Brian is a Christian landscape photographer and writer in Alaska. His work can be viewed at www.brianheaphy.com.
We’ve all heard the familiar expression, “It’s the thought that counts.” Well, never do these words hold more truth than when it comes to one’s own spiritual condition. The roots of spiritual growth and spiritual decay can always be traced back to our thoughts –and it is the intensity of these thoughts that controls the rate of travel in either direction. Simply put, it is the primary focus and intentional force of a person’s mind that determine his or her spiritual trajectory.
From beginning to end, Scripture emphasizes concentrated, single-minded living as God’s prescription for spiritual growth. So numerous are such Bible verses that it is difficult to understand why we so often fail to obey their clear commands. Regardless of our behavior, however, it is certain that God demands and deserves “first place” in every area of our lives (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 6:33).
In his book, 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, John Piper wrote, “This is what sin is–dishonoring God by PREFERRING other things over Him, and acting on those preferences.” He continued, “We were made to experience full and lasting happiness from seeing and savoring the glory of God. If our best joy comes from something less, we are idolaters.” In other words, thoughts in the form of misguided preferences are the basis of sin.
Few would argue that God has used the apostle Paul to establish a “pattern of pursuit” with respect to seeking Christlikeness. With this in mind, consider what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14: “ONE THING I DO: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” By his own admission, Paul lived a “one-dimensional life.” He paid no attention to either accomplishments or failures of the past, but remained focused only on “the goal” (Christlikeness here and now) while keeping “the prize” (Christlikeness in Heaven) in mind. Everything else was inconsequential to him. Philippians 3:15 instructs all believers to have this same, single-purposed attitude.
Shortly afterward in Philippians 4:8-9, Paul gives us some insight as to the strategy that he employs and deems necessary in order to maintain a focused pursuit of Christ. Here he writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, DWELL ON THESE THINGS. “ As such, Paul demonstrates and advocates “thought control” and “the power of positive thinking” as vital components regarding the processes of spiritual growth and Christian living.
“Negative thinking” is equally potent however. Consider how Jesus Himself clearly describes the magnified value which He assigns to what we so commonly consider to be “mere thoughts.” In Matthew 5:22 and 5:28, Jesus emphasizes that the internal attitudes or thoughts behind sinful behaviors carry the SAME moral guilt as the acts themselves –regardless of whether or not those thoughts are physically acted upon. Using our Lord’s examples, anger incurs the same judgment as murder and lust incurs the same judgment as adultery.
As previously mentioned, the preferred focus or direction of our thoughts is only half of the equation when it comes to spiritual growth. We now need to look at the intensity that is to be associated with such thoughts. Here again, the Bible gives us much material to work with. To begin, Scripture makes it very clear that God’s Word is the exclusive, all-sufficient agent of growth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As such, it is extremely fitting that 1 Peter 2:2 instructs all believers to, “like newborn babies, LONG FOR the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” The singular desire (and most vital need) of newborn babies is milk –and this desire is undeniably intense and persistent.
While keeping the previous “parent” verses from 2 Timothy and 1 Peter in mind, let’s take a look at how Scripture consistently reinforces Itself with respect to identifying the high levels of importance and intensity that must be assigned to the believer’s desire for Divine Wisdom. An excellent starting point is found in Job 23:12 where Job speaks about the supreme value of Scripture: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Now notice the striking similarity that is found in Jeremiah 15:16: “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.” The inestimable value of God’s Word is likewise upheld in Psalm 19:9-10: “The judgments of the Lord are…more desirable than gold, yes than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.”
In Joshua 1:8 we read: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” Proverbs 2:3-5 promise: “For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.” This pattern continues in Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Proverbs 7:1-4 and 8:17,19 combine very nicely to convey Scripture’s aggregate “bottom line” regarding the pursuit of God’s Wisdom and spiritual maturity: “Keep my words and TREASURE my commandments WITHIN you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye.” “I love those who love me; and those who DILIGENTLY SEEK ME will find me. My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold.” And so it is that, time and again, Scripture assigns the same unrivaled and uninterrupted priority to the seeking of God’s Wisdom –and It identifies this pursuit as the most necessary element of spiritual growth. According to the Bible, the constant, central focus of our thoughts is to be on God’s Word.
So how about you? –What is your heart’s greatest desire? Would your family, friends, and co-workers agree with your claim? We must keep ALL THINGS in proper perspective from an eternal point of view –and not allow ourselves to be misled by our carnal human natures or the world’s fallen social climate (Romans 12:2, 1Jn 2:15-17).