Think great thoughts about life. Life is not about getting, accumulating, controlling, manipulating, and having my way, so that I create a false sense of security, and I can project and think that I'm a “somebody,” significant because I have done this, and own this, and can do that. Life is about following Jesus, and losing my life, but not because I'm dumb. It's because I'm smart. If He's the Author of life, then I'm going to lose, or surrender, my life, and by that I'm going to gain it. And then, He gives us the greatest reason: "For what good is it for man to gain the whole world, and yet forfeit his very self?"
Think great thoughts about God. Think great thoughts about yourself. Think great thoughts about others. And think great thoughts about life. As the song says, it's not about me.
Think great thoughts about your future. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'" How do you think about the future? So many of us think about the future with fear. Some of us think about the future with anxiety: What's going to happen next? What about the terrorism?
What about the economy? What about my kids? What about my grandkids? What about my singleness? What about the big decision I've got to make? We all think about the future. How do we think about it? We think about, What do I have to do to protect myself from something bad?
What would happen if you thought great thoughts about the future? Is God sovereign, or not? Is God good, or not? Is God all-wise, or not? If there is a good God, who has a good plan for you, and He's all-knowing, and He's all-wise, He has the power to deliver it, and orchestrates all things on the face of the earth, you can face the future with confidence. You can face the future with hope.
In fact –what if you extrapolated all the way out, to the very worst thing that could happen? You're a Christian, okay? You love God. I mean, there are issues, and there are relationships, and there are finances. Okay? But you really love God, and you know when you get in those thoughts of, This could happen, and this could happen, this could happen, and I could get cancer, and then this could happen, and this could happen.
Okay. Let's just play it out. Worst thing that could happen – you die. You're a Christian. So, what happens to you? You immediately go to heaven. Oh, bummer! I mean, that's how Christians live. Oh, bummer. Let's see, I'm with Jesus. There's no pain. I'm reunited with my loved ones.
Worst-case scenario, your future is, the God of the universe sent His Son. He died for you, paid the price, rose from the dead. You received Him personally. And the worst that can happen is, you're going to end up with Jesus, forever and ever and ever.
But see, we don't think that way, do we? Think great thoughts about the future. You have a hope that can't be tarnished. It can't be spoiled. You have a God that has a plan. You matter to Him.
Think great thoughts, next, about the past. Paul would say, in Philippians 3:13 and 14, "Brothers, I don't consider myself yet as having laid hold of it. But one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for that which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Would you underline "forgetting what lies behind"? And then, underline, "I press on." And underneath that, I want you to write a little note that says, "I will forget about my past failures, and I will forget about my past successes."
You know there are some believers that have been through a divorce, been abused, or abused someone. I remember the first time I encountered this in the church where I pastored: I had a guy that abused his seven-year-old kid. I mean, that's just so . . . And doing counseling with him.
And when he got out of prison, and came and showed me his card, and, "I'm a sex offender," and the whole nine yards, tears streaming down his eyes, going, "I never wanted to do that. This is what happened in my life." You know what? Instead of a sex offender, he became a person, a real person. And he found Christ. But you know what just hangs over this guy's life? “A sex offender. I’m a sex offender.” Forgetting what lies behind.
What's in your closet? What is it that, down deep, you spend an inordinate amount of energy covering? You know, a divorce, a separation, an abortion, some stealing, some lying . . . Think great thoughts about your past. Psalm 103, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has God taken your sin from you." Isaiah 1, "Though your sins – though my sins be like scarlet, He'll make them white as wool. Though they be as red as blood, He'll make them white as snow."
You're clean. You don’t have to do penance. You don't have to feel like a second-class citizen. Put your past behind you. That is not you. You are fresh. You are clean. You are born again. You have been adopted into His family. You have an eternal inheritance. You have the Spirit of God living. You are a son. You are a daughter. You have a future. You're heaven bound. And He loves you. Think those thoughts. Don't be paralyzed by the past.
But I would encourage you, also, don’t think about past successes, either. There are a lot of people that, you know, you've done some significant things spiritually, and significant things with your family, and some significant things in ministry, and in business. You know what? If you don't forget about that, you'll get complacent. You know, “I've done this.”
I don't know how many times in churches I hear this: "Well, I've done my time." "Well, how old are you?" "Sixty two." "You in good health?" "Yeah. I’m in such good health, I play golf six days a week." "Oh man, I'd say that's impacting the Kingdom. What are you, doing, a different foursome every day? Guys are probably kneeling at Hole 9, 'Jesus come into my life. Thank you.'" We have so bought into . . . People are thinking, I’m not coming back. He’s slamming TV. Now he’s slamming golf. Hey, I'll play nine with you later. I love to play golf.
