“Finally, brothers, 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.” – Phil. 4: 8
How does God reach us when our heart staggers mindlessly into the grey dusk of ‘whatever’? What can a pastor or planter do when he’s uncovered a hopeless heart – in himself or someone else – that hides behind this vacuous word?
Redeeming ‘whatever’ starts with sight, but there’s another step. God knows us too well. He understands how our corruption influences our perception. Like spiritual amnesiacs, we see but we don’t remember. In response God tells us how to plant our mind in the fertile soil of praise-worthy things to ensure it bears fruit. But He says it in a lovingly economical manner, “Think about these things.”
God Says Think About ‘Whatever’
I’m a pretty motivated guy, so the experience of wanting to stay in bed was entirely new. Reaching for the phone to call in sick, I knew this represented a new ‘all-time-low” in my battles with discouragement. Nobody talked about this stuff – a mood where your emotional center seems welded shut; days where I was held captive to feelings wholly incongruous with my beliefs. It called for a whole new vocabulary. Desolate? Depressed? Despondent? How do I describe this mental leech that sucks emotional life from my body and poisons normal things, like work or classes, so they appear too repugnant to be relevant.
I was stuck on the dark side of ‘whatever!’. Even worse, I was trapped by the lie that this wasn’t supposed to happen to a Christian. The church has come a long way since then, but at that time many believers felt a profound disquiet over the idea of a ‘depressed’ Christian.
In desperation, I called a church leader and asked for help. When he inquired about my thought life, he uncovered a mind that compulsively fixed upon dark thoughts, like they were gorilla-glued to my brain. My mental rhythms were a body of cancerous thoughts, weakening my awareness of God’s love and goodness. I felt pulled towards an anti-Phil 4 drama, scripted by hellish forces with a more twisted translation that read, “Whatever is false, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is impure, whatever is ugly, whatever is disreputable, if there is anything miserable, if there is anything worthy of complaint, think about these things!”
Thinking about ‘those things’ made life seem pretty hopeless.
The Power of a Redeemed ‘Whatever’
But thank God for wise church leaders. This man patiently listened to my story. He asked some questions and sympathized with my answers. Then he opened his bible to this passage. In one of the darkest moments of my life, God flung open my soul to the power of a redeemed ‘whatever’.
Think about you. Do you ever slow down long enough to scrutinize your thinking? Phil. 4 takes us there. Where is my mind? Upon what do I tend to dwell? Which ‘whatevers’ grab most of my attention? Face it: A fallen mind is always vulnerable to Godless thoughts. And to be alive is to be in a constant conversation with yourself. We each have an internal data line from our mouth to our ears, carrying an unending flow of information towards our brain. I’m constantly amazed at how far down the road I can go with unbelieving, God-denying, depressing thoughts before I even realize what I’m doing. But as we stop to examine our mental path, we uncover which ‘whatever’ we pursue.
Disdain Turned Delight
God has not left us without help. In this passage, he tells to move beyond perceiving to pondering. God says, “Dave, you’re prone to wander and stray from God-centered, soul-edifying thinking. Let me help you. “Think about these things!” God guides us in how to fix our mind to rescue us from cynical cycles and Godless preoccupations. God says, “Take the good, just and lovely things you see, and park your mind on them!”
The beauty lies in its simplicity – a step of wisdom so accessible that even a child could manage it while still holding milk and cookies. It’s echoed in Paul’s words to the Colossians,“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”. (Col. 3: 2)
The more we bend our mind towards commendable things, the more God converts the disdain of ’whatever’ to the delight in ‘Whatever’.
My buddy has a personal soul-exercise he uses called his ‘attitude adjustor’. When his ‘whatevers’ grow dark, he simply sets aside 10 minutes to write down the areas where he sees God’s goodness at work. He says it’s an act of subversion. By returning to the redeemed ‘whatever’s’, he stokes a fire in his heart that consumes the bad and animates the good. “It helps me”, he once said, “to see things from God’s perspective.”
As God redeems ‘whatever’ in our life, he helps us to see life from His perspective. Yes, it takes some grace-infused activity on our part. But perceiving and pondering are areas where God loves to lend a hand. Life carries pain. We will suffer, we will have conflict, we will sin – we will stand motionless in moments where God seems distant and aloof; times where ‘whatever’ seems like the only logical way to think. Christians who experience darkness, though, are never trapped there. Even in desolate places, God is present; working to lift our eyes above the soul’s dismissive cynicism to a world of beauty and a Savior who is beautiful.
Do you see the path? It’s illuminated by the right ‘whatever’s’ and moves us straight towards God. Fight to find that path. Then fight to stay on it! When we ponder the right things, we proceed in the right direction. And along the way we discover something truly remarkable: When ‘whatever’ is redeemed, God grows bigger.