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About this series
Good to Great in God's Eyes
Ten Practices Great Christians have in Common
Are you tired of the status quo Christian life? Do you long for a spiritual breakthrough? Are you looking to go to the next level or get a fresh infusion of faith and spiritual passion? Great Christians live out their faith with purpose. In Mark 10:43, Jesus says, whoever wants to become great among you must - what? You'll explore the idea that there are certain practices available to every believer, at every maturity level, to move us from good to great, in God's Eyes. ACSI approvedMore from this series
I’ve got a little word association game I’d like to play with you very briefly. Tell me what these words have in common: Atkins, South Beach, low-carb, high-carb, high-protein, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers. Are we there? It’s diets, right? It’s what you put in your body. Someone has said, “You are, and we are, what we eat.” And we know it’s true, physically. It’s absolutely, scientifically proven.
If you want to change your cholesterol, you’ve got to change your diet. If you want to change your body, if you want to lose weight if you want your heart, your body, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera to change, you have to change, and I have to change, what I put in our mouths.
But often what we forget, it is just as true psychologically, as it is physically. University of Tennessee did a twelve-year study trying to measure, in some way, the impact of what people put into their minds. They had a control group, and a non-control group, listen to a five-minute daily radio program. And then, they tested them.
The results were, if there were four negative items in the five-minute radio program, the listeners were, one, more depressed; two, believed the world was a negative place to live; three, were less likely to help others; and, four, began to believe that what they heard would actually happen to them. Empirical research. Five minutes. Five little minutes of listening to four negative things impacted them that much. Imagine what, in the average home, six to seven hours a day of TV, is doing to the average person in America.
You are what you eat. I am what I eat. It is true, physically. It is true, psychologically. The Scripture says what – Proverbs 23: “As a man thinks” – or as a woman thinks – “in his heart, so is he.” In fact, Ralph Waldo Emerson even gets in. He says, “Life consists of what a man is thinking about all day.” Your life consists merely of what you’re thinking about all day.
But it’s also true, spiritually. And Romans 8 – you might jot this down – verses 5 to 8, when you have some time, are worth looking at.
It talks about this deliverance we have, the Spirit being in us, the Law and the Spirit of life, the Law, spirit of death. And then, after talking about having been delivered by what God has done, it says, “For the mind set on the flesh is death. The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, and it is not able even to please God.”
I’m going to become, physically, what I put in my body. I’m going to become, psychologically and spiritually, what I put into my mind. I’d suggest that the most important decision you make, and the most important decision your children make, and your grandchildren make, every single day, is this: what they allow to go into their mind. Because you’ll notice, there’s a little graphic on the bottom of your notes. And the idea is: wrong thinking leads to negative emotions, that leads to unwise behavior, that leads to devastating consequences.
Often, what happens in our lives when we want to change – we usually start at the wrong place. We often start with the behavior: I’m eating too much. I’m eating too much. I want to stop eating. I’m drinking too much. I’m not doing enough of this. And we start with the behavior. And we go through cycles, and we can’t figure it out.
Some people get a little smarter, and they start with the emotions, like, Why am I feeling this way? I notice that I eat when I feel this way. I notice I have these outbursts of anger when I feel this way. That’s still not starting far back enough.
You have to start, it all begins with your thinking. Wrong thinking produces negative emotions. Negative emotions will produce behavior that is unwise. And a pattern of unwise behavior – what’s the Scripture say? “If you sow to the flesh, you reap corruption. A man and a woman – don’t be deceived, my beloved brethren, you’re going to reap –” I’m going to reap what I sow.
By contrast, right thinking produces positive emotions. Positive emotions produce wise behavior. And wise behavior, sowing over time, produces fruitful consequences. We are a product of our thought life. And the point I want to make is, change, all change, all lasting change begins with how you think. And the Scripture is filled with it. I gave you Romans 8:5 to 8. Study, sometime, Ephesians 4:22 to 24: Take off the old. Have your mind renewed. Put on…
It’s everywhere. Colossians 3, “Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. Set your mind where your life is hidden with Christ.” Over and over and over and over. Just get out your concordance, and look up the word mind, or look up the word metamorphosis, or transformation, or change, and just watch how it is peppered all through Scripture. Change begins with your thinking.
