be God’s instruction to us in Philippians 2:14, ” Do all things without grumbling ….”
God, who created the brain with all its function, also knows how we are to use it. At face value, thankfulness rather than complaining may seem like one of those good ideas God would want us to do for His pleasure. Yet as we look deeper into His ways, His commandments and precepts, we find that they are not burdensome but are specifically designed for our benefit and well-being. There is actually a link between thankfulness and your health, and specifically the size and function of your brain.
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” He admonishes us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He describes a successful person as “abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7).
The thoughts you allow to have free reign in your brain neural pathways are what you eventually become. Without discipline, you can allow sinful thoughts to program your mind and alter the electro-physical patterns of your brain. This will make positive changes to your thinking much harder to achieve later on. Aggressive weeding of complaining early on is essential to develop brain fitness and power.
Substitute th(i)nkfulness for complaining! Pull up a level or two to God’s perspective. Choose to form neural pathways of looking for things to think thanks about and express that thanks to God, others, and yourself. Let your ears hear your gratitude.
The loud sound of grinding coffee beans burst forth from the kitchen … followed predictably and delightfully by the aroma of coffee grounds, and then a few minutes later, by the wafting wonderfulness of freshly brewed coffee. I couldn’t see it, but its presence was detected by the nose.
Steaming hot water poured over crushed coffee beans creates a specific aroma. I don’t drink coffee myself, but I sure enjoy the smell of coffee.
Fragrance of Christ
God uses the picture of aroma when describing us walking in victory with Him. All the glory goes to Him. He has conquered us. It is His victory that we get to be part of. He has taken us captive. We are vehicles of the fragrance of Christ.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
2 Corinthians 2:14-15
John MacArthur describes diffusing the fragrance of His knowledge this way: “The imagery comes from the strong, sweet smell of incense from the censers in the triumph parade, which, along with the fragrance of crushed flowers strewn under horses’ hooves, produced a powerful aroma that filled the city. By analogy, every believer is transformed and called by the Lord to be an influence for His gospel throughout the world.”
Have you pondered what that aroma of Christ smells like?
We are emanating a fragrance. We smell.
When the Lord describes us spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere, I envision a person who is reflecting Jesus. Through our engaging of people, our thoughtful and kind words, our facial expressions, and our body language, we are wafting unmistakable scents that, in God’s estimation, smell better than coffee, jasmine, or fresh pastry … they smell like His Son who paid for our sins on the cross and rose again to be victor over death and the grave.
But there is a crowd of unregenerate believers watching our procession. To some, the aroma emanating from the procession is repulsive and offensive, representing ignorance and delusion; in their thinking, these people are just captured slaves of the victor, brainwashed, hopeless. Others are still watching and sniffing; some may be your children.
But there are others in the crowd whose hearts are strangely enamored with the victor who seems to be a benign conqueror who has actually taken these people captive for their own good. The heads of the slaves are high, their faces noble; some are even smiling. No one is struggling to break loose; they carry no shame or fear. Amazingly, they are slaves who have been set free from their old world. The sight and the smell draw the watchers forward and they feel this strange compulsion to jump into the procession; to join the slaves.
What Fragrance Are You?
Missionary Dawn Perry shared with me recently that she had been studying about this triumphal procession that the Lord leads us in. We are in this parade, not because of ourselves, but because of what Christ has done.
And as we walk through life in this procession, we give off a fragrance that not only reminds our God of His Son, but is affecting the onlooking crowd as well. Verses 15-16 continue: “we are a fragrance … among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Will the crowd be drawn to us or repelled by us? Every act, every word to a nonbeliever who knows I am a believer either pulls or pushes them. We are being watched. We are being smelled.
Dawn highlighted the Th(i)nkful Tree concept. She recalled that when we choose to embrace and think thanks about the hard things in our lives, we are like the tree drawing up the living water from where our roots are grounded to keep our leaves green. Living leaves smell different from dead leaves, and the blossoms that break forth after a tough winter bring their own wafting scents and feathery joys.
The testimony of a person practicing th(i)nkfulness gives off a strong fragrance of Christ. Oh, may we smell good! To our God chiefly, but also to a sniffing and skeptical world.
Th(i)nkful: (adj) describing people who choose to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance in their life and to express that thanks orally or in written form.
