Changing the Way We Think
“Finally, brethren…dwell on these things.”
Anxiety begins in the mind, unsettles our emotions and warps the soul. When we are facing uncertainty and challenges in life, our mind easily becomes obsessed with thoughts of “what if” which leads to worry and anxiety as the potential outcomes we imagine awaken our greatest fears. The result is that our faith becomes shaken as we begin to doubt God’s plan and purpose. Anxiety and worry are real, and they short-circuit our faith and confidence in God. In response Paul reminds us that prayer is God’s tool to realign our perspective and reorient our life upon God so that his peace envelopes and sustains us in the midst of life’s trials. But in the midst Paul’s encouragement to make prayer the cornerstone of faith, we miss an important connection. We often read verses 8 and 9 separately from Paul’s previous statement regarding prayer. But Paul does not make such a division, in fact he does the very opposite. Having introduced the promise of God’s peace through prayer in verse 6-7, he goes on to exhort us to change our whole thought process, which is necessary to experience God’s peace. The reference to the peace of God in verse 6 and verse 9 tie the verses together into one central theme of realizing God’s inexhaustible peace. To experience God’s peace, we must not only focus upon prayer, but we must also change how we think and even how we pray.
When we are plagued with anxiety, our mind becomes obsessed with our problems (both real and potential). Our worries and trials only dominate our thinking, they dominate our prayers as well. However, Paul wants us to change our whole thought process and so he encourages us to refocus our mind away from the circumstances causing anxiety and on to the things that are “true, excellent, and worth of praise.” While this encompasses all our thoughts, it begins with how we pray. In verse 6, God invites us to bring before him in prayer all our deepest worries and concerns. However, in Verse 8, Paul encourages us to also focus upon that which is true and pure. Reorienting our thinking begins by reorienting our prayers so that we are not just expressing our needs, but we are also offering praise to God and meditating upon his character, his activity and his word (verse 9). Instead of being obsessed by anxiety, we are to be obsessed by thoughts of God. The statement “dwell on these things” carries the force of continually pondering and reflecting upon the things worthy of praise. But this leads us to the question, “What are these honorable thoughts that are worthy of praise?” The answer lies in verse 9, it is the teachings of scripture where we find the self-revelation of God. Instead of focusing upon our problems we are to focus upon the God of scripture who has revealed himself to us and given us the promises of our salvation. The words used in verse 8 are rich in theological significance pointing the reader to who God is and what he has done. The word “pure” translates the word meaning holy in relation to God. “Excellent” refers to what is morally excellent and “praiseworthy” means worthy of praising God. In other words, right thinking is focused upon the self-revelation of God and his activities revealed in scripture.
Today, not only give your worries to God, trusting in his plan but also spend time in prayerful reflection, meditating upon who God is and what he has done on our behalf. When these become our focus, we will truly experience God’s peace.