Doing Better by Thinking Better
Well with the new year underway, my guess is that you have been influenced, to some degree, by the obligatory theme of new years resolutions. I would argue that the way and process by which we see these resolutions and hopes for the new year are undermined. For me personally, it was an extremely hard year. I was tested in ways that I have never been tested, and it never seemed to stop. I had times where I felt completely by myself without anybody understanding what I was going through. I had multiple seasons where dust gathered on my Bible and I tried to do it my own way, which resulted in me hurting even more than when I started. (I don’t recommend doing that, by the way) Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t ALL bad and awful; I had great moments of victory, incredible revelations from the Lord of where He wants me, and believe that I was more faithful to Him this year than last year. But that doesn’t mean that it was an easy year.. It was really hard and it hurt a lot, most of the time because of myself and not listening or truly trusting God.
Did you have a year like that? Times where it was just you and you felt like there was no bridge to hope from where you were and where God wanted you to be? Feeling like you were unqualified and stupid. Maybe you had a year where you were walking away from God even when you didn’t know you were doing it, only to feel the pain later. Regardless of what year you had, you experienced a level of discomfort. And with the new year coming, we all have a tendency to plan out all these changes that we are going to do in the new year so that we have a better year than last year. Don’t get me wrong, that’s what we should do, but we should make sure we do it the right way lest we have the same painful seasons as last year.
I want to say that what you DO this year is a secondary issue. You’re probably like, “Um, what?! I have to do something different or I’ll have the same year as last, caught in the same sin, etc.” Yes, there is truth to your concern. But I would argue that you have made those promises of action to yourself in the past and they have failed.. Here is why: you were DOING things differently, but you weren’t THINKING differently. The joy that you experience this year in the what you DO is influenced by what you THINK before you do something.
Our thoughts have incredible power. I would argue that every single thing we do is done AFTER we have thought about it. Now, if you’re like me, you’ve had a time where you did something stupid and said, “I can’t believe I did that, I wasn’t even thinking!” Well this is wrong in either one or two ways. Yes we were thinking we just either: a.) We didn’t think very hard and let shallow thoughts instruct a deep action or b.) We didn’t think very long about our decision, letting our impatient, impulsive rationale get the best of us. Do you see the difference? We are always thinking, we just have the tendency to think poorly.
What if you whole year; all your dreams, hopes, desires, longings, happiness, peace, and faithfulness is contingent NOT by what you do, but by how you think before you do what you do. I believe that’s true. The sin of performed sexual immorality didn’t start as an impure action, it started as an impure thought that was pursued. The mistake of spending your money on something stupid didn’t start with the action, it started with convincing yourself that your purchase was worth it and would satisfy you. If we thought rightly, desiring things of God, that mindset would influence our decisions, giving us a better chance at being faithful.
I’m NOT saying that our actions don’t matter. They obviously do. Jesus tells us to shine them in front of all people so that they will glorify our Father in heaven.(Matthew 5:16) But Jesus also tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Luke 10:27) We are to love God first internally, so that our external actions by which we claim to love God will be legitimate. If we don’t love God from the inside, we can’t love Him from the outside. Our actions are developed by our thoughts. So maybe it’s time to not correct our actions from last year by replacing them with new actions, but maybe we should correct it by starting with thinking rightly and working from there. Our hopes for the year will still be the same, but the difference will be that this time we mean it. This time we aren’t doing things differently so that we don’t have a bad year again, but instead are doing it out of a sincere and serious love for God. Wouldn’t you agree that there’s a huge difference. They look similar initially, but the motivation driving our actions will catch up to us in the long run. And if we aren’t careful we will just be caught again, maybe not in the same exact situation as last year, but one that is equally as painful, maybe even more painful.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have an amazing year and it all starts with how you think. Here are 3 questions to ask yourself to make you a better thinker:
1.) What do you want this year to look like?
Journaling is a huge tool. They say that people think better when they write things out because it empties space in our head for clearer thoughts. Makes sense to me! For me, I need to write down what I want this year. Not just “I want a good year”. That’s too simple. You and I have a problem with being specific and honest and that’s a huge problem. We are shooting ourselves in the foot because we can’t even be honest with ourselves. So write down what you want this year. Write down what the ideal year would look like for you. It doesn’t matter if it sounds selfish, it doesn’t matter if it’s sinful. Yes, I did say that. You’ll see why in a second, but it’s important to write what you want or hope for this year.
2.) Why do you want it that way?
Why do you want those things? This is maybe the most important part to our thinking, we have to fish out WHY we want what we want. Is it for a selfish gain or ego that you are trying to build? Is it for dependent security on something else? Is it so that you can have more stuff? My point is that when we are finally able to see why we do what we do. Our motivation is the conveyor belt that delivers our thoughts into action. And if we want to have a year faithful to the Lord, we need to figure out exactly what is motivating our desires.
3.) Does God want it that way?
Here is where we make the transition from our way of thinking to God’s way of thinking. Earlier I referenced our good works to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. Notice that he completely values our works, but He is ultimately pleased in whether they glorify Him or not. You and I do a pretty good job of acting like we mean what we do when we really don’t do them for the right reasons. That’s why it doesn’t matter so much WHAT we do this year but WHY we do what we do this year. Is it glorifying to God? Are you satisfied by Him through the process, or is the process itself security for you? That is my tendency. I find satisfaction in DOING something, and it’s dangerous because I can do lots of stuff and still have NONE of it glorify God. Even if it looks like it is good and faithful, God knows my heart. He knows why I’m doing it, just as He knows why you do what you do.
It’s okay to desire; we were made that way. It’s okay to have money. It’s okay to have attraction. But we have to see, hopefully through the process of writing and asking these questions, whether or not our desires are ultimately for ourselves of if they are for God. Our actions will follow, but we have to do some homework first before we DO anything. How do you think? What do you fantasize about? What do you want? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to come to this year and semester with a completely different approach than years past. If I think well, I am confident that my year will be marked by faithful obedience and a growing desire for God. You might not get the money you would have hoped to get this year, you might not get the grades you wanted, you might not have that girlfriend or boyfriend that you want, and you might not end up exactly where you want to be. But if our thoughts are linked to making much of Jesus, then friends, you are going to have an incredible year growing in relationship with Him. And that’s more special than anything we could come up with.