I have red hair. I used to hate it when I was growing up, but I got used to it … and now because my husband loves it, I actually like it. 🙂 I couldn’t really change that I was born a redhead.
I also couldn’t change who my parents were. Emil and Asta were my parents and that was out of my control. Another thing I couldn’t change was that I was born a sinner with different propensities.
I struggle with anxiety.
There it is. It is ugly and not right, but I am tempted in that way.
When the Lord redeemed my soul, some beautiful, hope-filled things happened.
I received a new identity.
I am a child of God – John 1:12
I am an adopted child – Ephesians 1:5
I am accepted – Romans 15:7
I am full in Christ – Colossians 2:9-10
I am no longer a slave to sin – Romans 6:6
I am created in the image of God – Genesis 1:27
I am known before birth – Jeremiah 1:5
I am part of the body of Christ – I Corinthians 12:27
I am part of a chosen people, God’s special possession – I Peter 2:9
I am part of a diverse oneness in Christ – Galatians 3:27-28
I am bought by God – I Corinthians 6:19-20
I am hidden with Christ in God – Colossians 3:1-3
When the covid restrictions first started here in South Africa, President Ramaphosa deployed 73,180 soldiers to help enforce the lockdown. The soldiers would arrest, apprehend, seize, and take people into custody who were defying the covid restrictions laid down by law. It was frightening to see the law enforced, but in another way it was refreshing to see that people couldn’t just do what they wanted without consequences.
When the Lord tells me in Philippians 4:6 to not be anxious, it is not merely a little suggestion for me to consider. He forbids it. He says to arrest it! This is something that hits me between the eyes because of my tendency to worry.
Because I am redeemed, and my sin is something that I am trying to combat and minimize in my life, I certainly will not identify myself by my sin or argue with those who refuse to see me that way.
My identity is not in my anxiety. “Hi, I’m Karin and I’m anxious.” No, I mustn’t identify myself by my sin struggles, and certainly mustn’t say that I can’t help it, that this is just the way God made me. Confessing my faults is one thing, but wrapping my identity around something I am fleeing is quite another.
I must instead identify as a blood-bought and beloved daughter of the King who is no longer a slave to sin. My identity is determined by redemption, not by fallenness. By the future and not the past. “Hi, I’m Karin and I’m a believer in Jesus.” The Lord has promised to slowly and surely conform me to His image in Romans 8:28-29, so why would I keep referencing my old-self image that i am trying to put off?
Jesus wants me to identify as a member of His kingdom, to reflect His values and character, and to identify with a hopeful future with Him. I try to remember this, but wow, sometimes I fail miserably.
I love how hope is described in Romans:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope.”
You can be free. You are able through the power of the Holy Spirit to obey the Lord when He says, “Don’t be anxious.” What is super cool is that He tells us how in Philippians 4:6.
Steps from anxiety to hope:
Bring all your concerns to the Lord. Lay them out before Him.
Connect your concerns with thankfulness. Think thanks about the challenges that you face.
If we do those two things, Philippians 4:7 promises that the Lord will give us His supernatural peace to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That is a pretty nice trade-off. 🙂
Now I know that it is not easy, simple or quick to change life patterns. It is a process. Sometimes a life-long process. The fight is happening in your thoughts. You can choose to ask God to help you think His thoughts. It may take a long time. He patiently walks with us and gives grace.
So yes, I have had a struggle with anxious thoughts, but my identity is not in my struggle. My identity is that I am a daughter of the King. He has purchased me and provided me with hope to be renewed in my mind and to obey and follow Him. (Check out a link on this topic).
“Either you will be getting your identity vertically, from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life.”
Popped awake. All of a sudden you are aware that you are awake. Not sure what exactly woke you, but you have definitely left sleep and moved into awake. 🙂 Your eyes are still shut, but your thoughts are running. What are you thinking?
Do you try to remember the happenings of yesterday … or what lies ahead for this day? Maybe you check where you are hurting? Perhaps you don’t think about anything. Must … have … coffee … first?
What if the first thoughts you had when you woke was your sacrifice of praise to the Lord? Whoa there! That may be a little too much!
When Your Feet Hit the Floor
There is a lie out there that you can’t help what you think about. It is easily believed. But it is not true. We have great propensities, great leanings, strong habits to continue thinking patterns as we have always done. However, you are not a slave to them.
