I was recently asked to speak during pre-planning at my children’s school on a passage from the book of Philippians, chapter 4 verses 8 -9…. it is a school theme for the year.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Phil4:8-9 (NIV)
As I prepared for this I was reminded just how many times I have reflected on this verse when dealing with struggling patients
On the surface, the practical implications of Paul’s words are clear and they echo what we know about the human brain, and more specifically, how we think.
The first characteristic of how we think is that when we are going through the normal course of the day, we are drawn more easily to negative than positive. If you doubt this, just think of how many folks on the highway slow down to look at a flare left over from a wreck long since gone; or the fact that the majority of newscasts and tabloids make millions on the depraved and distraught in the world. We are like moths to a flame when surrounded by negative.
I am not saying that we like this; it is just that “negative” naturally grabs our attention when present.
The second characteristic is that whatever captures our attention grows in our realm of awareness. Take for example the last car you purchased, or pair of shoes, etc. Didn’t it seem as if everyone else bought the same car, same color, the same day you did….you see it everywhere.
The practical implication of this is that if we do nothing to interrupt our thinking, we can easily become overwhelmed with the negative which of course can have a major impact on our perspective, on our peace. The converse is also true; if we purposely focus on what is good, this too will expand in our awareness and have significant effects.
While I know these things to be true, this interpretation does not go far enough and was not the only thing Paul was commenting on…..it is much deeper.
Take for example the young woman who comes for counseling to overcome childhood abuse. There is no degree of “focusing on the good” that will free her from this bondage. Her issue is not necessarily a lack of “good” awareness in the present; it is that her history has skewed her perception of who she truly is. So thinking good thoughts is not really the point. There has to be more.
What Paul is referencing is that we are not just to look at what we discern to be true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy…..but to look at what God has discerned to be true, noble, right, etc.
He is calling us back to the garden….back to God’s initial act. I love this passage because God is not calling us to focus on the ramifications of living in a broken world, but rather on the remnants of His creation….the glory of His creation in our daily lives. We are broken, but we are creations of God and He declared us “good.”
Francis Schaeffer refers to our identity as a “glorious ruin.” Fully embracing that we are flawed, broken, a little bruised…..but ultimately God’s finest work. The ruin does not define us, the glory does.
Paul is not really saying “go find the good,” God has already declared what is good in the beginning. Paul is saying acknowledge it….it is right in front of you.
Yes, in the moment we need to focus on what is good and not let our idle minds dwell on our frustrations and complaints or they will only brew more violently. But at a deeper level, we are to seek out acknowledging what is truly good.
Our most apparent opportunity for this is in how we interact with one another. Honoring what God has declared “good” in our children, spouses, friends, people who annoy us, etc…..is the point. And as Paul so eloquently states; “And the God of peace will be with you.”
So here is the challenge; how will you see those around you today?
Keith McCurdy works with children, families, and individuals in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas in hopes of helping to rebuild the American family. For more information and ideas, take a look at his new website and blog at theradicalparent.com.