Thursday, July 16, 2015

What are you thinking about today?

In Philippians 4:8 the apostle Paul writes, "Finally, brethern, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - mediate on these things."

I've read these words dozens of times, and they came to me again as I was doing my devotional reading last week. In their excellent book Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler address the problems of anxiety and depression. They write, "When we are anxious or depressed, we tend to obsess in cyclical thinking, to think over and over again about certain fearful or hurtful thoughts. We do this to try to anticipate a bad or worse-case scenario and to reassure ourselves that we are safe, that we can handle it...The problem with this strategy is that we get into a rut that is increasingly hard to escape from. As we mentioned earlier, studies have shown that obsessive thought and emotional patterns, as well as behaviors, literally create a neural pathway, a groove in the brain, that becomes habitual and contributes to a situation in which a person is literally stuck on a pattern, stuck in a rut."

In other words, if we continually dwell in negative thinking we can actually create neural pathways in our brains and become stuck in such thinking. Perhaps this explains why some people always seem to be so negative. They have wired themselves to be negative.

As I write these words, several people come to mind. This includes both lay people and pastors. I have met some pastors who always come across as angry or bitter, and they wonder why they struggle so much in the ministry.

The writers provide some helpful tips for those who struggle with negative thinking, but Paul's passage above also gives us insights into how to overcome that kind of thinking. Rather than allowing our minds to dwell on the negative we need to feed it positive thoughts that are true, noble, just, pure and lovely.

This doesn't mean we ignore the negative things that occur in our lives. It means we don't allow ourselves to obsessively dwell on them. We address them and try to resolve them as quickly as possible, but we continue to focus on the more positive things.

It also requires that we avoid toxic people who want to spread their toxicity onto every one they meet. You cannot spend all your time with negative thinking people without finding yourself sucked into their negativity. It's important that we surround ourselves with people who love life and who will help us focus on the right things by their way of living and thinking.

As a pastor there are many things about which I can become upset. But, there are also many other things about ministry about which I can rejoice and enjoy. We can choose which of the two we are going to concentrate our thinking on. If I have the ability to hard wire my mind I would prefer that it would be on the positive things Paul recommends. I think you do as well.

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