(8 minute read)
“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 (Philippians 4:8, NIV).”
At one time, there was an astounding castle owned by the Castlereagh family, one of the most princely residences in Ireland. People would come for miles just for a glimpse of the castle. Unfortunately, the ancient home fell into decay and was no longer inhabited. Then the usual happened. When peasants wanted to repair a road, build a chimney, or even a pig-sty, they would scavenge stone from the fine old castle. The stones were already craftily cut, finished, and fit. Best of all, they were available without digging and carrying for miles.
One day Lord Londonderry visited his castle. He was the surviving descendant and heir. When he saw the state of his ancestral home, he determined to end immediately the robbery of the building for its stones. This was not only the legacy of the glory of his family but one of the greatest treasures of Ireland. So he sent for his agent and gave orders for the castle to be enclosed with a wall six feet tall. He believed this would keep out the thieves, so he went on his way.
Three or four years later, he returned. To his astonishment, the castle was gone. It had completely disappeared, vanished into thin air. In its place, there was a huge wall enclosing nothing. He sent for his agent and demanded to know why his orders had not been carried out. The agent insisted they had been and that he did exactly as he had been asked. "But where is the castle?" asked the Lord.
"The castle? I built the wall with it, my Lord!” said the agent. “Why should I go for miles to get materials when the finest stones in Ireland are beside me?”
Life can sometimes feel like a battle. We all face challenges, attacks, temptations, hard circumstances, and setbacks.
But the greatest battle every believer faces is the battle within.
It’s the battle of the mind.
Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a person thinks in their heart, so they are…” Our thoughts form the foundation for our lives, revealed in our actions and words.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny!” Our thoughts determine our destiny. Because that is true, our minds are always under siege by the enemy.
Your mind is a castle that has to be guarded. Decay is always possible. Stone by stone, it can be carried away or made into something not for God’s purposes. No one ever sets out to become a negative or pessimistic person. But the enemy’s number one target is your thoughts. If the enemy can control your thoughts, then he can control your attitudes, self-image, and actions. Those actions will lead to habits, patterns of thinking, and negative responses. Those habits form your character over time, and your character makes your destiny.
This is why scripture says in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth.” We have to stay focused on the higher things of God. Otherwise, we should expect nothing in prayer.
In Philippians 4:4, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (NIV).” He goes on to outline a way to keep your mind focused on positive things. But let’s be clear: Paul is not teaching “the power of positive thinking.” His answer is not “just think positively.” His answer is Rejoice! Paul is counseling believers to fix their minds not on general, positive thoughts but on the character of God. He challenges us to focus on the good things of God.
The word rejoice can also be translated as “farewell.” Paul is making his final farewell to the Philippian church, and he is essentially saying, “Don’t be a victim to all of your problems. Don’t get overwhelmed by the trouble inside of you, within the church, or through outside circumstances. Don’t let your problems take your joy away.” Paul then says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone (Philippians 4:5, NIV).”
Along with joy, reasonableness and gentleness are critical to your witness in the world. These ground your faith in God’s goodness and allow you to trust in your Heavenly Father, not in any earthly circumstance. Paul reminds the church, “the Lord is at hand (v.5).” God hasn’t abandoned you. But also Paul means, “The time of God is near. The time is coming when everything will be put right, and all of the suffering and despair of this world will be over.”
So keep praying. Jesus said we should always pray and never give up. Keep thanking God and asking for what you need. When all understanding fails (“God, I do not know what you are doing. I don’t see how you’re at work.”), then the peace of God will set a guard around your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The word for guard is a military term. The peace of God, like a sentry watch, will guard for our hearts and minds.
George Müller kept his eyes on the Lord through good times and bad. In seeking God's direction for his ministry future, he often waited days and weeks and months in prayerful discernment. "I have the fullest and most peaceful assurance that He will clearly show me His will," Müller wrote in 1850.
