My thoughts said I wanted to create a new family culture, and put the past behind me, keeping the positives and leaving the negatives, but I didn’t know how. I knew God could powerfully transform my heart, but I also knew the power of generational cycles.
Being young and immature, wounded and healed, but committed to change left me searching for ways to live out the transformation God was doing in my heart.
I attended a church beneath a pastor who accepted me where I was at and called me to where I could be. He taught me to study the Bible and how to apply what I learned. His wife loved well and spoke truth when needed.
They knew my heart to rewrite history by changing my present so that my future would be filled with the power of God. Rather than dwelling on what I didn’t want or didn’t like, they urged me to think about what I wanted to be.
So I thought about the qualities that were important to me and chased after them with all that was in me.
Grace. Forgiveness. Passion for God.
They say we become what we think about and it’s mostly true. Our circumstances affect us, but we choose our responses to them. We control our thoughts, attitudes, choices. My responses are my responsibility.
But if I dwell on the hurts or painful memories more than I dwell on God’s faithfulness, hope, and peace, then I risk bringing to life the memories with new players and the cycle continues.
Do you want to be brave? Then don’t think about all the times you weren’t brave, but think about the time when you trusted God and he gave you what you needed to act brave.
Do you want to show grace? Then learn to forgive. Understand your own need for forgiveness, not so you can go around beating yourself up and wallowing in your own wretchedness, but so that you can rejoice in how much God forgives you. When we understand how much grace we receive, we begin to live in grace towards others.
It’s all in how we frame what we don’t want to be with what we want to be.
If I tell my kids “don’t forget to do the dishes,” they hear “forget. . .dishes,” and the dishes don’t get done.
But if I tell them, “remember to do the dishes,” they hear, “remember. . .dishes,” and my kitchen gets cleaned.
What lurks in your past that haunts you because you see it repeated in your present?
Unforgiveness? Bitterness? Resentment? Anger? Self-absorption? Broken promises?
Remember our thoughts give way to actions. If we’re focusing on events that feed these emotions, then we sow seeds into our lives that eventually give way to a harvest that we didn’t want to sow.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6 (ESV)
Be aware of your thoughts.
Flip the script.
Filter using Philippians 4:8
Spend more time thinking about what you do want to be rather than what you don’t.
We use different filters in photography and post-processing to neutralize a bright scene or enhance blue skies, or draw the eye to a focal point. I have created presets for bringing out the eyes, whitening teeth, and getting rid of pesky under-eye shadows. Presets or filters applied the right way enhance the photo.
While it’s fun to play around with filters in Lightroom or Photoshop, filters used to hide the truth compete with the authenticity and transparency God desires in relationship with him.
Hebrews 4:12-16 tells us that everything is exposed before God, even the things we don’t want him to see or acknowledge to ourselves that they exist in our heart.
The Psalms are filled with raw, unfiltered emotion before God and that’s okay. We must have a way to express the raw, unfiltered emotions that navigating this life stir in our heart.
But, when we’re in the renewal and transforming process, a filter is an absolute necessary in training our hearts and thoughts into new patterns.
When we use God’s word as a filter for our lives, we don’t filter God’s word through our opinion, but our opinion and point of view through God’s word. And if there’s anything within us contrary to God’s word, then we readjust our point of view to God’s, we don’t readjust God’s point of view to fit ours.
We find the steps woven throughout the Bible and while this series includes practical steps to take, there also needs to be a foundational understanding of God’s love for you and your identity in him.
Philippians 4:8 is one of the filters we can use to filter our thoughts so that we generate new thoughts for our regenerated heart.
“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, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
I run my thoughts through this filter like I would run my raspberries through a sieve in order to separate the sauce from the seeds. I ask myself if what I’m thinking is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellence, or praiseworthy. Using Philippians 4:8 keeps God’s word at the forefront of my mind and keep my mind pointed to Jesus’ ways.
When we consider true in the biblical sense we refer to true conduct, sincerity, uprightness, and honesty. We can be totally and completely true and honest with God about our hurts, anger, and frustration.
Philippians 2:3-4 speaks of looking to others interests and not doing anything out of vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself.Honorable thoughts are thoughts are are filled with consideration, deference, and fair.
There’s a growing demand for justice in our world, but let’s strip it back to the Greek definition of just which is morally righteous, impartial, and upright. Are your thoughts moral? Impartial? Upright? Or are you finding your thoughts filled with revenge or showing favoritism? Jesus declared that even if we think hateful thoughts we commit murder.
Pure thoughts are innocent and blameless. Blameless. I can’t tell you how many times my thoughts are filled with blaming others for my problems. If you want to break free of the victim mentality that keeps you hostage, start by developing thoughts that don’t point the blame.
Lovely thoughts are thoughts that are friendly toward something or someone. Lovely thoughts are pretty difficult when we’re harboring unforgiveness and resentment towards someone or something. By filtering our thoughts through loveliness, we are made aware of any lingering vestiges of bitterness.