And that’s why the second practice, to go from good to great in God’s eyes, is to think great thoughts. We are a product of our thinking. Our emotions flow from our thoughts. And what we allow to enter our mind is the most important decision we make every day. That’s the net, net. That’s the summary.
Now, notice, since we’re a product of our thought life, God commands us. I didn’t just make this up. He commands us to think great thoughts. And you say, “Well, where do you get that?” Well, follow along. Let’s look together at Philippians chapter 4, look at verse 8, “Finally brethren –” Verse 6: “Don’t be anxious for anything.” Verse 7 – how God’s going to work as you learn pray, give thanks, and the peace of God.
Verse 8, he says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true” – that means objectively true, conforms to reality – “whatever is honorable” – that has the idea of that which is worthy of respect or dignity – “whatever is right” – has the idea of justice or righteousness – “whatever is pure” – that’s the idea of moral purity; free from defilement, “whatever is lovely” – that has the idea of something that is winsome, and attractive, and beautiful – “or whatever is good” – and the idea here is “admirable; of good report; worthy of passing on to another” – “and whatever is of any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
A great little biblical exercise is to go through and circle all of those words, and just do a little mini-Bible study on what they mean. And then, they can become a little grid for what I allow to come into my mind: Whatever is true. Whatever is lovely. Whatever is honorable. Whatever is right. Whatever is pure. Whatever is of good repute. And then, Paul kind of thinks, In case I left something out, “If there is any excellence, if there’s anything worthy of praise” – notice what he says – “dwell on these things.” That’s the first command.
Then, notice, the second command is, “The things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” – then what do you do? Those are all receptive-type words, aren’t they? Learned, received, heard, seen. Take all this data, “Practice these things” – and what’s the promise? “The God of peace will be with you.”
You see, when we’re anxious – really, you know what anxiety is? Anxiety is just dwelling on something. Anxiety is negative meditation. Some people say, “Well, I don’t know how to meditate on Scripture.” Well, just try worrying, and reverse it. It works, right?
Anxiety is, I wonder what’s going to happen? I don’t know. Well, the economy is going kind of south a little bit, and I’ve got some money put away over here. And if that doesn’t come through, then I might have to come out of retirement. Or, you know, I had planning to do with this and, what happened? Well, one of my grandchildren – and if that happens, then they could meet one of those kids at one of those colleges, and I wouldn’t have enough money. I wouldn’t have enough money. And one of my kids with one of those kids – I think I’m hyperventilating! And what do you do?
We take one little thing, and we dwell on it, and then we pull it apart, and then we factor out all the possible negative things that could happen. What happens to your emotions? Tightening of the chest. Start to get depressed. Little panic attack. Depression. See, you are a product and I am a product of my thinking. And when my thinking begins to go south, my emotions begin to really go in a bad direction. And I’d like to tell you I’m really objective, and I make all my decisions just based on good thinking, and objective criteria. I’ve got news for you: Most of us make our decisions in an emotional state. And we are swayed by how we’re feeling, and what we do.
And what the apostle Paul is saying is that, in the area of anxiety, come to God, and learn to offer it. Recognize what’s happening. He uses three or four different words for prayer. He says come, in general. Give thanksgiving. Take the specific issue. Get it before the Lord. And the promise is that the God of peace will be with you. And the peace of God will reign in your hearts.
And then, he says, Now, let’s get rid of that, as a lifestyle. “Finally, brethren, what I need you to do is – I’m going to go back beyond the emotions, beyond the anxiety, beyond the behavior. I’m going to go back to your thinking.” So, “Finally, brethren” – he gives us six or seven things, and then scrapes the Milky Way – basically, think godly, pure, righteous, honorable, winsome, lovely, God-honoring thoughts. And the promise is – what? “The God of peace will be with you.”
The word dwell, there – the command is to “dwell.” Write that word in, will you? It’s, “to dwell.” I actually put the word, in Greek, it’s logizomai. It means “to consider” – the word dwell; to think on; to recon; to deduce; to reason; to calculate; to ponder.
