Lessons of 2019 – September.
This is the ninth part in a new blog-series about the lessons I’ve learned this year. Read the full into in the January post, but basically I’m sharing the stand-out lessons from the last year in the hope that they will inspire and encourage others, and I also want to urge you all to be intentional about capturing and retaining the lessons that will make you a better person. Here is September’s lesson…
September’s Lesson: It’s the things that no one sees that result in the blessings everyone wants.
Thinking is powerful. Seems an absurdly simple thing to say, doesn’t it? Even if most of us don’t stop to appreciate it I think we’d all agree that thinking has great power, either for good or for evil.
But what about if I were to say that our thoughts have great influence over the direction of our lives? I’m not sure so many would agree. I wonder if we’re sometimes too passive and too blasé about where our life is going. Do we sometimes find ourselves being too fatalistic, supposing that we have no control over what happens and that all we can do is wait and see what happens, muddling through as best we can?
I think a lot of us have that kind of reactive mindset. Maybe it’s frustration at not being able to achieve what we want or a way to come to terms with the obstacles and restrictions that we face. Maybe we’ve allowed disappointments and setbacks to make us give up on our dreams and hopes.
The truth is that we have more influence over things than we think. Positive thinking can take us in a good direction and negative thinking can take us in a bad direction. We tend to move in the direction of what we think about most.
If we think resentfully about opportunities denied to us or slights inflicted upon us, then we’ll move down a bitter road towards a twisted destination. If we nurse grievances about past hurts, then we’ll travel a road of unforgiveness to a place where healing is almost impossible. If we think only about success, we’ll walk down a self-centred road that will leave us isolated and selfish.
If we think most about what we can get and what comforts we can enjoy, we’ll move in a selfish direction and end up in a hollow, unsatisfactory way of living. If we dwell too long on all the bad things in the world and all those negative headlines, we’ll move in a direction of despair that convinces us there’s nothing we can do.
But if we think about our dreams, we’ll move towards them. If we focus on ways we can improve ourselves, we’ll make progress in those areas. If we prioritise other people in our thought-life our relationships will benefit and we’ll find ourselves more inclined to help others.
As Christians, if we think more about Jesus, we’ll become more like Him. If we think more about His generosity, we’ll become more generous ourselves. If we reflect and meditate on His self-giving love, we’ll find our own heart beating in that direction too. If we continually remember His sovereignty, we’ll find it easier to move away from our anxieties and into a place of peace.
We move towards what we think about most. Do you want to move towards selfishness, fear and cynicism? Think about yourself, dwell on your worries and concentrate on all the failings around you. Or do you want to move towards generosity, kindness and justice? Think about what others need and how you can help.
There’s great wisdom in what Paul told the Philippians: “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.” (Philippians 4:8).
If you want to be truthful, noble, pure, excellent, praiseworthy, or any of these other Godly characteristics – you need to spend more time thinking about them and less time thinking about contrary things. Our souls will flourish or deteriorate according to the pattern of our thinking.
Paul pursues this theme of mental discipline elsewhere, but in Romans we also see another element to it – rejecting the world’s way of thinking and accepting God’s way of thinking in a process of daily renewal.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2).
He says we can only understand and agree with God’s will for our lives by first getting our minds in the right place. The world will always try and suck us into its vain, greedy and superficial patterns, but we have to resist that pull daily.
Gordon MacDonald talks about this in his book Ordering Your Private World. When our private world is disordered – when we’re not praying or in tune with God or thinking in a Godly way – then we’re pulled by the world into its mould. We take its shape. But when our private world is ordered – when we’re mindful of God and His Word and in a good rhythm of spiritual discipline, that’s when we can push outward against the world and influence it for the better.
It’s one or the other – either we’ll be moulded by the world or we’ll be the ones doing the moulding.
Yes of course there will always be things beyond our control. Laws we must obey, our physical environment, limitations of resource, the actions of others and especially the will of God. I’m not saying we’re masters of our own destiny – that’s as much of an illusion as the opposite extreme of complete powerlessness.
But somewhere in-between lies a sweet-spot where we can take responsibility over our own course. When we accept the limits around us but refuse to give up hope, when we acknowledge the challenges and injustices that exist, but choose to keep caring, that’s where we have great influence.
Our influence starts with ourselves – channelling our thoughts in a healthy direction and doing what we can with what we have – but from there it’ll soon reach out and inspire others too.
Where do you want to get to? The first thing to do is start thinking more about it. Channel your thought-life away from distractions and self-destructive habits and focus it on where you want to get to. You can’t control the timing or the reaction of others, you can’t guarantee the destination or count on smooth, unchecked progress, but you can at least control the direction of your own thoughts.
What direction do you want to move in? Start thinking most about that thing.
January’s Lesson: Don’t Worry About Tomorrow, God is Already There.
February’s Lesson: Inconsistent Parents Raise Insecure Children.
March’s Lesson: Thank God for what He is going to do, even though you don’t know how He is going to do it.
April’s Lesson: Dream Big but Start Small.
May’s Lesson: Ambition is the path to success; persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.
June’s Lesson: Stop thinking about what you don’t have and start using what you do have.
July’s Lesson: Be king, for everyone is facing a great battle.
August’s Lesson: It’s the things that no one sees which result in the blessings everyone wants.
Come back tomorrow for October’s Lesson. Even better, subscribe to my blog by email and never miss another post.