This past Sunday I spoke on Wise Thinking from the Proverbs (Proverbs 4:2-5:6). You can listen to it here if you'd like. The content is part of some work I am doing in preparing for my book on Gospel Fluency. I have found that many of us don't follow the advice of the wise father to his son: "Ponder your path". To Ponder is to slow down and examine what you are thinking and doing. The father tells his son that the wayward woman (foolishness personified) does not ponder, but wanders aimlessly down the path to destruction, while remaining ignorant of what she is doing.
How many times have you found yourself asking: "Why did I say that?" or "Why am I saying this?" as the verbal diarrhea overflows into a toilet of regret. Or "What was I thinking?" while you stand in the debris of your foolish missteps. And, "How did I get here?" as you astonishingly wake up to the reality that your lack of careful pondering has snowballed into a pitiful, mess of devastation. Maybe you just know someone else to whom this is true and now you just need some good advice for them ;)
During my message, I shared some thoughts about how we can take the time to Ponder - slow down - and let the gospel shape our thinking, which I believe will lead to steps down the path of wisdom as a result.
First of all CAPTURE your thoughts.
It was springtime in Chicago and I was at the McCormick Place to speak at the Christ & City event at the end of the Gospel Coalition conference. I walked into the large auditorium that was four times as wide as it was deep to hear Tim Keller teach. Previously there had been around 6000 in the room for the Gospel Coalition event. At this moment, there were now probably 3000-4000. I was scheduled to teach a breakout session in this same room later. As I listened to Tim teach, I found myself making notes and scratching out some of what I had intended to say. "How did he get my stuff? He had stolen a bunch of my material!" I forgot how much his teaching had influenced me – some of my notes sounded like what he was presently saying. That wouldn’t have been so bad if I were teaching much later or somewhere else, but I was going to speak right after him in the same room to many of the same audience. So, I quickly started reworking all my notes.
After Tim was done, I was ushered back into the green room to wait my turn to be called up. I finished making some final notes and then was brought up on stage. As I walked up, I realized they had forgotten my white board for the diagrams I was going to draw while teaching. Then, I turned to look out into the room and I couldn’t see anyone. Oh, people were probably there, I think, I just couldn’t see them because the lights were so bright. Now, one thing about me that is important to note, I am a relational teacher – I love to see people and adjust my teaching in light of what I sense the Holy Spirit is doing and how I see people responding. I had absolutely zero visible knowledge of what was going on in the room. As I began teaching, I wondered if there actually were any people in the room at all. It was hard to tell because there was almost no discernible response (I think they were all overloaded with information because we were at the end of a long conference with some very heady material...or asleep because they were so tired...or just saving seats for the LeCrae concert happening later in that same room). I did my best and hoped that it helped some people. Then after I was done, they ushered me away from the people who wanted to talk to me afterward because I had to make it to a dinner that was about to start. Zero feedback. Zero knowledge as to whether I was helpful or hurtful in my teaching. I was flying blind and the radio signal was off.
I went back to my hotel room later that night very discouraged and depressed. I played my talk over and over in my head and it only seemed to get worse the more I did it (the snowball started rolling and gaining size and speed - this is what happens when our thought lives are not brought into submission). I began to think I had wasted people’s time and in turn the resources of the kingdom. At one point I started believing that I must have said a bunch of heresy and D.A. Carson, one of the theologians and leaders of the Gospel Coalition, was going to have to call me in and confront me. Then they would have to publish an apology for having me speak, acknowledging that I don’t represent what the Gospel Coalition believes. I felt like a failure.
Have you ever experienced something like this? A time when you felt like a failure? Or, a time when you began to be filled with self-doubt or fear? Maybe you haven’t experienced anything like this, but have you ever found yourself consumed with some destructive thoughts? Like thoughts of hatred and rage that begin to dominate your mind crowding out all other thoughts? What about impure, lustful thoughts that seem to keep pushing you to think of women or men in inappropriate ways? Maybe your thoughts have gone more toward pride and self-righteousness, leading you to think you are better than others and to despise others that just don’t seem to live up to “the standard”.
What do you do with these thoughts? Maybe you’ve never thought about thinking about your thoughts. Its possible that you aren’t even aware of what is going on in your mind most of the time because you’ve never stopped to think about it. Have you ever paused and thought about what your thinking? Feeling? Contemplating?
STOP. What are you thinking right now?
Most of us are moving too fast to stop. Or, the idea of listening to our thoughts, paying attention to them is scary - we don't really want to pay attention to what is going on inside. Many of us go on vacation and stay busy so we don't have to acknowledge the murmur of restlessness, anger, resentment, anxiety, fear...or any other number of frightful thoughts and emotions. And then we need a vacation from our vacation because we ran ourselves ragged trying to avoid hearing ourselves. Some of us never take a break because the noise of a busy life is more comforting than the contemplation of the heart around the gospel.
Paul told the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 10:5) to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. To capture something requires taking it under control and holding it in a place. We have to stop and ask "What am I thinking?" "Why am I feeling or thinking this?" "What is going on in me right now?" Lately, I have been asking my son Caleb, "What are you doing?" He responds: "Nothing." To which I reply: "You're always doing something." The same is true for thinking: You're always thinking something.