You can forge new thought patterns. You can be renewed in your mind. Your risen Redeemer who has paid for your sin account, and bought you, has promised to help. As you allow Him to reset your thinking, He can help you choose to THINK TRUTH. You are loved by your Creator. He desires for you to discover, embrace, and do His perfect will for you this day. He has good works that He has prepared for us to walk in today (Ephesians 2:10).
How about harnessing those first few thoughts as you wake to remember things that you are thankful for? It is such a good jolt to get on the right track as you begin your day. So, you sit up, rotate around and put your feet on the floor. BUT, before you stand up, mumble three things for which you are thankful.
I just woke up. I have been given the gift of another day.
My eyes aren’t swollen shut, and the optic nerves in both eyes work.
I was able to fall asleep last night and let my body and mind rest.
God never sleeps and has watched over me as I slept throughout the night.
God will not test me today above what I am able. He is with me.
I have a choice in what I say and do today.
I thank You, Father, for giving me Jesus.
Blessings of a New Morning
Have you ever thought of what a blessing it is that we get to go to bed and then have a new fresh morning? It is like you are given a clean sheet of paper to start anew.
Psalm 5:3 “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”
Here’s a link to listen to in the morning – Give Me Jesus, by Fernando Ortega.
How do you stop movement along a well worn pathway? You put a log in the way. You create an obstacle.
When driving down this road, all of a sudden there is no way that I can continue driving when I reach this log. I am going to have to do something different. I have to carve a new pathway around the obstacle.
The best way to stop doing something is to replace it with something else.
At first this new pathway feels so hard and unfamiliar. It has not been worn down and made smooth by people walking on it repeatedly. It is new and a bit bumpy. The way is not obvious. I may have to improvise as I go along.
This new path has to be developed and that takes time and effort. Step by step you begin. Baby steps, that is. In time and through repeated efforts, you mat down the grass and smooth out the path. You may need to get a shovel and dig out a big stone or cut back a root that is sticking out. It begins to change, little by little. One day you could even run that new path with no problem.
Our brains are very similar. To break behavior that is not pleasing to the Lord, we call on Him to help us reset our minds and carve a new path of thinking.
Carving a New Path
When stopping a sinful habit of complaining and grumbling, it will normally take something big, like a log across my familiar path, to stop it. Sometimes a family member will mention your negative attitude – they are throwing some branches across the path to get you to change. But you don’t.
Then the Spirit convicts you strongly about your complaining spirit during your pastor’s message, or you are dismissed from a ministry, or passed over for a promotion at work, because you are so negative – and that’s when the tree falls across the path. You disregarded branches, so God sent you a log. Now, you deliberately resolve to do things differently.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
As we continually present ourselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord, Hewill enable us to change. We desire to be conformed to His will (I Thessalonians 5:18), but it is not easy to leave the broad and easy road of complaining to follow God’s ways through the woods.
So, when forging a new pathway, it is profitable to have a basic plan in hand. How would you lay out a plan for creating a new neural pathway in your brain? Does God really expect me to do this? What are the benefits? How hard will it be?
You could set up an alarm system for yourself. What little alarm could go off when I begin to go down that old blocked dead-end road?
Maybe I could cut out a little red stop sign that would be a visual reminder throughout my day that I need to stop my normal pattern of grumbling and complaining.
Maybe I need an accountability partner (your kids would be glad to help!) to give a funny sign when I begin my old pattern of complaining – the slash of a hand across the throat, or dotting fake tears down the face with an index finger.
Reprograming by Recounting
Psalm 9 has some great advice for us. The psalmist says, “I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” He had discovered the worth of the gratitude neural pathway. Learning to recognize and recount God’s work in our lives brings glory to God, but also helps our brain change as we turn an action into a habit. It gets our perspective on who God is, His character and His sovereignty. It fosters our ability to trust in Him.
Set up a routine of saying three things you are choosing to think thanks about at a certain time and place each day. When you wake up, try to think of those three things before you even get about of bed. If you’re not a morning person, you could wait until after coffee. Maybe it can be at dinner time; if you do it then, you may inspire other family members to follow. The routine is strongest if you see your hand write the words. Get a basic journal and begin recording these three things right before bed; you may have added more by then. 🙂
At first it will not feel natural to do this – it’s a brand new pathway through the woods! But I can promise you that after keeping this pattern for a month, it will begin to be so natural that it barely takes a minute or two to complete this. The reset of your mind is taking shape. You are becoming more focused on the Lord God. The pathway in your brain is developing.
