Tackling Grumble Spots #4 – Keep Current in Your Thinking
If you’re just discovering this series, I suggest you go back to the beginning to discover what grumble spots are.
Are you feeling encouraged yet? I hope so! I’d love to hear from you and know how I can be praying. If you’d rather reach out privately, please feel free to use the Contact Me page. I trust as you seek the Lord’s help in your journey towards thankful living, you will find Him unceasingly faithful.
Now to tackle another enemy of a thankful heart – our time-traveling minds. Real time travel may not be possible (sorry, Doc and Marty), but we certainly spend a lot of time in the past and/or the future in our thoughts. Many a wise grandma has cautioned against wasting your mental energy on things that are not in your current reality. I’m sure many of you have heard a saying like this: “Worrying about tomorrow (or yesterday) does nothing but steal the joy out of today.” Listen to Grandma. She’s right.
Of course, as a believer in Jesus Christ, I have more than just the wise words of a beloved maternal patriarch. There is a well-known Bible passage in Matthew 6:34 that is more than likely the source of many grandmas’ wisdom: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Or perhaps you are more accustomed to hearing grandma quote Phil. 4:6-7 to you: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” These are tremendous texts for the topic at hand, but I have found that the real treasure, the real help to tackling a wandering, anxious mind is found in the verses surrounding these passages. It is there that I found the replacement principle. There, I found things to focus all the mental energy towards, which ultimately kept me from entering the time warp of worrying about past/future possibilities.
So let’s take a look at how to engage our minds to stay in the present reality. If your anxiety is building about regrets/what ifs of the past or possibilities of the future, please start reading Matthew 6 in verse 25 and take a long pause in verse 33. You see, I discovered that the “standard go-to” verses for anxiety tell us what NOT to do – worry. But what should I do instead? My mind is never “empty.” I’m always thinking about something. So in the spirit of the “put off/put on” pattern in Ephesians 4, I began looking for the replacement. And that’s why I had you pause at verse 33. Seek first His kingdom. This gave me a prayer focus – gospel advancement. I began listing out all the things I could pray for and think about that fit the imperative “seek.” The list contained my pastors, foreign missionaries, stateside church planters, many ministry leads and workers, family and friends who need Christ and the unity of my local church family. At the peak of my anxious season, I easily prayer for a combined 4-5 hours a day. Just to give an example, I vividly remember folding laundry, worrying about something that MIGHT happen and I mentally said, “Stop!” and started praying for my pastor’s physical and spiritual protection, his time in the Word, his relationship with his wife and her protection and growth, his kids and their relationships with the Lord, his discernment to lead our church and for wisdom as he prepared and delivered his sermons. Now, there are 5 pastors at my church. So praying this way for all of them took up alot of that open mind time and kept my anxious thoughts at bay. An added blessing of this mental discipline was a deeper, more meaningful relationship with my pastors. I became endeared to them, their families and their ministry. Similarly, as I prayed for the unity of my local church, I began going through our weekly prayer list to pray for the many individual needs mentioned. Because I was praying so much for these dear people, I found myself starting to seek them out to ask how things were going. I sent cards and texts to let them know I was praying. This formed meaningful, true familial relationships that exist and grow to this day. And it all started with a disciplined prayer effort meant to replace the sin of worry.
While the above exercise was helpful, I still struggled with how to pray about my own personal fears and doubts. Thankfully, the Lord sent a dear lady in my church who directed me to look beyond verses 6 & 7 in Philippians 4. She helped me discover a list of a different sort – and I do love lists! In Phil. 4:8 I found of list of criteria for allowed thoughts. If they don’t make the cut, time to replace them. Here’s the list: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” You know what I learned while applying these criteria? Most of my anxious thoughts were disapproved based on the very first criteria – they simply weren’t true. They weren’t current realities. The thinks I was so fearful of were all future possibilities and the Lord use this precious verse to bring me back to the present time. I remember that when my dear friend shared this with me she firmly put both of her hands on the sides of her face as she quoted the first line, “What is true NOW?” She gave me to picture of intentionally steering her thoughts, almost as if she had reins. She was decisive, intentional and clear. How helpful she was and how helpful her counsel continues to be. The battle of the mind does indeed that firm, resolute effort.
The rest of Philippians 4:8 continues with other wonderful replacement thoughts. Lovely things, like the very person of Jesus Christ and all He is. Spending time reading and recalling a good theology study is tremendously helpful. And of course, the words that started my pursuit of a thankful heart – “if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” This is what birthed my thankfulness endeavor. A thankful heart is great protector, friends. I’ve said it before. I recall counting my current and past blessings and praising God the hope of future ones. I thanked Him that the anxious fears that filled my past thoughts were never realized. I thanked Him for His attributes that I learned more about during my theology reading. I thanked him for sunny days and spent much time outside enjoying His handiwork. I thanked Him for everything I could think of and soon learned every good thing does indeed come from above. And as it true for many lessons learned, I have not forgotten the discipline of praise that I learned through tremendous difficulty. The harder one works to learn, the harder it is for one to forget. Praise God for that!
Time to bring this post to a close. As always, I do hope this helps someone. Start making lists of replacement thoughts and praiseworthy things. Please let me know how I can pray for you!