Twenty years ago a deeply troubled young man stepped into my office. He was accompanied by a friend for the sake of encouragement. Together they began to pour out his sad story. When he was in 8th grade he became a victim of sexual abuse at the hand of high school teen. As he had entered high school he struggled with depression, attempted to take his own life, and was hospitalized. He had carried the dark secret alone. Neither parents, nor counselors knew his past.
Now, seven years later his anxiety was all-consuming. His struggle with fear and worry had even crept into his sleeping hours, revealing itself through nightmares of the teen who had abused him.
I was fresh out of seminary, with limited experience in the ministry. As I reached for my Bible I remember praying to the Lord for guidance. I knew I was in way over my head.
I asked the young man what he was thinking about before he fell asleep. He acknowledged his painful past consumed his thoughts. He said tearfully, “I’m just praying to God that the nightmares won’t come back.”
“I understand you’re praying, but what are you thinking about.”
“The nightmares” he said, “I don’t know how to stop.”
Together we opened up our Bibles to Philippians 4:8 and we read,
Finally, brothers, 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. [emphasis added] (Phil. 4:8)
“Your challenge,” I said, “Will be to develop a plan where you think on the things that are in that list.” Together we read the promise that came next,
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you [emphasis added] (Phil. 4:9).
“Memorizing is only the first part” then I added, “You’re actually going to have to do it.”
“Do what?” he said.
“Think on these things,” I replied.
Together we drew an octagon. He wrote each of the 8 qualities found in verse on the outside boarders of the sign. Inside the sign we wrote the words “Stop! Think on these things.” On a separate piece of paper he wrote each quality as the heading for a list. The 8 lists would be comprised of anything he could think of that was “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.”
One week later he returned to my office with his friend. The two sat down. I began the conversation “ How’s that Bible verse I asked you to memorize?”
His friend smiled, and shook his head as if he knew something I did not.
“Why the smile?” I asked.
“Did you want him to tell it to you, forwards or backwards?” he replied.
“Let’s start with forwards.” I said. The young man quoted the verse word perfect one word after the other.
“Can you really quote the verse backwards?” I asked incredulously.
Phrase by phrase he gave the verse backwards. He didn’t miss a beat.
“That’s pretty amazing” I said. “So how are the nightmares?
He looked me in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and smiled.