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Moments of Decision – Longing for the Good Old Days

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Ecclesiastes 7:10
10    Do not say,     “Why were the former days better than these?”     For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.

We often find ourselves reflecting back and saying, “I really long for the good old days when..”.  It seems that this thinking often comes in times of nostalgia, difficult trials, or when things around us seem hopeless.  Are the “good ole days” really better than today and our hope for the future?

According to Solomon, the preacher in Ecclesiastes, the answer to this question is; not really.  In fact this saying, while very common, indicates there is no biblical truth in our attachment to this notion about former days.  In fact, when we reflect on the former days we often are using it to excuse current circumstances around us and even our own behavior.  We might say that in former times, men were more religious, have a deeper sense and longing for God, experience more self-denial, lived holier lives, and were more exemplary in all their conduct in the world.  This is false thinking.

In former times men were wicked as they are now, and religion just as mixed with its share of hypocrisy, saintly saints, and lostness.  God is the same now as He was then; as loving, as just, as merciful, as ready to save, as ready to help.  So you may say that we live in a corrupt age – and you would be right even as prior ages where corrupt.  The thought here is that it is not the age that is corrupt, but the men of the age.    We only have to look at ourselves; our hearts, our attitudes/motives, and our obedience to determine the why and how our thoughts may race to the “good old days”.

Solomon proclaims in Ecclesiastes chapter 1 verse nine that there is “nothing new under the sun”.

Ecclesiastes 1:9
9    That which has been is what will be,      That which is done is what will be done,     And there is nothing new under the sun.

Man continues in his sinful fallen state and God continues in His goodness and has ordained the means through His Son to redeem a lost world from its fallen condition and restore a right relationship with Him.  This has not changed since the garden and each generation experiences the grace, mercy and love of God, His offer of salvation, and the hope of eternity.

I will acknowledge that nostalgia plays a role in our feelings about the good old days.  Memories are often found there to refresh the soul and give peace in our hearts.  Past times seem to have their medicinal qualities to refresh by their positive and comfortable thoughts like hot chocolate on a cold winter night remembered.   Praise God we are creatures with a memory and can enjoy these thoughts.

We, however, need to be cautious to check our motives for reflecting on prior days that they are not fueling ungodly attitudes and behaviors.  This could be discontent, anger, bitterness, grudges, acting on ungodly memories of many sorts.  The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and needs to be checked at all times for its motives.  This is true for individuals and applies equally as well to churches.

Husbands, wives, families are often “historical” in their relating to current events of life.  This can bring up many hurts, frustrations, unforgiveness, bitterness, and put a wet blanket on God’s current work in their lives.  My wife and I have an agreement that we cannot bring anything up which is greater than thirty days past.  This has worked wonders for keeping focused on God’s activity in our lives today seeking His will and being thankful for all He has and is providing.  Never looking back in an attitude of ungratefulness with the ” would of, should of, could of” syndrome should be our heart attitude.  Paul gave an admonition to the believers in Philippi which reflects an attitude of forward thinking and not looking back.

Philippians 3:13-14
13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The truth of these verses might be summarized as follows – In Jesus, your days ahead are greater than your days gone by.  Hands down, without doubt, with hope and expectation the future in Christ promises to bring you deeper and closer in your relationship with Him and the resulting joy and abundant life only He can give.

Paul says to forget those things which are behind (don’t dwell on past failures, poor decisions, sinful behavior no matter how grievous, disappointments, bitterness, hurts, should of’s, etc.).  He could speak with authority given the weight of his past which included broad persecution of Christs’ church and being complicit in murder.  Paul knew that it was not wise to dwell on the past but to keep his priorities focused on the prize of the higher calling in Christ Jesus.   Oh, how we need to take these words in and embrace them in our daily walk giving our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ and allowing Him to direct our hearts and minds toward the upward call.  There is no greater source of peace, fulfillment, and contentment in life.  You will never have to look over your shoulder if you keep your eyes on Jesus.

Thoughts of the past and yearning for the “good old days” in itself is not the issue Solomon is addressing; it is the foolishness in making the distinction, because in truth every age (stages of life) has its bright and its dark sides.  It is for us to look forward with thanksgiving and anticipation at what God is doing today in our lives and strive to seek His will as we progress toward spiritual maturity.  Our aim is not to be detoured reflecting on the past but be purposed in Christ Jesus toward the future.  It is a high calling. A calling requiring intentionality, forward momentum, and the acknowledgement of an  eternal purpose which is greater than ourselves.

