There’s something about human nature that wants to dwell on negativity. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the news and magazines. The latest divorces, scandals and controversies dominate the scene. Neighborhood gossips are eager to pass on the latest and juiciest details of horrible things that happen in people’s lives.
“Have you heard about so-and-so” is the introduction to the latest negative news report. “Debbie Downers” abound who seem to have little more to discuss than all that is wrong with the world. Inconsistent with biblical love, some even find pleasure in hearing the wrongdoings of others (cf. 1 Cor. 13:6).
There are some that seem to be consumed with everything that is wrong with the world to the point it makes them bitter and incapable of feeling joy. Christians must be aware of the harsh realities of the world (as negative as they may be), but the Christian’s thoughts should not be consumed by negativity.
Not only are many people consumed by negativity, but also some spend many of their precious few moments on this earth thinking about things that destroy their minds. Some abase their minds by dwelling on sexually deviant thoughts. Still others harness hatred in their hearts and have destructive thoughts about themselves and others. The list could go on.
In the age of smartphones and constant connectivity, we are like hamsters on a never-ending wheel of distractions. Some are so distracted that they cannot focus on one task for more than a few minutes without giving in to the enticement to check email or social media.
Few people can sit through a 30-minute sermon or read a book because it requires more focus than they have been conditioned or disciplined to handle. We are a sound-byte culture. I do not think it’s a stretch to link this alarming fact with the “dumbing down” of America.
In a world whose minds are consumed by negativity, distraction and abasement, whatever happened to thinking about the good, the true and the beautiful? Whatever happened to the cultivation of the human mind for virtue?
There’s a verse in one of Paul’s letters that addresses the thought life of the Christian: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (emp. mine, TJC)” (Philippians 4:8, Mounce).
Christians should look for the virtuous things in life as a dwelling place for their thoughts. Not a pit stop of the mind, but the dwelling place of the mind. Really meditate and think about this verse. Think about what these words mean and how they are to be the things that occupy one’s thoughts.
Maybe we ought to focus on what’s right in the world instead of always what is wrong. Perhaps we need to spend more time meditating on the good that may come out of situations that are not so good. There is great benefit to be had in focusing on what we have instead of what we don’t have. It is an completely Christian notion to let one’s mind meditate on the beauty of God’s creation (cf. Psalm 145:5).
This is not just an exercise in “positive thinking.” This is a not a trick we play on ourselves to mask reality. It is not a temporary Band-Aid or replacement for healing that must follow things that wound us. It is a principle that when we make the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, the lovely, the commendable, the excellent, and the virtuous dwelling places for our thoughts, it draws us closer to Him and makes us more like Him. Those things are consistent with God’s nature and they are the things which are to be dwelt upon.
This type of thinking can benefit the non-Christian, but ultimately this type of thinking only makes full and complete sense if one is in Christ. This is because the basis for these thoughts is one’s relationship to God through Christ. All spiritual blessings are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
Only those who are justified by joyful, obedient faith in Christ have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). In fact, in the very next verse following Philippians 4:8 (above), Paul says, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace (emp. mine, TJC) will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). In other words, Paul connects the experience of the peace of God, in part to one fixing their thoughts on the things he specified. For the non-Christian, dwelling on these things will draw them closer to a knowledge of God, but ultimately the Christian is one who can experience these thoughts to their fullest degree, which brings real peace with God, because of their saved condition before Him.
Failing to let one’s mind dwell on “the good” is dangerous to one’s soul. If we are not careful, by our own negativity and bitterness, we may make our lives miserable. If we are Christians, we may conceal the light of Christ in us. This doesn’t mean we are artificially “happy on the outside” all the time, nor content with the evil that takes place around us. But, the world is in desperate need of hope and truth.
We should stand firm for what we are against, but we should also be a people who are known what we are for. We want the world to know that we are for grace, truth, forgiveness, righteousness, love and ultimately for Jesus. We cannot proclaim what we are for to the world if we are consumed with negativity and bitterness.
May God help us cleanse our thought life through His Word.
Torrey Clark is the host of the weekly Christian worldview talk show, Culture Shock (www.thelightnetwork.tv/shows). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.