Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! -Psalm 139:23-24
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. -Isaiah 55:8
I enjoy yard work. I do. Really, I do. (“I said and said and said these words, I said them, but I lied them.” Excerpt from Dr. Seuss’ What Was I Scared Of?) No, really…I do. It’s just that when “extra” work is added to the already lengthy process, I enjoy it a little bit less. For example, last week we had a bit of a storm pass through and, when it had gone, our yard looked like (I presume) the aftermath of a beaver’s bachelor party. (Don’t overthink this…just let it skim the surface of your mind like a skipping pebble; if you ponder it, it’s rocklike quality will emerge and it will sink like…well, like a rock.) Before I could even mow the yard, I had to uncover the yard. Two hours and three Ranger loads later, I was finally able to begin my yard work. On this day, I cannot say, with even a smidgen of honesty, that I enjoyed doing yard work. I did, however, learn a “lesson from the leaves”. (Isn’t that just like God? Start fussing about something and He decides it’s time for another lesson. When will I ever learn? Then again, may I never stop being tested…only being testy!)
As I picked up branch after branch and leaf bundle after leaf bundle, I noticed that what I was collecting was a combination of old growth and new growth. While the winds swept out the dead debris from the trees, a good thing, it had also cleared out some healthy-looking leaves as well. In fact, there were as many green leaves in my piles as brown leaves. And so the pondering began…what if leaves on trees were like thoughts in our heads? What if the winds that shook the trees were symbolic of the gales that jar our minds? Then, the picture that emerged from the piles before me was that we all have heads filled with old ideas (brown leaves) and new ideas (green leaves). And, in keeping with the “piles of evidence”, sometimes we need to have both the old and the new ways of thinking shook up and, in some cases, discarded from our minds. As I continued to rake, I realized I was gathering up more than just fallen leaves; I was also gathering up old traditions, new assumptions, and emergent philosophies.
There is a saying, “Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” Ideas and thoughts have consequences. They truly are seeds that are designed to germinate. Some are desired and produce good fruit and some are detestable and produce bad fruit, but we should not be deceived…both bear fruit! Therefore, both need to be shaken up from time to time to make sure only those that promote wanted growth remain. God’s word reminds us of the importance of guarding our minds; Romans 12:1 states, “And be not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” and 2 Corinthians 10:5 reminds us to, “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,”, and again in Colossians 3:2, we’re told to set our “mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” These are but a few of the verses that address our manner of thinking, so we cannot deny the importance of thoughts…both of their root and of their fruit.
The importance of one’s thoughts is not a new realization; it has been known, and honed, for centuries. As far back as the 5th century B.C., the Spartans trained their boys to become soldiers by taking them out of the home at the age of seven. The formation of “Spartan thinking” began by removing the influences of the home and replacing them with the influences of the state. This method of “formative thinking” was used in the 1940’s to train German youth to place the value of their country over the value of their countrymen. Similarly, Russian and Italian youth were taught that God did not exist under the leadership of Lenin and Mussolini respectively. By removing any belief in a Creator, the leaders removed any thoughts of one being created in God’s image; the value of man was erased and the worth of the state was erected. And the practice continues. Dr. James Dobson wrote this in his book Children at Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids:
Nothing short of a great Civil War of Values rages today throughout North America. Two sides with vastly differing and incompatible world-views are locked in a bitter conflict that permeates every level of society…Instead of fighting for territory or military conquest, however, the struggle now is for the hearts and minds of the people. It is a war over ideas.”
How do you change a destiny, a character, a habit, or an act? Change a thought. How do you change a generation? Change the ideologies of instruction. How do you change a country? Change the philosophies of their youth. Abraham Lincoln revealed this directional thinking when he said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” Yes, the importance of thoughts has long been known, so it should not surprise us when God decides to shake up our thinking, to allow whethering winds to blow through our minds so that they might be cleared of the debris which, left to develop or dangle, could strip us of our character and/or lead us into captivity.
What are these whethering winds? They are the gusts that stir up our thinking and cause us to ask whether or not we should hold fast to an idea. They may begin as pleasant breezes, but eventually they will attain a gale force that cannot be stifled. When this happens, thoughts will be shaken up; some will be loosed and some will be left as the whethering process begins. First to tumble are the old traditions, those thoughts we accepted whether they fit or not. These could be our ideas about religious beliefs, political affiliations, values, or prejudices. Often times we accept hand-me-down ideas as easily as we do hand-me-down clothes. We look to those whom we admire and assume that their way of thinking must be right, so we adopt their thoughts as our own. This might seem harmless, but ideas have consequences so we are responsible for each one we accept as our own. It is up to us to test each thought to see if it will bear the right kind of fruit. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Not only are old ways of thinking shaken up, but new ways are as well. Into our collection of thoughts we may be apt to add hearsays and assumptions. Again, we are prone to let our eyes and our emotions shape our intellect; we become the receiver rather than the retriever of thoughts. We are wooed by charismatic preachers and motivational speakers; we are swayed by best-selling authors and multi-degreed professors; we are inspired by polished politicians and refurbished entertainers. With hardly any disapproval, and little to no discernment, their way of thinking becomes our way of thinking…whether it’s accurate or not. “And his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears.” (Isaiah 11:3)
Finally, there are the ever emerging philosophies of our day that need to succumb to the winds of truth. Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun. What many hail as new ideas are really old ones redressed and reinstated. They may not all be unmerited, but none of them should be unchecked. Just as the Bereans searched the Scriptures and tested the validity of Paul’s preaching, so we are to do the same with the messages and ideologies we hear today. “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Brown leaves, green leaves; old thoughts, new thoughts. All are subject to be tossed, taxed, and torn. Those that hold fast will mature and eventually bear fruit; those that are not properly anchored will be discarded by the whethering winds. How blessed we are to have God’s word purposefully blowing through our minds, cutting away unhealthy growth. “For the word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword; piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) May we ever be grateful for the winds of mercy and for the piles of thoughts, both old and new, that are left in their wake. “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You.” (Isaiah 26:3)