Morning Musing: Philippians 4:8-9

I’m still calling this a “Morning Musing” because it’s fairly short, but it’s not arriving until afternoon today because sometimes being home with three boys means things happen at a little different of a pace than they usually do. All the same, enjoy and thanks for reading and sharing!

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy – dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

One of the more insightful cultural newsletters I have been receiving for a few years now is the Culture Translator from the digital youth ministry, Axis. Just before the end of the year, they analyzed the major cultural trends of the last year. One of them was the practice of Manifesting. This is the idea that we can create whatever we want in the universe by simply wanting it enough and imagining it clearly enough. Now, as far as ideas rooted in reality go, this one is pretty disconnected from it, but at the root of it is a grain of truth. What we think matters and affects our experience of the world around us. What Paul offers us here is a better way to experience this reality.

While the idea of Manifesting may have been one of the big ones of the last year (admittedly, I had never heard a single word about it until now, although I am not on TikTok at all, so I miss out on a number of cultural trends…which is why I’m so grateful for the Culture Translator newsletter from Axis), it is not a new idea. It is a fairly standard New Age concept that has recycled itself in various forms over multiple generations.

The last really popular iteration of it came out when I was in seminary. Then it was in the form of the book The Secret. The idea of The Secret was that we can construct our world the way we want it to be simply by imagining it into existence with enough effort and intentionality. This was essentially a new face on Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking from a generation before. Every generation, it seems, has their own version of this if-you-will-it-you-can-have-it thinking.

But whether we are talking about Manifesting, The Secret, or The Power of Positive Thinking, it is easy to see why this basic idea has been so popular over the years. We want to have some sort of power over our environment. And being told that we can if we just think the right things hard enough is a seductive invitation. I remember trying to watch the documentary version of The Secret after the book came out. Admittedly, I couldn’t get through it because it was so terrible, but it contained story after story from individuals who looked straight into the camera and talked about wishing hard for more money and then the checks just started coming in the mail. It was the most incredible thing! All they had to do was think of themselves as wealthy, and the universe shaped itself to their thinking and started sending them money. Who wouldn’t be attracted by that sort of thing?

The truth, of course, is that all of this is so much nonsense. We don’t have any kind of mental power over the universe. The universe is not some kind of a personal entity over which we could have any power anyway. It’s not even an impersonal entity. The universe doesn’t respond to our brain waves like that or at all. Wishing for something hard enough won’t magically make it happen. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you or trying to take advantage of you or both.

But how we think is not something that doesn’t matter at all. In fact, how we think and the kinds of things to which we direct our thought life can have a transformative impact on our lives. It can be the difference between a life that is full of anxiety and stress, and one that is marked by peace and contentment. It can be the deciding factor between our being envious or angry all the time, and our going through life filled with joy and hopefulness. The real question here is not what kinds of things we are trying to manifest in the world around us, but rather what kinds of things we are allowing access to our minds in the first place.

Think for a minute about the kind of media you most consume. What is it like? How would you describe it? Is it mostly funny or scary? Is it filled with action and adventure or heartwarming romance? Does it tend to be pretty clean, or does it veer into more…off-color territory with a bit more frequency? Does it reinforce your worldview, or challenge it? Is it rooted in Gospel-thinking, or does it simply reinforce the messages the world is trying to drive into your head on a regular basis? Is it inviting you to thoughtfully consider other viewpoints, or does it simply create an echo chamber in which ideas you are already predisposed to accept are concentrated down until you literally can’t imagine someone thinking differently?

Whether you mostly consume media in print, on screen, or through the airwaves, the nature of that media matters. If you spend all your time consuming media that tells you how terrible the world is or how stupid the people around you are, there’s a good chance you are going to start thinking accordingly. And when you think the world is terrible and the people around you are stupid, your life is going to be a bit harder than it will otherwise. If you imbibe on a regular basis content that glorifies sex or violence or is filled with foul language or is otherwise filled with immorality, that’s going to shape how you see the world. If all you see are images of other people who look like they are living their #BestLifeNow, you’re probably going to feel a rising level of anxiety, be more prone to envy, and have a pretty grim outlook on your own life.

If, on the other hand, you spend most of your time consuming content that is thoughtful and encouraging and uplifting, your outlook on life is going to be affected by that. If you allow yourself to be challenged by great thinkers from all over the political and cultural spectrum, and evaluate their arguments carefully through the lens of the Christian worldview, and with the help of trusted friends and counselors, you are going to be a more thoughtful, generous, compassionate, and kind person than you would otherwise be. If your thinking generally is consistent with the Christian worldview, so will your behavior be, and your life is going to be positively affected by that.

This is all why Paul tells us here in his letter to the Philippian believers that we should focus our attention on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent and praiseworthy. Those kinds of things aren’t necessarily easy to find, but they will always be worth our time. Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t ever engage with anything coming out of the other side. We can and should do that. But this should always be done with our Christian worldview filter firmly in place – a filter that is installed and kept healthy by the other, more beneficial content we consume – so that we are always able to see what’s true amid the lies; so that we are able to see the deeper story of the Gospel that beats at the heart of every person. Then we can engage more fully and productively both with the people who create it and the people who consume it.

So then, how’s your thinking? What are you doing to change that if it’s not where you need it to be? You may not be able to think yourself into a better life, but you can control what you consume, and a healthy mind means a healthy life. Let’s get thinking.

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