“A man is not what he thinks he is, but what he thinks, he is.”
– M.R. Hickerson
The human brain is the most complex biological organ in existence. Containing 100 billion nerve cells, with each one potentially linking with 10,000 other nerve cells, the brain’s capacity for calculations and the speed at which these functions occur is staggering. It is estimated with such a high degree of connectivity, the human brain is capable of 1 quintillion (1 followed by 18 zeros) calculations per second.
Since our brains function at such a level (though for some a couple of cups of coffee are needed first), it’s no wonder that our thoughts can be as quick as lightning and just as dangerous. This speed can launch our focus into an orbit around the wrong things in an instant. I remember a psychology professor who once performed an experiment with our class. She said, “I want each of you to listen closely. I am about to tell you something that I do not want you to think about. Under no circumstance, for the next five minutes, do I want you to think of, ponder, or in any way focus any mental energy upon the image of a white elephant. Don’t allow the image of a white elephant to cross your mind. Block it out, avoid it. Concentrate on keeping that image of a white elephant out of your head.” What happened? Every person in the room (save that one guy in the back corner who was napping) thought of a white elephant. The more I thought about not thinking about a white elephant, the more I thought of it. So, I thought harder about not thinking about it, and soon it became impossible to avoid the imaginary pachyderm roaming about in my head.
We face the same struggle on a spiritual level. There’s a thought you shouldn’t linger on – one that is best left alone. Perhaps it is a painful memory that pops up, even though you have forgiven those involved or have been forgiven yourself. Maybe it is an impure, mean-spirited, or negative thought. Like running your tongue over an aching tooth, you find yourself playing it over and over again in your head despite the pain and discomfort. “Don’t think about that!” you command yourself. But try as you might, you can’t shake the white elephant.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul writes, “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.” Notice that he does not write, “Whatever things are false, unworthy of respect, unjust, impure, displeasing, and of bad reputation, if there is anything lacking virtue and anything unworthy of praise, don’t think about those things.”
God’s tells us the things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy must be the focal points of our minds. In fact, the list of attributes for thoughts given in the passage makes a great test for thinking. When the thought first crosses your mind, run the list: “Is this true? Noble? Just? If not, redirect your focus to the things that meet the standard. Guarding your thoughts is an active process (Proverbs 4:23; 1 Peter 1:13). You don’t accidentally stumble into the mindset of Christ. You must seek him, surrender to him and focus upon his truth (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). It is a constant, but worthy, battle.
Does your mind, like water, flow to the lowest point? Do you give it free rein, and watch as those billions of connections quickly work to foster impurity in your thought-life? Do you have a “white elephant” that you think on often? How do your thoughts measure up to the standard found in God’s word? What are you thinking about?
We will actively guard our thoughts, emotions and inclinations as we recognize the importance of our inner lives. – Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
We will prepare our minds as we live in expectation of the return of Christ. – 1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
We will remain vigilant in our thoughts knowing that we face a very real enemy. – 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.