To “dwell” means to deliberate upon, through protracted analysis and thought. When he says “purity,” “honorable,” “justice,” “righteousness,” “lovely,” “beauty,” he says, “I want you to get your mind focused in, and, with a protracted, energetic, intentional ability, think on these things. Meditate on these things. Analyze these things.” It’s not casual thinking. It’s not passive thinking. It’s intentionally focused, protracted thought on what is right, pure, good, lovely, and righteous.
Colin Brown’s Dictionary of the New Testament, of this word, says, “It’s not an unemotional or an unphilosophical word.” This is not just, like, an accountant going through. “But, by contrast, it’s the very process of reasoning and deduction that separates good from evil.” So, it’s thinking on what is right, and pondering what’s right, and thinking of the implications, and looking at situations, and looking at what’s true, and then analyzing in such a way, and saying, I wonder how that would play out in this relationship? I wonder how that plays out in how God looks at me? I wonder if that, over time…?
It’s an analytical dwelling on truth – on God, for who He is, on you, for who you are, on other people, for who they are, looking at future and past circumstances through the lens of truth of God’s Word.
And that’s powerful. It’s powerful, powerful. There’s a reason why people are paid – do you remember what it was, for thirty seconds at the Super Bowl? Huh? How many millions, billions of dollars for – what? Two point five million dollars for thirty seconds, I believe, was the cost. Why would anyone pay that much money to have people’s attention for thirty seconds? I’ll tell you why: Because, whatever they see, whatever they hear, whatever you put in their mind, that’s what they go out and buy. It’s to influence you.
Why do companies spend billions in advertisement? The drug companies, recently – I read a statistic – the number of billions in advertisement. Why? Because when something hurts, and it’s not working, I’m going to say, “Hey doc, you know, did you see that commercial? What about this? Do you think that would help me?” Because it influences. We’re a product of our thought life.
Let me show you how powerful this is. This is not a made-up story. You know, sometimes, you have one of those illustrations that is so over the top you just think, You know what? This guy, he just – he makes these up. A fellow, his name is George. In fact, I’ll give you his full name, because, if he ever hears this – because he’s heard it once – it’ll just encourage him: George Dzindra.
I was involved in campus ministry as a young Christian. I’m now a couple years old in the Lord. And this campus goes from three or four or five kids, and now, we’ve got about forty, fifty, sixty, seventy kids, and we’re meeting in this guy’s basement, and we’re starting to grow. And I’m really a believer, and I’m walking with God, but I’m also on the basketball team. And some of the believers really loved God, but were very uncool. You know what I mean? They didn’t dress cool. They didn’t talk cool. Some of the girls were not the prettiest girls on campus.
But, over here, on the basketball team, they were “the cool guys.” We had the big hats, and the platforms, and had the full-length leather coat, walking in, “Hey what’s happening, dude?” We were cool.
And when I went on Thursday night to Bible study, I loved being around this group, but when I went on road trips, and I was with the basketball team, I had to be cool. But I had this bad situation, where I would be with the basketball team in the cafeteria, and someone that I’m supposed to love and enjoy and be a good friend and be a Christian, like I treated them on Thursday night – would come up to me.
And George would come up to me. And George had a little bit of a lisp. And George, I don’t know about you, and God bless those who have hair. God bless those who do not have hair. But when you’re nineteen, and have no hair, it’s not really good, in college. And George had already, like, three strands, going over to the left. And he came from a Slavic background, came over to this country. He grew up in hardcore New York City, in a neighborhood. His childhood, basically, was getting up, walking to school, getting beat up on the way, coming home, getting beat up on the way home. The guy had a self-image that was about that big, more negative, had a little bit of a lisp, had zero confidence. How he ever made it into college, I’ll never know.
And, “Hey Chip.” And I’m going, “Agggghhh!” You know what I’m saying? Now, none of you have ever done this, because you’re spiritual, and you love everybody, all the time, and you can’t identify with this. But maybe on a bad day, once. And it was like, “Oh, hey, good, George. Hey, man, I’ve really got to go, all right?” This guy is socially, mentally, spiritually – you know those extra-grace-required people? Those people who, when you see them coming, and there’s another stairway, you use it. This is one of those where you pretend not to see them. No eye contact. And you say to the person, “Let’s act like we’re really talking right now, because I do not want to talk to that guy.” He was that kind of guy.
