We planned on visiting relatives, anticipating snug and sardine-like accommodations. We were undaunted, as always, by our impending stay and a few mildly inconvenient days because the trade-off was awesome. Our hosts, however, had other ideas about our visit. We were welcomed with news regarding our sleeping arrangements. Surprise! We would be staying in a camper! They had purchased a used one, parked down the winding country road, back in the woods. I don’t like camping, at all.
I’m a country girl, but this was different, and as I wrapped my chilly toes in the summer sheet, my mind began to fill with foreboding thoughts. Most of these possibilities had tails and beady, reflective eyes. Snakes, mice and large spiders paraded through my mind. The camper had been uninhabited prior to our arrival and I wondered if anyone had slithered in recently. My fears were rising with the thunder and lightning and the rain made a racket against the thin, uninsulated tin walls. My husband was 200 miles away, sleeping soundly in our cozy bed. Our children snored, unaffected by the vulnerability that surrounded us.
I dug deep as I wrestled with legitimate anxiety, exaggerated by discomfort and unfamiliarity.
2 Corinthians 10:5 surfaced in my tired brain as my teeth chattered; “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” My thoughts were in a tug of war; “baby snakes can get inside through cracks” thoughts fought with “but they can’t hurt me” thoughts. I dug deep as I wrestled with legitimate anxiety, exaggerated by discomfort and unfamiliarity, determined to take those hideous thoughts captive. I tried to pull up the right type of thoughts, the Whatever Thoughts that Paul carefully delineated for us in Philippians, for such times as this. My current problem was fear, plain and simple, and Scripture had an answer. It was a moment when I determined to study a verse for future wielding in such a time as this.
Paul understood that many of our fears, bad attitudes and sinful behaviors had their roots in thoughts born out of negativity, in general. For that reason, Paul teaches us not just to control our behavior, but also to control our thoughts. They are intricately linked, and we have much more control over our actions and thoughts than we sometimes realize. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” This verse explains that timidity (a form of fear) is overcome with power, love and self-discipline, all given to us by the Holy Spirit.
Paul doesn’t give them a list of behaviors to stop. Instead, he tells them what to do instead of worrying.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--
think about such things.”
Paul has given us the Whatever Test. It’s a thorough list of various types of good things to think about. It’s an excellent filter. That movie that’s topping the box office charts this week….is it true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and/or praiseworthy? If so, then you can consider or think about, going. If not, there are better choices. How about your reaction to a recent conversation where you left feeling indignant and misunderstood? Don’t allow yourself to go down that path! Don’t revisit, analyst or share your negative thoughts. Shun offense. Forgive, bless and release that conversation and person to God.
The Whatever Test is important to implement in conversations, too. Volleying negativity destroys relationships and reputations. Stepping back, pausing, and returning positive comments instead of returning negative banter is an important policy. It takes strategy to volley back a positive and gentle answer, but it’s our goal. Its a strategy found in Proverbs 15:1 that says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”
We’re commissioned to build up one another. These are the moments that challenge this. Offering to pray, and then actually doing so, can prevent negativity from growing. Turn the Whatever Thoughts into Whatever Conversations. That will kill our potential contributions to gossip and unkindness in short order.
It’s helpful to look closely at these 8 categories of things that Paul approves and admonishes us to think about. The Greek word definitions expand the actual words used in different translations of the Bible. You will see that God gives us a wide and rich range of things to contemplate;
Think about (reckon, count, decide, charge with, reason, suppose, conclude)….whatever is;
noble-venerable, honorable, of grace, serious, dignified
right-just (especially in God’s eyes), righteous, impartial, correct
pure-ceremonially pure, chaste
lovely-pleasing, acceptable, agreeable, grateful
admirable-well-reported, spoken of in a kindly spirit, of good repute
excellent-virtue, moral excellence, perfection
praiseworthy-worthy of commendation, approval
These words describe things that are worth our attentions and aspirations.
Truth replaces the lies that the enemy flings at us. Noble thoughts extend grace. Right thoughts are those of justice. Pure thoughts permit us to see God clearly, not through smudges caused by our sins. Lovely thoughts are full of gratitude and are pleasing to God. Admirable thoughts are kind and excellent thoughts honor Christ’s perfection. Praiseworthy thoughts please the Lord. Thoughts and conversations filled with such thoughts and words edify the body of Christ. They give us freedom to think and speak within the safety of all of the good things that God has for us.
The Whatever Test seems like a tall order, but it isn’t. Jesus operated within its bounds at all times. He rejected anything that wouldn’t pass through this filter. As we consider these standards, some of us may realize how far we have to go because our thoughts are mostly negative, either through discouragement or habit. We struggle with bad attitudes, pride and fear. Whatever Thoughts may put us on the road to understanding how we think. They will start us on the journey to courageously take our thoughts captive.
The Whatever Thoughts strategy is simple if we are disciplined and quick to put it into action, before fears, anger and/or annoyance take root.
The brittle morning after my battle of the mind, as I quietly opened creaky metal cabinets searching for amenities in the bright, crisp and sunny morning light, I found a tiny two-cup coffee maker. Despite its faded and petrified cord, it seemed sound. While I came unarmed with proper bedding, I did bring some coffee, given to me as we were turned away from a real house.
I soon sat with one of the loveliest morning coffees of my life. The kids still slept blissfully as I reflected and enjoyed the victory of a conquered fear. God had thrown me into Whatever Thoughts Bootcamp. I had survived a night in a deserted camper deep in the woods in a summer rainstorm. My hosts may never know what they nonchalantly forced upon me. Looking on the bright side (in itself a largely new thing to me), I’m taking my new strategy with me wherever I go. I came and I conquered. It just took Whatever Thoughts, so simple, but so powerful. I’m so grateful that God made me take this on. He’s so good.