PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
The mind is incredible. It can instantly retrieve intricate details that have been buried and stored for years. It can remember sights, sounds, colors, facts, and figures unlike anything else in the world. Somebody noted that the mind has greater capacity to store and retrieve information than any computer. But the mind has an even greater ability than storing and retrieving information. It has the incredible power to impact our behavior. People can literally alter their life by altering their thinking. Successes and defeats are, in large part, attributed to our thinking. When we fill our mind with unbelief and dwell on being a failure, our attitude will produce defeat. But a faith faith-filled attitude is much more likely to bring success. Let me give you a few humorous quotes from people that lived with a positive attitude:
Shelley Winters said, “I’m not overweight; I’m just nine inches too short.”
Abraham Lincoln said, “If they do kill me, I shall never die another death.”
Larry Cole, who had ten years of tough luck, looked at life this way: “Anyone can have an off decade.”
I like what Daniel Boone said: “I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.”
Stan Musial was one of baseball’s greatest hitters. When asked how he would handle a diving spitball he said: “I’ll just hit the dry side of the ball.”
You know what these people are saying? Attitude is everything! The Bible, and even psychology, teach that our happiness and achievements aren’t altogether determined by our circumstances, but how we face circumstances. Satan knows that and it’s why his primary target of attack is the mind. Satan tries to destroy people by creating fear, pessimism, self pity, unforgiveness, hatred, and unresolved anger. And that’s why the Bible says, “give no place to the devil.” This sort of thinking will destroy you!
Our Thoughts Determine our Behavior
The reason it’s important to guard our thoughts is because our thinking determines our actions and our actions determine our character. We become what we think. And that’s what the Bible teaches:
Proverbs 23:7 says: “as a man thinks in his heart so is he.”
Jesus said in Matthew 15:19 that: “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (MAT 15:19-20, NIV).
Paul said in our text: “I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (4:17, NIV).
I want you to notice that phrase Paul uses—“the futility of . . . thinking.” Paul says that Gentiles, unsaved people, use their mind to think thoughts that are ‘void of truth and depraved.’ And this type of thinking will ultimately ruin us. “Right thoughts precede right actions and wrong thoughts precede wrong actions.” Let me illustrate that.
(Illustration) Sometime back a coach stormed onto the field raging at the umpire’s obvious blown call. Before the coach reached home plate the umpire warned him: “Be careful what you say or you’ll get tossed.” The coach hesitated, not wanting to be ejected from a championship game, and then said: “Then what if I just thought you were the lousiest, most wretched umpire to ever step on a baseball diamond?” The umpire said: “You’re perfectly free to think whatever you want to think.” At that the coach yelled: “Then I think you’re the lousiest, most wretched umpire to ever step on a baseball diamond!”
See? Your thoughts lead to actions! It takes right thinking to produce right behavior. That’s why Proverbs 23:19 warns to “be wise, and keep your heart on the right path.” In great measure, what you are today is a product of yesterday’s thinking. You are what you have been thinking. And your tomorrow is dependent on your thoughts of today.
If you live with pessimism and doubt, you’ll become a person of low esteem and make little contribution to life.
If you live with fear, you’ll become someone that can’t navigate through life with trust in God. And fear always leads to a snare. God lets people fall into traps of their own design when they won’t trust Him.
If you live with hatred and unforgiveness, you will become what you think—embittered and hateful.
But you’ll become victorious if you’ll fill your mind with what Paul commanded us in Philippians 4:8—whatever is “true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . admirable . . . excellent or praiseworthy.”
This type thinking takes discipline, but you can do it! And it will transform your life!
(Example) I’m told that before an artist places his brush on the canvass to start a picture, he mentally envisions the painting. He unleashes his imagination and somehow foresees what he wants to produce. The final picture depends on what the artist conceived beforehand. Well, when you think of your life in terms of a painting, what do you envision? Is the picture worth painting? Whether you realize it, your mind is an artist that paints you into whatever image you allow it to perceive.
