“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV
Imagine two people walking together in a park on a sunny day. Suddenly, as they’re walking, a German Shepherd shows up, out of nowhere, and jumps right in front of them. The first one (let’s call him John), scared to death, runs away to hide behind a tree; he even wants to climb it. The other (let’s call him Matthew), an animal lover, joyfully walks toward the dog all smiles, to play with it. Now, what exactly is happening here? What causes these two completely different reactions from both men? Is the dog responsible? The short answer is “not at all”.
John and Matthew are both at the same place, at the same time, and in front of the very same German Shepherd. And yet, while living the same experience, they both have opposite reactions. What is it that causes fear in the heart of the first and joy in the heart of the other? It’s certainly not the dog. It has no power to trigger emotions in people.
Here’s what is happening: the dog is not responsible for putting fear in the heart of John. It’s what John thinks of the dog that triggers fear in him. And the dog is neither responsible for putting joy in the heart of Matthew, it’s what Matthew thinks of the dog that triggers joy in his heart. John probably thinks that the animal was dangerous and about to attack him, so he fears for his safety and runs away. Matthew probably thinks something like “what a beautiful doggy! I bet you it only wants to play!”.
Why were Paul and Silas able to praise God in prison, while surrounded by inmates who probably felt anything but positive emotions at that same moment (Acts 16)? And why was the apostle able to write “Rejoice in the Lord always” from a prison cell (Philippians 4:4)? Or why is it that out of two people sitting side by side in church listening to the same sermon, one will have a heart filled with thanksgiving and the other will be indifferent to the call of God’s word? It’s because they’re not thinking the same thing about their experience.
You see, what we think has the power to cause emotions in us, good or bad. For example, most fears are triggered by events that likely won’t happen. They’re triggered by our thoughts (or our imagination), not by reality.
We have the God-given power to choose what we feel by managing our thoughts. But the truth is we don’t always use that power or understand its importance. Some will let their friends, television, social media, or even the evil one tell them what they ought to think about, but it is the Bible that gives us the wisest advice in that matter.
When Paul invites us to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, he knows that it will not only have a tremendous impact on how we feel but also on how we move and act in this world. What you choose to think about can literally change the way you feel about God, yourself, or others, and it can also change your life!
What if you decided to only think about praiseworthy things today? What impact could it have on the rest of your week? Managing your thoughts: what if that’s what you actually needed to do to turn your situation around? Get out there and manage your thoughts with intentionality and see what difference it makes at work, in school, or even in your household. Get out there and choose what will trigger your emotions and influence your actions.
And by the way, if you get out there and find yourself face to face with a big dog, before running away, ask yourself: what am I thinking about?