Celtic Spiritual Poetry (24)
Shame on my thoughts, how they stray from me!
During the Psalms, they wander on a path that is not right; they run, they distract…
One moment they follow the ways of loveliness, and the next the ways of riotous shame...
Swiftly they leap in one bound from earth to heaven...
O beloved Christ...may the grace of the sevenfold Spirit come to keep them in check!
Rule this heart of mine, O swift God of the elements, that You may be my love, and I may do Your will!
- Anonymous, “On the Flightiness of Thought”, Irish, 8th-9th century
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…
- 2 Corinthians 10.3-5
We identify with that anonymous scribe; we, too, tend to be fairly undisciplined in our minds. Rather than rule our thought life, so that every idea, plan, insight, and fleeting thought is directed toward seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, we are too easily distracted to lesser concerns.
It’s understandable, though. The thought life can be like a dodge ball game, where we’re the only person on our side of the line, and the world is arrayed against us, lobbing and hurling all manner of opinions, notions, ideas, things to do, and fleeting images against our brains. We glimpse most of these only for a moment, then duck away, only to be assaulted by the next barrage.
For many of us, concentrating can be difficult – at prayer, in church, during conversations, even at work. Reading is a chore, because we have lost the disciplines of focus, reflection, and synthesis. We don’t particularly like to think; we’d much rather simply be amused. Setting our minds for very long on everyday matters is hard enough; focusing on unseen things, well, we agree it’s important, but we don’t have a clue – and even less inclination – for how to practice this aspect of faith (Heb. 11.1).
Three things are required if we are take our thoughts captive for obedience to Jesus Christ in all things.
First, we need to achieve growing clarity of mind concerning the landscape of unseen things, which we gain from reading and meditating on Scripture. The Bible offers plenty of rich images and descriptions to shape our thinking about unseen things, but it’s hard thinking work, and neither entertains us nor provides any immediate reward. That’s all there and then, we think; I need to concentrate on here and now.
The secret to powerful living in the Kingdom of God is living in the there and then, here and now, by setting your mind on things above, becoming ever more familiar with and at home in the landscape of unseen things.
Second, we must determine to live our lives from the heavenly vantage point. We have been seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2.6). Our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3.3). But when we look out on the day ahead – the work we have to do, the people we expect to encounter, the things left over from yesterday – do we see them from that heavenly and eternal perspective? Do we see each moment and activity as part of our Kingdom-and-glory-seeking calling from the Lord (1 Thess. 2.12)?
We must discipline our minds to think this way, or we will continue to be distracted from the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God by the fleeting, shiny things that pop into our thoughts throughout the day.
Finally, we must devote the time necessary for training our minds to focus on and conform to the things that are above. Gaining a vision of unseen things doesn’t just happen; we have to apply ourselves to this discipline daily through reading, meditation, prayer, and talking with other believers. This is hard work, but hard work that pays dividends of greater peace, joy, delight in the Lord, and confidence in serving Him.
Our poet describes the reality with which we are all familiar: We don’t control our thoughts; rather, too often, they control us. Paul gives us a choice: Either we take our thoughts captive for Christ, or our thought life will make us captives of the spirit and culture of the times in which we live. Either we learn to live in the then and there, here and now, or our here and now will never be anything other than routines, distractions, and disappointments.
Our lives, Paul says, have been hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3.1-3). Why should we allow our minds to languish amid the flotsam and jetsam – the entertainments and diversions – of the sinking ship of mundane life?
One more thought: Your mind is not your own (1 Cor. 6.19), but you are the steward of its focus. Where will you set it, and to what ends will you devote it today?
Questions for Reflection
1. What are the primary distractions that keep you from a richer, deeper, and more Christ-focused thought life? How can you begin to get control of these?
2. Being amused is easy. Being distracted takes no thought at all. Seeking mere entertainment in our thought life is what we’re groomed for since childhood. What’s your plan for breaking out of this?
Psalm 93.1, 2 (Trinity: Come, Thou Almighty King)
The Lord in majesty reigns, girded and clothed in strength!
Earth stands secure: Nor shall it e’er be moved;
God on His throne above set it in place with love –
His reign is sure!
Give me grace, Lord, that I might work harder at taking my thought life captive for Christ, beginning today as I…
Start renewing your mind now!
Seek the Lord
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T. M. Moore
All psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Davies, pp. 262, 263.