"This calmness of mind, this having no will of my own in the matter, this only wishing to please my Heavenly Father in it, this only seeking His and not my honor in it, this state of heart, I say, is the fullest assurance to me that my heart is not under a fleshly excitement, and that, if I am helped thus to go on, I will know the will of God fully."
His mind was calm, stayed on God.
Could you have a similar state of mind such that you would feel continual peace and joy in God's presence as you reflect on the goodness and faithfulness of God?
Could you also "think on such things?"
“Whatever is true…” There are some things that are true. The world is not consumed by alternative facts. Love is true. Grace is true. There is a way of life that is marked by being true to others, honest and open. And there is a way of life that is marked by deception, overstating your accomplishments, and half-truths. Paul says, focus on what is true. Specifically, Paul is talking about the truth of the gospel as a standard for your life. Titus 1:2 speaks of eternal life, which was promised by God before time began, and about God, “who never lies.”
“Whatever is noble...” The word means “worthy of reverence” or “dignified” and “elevated.” In Paul’s time, it was the word that is characteristically used of the gods and of the temples of the gods. When used to describe a man or woman, it describes a person who moves throughout the world as if they were the temple of God. There is dignity in their actions. Noble is the teenager who finds a wallet full of money in the hallway and then takes it to the lost and found rather than keeping it. It’s noble when someone gives up their seat on the bus for an elderly person. Think on such things.
“Whatever is right…” The word can also mean "righteous." Think on things that are just and righteous and fair. These are things that aren’t tainted or shady. This is about God’s standard of righteousness, in harmony with God’s standards. Too often, people don’t ask the question, “Is this right?” Instead, people ask, “Does this work?” or “How will I feel if I do this?” We are held to a higher standard, the standard of God. God is just (Psalm 89:14).
“Whatever is pure…” This means “free from defilement, stainless, spotless.” This has to do with the state of our minds and the acts of our bodies. We are called to be pure in a very messy world. 1 Corinthians 6:19 (ESV) says, “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
“Whatever is lovely...” This is conduct that is pleasing, beautiful to behold. God wants us to be people of beauty, creating beautiful things that nurture a sense of awe in us. In the same way, God desires that we push away anything that is crass or debased. Why? Because God is lovely. Song of Solomon 5:16 says, “He is altogether lovely.” We’re called to create and behold beautiful things as a way of beholding God.
“Whatever is admirable…” It could also be translated as “worthy of a good report” or "worth telling someone else about." Thinking on admirable things means not focusing on or reporting the faults and sins of others. It means reflecting on the best in each person. If anything is excellent and worthy of praise, think about these things. The word means “to give thought to or to reason out.” This is a picture of a mind bathed in God, saturated by the things of God. When we think on these things, as one person has said, we “esteem them highly, recommend them heartily, and practice them fervently.”
You have a choice of what you put in your mind. Every day you can choose your attitude. You can choose the content that enters your mind. Make a decision to set your mind on things above. If you’re in traffic, you can choose your reaction. You can get angry, or you can start to set your mind on things above, saying, “Father, you work everything for the good. I thank you for guiding me and protecting me, and I know I’m going to get there right on time.” If you get laid off at work, you can choose to be bitter and negative, or you can say, “Father, I’m going to rejoice in you. I know that whenever a door closes, you have a better door for me to walk through. So thank you for guiding my life.” If you don’t get into the class you want or the university you want, you can say, “Father, it must be by your goodwill that I wasn’t able to enter that class or that university. Guide my life and help me to give you all the glory.”
Have confidence in the “sentry watch” God has placed over your life. God’s peace can protect your mind. Why don’t you let it stand guard over your heart and your mind? Every day you can pray, “God, watch over my life. Protect me and deliver me from evil. Things are going to happen today that may shake my confidence in you and dampen my spirit. I don’t want my mind taken away stone by stone.”
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you (Isaiah 26:3, NIV)”
Why not fix your eyes on God right now and receive his peace?
Prayer Principle #21: A steadfast mind leads to perfect peace.