But there was a guy named Jerry on our campus, and he was a little bit older. He came to help out. And Jerry saw something in George. And Jerry allowed him to get involved in an investigative Bible study – George wasn’t a Christian – and, little by little, George got interested, and he began to investigate the Scriptures.
And for him – are you ready for a thought? What a thought, that someone would love him. What a thought, that he mattered to someone, and not just someone, but God. What an amazing thought, that he had value, not because of what he looked like on the outside, not because of what he had done, or hadn’t done, or what he’d accomplished, or how well he did in school, but, just because he was George, he was valued and loved and important. And this message of the grace of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, finally gave birth to a new life in George.
And I saw George at the end of the school year, and I headed off, and he headed off. And we came back, and I met George about four or five months later, and, without exception, he was very different. He was cogent in his thinking, and some of the wackiness was sort of gone. I was trying to figure out what was going on. He went somewhere with Jerry – and I cannot tell you all the details, but he went to some seminar, or some conference, where someone was teaching about Scripture memory, and he went ballistic.
And so, by about Christmastime, I happened to be talking to George, and he had these 3x5 cards, about this thick, in his pocket. George had the book of James memorized. George had the book of John memorized. George had the book of Colossians memorized. George was finishing up the book of Matthew. And it was like, “George, what are you doing?” And it was literally – you know those extreme makeover shows? It was like into, it was like, Is this the same guy?
And you’d talk with him – and I could make it a long story, and it would really be fun, because it is so amazing, but all I can tell you is, George ended up on the floor with all the fraternity guys – and he was one of those nerdy-type guys that everyone would like to make fun of.
George’s life changed so much, and George had such wisdom, and God changed him as he continued to memorize the Scripture, that, soon, the fraternity guys – the super cool dudes, guys going out and doing all this stuff – they were lining up at his door, because George had this sense of what God was doing. And he was counseling them about their girlfriends, and counseling about issues when your parents break up.
And pretty soon – and this is gospel truth – about another six or eight months, I remember talking with George, and I was not only not embarrassed, it was like, “George, you think you and I could get a little time? Just hang time, you and me?” “Sure, Chip.” And I would go, and I would meet with George, and I would just ask him questions.
And it was like I have never in my life, ever seen a transformation in about a nine to eighteen-month period of time, that revolutionized a man’s. And he was so – can I say this? – beautiful. He was so beautiful on the inside, I no longer saw the features. And I no longer saw the loss of hair. And the little accent became almost attractive, and drawing, instead of a repellent. George Dzindra life, he became one of the key people in this entire ministry, and he became someone that we wanted to be around, because he renewed his mind at a level like no one I’ve ever met.
I was teaching that illustration with another passage, about three years ago, and I got an email: “Hi. My name is so-and-so Dzindra, and my husband’s name is George. And you can’t be that same Chip Ingram from West Liberty State College, can you? Because George was saying that he was involved in a college ministry with some “Chip Ingram,” but you’re on the radio, and, well, my husband’s a pastor now.” And, you know what? I just, man, I just, I can’t even type. “Dear…I’m the same Chip Ingram. And you’ve got to know, I had no idea what happened to George after graduation. Your husband has inspired me to walk with God, memorize Scripture, and take seriously what I put in my mind, like no other human being I’ve ever met.”
Here’s what I want to tell you: Your life can change. All that baggage, all those struggles, all those thoughts. You are a product of your thought life. Wherever you are today is a product of how you have been thinking. And here’s the deal: Wherever you’re going to be next week, next month, next year, next decade is going to be about how you start thinking right now.
And so, what I want to do – this is the fun part – I want to give you some very specific ways to learn to think great thoughts. Okay? I’m not going to leave you with, Oh gosh, I’m going to try real hard to think great thoughts. Or, I guess I’m going to have to memorize the books of Matthew, James, Colossians. It’s a good idea, but I doubt if many of us are going to go there overnight.
So, what I want to talk with you about are seven areas to cultivate great thinking. I’m going to touch on them, and then, at the end, I’m going to give you a little game plan. I believe it’s really, really crucial that we think great thoughts.