In the end it is foolish to complain about present times and longing for the good old days when the real issue much of the time is dealing with the current state of our own hearts.  When our hearts are right with God our lives are right with Him and others.  This provides the spiritual state of mind which equips us for coping with the world around us which seems to relentlessly tempt us, discourage us, and give us a sense of defeat.  This often draws us back to times we perceive were more in keeping with a better state than what we are experiencing at the present.  That is exactly what the enemy wants us to think.  To discourage, deceive, and derail what God has in store for us up the road.   It is our task to recognize our need to stay focused on our highest priority, as Paul exhorts us to do, the goal of our upward calling.

The chief subject of the book of Ecclesiastes is the folly of all man’s efforts in seeking happiness here below, and that the wisdom which judges all this only renders man still unhappy.   One way man seeks to reconcile his state is to look backward and long for perceived better times, which we are told is unwise.   What then are we to do?  The preacher of Ecclesiastes gives us the conclusion of the whole matter.

Ecclesiastes 12:13
13Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:      Fear God and keep His commandments,     For this is man’s all.

Moments of Decision – longing for the good old days:  Reflect on the good old days without comparison, enjoy the thoughts of pleasant times, enjoy  the memory of fond smells and bright sunny days, while making the decision of always being steadfastly focused on the prize of the upward calling, being content and grateful for where God has you today, fearing God with reverence and awe and obeying all His commandments while resting in the blessed hope of glory and eternity to come.

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Moments of Decision – How to Control Your Thought Life

November 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In my experiences mentoring men and families one of the most common areas that seems to always surface is their thought life.   Questions often come from recurring thoughts about their past life before becoming a Christian and how/why this continues to happen now that they are following the Lord?  Men in particular are concerned about lust in their thoughts which they want to deny entry but continue to reoccur.  Women have great memories which can easily resurrect prior relationships and result in improper or impure thoughts.  These thought life situations are all too common, among others many other examples, and often produce guilt and helplessness on what to do about them.  The following article is an attempt to shed some light on this pervasive issue.  An issue that is difficult but not impossible to master.  It is a choice.  A moment of decision.

Why did I think that?  Where did that thought come from?  Why am I constantly thinking about that?  How do I stop these thoughts from coming into my mind? These nagging questions, to one degree or another, seem to confront us more frequently than we care to admit.   For the Christian these questions can often result in discouragement, doubt, lead to a wide range of sin and wage a constant battle for our thought life.  The following are some notable quotes on this pervasive and constant challenge before every Christian.

“Guard your thoughts, and there will be little fear about your actions.” ~ J.C. Ryle

“Our minds are mental greenhouses where unlawful thoughts, once planted, are nurtured and watered before being transplanted into the real world of unlawful actions… These actions are savored in the mind long before they are enjoyed in reality. The thought life, then, is our first line of defense in the battle of self-control.”  Jerry Bridges

“No matter where it ends, sin always begins when an evil thought is sown in the mind and heart.”  John MacArthur

“Great illnesses seldom attack the body, without a previous train of premonitory symptoms. Great falls seldom happen to a saint, without a previous course of secret backsliding. The church and the world are sometimes shocked by the sudden misconduct of some great professor of religion. Believers are discouraged and stumbled by it. The enemies of God rejoice and blaspheme. But if the truth could be known, the explanation of such cases would generally be found to have been private departure from God. Men fall in private, long before they fall in public. The tree falls with a great crash, but the secret decay which accounts for it, is often not discovered until it is down on the ground.”  J.C. Ryle  Commentary, Matthew 26

“Imagination is a God-given gift; but if it is fed dirt by the eye, it will be dirty. All sin, not least sexual sin, begins with the imagination. Therefore what feeds the imagination is of maximum importance in the pursuit of kingdom righteousness (Phil. 4:8)”. D.A. Carson

We must be reminded that the Bible teaches the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) and Jesus also taught that out of the heart precede evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19) so we should not be surprised at the rate, scope and nature of thoughts that might enter our minds.  Further we also have an enemy, Satan and his demons that are all too helpful in taking over our thought life if we allow. Consequently, it is critical that we proactively guard our minds from evil thoughts entering and if they enter we need to know how to quickly overcome before they take root.  This is an area where the proverbial ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure aptly applies.

