I sat on a bench next to our lake as I prayed this morning and admired the beautiful day, the kind that helps me endure our brutal summers. Water lilies flapped lightly against the water in the cool breeze; ospreys glided overhead. And then I found myself fixing on one ominous pinkish-gray cloud that alternately coalesced and fragmented against the otherwise serene sky.
I have struggled with fixing my eyes on the clouds in my thought life lately as I deal with situations and people beyond my control. I bared my soul to a trusted friend lately who counseled me and committed to pray. And then she reminded me of something I needed to hear: truth.
“Remember Philippians 4:8,” she advised me. And instantly I reeled in my ugly thoughts as I began to test them against Scripture.
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.—Philippians 4:8
Were my thoughts true? Very possibly. But sometimes, perhaps even often, what is true is not honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent or praiseworthy. For instance, it may be true that you—a married woman—may feel attracted to a man in your workplace. It may be true that someone has hurt you in a terrible way. It may be true that your neighbor’s dog is vicious and your neighbor walks around in a dinosaur hat. It may be true that you’re alienated from someone you love. It may be true that your financial situation looks desperate. But none of these things pass the remaining tests.
Perhaps you’re playing 52 pickup with your life and nothing seems to pass the tests. What then? Believe me when I say I’ve been there. And in those times I suggest reflecting on what God has done in the midst of other trials. Try to remember how you felt when you were waist-deep in want and then you saw the culmination of God’s plan to deliver you from your world of hurt. Then praise Him for it.
Think of your mind as a vessel. If it is full of one thing—in my case, negativity—it must be emptied and refilled. If you’re wallowing too much in pain to see anything good, turn your attention to Scripture. Read psalms of praise. Sing hymns or praise songs. Think of your joyful noise as a thick coat of wax that protects your heart from the enemy’s pernicious poison.
You see, the enemy of our souls can’t steal our salvation, but he can steal our joy, our peace, our effectiveness and our testimony. We begin to yield to his influence first in our thoughts. Yes, this person hates me, so I can respond in kind. Yes, this person is attractive, and it feels good to receive his attention. Yes, my situation is bleak, and I deserve to complain about it.
No, no, and no.
Reclaim your thoughts for Christ. Reflect on His goodness, even if you don’t see it right now. Praise His name, even if you don’t feel like it. (Hint: That’s why it’s called a sacrifice of praise.) Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, for He is forever true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent and worthy of all praise. And remember to give praise for that faithful friend who loves you enough to speak truth into your life.