We need to think great thoughts about God. I’ve just given you one verse. Now, I will say, for you second milers, if you had a 3x5 card somewhere, you could say, “Think great thoughts about God,” and then, when no one’s looking, you could write, “Romans 11:33.” And by the way, I only put “33,” but you might want to put all the way to 36, because it’s hard to stop. “Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable” – how unsearchable – “is God’s wisdom and His paths beyond finding out! Who has known the mind of God? Or who has been His counselor? Who has given anything to God that He should repay him? For by Him and for Him and through Him are all things.”
What if that was the kind of God you worshipped? What if you thought there was a God who knows all things, His ways are mysterious – they’re beyond finding out – and you began to think a high, accurate view of God? And, yes, you can learn it from books like Tozer, but I think, first and foremost, the depths and the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God…do you know what wisdom is? The definition of wisdom, wisdom is: God does, and brings about, the best possible results, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time. “Oh the depth of the wisdom.”
Anything you’re going through in your life right now, you worship, if you know Jesus, personally, you worship a God…if there were an easier, lighter, better way to orchestrate what He’s doing in you and through you, He would be doing it that way. The wisdom of God tells you He’s bringing the best possible results, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time.
“Oh, the wisdom and the knowledge” – He knows all things. He knows next week. He knows about Al Qaeda. He knows the stock market. He knows about your children. He knows about your grandchildren. He understands your singleness. He understands your depression. He understands all the things that are going on inside that no one – the knowledge of God. “Oh, the depths.” It’s beyond finding out. When you begin to think of God like that – how? Through Scripture. How? Through great books. And third – how? You might jot this down: through nature.
I’ve learned this from my wife. I am such a highly focused – I almost said “driven,” but it sounds so bad – driven person, that we lived in California for about five years before I recognized there are flowers all year round. There are flowers here; there are flowers there – I mean, there are flowers everywhere!
And I have a wife who looks at the forest, and is quiet. And has a wife who can sit in a chair and watch birds. And a wife that, we can drive through beautiful country, and for thirty minutes, not say a word, and just absorb. And she taught me to go up to Tahoe and just look at the mountains. And I don’t even have to say anything. And just, what kind of a God would it be that would make such beauty? What kind of a God, who could do anything how He wanted, that would make red, and blue, and yellow, and violet, and five thousand different kinds of beetles? What kind of a God? What creativity? What love? How winsome could it be when you see the oceans roar, and the rocks, and the…?
See, we need to think accurately about God. And you think accurately about God when you get verses on cards that talk about who He really is, and you read through the Scripture. You think accurately about God when you take the Tozer books, and the Packer books, and begin to digest them. And you think accurately about God when you allow nature, and the creation – it reveals the heart of who the Creator is like Romans chapter 1.
Thinking accurately about God, also, I’ve learned, comes when you worship. I’ve learned from my wife. I actually, I actually look at flowers now. I actually, at times, got to where I would pull off, and just stare at the ocean. There are times where I take a walk for non-exercise. It’s an amazing adventure. I never dreamed! Why would you ever walk any place if you’re not trying to get someplace? That’s me.
Sometimes it’s just good to walk, to see and behold, behold the heavens declare the glory of the Lord, and to let it soak in, and to let God speak to you, and to know that He’s a – what? What do you learn from it? That He’s a good God. That He’s a wise God. That He’s a God who knows and understands your hurt, and your pain. That He’s a God who cares.
And if you want to really get a right view of God, just study the life of Jesus, study the life of Jesus, study the life of Jesus, because everything – what did Jesus say? “If you’ve seen Me, you have seen the Father.”
Second, though, is, we need to not only think rightly about God, we need to learn to think rightly about ourselves. Learn to think great thoughts about yourself. And you say, “Well, what do you mean?” I mean, learn to look at yourself the way God looks at you.
And here’s my key verse, Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you.” Isn’t that comforting? He’s with you. Well, if He’s with me, what can He do? “He is mighty to save.” He’s powerful. He’s with you. And whatever needs you have, He has the power, and ability, to save. Yeah, but would He help someone like me? “He will take great delight in you.” Would you circle the word delight in your notes? Just to get involved? “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Would you put a little squiggly line under rejoice over you?
