At the Risk of Redundancy, Some Thoughts on Thought

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
(2 Corinthians 10:5)

This is a unique season in my life where my days are no longer filled with endless circling like some featherless vulture, swooping periodically among my three children and snatching a stray variable out from an algebraic equation or pecking at a choppy paragraph or the occasional furtive word from the “Banned Words” list.

It isn’t that I am overloaded with free time – not by any stretch of the imagination. I am still sloooowwly working my way through a course in Biblical Hebrew, working part-time as a sort of tutor/life coach to a teen with a burden too heavy for her thin young shoulders, working one day on a second novel and the next on a non-fiction work (or articles, or proposals, etc.), and I still have a household to manage, however ineptly.

But for the first time since the birth of my son, I have a little space to breathe. And in that space, I have been contemplating the importance of my thought life.

It’s no big secret that the general moral climate of my nation has become so relaxed that one would be tempted to think it was asleep if it weren’t so darn cheeky.

After all, much that was once considered shameful and intentionally obscured by darkness is now quite literally paraded in the streets in the full light of the sun. Words that were once scandalously taboo may now be heard on any public broadcast or even read on an interstate billboard.

More sadly yet, even those who claim to be followers of Christ engage in activities and entertainments that reveal an attitude so far from holy and appropriate fear of the Almighty that it could quite easily be mistaken for something very like cursory fondness; sort of the spiritual equivalent to that nod you give the new grocery clerk when you pass them stocking an aisle.

Except me, of course. I’m apt to smile and greet them by name, because… well we won’t get into that beyond saying that I spend an inordinate amount of time at the grocery store. But I’ve mentioned that before, and now I have badly digressed…

Maybe it is because in the lackadaisical, anything-goes atmosphere of the modern age, we have forgotten the importance of the little things. We have overlooked that just because something is culturally acceptable — or even culturally encouraged — does not mean that it has ceased to be morally reprehensible.

Maybe in the breakneck information overload of inescapable connectivity and an entertainment glut where thoughtful pursuits have been largely sidelined in favor of cut-to-the-chase storylines soaring high on action but slender on plot, we have forgotten that one ought to take the time to think.

Perhaps, even, in a culture of insane rush in which news is thrust at us with fanatical shock-and-awe violence one day and forgotten the next in the melee of the next great scandal; when many people glean their news from headlines alone and their truth from a combination of popular opinion, cat memes, and “Verse-of -the-Day” apps, we have lost sight of the incredible, undeniable power of thought.

Today as I walked and thought, ruminating over Scripture I had just read and other sections that I had previously stored up in my heart, the importance of what our minds are set upon was impressed upon me.

As Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:6-7)…

…and to Philippi: “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.” (Philippians 4:8)…

…and to Colossae: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)…

…and as some now-obscure computer geek once wrote, “GIGO” aka “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Certainly, there is enough information and entertainment in this world to occupy every spark of mental energy we can muster, flying past at rates so ridiculous that we have barely processed the first image or word before the next thirty come hurtling by.

But there is a lot to be said for the good, old-fashioned exercise of unhurried thought as well. Perhaps it is because my migraine-prone brain is quick to short-circuit at such speeds, but really I believe it is mainly because I like to spend time. I enjoy mulling over God’s Word, or His character, or His creation. I love contemplation, and I feel incredible satisfaction when I have time to savor it.

And not only that, but in my four decades, I have realized that without a doubt, if I do not take every thought captive to obey Christ, then each one of the irresponsible little devils goes and makes itself a slave to sin…

On that note, I will be unplugging for a few days, so I’ll catch you on the other side of the weekend!

GIGO

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

There is an old computer programming principle commonly expressed by the acronym GIGO — “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” Simply stated, if you input garbage on the programming side, you will get garbage in the output, on the software or function side.

I have found that the GIGO principle applies to more than programming, however. It applies to entertainment, education, really every sort of input we allow for our children.  If they watch, play — even if they read — a steady stream of junk, we ought not to be surprised if junk is what comes out of their mouths or school work.

Even quality matters;  just because a book or movie is not harmful does not necessarily make it useful. If it is shoddily written, poorly thought out, or has a pointless story line or even none at all, it is garbage and does not encourage insightful and thought-provoking output. We can expect no Pulitzer Prize-winning ideas to grow from minds sown with pure and unadulterated diversion for diversion’s sake.  Garbage begets garbage.

But let me take this to another level. Our children aside, GIGO has bearing on us adults as well. What they read, watch, and consume has direct bearing on how their minds are being shaped, but what we read, watch,  and consume has just as direct a bearing on how our lives are being shaped… and on how we shape the lives of others.

As Christians, we are called to a higher standard of thought; not merely to goodness, but to holiness.  Our lives are meant to reflect the light of Christ everywhere we go, but in order to accurately portray our risen Lord, we have to let His life flow in and through us. As He told His disciples, He is the Vine and we are the branches. Only by abiding in Him constantly can His life fill and sustain us in this chaotic and often confusing world.

Just as the branch does not snatch a quick sip from the grapevine and then spend the day trying to withstand the scorching sun alone, we cannot expect to really experience the fullness and richness of the power of God in our lives unless we are willing to constantly, continuously abide in Him, drinking deeply from the Fount of Living waters and ruminating on the Bread of Life throughout our days. And that means being very careful about what ideas we allow to access our minds.

I am not saying that we should never have recreation, never read or watch movies for pleasure. Not at all. But we ought to think about what we read and watch. What is its message? What was the author or producer’s purpose? Does it have value above mere entertainment or is it just a mindless waste of time? Does it push an agenda that is in disagreement with God’s Word? Does it uphold Scriptural principles or scorn them?

Folks, these things matter! If we spend fifteen minutes with the Lord each morning and then several hours soaking in ungodly ideologies, what ought we to expect the fruit to be? If our input is screwy, so will our output be. Garbage in, garbage out. I love how Charles Spurgeon puts it:

You cannot expose the soil of your heart to a continual sowing of tares because some tare or other will take root and, by-and-by, instead of having the good wheat growing in your soul, there will spring up the tares whose end is to be burned and you will have lost the harvest which should have been produced in your spirit.

It is worthy of note that Spurgeon was not even talking about entertainments but false doctrines. Even the preaching we listen to must be examined through the lens of Scripture. There is nothing immune to the devil’s twisting, distorting influence! Again, however, if we do not know the Word for ourselves, how easily will we fall prey to the sowing of tares; how readily will we allow the garbage in.

Paul warned the Ephesian church to make “the best of the time because the days are evil.” We should also heed this warning, for our days are no less evil and our time no less short.  So let’s prayerfully examine our input from this day forward and be ready to cast the garbage into the refuse heap where it belongs.

… test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.    1Thessalonians 5:21-23