When You Think Think on This
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Philippians 4: 1 – 14. Focus on the power our thoughts have over our minds and bodies. How our thoughts can hinder or heal us. Check out the First Presbyterian Church Choir following the sermon.
Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter and he had a choice to make. He could have chosen to be bitter, focusing on all that was wrong with his life, all he had lost, but instead he chose to focus on all that was right, on all he still had. And when Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians he was writing as much to himself as he was to them.
Being in prison, he had every reason to be depressed, but instead he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He had every reason to complain and plead with God about his circumstances, but instead he wrote: “…with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.”
He had every reason to look on the negative side of things, but instead he wrote: “…whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” He had every reason to give up, but instead he wrote: “I press on… I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Yes, he was writing to himself as much as he was to others.
You see, we are not always free to determine what happens to us, but we are free to choose how we will respond to whatever happens. We may not be able to revoke what has happened to us, but we can choose what kind of significance to give it. We can choose how we are going to respond to whatever happens and that choice can make all the difference in how our lives turn out.
Dale Fletcher writes a column for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America called the Faith and Health Connection and he wrote this, “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”
What he and others in the field of cancer research are discovering is that how and on what we think plays a significant role not only in our emotional health but also our physical health as well. You see our thoughts and emotion are represented in the body as electrochemical reactions. These chemicals are constantly floating around in our bodies and when we dwell on unpleasant thoughts and experiences, a stress hormone called cortisol is released into the body.
This hormone has been shown to raise our blood pressure, our heart rates, lower our immune system’s ability to fight off infection and even alter our brain chemistry to the point where our serotonin levels drop to a place where clinical depression can set in. And all of this triggered by our thoughts.
So when Paul writes about dwelling on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good or excellent he isn’t just giving us nice platitudes for living life. He is giving us a prescription for living a healthy life regardless of our external circumstances.
You know a lot of people live by the creed that we make our own luck in life and by that they mean that whatever your circumstances in life you are responsible for your own success or failure. There is some truth in this, but not all of the truth, because this type of thinking can also lead to a feeling of entitlement when your life is going well or a feeling of resentment when it isn’t, neither of which is particularly helpful.
But there is another truth that the Bible puts forth that says our lives and the fullness therein is a gift from God. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
So while Paul may not have known the name of these chemicals that are released by our thoughts he knew their effect on our bodies and minds and in writing this letter Paul is telling us that we can make a deliberate decision to change how we are going to live in this life by how we think on it.
This week I want all of us to make a deliberate decision to change how we think. Let’s make a concerted effort this coming week and see if it doesn’t make a difference in our attitudes, emotions and behaviors. Begin to monitor your thinking patterns and identify when you’re thinking on negative thoughts or thoughts that cause you to be anxious or angry and when those thoughts come into your mind replace them with the thoughts Paul gives us to dwell on in verse 8.
Pay attention to what you read, watch and listen to. Your mind is a filter for what comes into your body. The less junk information, hate or anger filled information that you are exposed to the less frequent your mind will have to make a decision whether to continue to think about that junk information.
And if there’s a ongoing struggle with a certain memory or person that brings you emotional pain, sorrow or anger prayerfully and humbly ask God to help you forgive yourself or the other person. The more effort we intentionally put into fighting this battle in our mind, the more we’re likely to enjoy a healthier life. Like training the muscles in our bodies to be more physically fit, we can train ourselves to feed our minds with healthy thoughts. “For as we think in our hearts so will we be.” (Proverbs 23:7) Amen