See, you need to get an accurate view of God. Think great thoughts about God. But you’ve got to think great thoughts about yourself. Do you get up in the morning, and, with all the things that you’re going through, and do you look at the mirror, and see all the things that are wrong? I don’t mean the physical mirror. I mean the psychological mirror. I mean how you tend to just unconsciously do that self-talk to yourself. Or do you wake up in the morning, and do your eyes open up?
And what would happen if Zephaniah 3:17 came down? And before, you haven’t moved, you haven’t prayed, you haven’t shaved, you haven’t showered. And it was, I’m with you today. I delight in you. Whatever happens today, I’m going to quiet you with My love. I’m mighty to save. The moment you have a need, I will be here. I delight in you. You are valuable. You are precious. I’m going to save your tears in a bottle. I know all your days. I know every hair on your head. You matter so much to me, I sent Jesus, My Son, to pay for your sin. You are the object of My affection. Can you imagine what that would do for how you think about yourself, and how you live your life, if you believed that?
You see, we’ve got to think great thoughts: about God, about ourselves, and about others. I love the passage in 1 Samuel 16:7. It’s the prophet has been told, Jesse, one of his boys was going to be the next king. And, so, the prophet goes, and he sees this big hulk of a guy, and he’s good looking, and a head taller, and he thinks, Well, I guess this is the guy. And the Lord speaks to him and says, “Samuel, do not consider his appearance or the height of his stature for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at things the way a man looks at things. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
And you might jot down 2 Corinthians 5:16. 5:17 – we kind of know the verse: “If any man be in Christ, new creature.” In 5:16, he says, Paul will say, “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, now we know Him thus no longer and therefore we judge no man according to the flesh.”
See, I want to learn to look, and think about other people the way God thinks about them. And so, I have little 3x5 cards, because I can’t keep things straight, and I write them. And I don’t try and memorize them. I used to try and memorize them, and I felt all this pressure. I just read them over, and I end up memorizing them. I don’t know why, but it just seems a little less legalistic, and a little less like I’m banging myself in the head. I just read them over, just read them over, and enjoy them. And I have a 3x5 card that says, “I long to look at people the way that You look at people, Jesus. Not by their outward appearance, status, ability, or wealth, but by their heart.”
And I just want to practice. I want to get where, when I pull up next to a car, and it’s a really fancy car, and the Rolex watch is out the door, and I think, There’s a human being, made by God. I know nothing about his life, and I’m not going to try and make up little stories about where he’s coming from, what he has, where he’s been. And when I look at the beat-up Pinto on the other side, and the guy that has the four earrings coming down, the tattoo, and the sleeveless shirt, and the Rastafarian hair, Lord, I don’t know what’s going on in this man’s life, but what I know is that all that I see externally is not how You see them. I want to view him, and see him, and treat him the way You do.
And see, that takes practice. Because I grew up in the same culture you did, and I’m human. So, what do you do? We treat certain people dressed a certain way, a certain way. We think certain thoughts that make us, Oh that’s a tattoo, and you know where he’s coming from. Oh, those two are holding hands. Well, in that culture girls do hold hands with girls, at that age. There’s nothing going on there. We make so many assumptions, and we so judge so many people, in so many ways.
And God says, Think great thoughts. I’ll tell you what, think the way I think about people. Man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart.
The fourth area to think great thoughts about is your life. You need to think great thoughts about life itself. Notice what Jesus said about life. He gives us a great thought in Luke 9:23 to 25. He said to them, remember Peter? Peter has just finally got it really right. “Who do men say that I am?” “Some say Elijah. Some say this. Some say a prophet.” “Peter, who do you think?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Bang! “You win today, Peter. Way to go. You’re right.”
And then, He shifts it, and He talks about, Now that you know who I really am, “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Why? Do you realize where He’s setting the bar? No other priority is more important than Me. No other person more important than Me. No other agenda more important than Me. I want you to set aside your dreams, your goals, your life, your money, your puny view of life, and I want you to follow Me, since you know I’m God, and I’m the Messiah, and I’m good, and I’m wise, and I’m all knowing, and I always have your best in mind. I want you to release your life to Me, and surrender, and I want you to follow Me, wherever I say, even if it sounds crazy. And we’re thinking, That sounds really scary. I don’t want to do that.