But do you understand the mentality of what we're doing? We think the goal is to get so far, stop, and then coast. The reality and the joy of life is not in the attainment. It is in the process. So many people in their mid-50s, 60s, and 70s – you never, ever will have more to give to God, to the Kingdom, to people, to your grandchildren, to your neighbors, or your church than you do right now. And we've got people going, "Well, I did my time." Your time's done when you're done! I don't have First Retirement 1:7. You may physically retire, you may rearrange your schedule, but you know something? You're done when you're done. What if Moses, at 79, said, "You know, I'm going to be 80 next year. I think I'll bag it”? We'd be in trouble.
Finally, think great thoughts about challenges. How we think about the difficulties and the adversities that come into our lives really shapes us.
James says some very hard words, but they're said to a group of people that are in a lot worse shape than most of us. It was the first book written in the New Testament. James 1:1 is to those scattered abroad. They're Jewish Christians, and they've come to know Christ, and a lot of people are becoming kind of human torches, and persecution has hit.
Some people have said, "You know I believe Jesus is the Messiah." And their parents said, "Guess what? You're no longer my son. You're no longer my daughter. And now, you don't have an inheritance. You don't have a place to live." The persecution came. And they're spread out. And they've lost homes. They've lost relationships. They've lost their jobs. They've lost their companies. They’ve lost everything. They have a broken world. It is not working. It's shattered. Their financial security, their relational security – everything that helps us stay sort of solid is gone.
So, what would God say to a group of people like that? "Consider it." The word is reckon, as in, "to think thoughtfully, or ponder.” "Consider it pure or all joy" – what? – "when you encounter various kinds of trials."
The word for “various trials,” there, has the idea of, “those things that come from the outside, those circumstances, those uncontrollable things.” Consider it – choose, literally – choose to consider it joy when adversity and difficulty come into your life.
And you're thinking, Why? “Knowing” – and the word for knowing, here – circle it, if you would – it’s not an intellectual knowledge. There are two words in the New Testament for knowing. One has to do with knowing by way of experience, and the other is knowing intellectually: Two plus two is four. I know that’s true. This is knowing by way of experience. "Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let” – or allow – “endurance to have its perfect result, that you may be perfect” – or mature – I like the version you have right there – “perfect” – or mature – “and complete, lacking in nothing."
James would say to a group of people who, guess what? In our vernacular, their marriage broke up. They had a grandchild commit suicide. They financially thought everything would be okay, but now, wow, some things really went in a way that – and you're in a situation where you're thinking, I never dreamed I'd be where I am now.
I have run into two people, in the last week, who've been married over 30 years, whose mate walked out on them. Broken world experience. How do you respond to that? How do you respond to the inner struggles, and the pressures, and the “sick of being lonely,” and wanting a mate, and crying out to God, and it’s not there?
Or a problem in a marriage that – you know, “God, God, God, I know divorce isn't right. I know divorce isn’t right. I know that’s an option, but man, this stinks! This stinks! Help! Help! Help!” Or, working on a business, or working on an issue, and, no matter what happens, it just won't come together.
What do you do? You choose to think about it biblically.
What we tend to do is say, "Well, you know what? I’m like this because of what my mom and dad did. Or, actually, it couldn't be my dad, because he left us when I was two.” Or, “I'm like this because, you know that guy who's my boss? I tell you what, when they did – That guy is such a jerk." And we have people who live with the blame, shame, or victim mentality, and it's everybody else's fault.
You know how you think great thoughts about your adversity, your challenge? I choose, because God is in control – I choose to consider this pure, or unmitigated, joy. A feeling? No. It's a choice. Why? Because what I know is that God is all-knowing, good, wise, and powerful. What I know for sure is, this adversity is going to do something, and this testing is going to produce endurance.
Like a weightlifter. You put the weights on, and you start doing the dips. And, like a weightlifter, if you keep doing that, guess what's going to happen? Over time, those muscle fibers begin to split. Any of you guys that have lifted weights know that's why you rest the second day. Then, it heals. And how does it heal? Stronger.
God brings weights into your life – sovereignly, lovingly, wisely. God gives internal weights, relational weights, financial weights, family weights. Painful things come into your life, not because of God, but because it's a fallen world. He allows them to happen, but He’s going to work them for good.
Your response – how you think about it, your attitude – will make all the difference. You can either be a victim, and whine, complain, substitute, sooth and medicate your pain with unhealthy things, or you can say, "I'm going to make a choice. I choose to consider this all joy. Because God is going to produce endurance, and endurance does something to a man, or a woman. It does something to their character. I’m going to let God use this to make me more and more like His Son, so that I am perfect, mature, teleios, so I can fulfill the design that God ultimately wants of me. I’m going to become more and more like Jesus through this suffering.”
Hebrews 5: "Although He was a Son" – speaking of Jesus – “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through the things which He suffered." And we're living in an evangelical community who does everything to avoid suffering, rather than saying, it is a part of what happens in a fallen world. People will see more of Jesus in your life by how you go through suffering, whether it's internal, family, financial, health.
