Think It Through

Do you want to know what I think is one of the truest indicators of a sincere friendship?

Easy silence.

I think the sincerest kind of friendship becomes evident when two people who know the best and worst about each other can sit in silence without feeling awkward. Nothing needs to be said. Nothing needs to occur. No distraction is required. Talking about the weather is never even a thought. Instead, what’s most important is simply being together—within reach, within earshot, breathing the same air in the same space in the same part of an otherwise sprawling world. Such a relationship—one friend enjoying the quiet presence of the other—understands the dreadful alternative of the other’s absence, of being apart and out of reach, of the palpable but clumsy incompleteness that would occur if he or she were gone.

I’ve had other thoughts about the ingredients I think make for genuine friendships.

Speaking only for myself, I want to be a person who doesn’t feel the need to check his schedule when someone I care about asks for my time. Instead, I want to live as though the schedule doesn’t even exist. Not only that, but I want the ones I love to know I’m available to them in all circumstances and that they can take just as much comfort from the assumption. As busy as life so often seems, this sometimes feels like wishful thinking. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that a friend’s readiness at any moment is telling, and it’s something I long to exude.

I’ll be turning fifty this year, and as I get older, these and other theories on relationships have begun sparking in my mind. It’s almost as though God has started cracking flint rocks in my brain, kindling fires of realization about the people in my life before it gets too late into the human evening. Maybe the same kinds of analyses are happening in your life. I suppose certain stages of maturity do that. Immature people do very little reflecting. They’re most often reactionary. When it comes to ideologies, immature people usually just vomit out what they think they know, having let others do the thinking for them. I read somewhere that two of immaturity’s common denominators are a messy room and the inability to delay self-gratification.

On the other hand, maturity brings patience. It maintains focus and stays the course. It tends to think for itself. It takes time to reflect before application. For some things, the reflection is brief. For others, it’s a bit longer. Either way, it happens. In fact, it could be that thinking—careful discernment—is maturity’s most crucial task. Interestingly, when asked how he discovered the law of gravity, Isaac Newton didn’t nod to successful experimentation with his theory but instead replied, “By thinking on it continually.” His achievement was in the discerning.

Spiritual maturity most certainly thinks. Saint Paul was a thinker. His epistles are saturated with this premise.

In Philippians 4:8, Paul compels constant reflection on the things of God, writing, “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.” In Romans 12:2 he warns against conforming to the world, urging his readers to “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.” In other words, Christians must think through their challenges, weighing them against the revealed will of God exposed by His Word. Of course, before Paul wrote the twelfth chapter of Romans, he’d already set the stage for Godly reflection as a lifestyle, having jotted in 8:5-6: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

Thinking calibrated to the Word of God not only takes aim at eternal life but also gives peace in the here and now. I suppose that’s one reason Paul told the young pastor Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Firstly, he wrote these words having already sent a previous letter to Timothy describing some incredibly complicated situations the new undershepherd would need to navigate. Secondly, Paul’s words served in this follow-up epistle as an introduction to a chapter concerned with false teachers.

Paul wanted Timothy to think through what he would do.

I think my favorite of Paul’s instructions to be a Christian who thinks—to be someone who pitches everything against the Word of God—is the summary phrase he scribbles in 2 Corinthians 2:5. It’s there he says so plainly that we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” This phrase needs no explanation.

These are just a few of the texts that lend themselves easily this morning. There are plenty of others, and not just in Saint Paul’s writings. In the end, the point is to think—to use the Word of God as the filter for one’s reflection on everything.

Does this mean thinking through and applying the Word of God at every stop sign you come to while driving? No. Although, if you discover your brakes are out, or you’re one to blow through stop signs purposely, some reflection on the Law and Gospel of God’s Word might be worth your while when you see one of those bright red octagons on the horizon. Apart from these, and assuming a greater maturity, does it mean thinking through raising your children; how you’ll vote; whether you should have another drink; how you’ll deal with conflict; what you’ll do in situations of sexual temptation; which organizations you’ll support with your time, talents, and treasures; how often you’ll attend worship; and so on? Yes. In all these things, take every thought captive to obey Christ. Think them through, seeking alignment with God’s revealed will, all the while trusting that His will is always best.

Do this and be at peace.

Think About These Things

I happened upon a familiar portion from Saint Paul this morning. At first, it seemed strangely out of step with the season of Lent. That is, until I gave it a more thorough examination. Paul wrote:

“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).

A deliberate thrust to Lent is its cognizance of Sin. It draws us to the admittance that we are dreadfully inadequate in every way for extricating ourselves from Sin’s lethal grip. However, it’s very important to remember that Lent doesn’t labor to adjust us in this way without a clear sight of the Gospel—the Good News that we have been rescued from all that would bar us from heaven. If we lose sight of this, the season can very easily become six weeks of debilitating gloom.

But again, Lent isn’t meant for melancholy. It deals in the solemnity of perspective. In one sense, it’s working to help us identify and understand what’s bad so that we can rejoice rightly in what’s good. This makes Saint Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8 that much more resonant. Knowing the reality of our condition—fully aware of our undeserving nature—we have a better view of the external evidence of God’s gracious care.

Here’s what I mean in a very basic way.

We don’t give much thought to the fact that the same sun that was shining on Adam and Eve is shining on us. It continues to this day with its warmth. By grace alone, God makes this happen. The earth continues to spin from one season to the next. By grace alone, God sees to this unending sequence (Genesis 8:22). The birds continue their sing-song melodies. By grace alone, God continues providing their twittering voices (Matthew 6:26). The soil continues to present each day with bouquets of splendor. By grace alone, God adorns each flower’s petals with magnificence (Matthew 6:30).

His world betrayed Him, and yet God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). When we know the depths of our undeserving nature in comparison to God’s generous care, almost everything around us becomes a gift—an unmerited bestowal teaching us of God’s love.

Since I mentioned flowers, Ralph Waldo Emerson said these dainty blossoms are the earth’s laughter. Maybe he was onto something, because he also warned the preoccupied bystander to “never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”

Paul said the same thing in Philippians 4:8, only far better. How so? By disassembling creation’s beauty to reveal its graspable materials.

Truth. Honor. Justice. Purity. Loveliness. Commendability. Excellence. Praiseworthiness. These are beauty’s divine ingredients, the scribblings of God traced on the recipe pages of goodness in this life.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul knows that by sifting our thoughts and behaviors through these filters, we’ll be equipped for discerning the bad. We’ll know hateful people using vicious words aren’t lovely, no matter how attractive they may be physically. We’ll know living together before marriage isn’t pure, no matter how sensible the world might make it seem. We’ll know that so-called critical theories that demand diversity and equity according to the premise that certain races are innately unforgivable, or ideologies that threaten people’s lives with cancellation unless they accept dysphoric behaviors, are not praiseworthy or just, and we shouldn’t commend them.

On the other hand, and extending from the same awareness, Paul knows we’ll discover ourselves attuned to and desirous of what God considers good. We’ll know the honorable nature of holding fast to truth. We’ll know just how commendable God’s design for “family” truly is. We’ll observe others through the lens of God’s Word, thereby being enabled to navigate the confusion of this age in love. And I suppose I’m suggesting an active byproduct of all of this is a Christian’s ability to behold and be uplifted by God’s grace demonstrated in so many wonderful ways throughout the natural world.

For good reason, Paul insists that we think in this way. And Lent’s fasting certainly helps us to pay closer attention. In fact, the whole season is the perfect time for practicing such behavior so that it becomes habitual.