It always starts with something small. I look at the various part-time jobs I have scheduled for the week and feel tired. Then I wish for the thousandth time that I could have a stable, full-time job like most of my friends. Then I worry about my precarious finances—what if the jobs suddenly dry up, where will money for the rent and groceries come from? Then I agonize that I’m not working hard enough and start to think of ways to get more work. Then I envy my friends who have a career ladder that they can climb, one that will reward them for their hard work and increase their sphere of influence as they get better at their jobs.
Before I know it, my toxic thought pattern reduces me into a paralysis of believing that I have to fend for myself. I end up bitter with God for not being more helpful, which then affects how I act towards Him.
What starts out as just a thought, when attended to and indulged in in a negative way, mutates into a full-fledged attitude that eventually has the power to dictate my actions. And if consistently entertained, as I did for several years in my mid-twenties, it even has the power to alter my entire disposition and sour the way I relate with God.
Paul knew about the importance of guarding our thought life. He knew that the substance of our thoughts would be a crucial factor in determining whether we are pressing toward “the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Our thoughts have a profound way of shaping our realities.
In this last chapter of Philippians, Paul gives us advice on how we can develop a thought life that will help us walk towards the fullness of the resurrected life. Rather than ruminating on our fears and frustrations, Paul encourages us to think about the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things. All these things are rooted in the unequivocal goodness of God.
In other words, as we cultivate thought patterns that are grounded in the character of God, we will begin to recognize what is in line with God’s purposes, and what isn’t! We will know which are the paths that lead to life, and we can then choose to walk in them.
Even the smallest things, when true, or noble, or right, can be an overflow of God’s grace. Did someone do something that made our day better? Did we do anything for someone else that brought us joy? When we experience these moments, we can be sure that God has been behind them.
Paul then exhorts us to practice being these admirable and Christlike things that we have “learned or received or heard” in others (v. 9). We are not simply to think about the good things God has done, but we are to put them into action in our own lives. When we live them out, it helps us remember that God is very much present in our lives. It pulls our reality in line with His and keeps us firmly conscious of the fact that He is at work.
Meditating on the good things of God has started to change my outlook to life. It encourages me to keep fixing my eyes on these unassailable truths whenever anxiety or doubt threatens to overwhelm me: I have not been forgotten. I can be at peace.
From this place of confidence and assurance, we can live in a way that reflects the goodness of God, a way that then reveals the goodness of God to others around us.
—By Nelle Lim, Singapore
Questions for reflection
- What are some thoughts that you consistently indulge in, even though they do not align with the truth of God’s word? Write them down and bring them to God in prayer.
- What do your thoughts reveal about the parts of your life in which you have yet to experience God’s peace? Ask God to help you surrender them to Him.
- In place of these negative thoughts, what are some true, right and lovely thoughts that you can meditate on instead?