Walking in the Spirit – Step 3

Walking Truth 3: Be Focused. Developing daily habits requires changing habitual thought patterns (Eph. 2:2-3; 4:18).

 . . . You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind . . . (Eph. 2:2-3 NASV).

We often think of habits as the things that we do. Yet, few things become habits so quickly as the thoughts that we think. You probably do a number of “mindless” tasks to prepare to go to work or school in the morning. Yet, are they really “mindless?” Or are they mental habits? Things like: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, pouring the cereal, and making the coffee. Our hurried culture even captures this truth. We say: “I never gave it a second thought.” Are we not inferring that we gave it a first thought?

This truth brings both good news and bad. The good news is that our thoughts are only habits, not involuntary actions. So, by the power of the Spirit, we can choose what we think about. There is hope for the destruction of old thought patterns and the development of new ones. The bad news is that because these thoughts come so quickly and frequently they are challenging to break.

The passage in Ephesians is an excellent reminder of the location of our battlefield. When we formerly lived in the lusts of the flesh we were indulging our desires and our minds. Walking in the Spirit means we develop a new set of thought patterns that help us control those sinful desires.  There are different Greek words that the translators of Scripture captured with the word “mind.” The one used here (Eph. 2:3) could also be translated as “understanding or imagination.”

What are you imagining right now? What are you thinking? Are your imaginative fantasies developed from the “course of this world” or from the “mind of your Master?”Are you bending your mind around a sexual fantasy? Are you dreaming about how you might spend a million dollars? Are you imagining the pleasure of the upcoming weekend or retirement? Such imaginations are thinking like the world. They are making your thoughts all about you. There is nothing of the sweet service of Jesus in them (Mark 10:44-45). This is why Paul challenged us to control our minds (2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8). He also gave this strict warning “. . . do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

One of my favorite childhood memories was hearing my grandfather say grace at the table. I confess it wasn’t my favorite memory at the time, because his prayers were long, and grandma’s cooking was good! But you always knew when Grandpa’s prayer was coming to an end, because he would say, “Lord, forgive us where we have sinned against you in word, deed, or thought.” In his simple way he grasped the importance of your thinking if you were to be victorious over sin.

My Grandpa understood that if you were headed into battle you better know the location of the battlefield.

Having the right thoughts matters to God

It’s hard to describe what goes on in the thinking process. It often feels like we’re not in control of it: like a thought is suddenly there.  Often our senses trigger these thoughts. The smell of a lake always takes me back to my teenage fishing experiences. The taste of a cider donut sends my mind in rewind to the country fair in my childhood hometown of Grabill, Indiana. Music can do the same for me. When James Taylor comes on the radio, I’m back in college. When I hear a song from our wedding I’m a newly wed even though I’ve been married 25 years. That’s the power of our mind to tap powerful memories.

Yet the Bible gives us commands to control our thinking (Phil 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5).  More so the Bible reminds us that we will give an account for our thoughts and our words (Matt. 12:33, 36).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus communicates that our thoughts matter to God. On two occasions he explains that God is aware of and holding us accountable for what we’re choosing to think upon.

The first has to do with anger, and the second has to do with immoral sexual thoughts.

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Matt. 5:22).

Because the Bible teaches that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouths speaks.” We can be certain, that when we’re angry, what we say was first a seed thought in our mind before it found its way onto our lips. God reminds us that we will be held accountable for our angry words that were first carefully developed as angry thoughts.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28).

Jesus is saying: Pursuing wrong thoughts brings disastrous consequences

Remember, how the mind and your senses our connected? In this case, as the man takes that second look, his mind is memorizing the image for recall at another point in time. He is looking on purpose. God holds him accountable for those thoughts. Jesus says, “Listen, your thoughts matter to God, and he knows them as you think them.” Such a proposition clears up my fuzzy thinking about what I’m thinking. I always want to remember: My thoughts matter to God.

Thinking on the Morally Excellent

Even if you are a student of art you may not recognize his name. Bertoldo de Giovani. None of his work has endured. His significance is found in that he was the tutor of the greatest sculptor of all time: Michelangelo. He was only 14 years old when he came to Giovani, but it was already obvious that Michelangelo was uniquely gifted. One day Giovani came to the studio to find him toying with a piece of sculptor that was far beneath his abilities. Giovani grabbed a hammer, stomped across the room, and smashed the work into tiny pieces, shouting his way into history. He exclaimed, “Michelangelo! Talent is cheap, dedication is costly!”

The pursuit of excellence in all walks of life will take a great deal of dedication. Certainly that is true in our Christian life as well. That is why in Philippians 4:8, the apostle Paul challenges us to think on things that are excellent. The word excellence in the Greek language is derived from the same root as the word meaning “to please.”  Biblically speaking, when we are pursuing the things that are excellent we are seeking to please God not man (Galations 1:10). When Jesus Christ was on earth he modeled that lifestyle. He always did that which was pleasing to the Father (John 8:29). He did not live selfishly in order to please himself (Romans 15:3). In fact, his overriding desire was to know the will of His Heavenly Father and do it (John 5:30).  The Christian, then, is to be dedicated to the pursuit of the things that God calls excellent.

With that understanding in mind, what would Giovani do ifuix he examined your life with a hammer? Would he discover someone bent on seeking the will of God, and doing it?  Or would he find you tinkering with things that have no eternal significance?  One is the pursuit of excellence. The other? Nothing more than trivial pursuit.