(Illustration) Years ago I was invited to the Far East and needed to get a passport. The closest Federal Building that issued a last-minute passport was in Miami, Florida. After hours of driving I arrived at the Federal Building with all the documents needed for securing the passport and then waited two hours for the processing. While waiting the person that traveled with me and I ate lunch at a food court. Neither of us wore a watch so looking up from the table I asked a very pleasant-looking Hispanic woman that was working what time it was. She stood only four feet from our table but she didn’t answer, so I asked again: “Excuse me, do you have the time?” She didn’t flinch! I just looked at my friend and shrugged. Maybe you would have given up but this had become a challenge. You do get three strikes before you’re out, so once again I said: “Pardon me, do you have the time?” Nothing! Listen, when I say she didn’t flinch she didn’t twitch anywhere. And she looked so pleasant. She had been working with inspiration and joy and now she was standing there ignoring me with the same unflappable pleasantry! I was mystified. But about five minutes later, with that woman still smiling four feet from our table, a fellow worker approached her and began speaking to her . . . in sign language! She was deaf!
Here’s the point. That woman, very likely, wasn’t born in America. She was an immigrant. Besides that, she was deaf and couldn’t properly articulate. But rather than becoming a victim and stomping around those tables in disgust, she chose to smile and make the most of life.
(Quote) John Milton said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” And that’s true! William James said: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.”
Let me reiterate it. Guard your thoughts! Keep them in check. Don’t allow yourself to become disillusioned or to get mired in pessimism. God lets people fall into traps of their own design when they won’t live according to His commands and when they don’t trust Him.
(Transition) So how do we defeat negativism and think faith-filled thoughts? It’s a matter of self-talk. Try talking your way out of a life of defeat. “The power of life and death are in the tongue!”
Talk Your Way out of Defeat
This is what David did in Psalm 43:5 when he was discouraged. David looked at himself and asked, “Why are you downcast O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God. I will yet praise him my Savior and my God.”
David said: “Hey soul, what’s gnawing at you? Snap out of it! Trust in almighty God!”
How can we remain downcast and fearful if we believe God is all-powerful and invincible?
How can we remain downcast and pessimistic if we know His resources are limitless and available to help us?
How can we remain downcast and without hope when God says there’s “a way of escape” for every situation?
You can let a defeatist attitude paralyze you whenever a crisis emerges or, like David, you can determine that a downcast soul isn’t acceptable for someone whose Lord is the Almighty God of the universe. Do you know why some people remain downcast?” The answer is, they remain downcast because they enjoy being downcast! It feeds their negativism! It feels so good to sit, sulk, and sour and have others pander to their misery. It takes more to discipline our thinking and dwell on faith-filled thoughts than to throw in the towel and accept defeat. It takes training and cultivating the mind to acquire an attitude of faith and confidence.
I like how the NAS Bible puts Ephesians 4:22. Paul said: “in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, (23) and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”
(Definition) That phrase “be renewed in the attitude of your minds” is interesting because it refers to renewing something that didn’t previously exist. It’s like replacing a huge combustion engine in a submarine with a nuclear driven engine. A submarine with a nuclear powered engine acts altogether differently than a combustion-powered engine.
I want to ask you: How are you thinking? When we were sinners, it was natural for us to think about sinning. It was often more convenient to fabricate a lie than to speak truthfully. It was more convenient to resent an enemy than forgive him. But Paul says Christians must incorporate a whole new attitude about life. We have to accept Christ’s way of thinking and reject the world’s way of thinking. And there’s a simple Biblical exercise that we can do that helps us achieve this. We need to make a verbal pronouncement of what the Bible says we are. Whatever the Bible says you are is what you and I must confess we are.
That means we should say, “I am spiritual, forgiving, kind, virtuous, honest, loving, holy, Spirit-filled, faith-filled, confident, and a doer of the Word.” Confessing your identity with Christ and who the Bible says you are will affect you entire Christian character. And that’s why Revelation says we overcome: “by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.” If you allow Satan to control your thinking he will keep you alienated from God! That’s the meaning of Ephesians 4:18 when it says unbelievers: “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God.”
Are you ready to change your thinking? It’s going to take practice and perseverance but you can do it! Don’t let Satan have your mind! Give it over completely to God and enjoy a liberty and victory you’ve never known.
(Illustration) I was listening to the radio awhile back and heard an interesting report. Plastic surgeons report that when they successfully transform the face of severely burned victims it takes time for patients to feel good about themselves. Despite the doctor’s affirmations victims still feel ugly and lack confidence when, in fact, they look normal! Studies show it can take up to two years before patients feel good about themselves.
From the time we’re saved we need to think differently about ourselves. We should understand that we are a child of God and a joint heir with Jesus and that means God performed reconstructive surgery on our heart and mind and we look differently! We need to proclaim that we’re overcomers. And we’re not just an overcomer, but as Romans 8:37 says, we are “more than a conqueror through Christ.