Do you speak well of your enemies or situations or are you full of grumbling and revenge? Commendable means to speak well of. The key to being able to thinking on things that are commendable is replacing a grumbly heart with a grateful heart by focusing on God’s character and presence during and despite the difficulties we face.
The Greek word for excellent refers to goodness of actions and virtuous deeds. Our actions are born out of our thoughts. What you think is how you act. If your thoughts are vengeful, you might just find those words you don’t mean to say, but mean in your heart, to fly out of your mouth like a dagger to wound and maim.
Worthy of Praise
Praiseworthy. Are your thoughts worthy of praise? Eventually, as you filter your thoughts through the other commands in this verse, they will be worthy of praise. Anything that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent are praiseworthy. But the previous descriptions give color and nuance to this passage.
Paul is calling us to action in Philippians 4:8. We don’t have to remain stuck in unhealthy patterns of thought, but can be set free as we progressively apply these principles to our minds.
Freedom comes by way of walking in the freedom that God made available with Jesus’ death and resurrection. So we practice. Every day. Every minute. Every second.
Then we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to do his renewing work in our minds.
If thoughts are good, it’s wonderful. Thoughts about the effervescent giggle of a child who found a lost lovey or the way the sunlight made you glow as you basked in it’s warmth bring comfort and encouragement.
But when those thoughts damage trust and hope, they’re like knives filleting hearts.
We cannot comprehend the power behind our thoughts until we put them into words, and we see the effect they have on us and those around us.
The smile that radiates from someone when they receive affirming words, fills our hearts as well.
And the ache that leaks out of the eyes of someone who has had words stabbed into their heart feels like shards of glass to our hearts as well.
To control our speech, we become stingy with our words, doling them out here and there, raising the bar of exception higher and higher until we’re impossible to please.
Or we become self-protectant, doubting the goodness of someone’s words or validating our self-protection when hurtful words come our way.
Not giving life to the ugly by being quiet is one step towards using our words for good. But even if we are still thinking them, there will come a time when the pressure of life causes those words to spillover. And what a mess.
In the first week of college, I made a mess with my fellow college students. Let’s just say first impressions are vital and recovering from a bad first impression is nearly impossible. It takes heroic effort and deliberate repeated actions to prove that the bad first impression was the wrong first impression.
I made a terrible first impression. Embarrassingly so. A young man threw his fork, which had just been in his mouth, across the table and into my cottage cheese and yogurt. I delivered a sharp and stinging lecture on germs and cleanliness. In the process, I indicated that the person who threw the fork was just as disgusting as the germs in their mouth and I shamed them.
I shamed myself by my words.
Those words welled up like a volcano and I couldn’t stop them like I had in the past. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” was my mantra growing up. But it failed me in this instance.
The combination of moving to a new town, adjusting to a new school, and dealing with shattering the illegal haircutting business of the Dorm Mother created pressure that built into the “Don’t Throw the Fork That’s Just Been in Your Mouth into My Food” scathing speech. I cringe at the memory.
I learn from it too. I understand that preventing thoughts from turning into words isn’t effective. It’s pretty much exhausting and induces a “try, fail, beat oneself up” cycle. That cycle does not lead to lasting, heartfelt, transformation that believers in Christ exhibit as a new creation.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
One of the steps of breaking negative cycles is capturing our thoughts. The next step is making our thoughts obedient to Christ.
Awareness of our thoughts leads to capturing our thoughts.
Then we bring them into obedience to Christ.
How? By flipping the script.
Flipping the script involves taking the negative thoughts and looking at it upside down.
God’s wisdom is not the world’s wisdom. God’s wisdom doesn’t turn to the latest “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” philosophy or turn to blaming other’s for your problems. God’s wisdom is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)
I rail against the injustice about the lack of healing in my friend’s body and I shake my clenched fist at the heavens. I tell God exactly what I feel, all the hurt and the anger, and then I declare to myself that God has been my hope and my confidence since my youth (Psalm 71:5).
At times I struggle in relationships and find my mind filled with imaginary conversations putting so-and-so in their place, I am completely honest with God with my frustrations and disappointments. But then I flip the script and remind myself that God is sovereign, and his ways are higher than mine.
When I feel surrounded by darkness and cannot find my way, I hurl my confusion at God and he hears me because he doesn’t turn me away. But then I turn that thought around by reminding myself that God’s light and truth will guide me. (Psalm 43:3)
Flipping the script takes guarding our mouth to a whole new level because we’re renewing our thoughts by making them obedient to Christ. Rather than being held hostage to a cycle of “try, fail, beat oneself up,” we’re set free because our thoughts are filled with the truths found in God’s word.
Know his word. Capture thoughts and flip the script.
Be aware of your thoughts. Tune in.
Capture your thoughts. Even the slippery ones.
Make them obedient. Flip the script.