The blocked mental path has now made way for a different one ~
A mental path that will become easier and easier to go down as we obey the Lord in calling out to Him for grace.
“Whoah, I’d rather not write down a list of things I’m thankful for.” The counselor’s eyebrows went up in disbelief. Was this newer believer that bitter? “Can you explain why?” the counselor asked slowly.
It turns out that, as a life-coach a few years ago, she was very much into these practices of making gratitude lists. She was well indoctrinated with self actualization methods and had taught people about harnessing energy by expressing thankfulness. Now, as a believer in Christ, she had a different goal of serving Christ instead of channeling internal energies. She wanted to forget that life.
Being thankful, and expressing thankfulness, has become an important mantra in multiple self-help fields around the world. Believer or non-believer, it doesn’t matter. Being grateful, forging new neural pathways of thanks in the brain, is now being strongly promoted as part of well being. Who you direct your thanks to is not important, many would say. All that matters is that you are thankful.
To Whom Are You Thankful?
Does that matter?
Yeah, it does. A LOT! Being th(i)nkful is not just learning to think thanks in every circumstance in your life; there are two additional components involving God, one coming and one going:
It first involves downloading grace from the Lord to stop, think and recall things to be thankful for;
It secondly involves uploading thanks directed at Him from whom all blessings flow and who is Sovereign over even the negatives in your life.
We are to be thankful FOR. But even more, thankful TO! To thank is to throw credit to someone else; to return a favor with words. Acknowledging who is responsible for everything that you are thankful for is KEY in thinking thanks.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it
is likewrapping a present and notgivingit to someone.”
William Arthur Ward
Directing our thanks to God is what sets a believer apart from an unbeliever. Anyone can be thankful and it reaps wonderful benefits in our minds and even bodies. But directing our thanks to God is what the Lord has asked of us.
When the scriptures exhort us to be thankful in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18) or to give thanks always and for everything (Ephesians 5:20) that gratitude needs to be directed to Him. Because I can trust His sovereignty and His ways, I can then, in response, think thanks and express it to Him in trusting obedience.
Lilac Breasted Rollers happen to be my favorite bird. I love to see them in the savannah. When I think and express thanks for that precious bird, I must direct that thanks to the creative God who created it using almost every color on His pallet.
He is the One I give my thanks to.
When I realize that I am choosing to give thanks to God, the worldly exercise of making gratitude lists to produce positive energy loses its power. I am not just thankful FOR, but more importantly thankful TO.
The excitement was almost palpable. We were in Jerusalem! I had dreamed of this day for most of my life. I was going to see with my own eyes the old city and think about how the Lord had been in this place. We hurried along the walkways and came up to the huge Jaffa gate. Let me introduce you to the one city that is truly “holy.” 🙂
Jerusalem is not only one of the oldest cities in the world, but has a huge prophetic part to play in the future. Walking those old streets made the scriptures come alive to me.
Old city Jerusalem has eight main gates strategically placed in its walls. History oozes from these old walls; if we could only hear them speak!
The Walls of My Mind
I was especially interested in learning that the eight gates remarkably illustrate the eight things that Paul tells us to think about in Philippians 4:8.
What if we pictured our minds as old Jerusalem? Only thoughts that fit the Philippians 4:8 qualifications were allowed to enter and roam the streets. Let me describe the eight gates to you and connect them with the eight things we should meditate on. This is so cool! 🙂 First, let’s look at the verse:
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.
1. Jaffa Gate – What is True
When coming up from Tel Aviv, the Jaffa gate is the gate you see first. It is shaped like a “L” with a door on either side. Here is an interesting true tidbit about the Jaffa Gate. In 1917, British general Edmund Allenby entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, but got off his horse and went in by foot to show respect, desiring to avoid comparison with Kaiser Wilhelm II’s haughty entry in 1898.
Let’s connect the Jaffa Gate with the True Gate.