The battle of the Christian walk is in the heart and mind, the thought life, both organs of the soul.  When you became a Christian you were immediately justified and positionally sanctified but you were also called to begin the life long process of progressive sanctification (separated unto holiness) which is the will of God (1Thess. 4:3) where you grow to become more like Christ (Eph 4:13;Romans 8:29; 2Cor. 3:18).  This process continues until the return of Christ when we will be changed to be like Him (1John 3:2) and with this hope comes our call to pursue holiness (1John 3:3;Heb. 12:14). 

It is critical then that we keep our hearts with all diligence for out of our hearts spring all the issues of life (Prov. 4:23).  The content of the Christian’s heart and mind and resulting thought life is to be zealously protected as we earnestly pursue holiness.  The following verses (italics my emphasis) highlight the importance of the mind’s (thought life) role in our ability to grow in holiness.

Romans 12:2
2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Ephesians 4:17-24
17This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 
18having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart
19who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
20But you have not so learned Christ, 
21if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 
22that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 
23and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
 
24and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

1 Peter 1:13-16
13Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 
14as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 
15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct

From the above verses we are clearly called into a continuing process of renewing our minds moving from the old ways of the flesh before we were saved to the new man walking in the Spirit after we are saved. 

So now we know that our hearts and minds are the source of our thought lives.  We also know the critical importance for the renewal and protection of our thought life as we pursue holiness in obedience to God’s command that we be holy; but how do I do this?  While much can be said, in this article I will briefly summarize some key actions we can take to protect and control our thought life.

First, it is imperative that we read and study the Bible. 

When we read and study the bible we are replacing those old thoughts before we were saved, planted by Satan, with God’s thoughts.  The only way you can be sure that the thought you are thinking is of God and not Satan is to know the Word of God.  We also need to be able to discern “good from evil” and allow the Bible to speak to us about the true intents of our hearts.  Without this foundation it will not be possible to proactively manage and control your thought life. 

Hebrews 5:13
14But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 4:12-13
12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 

Second, we need to consciously walk in the Spirit.  

Galatians 5:16
16I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 

Not to walk in the Spirit is to open ourselves up to all the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21).  Paul then outlines for us the fruits of the Spirit which Christ perfectly lived as an example for us to follow (Gal 5:22-23).  Therefore living and walking in the Spirit, an indispensable component to controlling our thought life.

Third, we should guard our hearts and minds by focusing on what is good and praiseworthy.

Philippians 4:7-8
7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 

Often the best approach to dealing with anxious or evil thoughts is to reorient and focus on those things which are positive, good, and praiseworthy.  Paul in his epistle of joy gives great encouragement as we overcome anxiety – giving it over to prayer and thanksgiving while channeling our thoughts toward anything that is praiseworthy.

Fourth, we need to guard against giving Satan access to our minds.

From Scripture it is evident that Satan is alive and well desiring to devour those He can.  Those that allow him to have a foothold in their lives do so by not being vigilant and sober minded.   Our ability to resist the devil is directly related to our being steadfast in our faith and having a dynamic and growing walk with God.  This is a spiritual war that is being waged for our minds and only by the Spirit of God can we resist.   This is a battle all believers experience – none are exempt from this fight.

1 Peter 5:8-9
8Be sober, be vigilant; £because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 
9Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 

James 4:7
7Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 

Scripture also tells us that the times are evil and we are to walk uprightly redeeming the time.  How do we do this?  By being wise and understanding what the will of the Lord is.  How do we do this?  We need to have a thorough intimate knowledge of God’s Word.  Our minds should be immersed in the Word otherwise idle minds are the devil’s workshop.  We need to constantly be active not passive in our walk with God always endeavoring to be obedient, growing in our knowledge of God, and actively engaged in doing His will.

Ephesians 5:15-17
15See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 
16redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

So briefly how do demonic forces attach themselves to us?   I believe the following analogy may be helpful in understanding how this works.

Satan has no power over us except the power we give him. Think of the mind as the United States and all fifty territorial states. Satan’s goal is to take and steal every one of these territories. He does it by taking one state at a time. How does he do this? When he implants in our minds a thought that is contrary to God’s Word and God’s revealed will to us by the Holy Spirit confirmed through the Word, when we decide to surrender to that thought and act upon it, then and only then is Satan able to attach Himself to us in that piece of territory of our mind. This is why the Bible tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but spiritual forces. Once we act upon that thought and the evil spiritual force which put it there then attaches itself to us, we then are under bondage to that idea and find ourselves not able to say no to the thought any longer even if we want to.