They'll see more of Christ in your life by how you go through suffering than your great successes, and saying, “Jesus did it all.” We've got to think accurate, great thoughts about God, ourselves, our future, our past, our challenges, because you are a product of your thought life.
How do you get there? Let me give you a little to-go package, and we'll wind it up. Has anyone got the idea that, possibly, memorizing and meditating on Scripture is going to be a part of this deal? And you know what? You don't have to kill yourself on this. You can write them on 3x5 cards. I think The Navigators still put out the Topical Memory System. I started with just 60 verses. They have 30 topics. You memorize two verses.
And then, I just started making up topics of my own. And then, you do have to review them for four or five weeks, or they won't stick. And then, you'll get so many that it'll get a little overwhelming, and some of you get a little arrogant. You get a few hundred verses, and you'll think, Oh wow. And then, God will bring some humbling things into your life, and you'll realize, It's not memorizing the verses. I'm sorry, Lord. Knowledge puffs up, love edifies. But then, you'll just develop a little system.
And as God really speaks to you, write it down, and you memorize it, and you use those little times where you're kind of bored . . . And you will find that God will renew your mind, and transform your life. I encourage you to use your drive time. I listen to teaching tapes. I listen to worship. But, sometimes, I just turn it all off and be quiet. Think great thoughts.
What if you just took these seven areas? What if you took these seven areas that I gave you, and the single verse that I gave you, and you wrote, "Think great thoughts about God – Romans 11:33." And you wrote it down, and you made seven cards. And, in the next couple of weeks, you just started in on them, and just read them over, and began to think. And then, add little thoughts of your own on the back of the card, about thinking great thoughts. Do you know what would happen? I’m just telling you, in ten days, your emotions will start to shift. Why? Because right thinking produces – what? Positive emotions, which lead to wise behavior, which leads to fruitful consequences.
Third, listen to great music. Thinking great thoughts – it's interesting. I'm reading through The Daily Walk. I did it for years and years and years, and then I haven't done it. And Theresa and I thought, You know, let's kind of go back and read through The Daily Walk Bible. Now we're grandparents, so we're thinking like grandparents. So, we got a Daily Walk Bible for all of our kids, and all of their wives, and everybody. And I don't know if they're all doing it, but, at least theoretically, we could be moving through the Bible together. It feels warm and ooey gooey in this grandfather's heart. Just right here.
So, it's interesting, though, that I'm reading through . . . Moses, after all the turmoil, and when he wanted the people – the second generation, after they blew it – did you notice what happened? What God told him to do? God said, "Moses, Round 1, they didn't do so well." That's a very loose translation of that phrase. "We need to do better this time. So, what I want you to do is, I want you, after you review it, put it into a song." And we have the Song of Moses. In my Bible, it's pretty small print, but it's three or four columns. He put the entire history of Israel, and the greatness of God, and redemption, and deliverance, and who God is, and who we are, and what He did, and what His promises are, and he put it in a song. I don’t think there's anything, probably, that is an easier way to memorize, or to also get good things in your mind, than by listening to great music.
And, finally, take those walks in nature, and hear God's voice. One of the things that I've done that's been very helpful – I learned this from my wife – was, memorizing random Scriptures can be very helpful. But I've tried to look inside my heart, and my life, and my family, and I realize I've got a half a dozen issues. Maybe I've got 12, but I've only learned about 6 or 7, so far, and they're reoccurring. I get overextended. Why? Well, down deep, I want to prove myself. I don't believe God really loves me. Okay. Well, you can just keep being a workaholic, or you can keep pleasing people. And you can just have a quiet time over here, and not make the connection.
And so, what I finally did, years ago, I said, You know something? This is the truth I need. And so, I wrote down, "I feel compelled to please people, to be on the go, to make this happen, because I, down deep, don't believe I'm significant in Your eyes. Stop." And then, turn the card over. And then, put a Zephaniah 3:17 on the other end. And just take – what are the issues in your life? Is it temptation with lust? Memorize a verse on that. Is it struggles in a relationship? Is it temptation with the media? But take the area where you struggle – and we all do – and write out your bad thinking, and then, write, "Stop." In fact, I even made a little stop sign. Mine's very artistic. And then, flip it over, and put the truth.
And what you can train your mind to do – you can train your mind, because you read that one, and you say, "Stop." When, unconsciously, those thoughts come, because you've been programmed, the “stop” will come, and then God will bring the verse to mind, and you can break out of destructive habits. Your life can totally change. Does it take time? Yeah. Does it take work? Yes. Take focus? Absolutely. Take discipline? Mm-hmm. Those are fruits of the Spirit. Think great thoughts, and you will experience a great God, and a great life.