Ask yourself. Is this thought true? Am I thinking about something that is a lie? Is my meditation in accord with what is true? Only thoughts that are true are allowed to enter my ‘Jaffa Gate.’
2. Zion Gate – What is Honorable
The first mention of Zion in the Bible is in 2 Samuel 5:7 when King David captured the fortress of Zion.
Here, David and I are standing in the Zion Gate, which has bullet marks clearly visible from the 1948 war. Victories in battle give a soldier honors, so connecting Zion Gate with honor is perfect.
The Evil One loves to fill our thoughts with shameful things that we think no one else will know about. Is this thought honorable? Opposites of honorable are shameful and ignoble.
Do my thoughts fit through the Honorable Gate?
3. Dung Gate – What is Just
The Dung Gate is the place where the refuse of the old city was carried out to the Hinnom valley (Gehenna) where the fires never died. It is located close to the Temple Mount.
The Dung Gate and the Just Gate could easily be connected by the fact that our just reward for our sin is death. All our righteousness is as dung, filthiness (Is. 64:6). We justly deserve punishment, but God instead has given us His righteousness.
Do my thoughts reflect things that are just? Just is defined as based on orbehaving according to what is morally right and fair. That qualification would be a good checkpoint for my thoughts.
4. Golden Gate – What is Pure
What a neat picture for the Golden Gate to be linked to the Pure Gate. That gate will be opened when the Pure and Holy One comes. The Messiah has already entered the predecessor of this gate once before riding on a donkey a few days before He died to pay for my sin. Soon He will return to claim His rightful kingdom.
In myself, I cannot attain pure thoughts because of the sinful person that I am, but as I allow my Savior to control my thoughts and renew my mind to be like His, pure thoughts will dominate.
Four Gates Down, Four To Go!
5. Lion’s Gate – What is Lovely
The Lion’s Gate and the Lovely Gate both start with ‘L.’ If one looks carefully on the wall on both sides of the top of the gate, you can see lions. This is close to the location where Stephen was martyred.
Sometimes lovely thoughts are difficult thoughts. Stephen died for Christ because of his great love for Him. He gave the greatest gift he could for His Savior ~ his life. And when he died, Stephen saw Jesus, who had been seated at the right hand of the Father, stand.
Are my thoughts lovely?
6. Herod’s Gate – What is Commendable
Herod was the greatest known builder in the Middle East in ancient times. He built Masada as a palace, the city of Caesarea on the coast, the Herodium palace, and he rebuilt the second temple and the mount on which it sat. The stones at the wailing wall today were laid by Herod. Though he was a wicked man, his building achievements were commendable.
This Commendable Gate would check whether my thoughts were constructive, innovative, and worthy of approval. Would it bother me if someone could see my thoughts projected up on a screen? Would they be approved by an inspecting king?
7. Damascus Gate – What is Excellent
This gate was the busiest gate around Jerusalem and brought you to the main road heading to all points north in Israel and to Syria. This would have been the gate a rabbi named Saul left on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus. This road was likely the one next to which Jesus was crucified.
There is nothing in Scripture about a hill called Golgotha or a mount called Calvary. “The place of the skull” was next to a road; it still is today. Romans crucified criminals beside the main road to teach a lesson to passersby of what happens when you disobey Roman Law.
Jesus was the Excellent One. The Perfect One. Because He died as a perfect human, the curse from Adam could be reversed. We can partake in the results of His death on the cross. He saves us.
Are my thoughts clear, creative, and consistent with the gospel? Do I live and think in light of that Good News? Are my thoughts excellent?
8. New Gate – What is Praiseworthy
This is the most recent of the gates. It was opened in 1889 to allow easier access for worshippers in the Christian quarter.
The New Gate is connected to the Praiseworthy Gate. We must find new ways to continually praise the Lord because He is the Praiseworthy One. If, in our thinking, we are looking for things to praise the Worthy One, other thoughts that do not line up those sentiments will feel out of place.
So there you are. These are the 8 gates that need to guard our minds.
True Gate ~ Jaffa
Honorable Gate ~ Zion
Just Gate ~ Dung
Pure Gate ~ Golden
Lovely Gate ~ Lion’s
Commendable Gate ~ Herod’s
Excellent Gate ~ Damascus
Praiseworthy Gate ~ New
If your thoughts fit into these eight gates, you will have no trouble thinking thanks.