What is the solution once a thought gets attached to our minds? We must retake back that piece of territory Satan has stolen from us. Unfortunately once we have surrendered it, Satan does not want to give it back, and so begins the spiritual battle. How do we regain that area of our minds?  First, by confessing the sin to God.  Second, by repenting of the sin, by resurrendering that area of our lives to Jesus: “Jesus, I will to resubmit this area of my life to you and to obey Your will in this area of my life.” Third, remove from your life whatever is associated with the sin, whatever tempts you and causes you to fall to the sin.  Paul wrote in Romans 13:14 “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  If the flesh has opportunity, it will sin, so you must remove the object of temptation if you are to go on and have victory over the sin repented of.

Watchman Nee in his book The Spiritual Man outlines five ways we give control of our minds to Satan:

First, by not daily meditating on God’s word.

Second, by deliberately considering and living out sin in one’s mind.

Third, through willful ignorance of God’s truth’s and moral absolutes.

Fourth, by accepting any suggestion in the mind as if from God without questioning or checking to see if it lines up with God’s Word or past light of God.

Fifth, by deliberately blanking one’s mind so as to receive suggestions from evil spirits.

Do you find any of these areas contributing to your ability to control the purity of your thought life?  These are fairly self explanatory but offer a good guide for things to do and not do if we are going to resist the devil and take control of our thought lives. 

The control of our thought life is difficult

The mastery of our thought life is difficult, but then everything that seeks to honor God and counter the flesh, Satan, and the world is difficult.  The difficulty of controlling our thought life rests in the deep recesses of our heart and mind.  Our thought life is totally hidden.  It is impenetrable by even those closest to us.  Our thoughts have no immediate social impact. A person may have bitter thoughts of you yet meet you with a smile on their face.  An employee may despise their boss, yet outwardly be a model of obedience.  A person may have deep lustful thoughts as they sit at lunch in the school cafeteria, yet seem innocent without any emotional attachment. 

Yes our thought life is unlike other areas we seek to master such as our speech, behavioral issues, physical addictions, etc.  Our thought life is an area which is so private we believe that no one will ever know.  This way of thinking is of course of the devil given the Lord knows our heart and all of our thoughts (Ps 94:11; 1Cor 3:20;Matt 15:19).   Consequently, without appropriate prevention and correction, a Christian’s thought life can often result in debilitating feelings of guilt, depression, hopelessness, and a continuing spiral into ever deepening sinful behavior.  It is this secrecy, this surrounding darkness that has led men to say that thought is free without consequence, and that makes the mastery of thought so difficult.

The mastery of thought is within the power of every Christian

The thought life is a matter of the will.  It is a choice, a moment by moment decision, as are all other disciplines of the Christian life which lead to a life of holiness.  It is within the will and power of Christians to master their thought lives.  The following is a short summary list of some ways to help master the thought life.

  • If we will but surrender our lives to the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5). 
  • Choose to walk in the Spirit versus the flesh empowered by the Spirit of God (Gal 5:16). 
  • Choose to decrease and Christ increase in our lives to where He is overflowing where no ungodly thought has place of entry (John 3:30). 
  • Develop a solid pattern of Bible study, prayer, and Scripture meditation keeping your mind active and focused on godly pursuits (Ps 119:11)
  • Do not trust yourself to prevent entry of ungodly thoughts into your mind – trust in God, acknowledge Him and lean not on your own understanding – fear the Lord and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-8)
  • Do not allow idle time to give Satan access to your mind – those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:6-8)
  • Do all you can to think pure thoughts as any unscriptural thought works to penetrate the heart and mind  (Phil 4:9)

In the end you must fill your being so full of higher interests that when the devil comes and clamors for admission, he will find there is not a chair for him to sit on. Above all, you must endeavor daily to walk in a closer fellowship with Christ. It is always easier to have lovely thoughts when walking with the Altogether Lovely One. (Morrison)

Prayer: 

Philippians 4:8-9
8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 
9The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Lord I know what I put in my mind determines what comes out in my words and actions. By your Spirit may my mind only have thoughts which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Examine my life and convict my spirit if there are any areas of my life such as people, television, internet, books, conversations, movies, and magazines corrupting my thought life. I pray Lord that you would replace harmful input with wholesome material. Above all, Lord would you place in my heart the desire to read your Word and pray without ceasing empowering me toward a pure thought life.   And where the enemy has captured my thought life I pray for release of that territory by the name and blood of Jesus.  Amen.