Shame on my thoughts...they run – not a course of great wisdom – near, far:
Following paths of great foolishness they reach their home.
Though one should try to bind them or put shackles on their feet,
they are neither constant nor inclined to rest a while.
- Anonymous, “On the Flightiness of Thought,” Irish, 9th century
Finally, brethren, 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 – meditate on these things.
- Philippians 4.8
We live in a “whatever” generation. Truth is what you make it – Whatever! One man’s opinion is as true as the next – Whatever! My tastes and moral preferences are as valid as anyone else’s – Whatever! I can decide how to identify and what I ought to do – Whatever!
Whatever you want to think or do or say, it doesn’t much matter. Let it all hang out. Go with the flow. Be authentic, be yourself. Let ‘er rip. Whatever.
This is the “triumph of the modern self” that Carl Trueman explains so ably in his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. It’s the whatever self – whatever I want to be or do or believe or become.
For many of us, our thoughts tend to be like that at times. Things flit in and out of our heads throughout the day – images, fantasies, silly situations, memories, things to do, bits of a lyric, blips from the news, mean thoughts, grand visions, hurts inflicted or received – and we seem to have almost no control over them. Flighty thoughts come and go as they please, and we just shake our heads and say, “Whatever!”
We understand our anonymous poet’s frustration.
But it matters which whatever we allow to settle into our brains. Flighty thoughts may come and go, but they can shape our outlook and behavior, even if we’re not aware of it. We have a duty to make sure that whatever lingers in our brains is consistent with what God is shaping us to become as image-bearers of Jesus Christ. It matters which whatever we give place to in our minds.
Paul challenges us to bridle our thoughts and make them serve the purposes of Christ and His Kingdom. We don’t have to be part of the whatever generation when it comes to what we allow in our brains. We are to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus Christ, so that all our thoughts will direct us along the path that leads further into the Kingdom of God (2 Cor. 10.3-5).
I think the King James rendering of Philippians 4.8 gets rather more to the point; it translates the indefinite relative pronoun as “whatsoever” rather than “whatever”, and thus suggests rather more intentionality and control over what occupies our minds. We are to seek out that which edifies our thinking, and think on these things continually.
Many true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy thoughts exist to fill our minds. But we must make the effort. Thinking and learning are hard work, but refusing to take up Paul’s challenge means flighty, whatever thinking and living. We must make it our business, not to let our minds be run around by whatever comes to them, but to seek out whatsoever will edify and strengthen us for the work of the Kingdom.
Because which whatever we welcome into our thinking will play a large role in determining how we live.
But where can we find such lofty thoughts as Paul commends? Scripture is the place to start, of course, and lots of it. But good music, the lyrics of enduring hymns, powerful poetry, beautiful art, close observation of the creation, edifying conversations with fellow believers, and lofty philosophical ideas can also occupy space in our brains – if, that is, we will seek them out and sow them often and deep. Give yourself to reading, study, conversation, and discussion, so that you fill your mind with that which ennobles and edifies. You’ll be surprised to see how your life will follow suit.
Don’t let your mind cave in to the whatever temper of the times. New directions, good and useful and Kingdom-building directions, flow from pure and honorable thoughts. Seek them out, think them through, lock them in, and allow whatsoever is noble, good, and Christ-like to shape your mind and life for the Lord Jesus.
1. How conscious are you of the thoughts that come through your mind each day? How might you increase that consciousness?
2. What can you do to begin having more positive and edifying thoughts consistently at work in your mind?
Psalm 119.1-8 (Ode to Joy: Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee)
Blessed are they whose way is blameless, all who walk within God’s Law,
who, His testimonies keeping, seek Him, filled with joy and awe.
These are they who, no wrong doing, ever walk within God’s ways.
Lord, Your precepts You command us; we would keep them all our days.
Let my ways steadfastly keep to all the statutes of Your Word.
Then shall I, no shame enduring, fix my eyes on You, O Lord!
With an upright heart I praise You, in Your rules will I abide.
I will keep Your statutes wholly; keep me ever by Your side!
Help me to get control of my thoughts, O Lord, and to guard my whasotevers so that I…
Some guidelines for reading and study
Paul says we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16). Imagine the potential of the whatsoever thoughts we might keep in mind all day long! Our book, Know, Love, Serve, provides a guide for stretching and nurturing your mind into the mind of Christ. Order your free copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.