But He tells us why, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.” In other words, if you try and hang on to it, if you try and control, It’s my money, my time, my dreams. God I’ll obey You, as long as these two states, and at this financial level, and doing it this way, this way, and I’m near to these kids, but not…we never get to say that. We make no conditions. “If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose it, if you lose it…” I’ll do whatever You want me to, Lord. I’ll go wherever You want me to, Lord.
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?”
And don’t we see it everywhere? I want to look like the people in Hollywood. I want to have the money of the professional players. I want to have this house here, and that house there, and that kind of car. I want to dress this way. I want people to think this, and – boom, boom, boom.
The prettiest, smartest, most successful people in the world live in Southern California. A lot of you people from around the states would argue that. But I mean in terms of the image. And yet, they can’t stay married for more than two weeks. They can’t figure out, with billions, it seems, and millions of dollars, to not put white powder up their nose.
I read those tabloids – take that in context – as I’m going through the grocery line. Come on, think great thoughts. Think great thoughts. But as I go through, you can keep up with the whole world by just getting milk once a week. And as I do, I just think – there’s a part of it that, in your flesh, that you’re sort of lured, curious – I wonder who she married last week, or is with, and they broke up. And then, there’s a part of you with just an ounce of thought, where you think about life rightly, and you think, Isn’t it sad? Isn’t it really sad that someone that pretty, someone that successful, is going through their seventh or eighth partner? And now, they’re anorexic, and they’ve made all these movies?
And you know what? I’m asking God to give me a heart that looks at people the way He does, but more, looks at life the way He does, because I’m not immune to wanting to accumulate and impress. I’m not immune to, you can do it in ministry. Want to be significant. Want to be successful. Want people to like you. You know what? It’s all about trying to save your life. 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.
Fifth, 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? And we think about the future, we 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 – we’re going to talk about it later – but what if you actually – I call it “doing the math” – what if you extrapolated all the way out, to the very worst thing that could happen? You’re a Christian, okay? You love God. 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. Worse thing that could happen – you die. You’re dead. Dead! You’re a Christian. So, what happens to you? You immediately go to heaven. Oh, bummer! 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. As Prof. Hendricks says, “Hey, I’ve started a journey of completion and graduation. I’ve fallen asleep in the Lord.” And I love his, “I’m going home.”
It’s like falling asleep. No one’s afraid to fall asleep. It’s like going home. No one’s afraid to go back home. It’s like starting on a journey, a graduation. We all like to do that. 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.”
There are some believers that have been through a divorce, been abused, or abused someone. I remember the first time in the church where I pastored and I had a guy that abused a seven-year-old kid. 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 and 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? 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 what? 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 nine, ‘Jesus come into my life. Thank you.’”
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. And so many people in their mid-fifties, sixties, and seventies – 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, hey, I did my time.” Your time is 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. Moses, what if Moses, at seventy-nine, said, “You know, I’m going to be eighty 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. First book written in the New Testament. It says, verse 1 of James chapter 1 is to those scattered abroad. They’re Jewish Christians, and they’ve come to know Christ, and a lot of people are becoming human torches, and persecution has hit.
And some people have said, “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.” And 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. Everything! They have a broken world. It is not working. It’s shattered. Their financial security, their relational security – everything that helps us stay solid is gone.
So, what would God say to a group of people like that? “Consider it.” The word is reckon. “Think thoughtfully; 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 thirty 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, 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.
And 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, being 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. Internal weights, relational weights, financial weights, family weights. Painful things into your life – it’s a fallen world. He allows them to happen, but He’s going to work them for good.
But your response – how you think about it, your attitude – will make all the difference. You can either be a victim, whine, complain, substitute, soothe 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. And 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 accurately, 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 Navs still put out the Topical Memory System. I started with just sixty verses. They have thirty 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.
Second, or, third, actually, is: 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 go back and read through The Daily Walk Bible.
And, so, we’re, we thought, well, 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, so, 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. “But 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.
And 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 twelve, but I’ve only learned about six or seven, 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.” Period. 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, and 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.