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My new spiritual practice: A Christian perspective on thoughts

Wednesday June 7 2017

My new spiritual practice: A Christian perspective on thoughts

The writers of the Bible were quite concerned with how we think about things. Many times in the Psalms we are encouraged to remember the deeds of the Lord. The prophets speak often of God’s righteousness, justice and judgment, as if these attributes of God are important for us to think about.

Jesus teaches in parables, showing the significance of creative (and even sideways) thinking about life and God. Jesus also teaches in a more straightforward manner. The “Upper Room Discourse” in John 13 to 16 is profound and deeply thought-provoking.

The speeches by various apostles in Acts give a taste of their clear thinking about God, Jesus and salvation. The Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 1 to 8 were used in law schools a century ago to illustrate good argumentation.

Philippians 4:8 is the most powerful statement in the Bible about the significance of the way we think: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

When we think on “these things,” we are more likely to experience hope. In more than a dozen places in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, we are encouraged to put our hope in God, as if hoping requires an act of the will or a particular way of thinking. In Psalm 78, we read that God established his law so that his people would “set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” The close connection between hope, the way we think, and obedience are visible in that passage.

Hebrews 6:18 encourages us to “seize the hope set before us,” and we do that both in our thoughts and in our actions.

If I were to summarize God’s desires for the direction of our thoughts I would suggest that we are called to focus our thoughts on:

  1. God’s character and what God has done, our source of hope, peace and love
  2. God’s gifts to us in our individual and communal lives
  3. How to love and serve the people around us
  4. How to serve God in the world, participating in God’s work already going on

For me, the kinds of thoughts desired by God are impeded by three kinds of “demonic” thoughts:

  1. Regrets about the past
  2. Thoughts about catastrophic possibilities in the future
  3. Self-criticism.

For the past five weeks I’ve been writing about a process that’s new to me of trying to separate thoughts from feelings, feeling the feelings using a process called RAIN, and then letting any remaining counterproductive thoughts go. The purpose of this process is to make space for the kinds of thoughts that honor God: thoughts that focus on who God is, what God has done, the gifts God has given, the ways I can serve and love people around me, and the ways I can serve God with my life.

Our thoughts matter. They shape the way we view life, honor God and love others. Our thoughts influence our ability to experience the joy, love, hope and peace God desires to give us. Our thoughts shape our actions. Learning to increasingly let go of counter-productive thoughts so I can focus on what God desires for my thought life has been really, really helpful. I wish the same for all who read this blog.

(Next week: Two common questions about the Sabbath. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Posts in this series on my new spiritual practice:

Separating thoughts from feelings       
Feeling the feelings using the RAIN process        
Coping with feelings that want to dominate         
Dealing with “demonic” thoughts         
Is self compassion appropriate for Christians?

Resources on spiritual practices:

            My book on communal spiritual practices: Joy Together
            My books Sabbath Keeping and Fasting
            My Bible study guide, Sabbath: The Gift of Rest
            Articles I’ve written on spiritual practices



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