STOP - What are you thinking right now - Capture it - Control it - Examine it.
Most of us don't STOP to capture and examine our thinking. However, the apostle Paul says this is how we begin to experience transformation - by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). Our minds will not get renewed if we don't pay attention to what we're thinking and then...
COMPARE your thoughts to What is True of God; What He has done for you and Who you are in Christ Jesus.
That night in my hotel room with my wife on the phone, we took time to compare my thinking to...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). This meant comparing my thinking to what is true of God, His work through the person and work of Jesus and who I am now because of faith in Jesus. Jayne reminded me: "This is not about you Jeff! This is about Jesus! He is glorified in your weakness AND your 'success'. What if God wants to glorify himself through your failure. Are you OK with that? Anyhow, remember, you aren't the one who changes hearts. God does. Besides, you don't want people to be impressed with you. You want them to be impressed with Jesus." I shared more of what I was thinking, feeling, believing... and she kept comparing my thoughts to what is true, lovely, pure, etc... "God is in control, even if you failed Jeff. You don't need the approval of man. You are accepted by God! He is your Father who loves you. What else do you need?" We continued on as she exhorted me in the gospel and the truths of God's Word.
How often do we slow down to compare our thinking to what is true of God and what we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
And do we have people around us we can turn to for this? I hear of way too many Christians living life alone - God didn't save us for a personal ALONE relationship with him. He saved us from ALONENESS into a community - His Family. I believe if we did this more often with one another in community, we would not only have lives that better reflect what is true of Jesus, but our hearts would also be full as worship as we become overcome by the grace of God in the midst of everyday life.
Finally, CONFESS your unbelief through genuine repentance and replace the lies with truth.
In over 20 years of ministry I have heard plenty of confessions, but rarely do I hear people confess their sin. People regularly say "I'm sorry" and rarely say "I've sinned".
We generally regret the consequences of sin and then desire that they go away as quickly as possible. We say, "I'm sorry I hurt you (...and that you are so weak and hurt so easily)"; "I'm sorry that this offended you (...you should not be so easily offended) or "I'm sorry I did that (...because it doesn't feel good right now). True confession of sin, confesses sin.
I have found there are generally two reasons we walk down the path of foolishness, leading to destruction - two reasons why we don't do what is right and good:
- Unbelief and Rebellion
My daughter Haylee has been struggling with fear and anxiety. She is nine. We didn't rebuke her for this ("Stop worrying. You shouldn't worry. That's a sin!) We instructed her about who God is and how powerful he is. We have been teaching her not only that he is great and in control, but also good and loves her. We reminded her that Jesus overcame sin, death and Satan - the three sources of all of our fears. And that He is both with her and for her. Along the way we have been teaching her to not be anxious, but to offer her concerns to God in prayer with thanksgiving, trusting that God can guard her heart and mind in Christ Jesus, granting her peace. Haylee was ignorant. Not any longer. Now, if Haylee refuses to bring her concerns to God and prefers to deal with them on her own, she is no longer ignorant, but rebellious, walking in unbelief. I know that sounds harsh to some of us, but it is true. We either humbly submit the truths we know about God or we pridefully ignore them or outright reject them.
Paul says the same thing to the people in Athens after he describes the unknown god to them as the True living God who made them and everything they enjoy - Acts 17:30-31: "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
Many of us or the people we care for and shepherd need to be informed so they no longer stand in ignorance. Our job in many cases is not just to confront sin, but to inform people with the truth of God and the good news of Jesus Christ. If they don't know the truth, how can they take captive their thoughts, compare them to Him and then respond in repentance.
However, once informed of the truth, we are no longer ignorant but informed. And when we take the time to capture a thought, compare it to Jesus and see where it is not in line with the truth of the gospel, we have a choice to make - repent or rebel. And repentance not only owns the sin, confessing it as such, but also owns the truth of God, confessing it in faith as our only hope.
That night, in my hotel room, on the phone with my wife, I repented. I saw that I was a prideful man and I was living for people's approval not God's glory. I wanted to do well, not just to help people, but to help myself. I wanted to be liked, accepted, approved of by man. I had believed the approval of man was more sufficient than the approval of God. It was unbelief in God's Word and unbelief in the gospel. I was sorry...not for the state I was in, but for the state of my heart before God. I acknowledged my sin of pride and unbelief in the complete work of Jesus that made me acceptable before God. As I confessed this sin, I also acknowledge my belief in his grace to forgive as well as my acceptance because of what Jesus had done, not for how well I spoke. I experienced healing and refreshment from his Spirit. God opposes the proud but he gives grace to the humble. We say that, but we are afraid to humble ourselves. I experienced his grace that night again.
After all of that, the Spirit confirmed that he did indeed use my talk, despite my weakness and brokenness. God does that - he works in and through our mess to show his power and glory. Crazy!
If we are ever to become a gospel fluent people, we must first of all become a gospel familiar people - we must experience it changing us first before we will have the confidence that it can change others as well. Take the time to capture your thoughts, compare them to the truths in the gospel and confess any and all unbelief and rebellion as sin and put your faith again in Jesus and his sufficient work for you!