In my recent blog post ‘Guard your heart’ I considered a verse from the book of Proverbs, and pondered what I’m doing to “guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).
I have to admit that if there is one verse in the Bible that has in the past struck me as being very silly, it’s Philippians 4:8. Towards the end of his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul writes: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I used to not understand this verse AT ALL and couldn’t have even begun to apply it to normal life. I mean, did this verse suggest that we’re to turn our faces away from the injustice and cruelty we see in the world, and do nothing about it? Did it imply that we should, if we’re fortunate enough to be able to, cosset ourselves in a bubble of niceness and try to forget how others suffer?
In recent months though, as I’ve begun to think about how best to ‘guard’ my heart, this verse has appeared to me in a new light. As I explained in that post, for me a big part of heart-guarding has been how I ‘feed’ my heart. Now on the face of it this could sound introspective. But it is important that we care for ourselves and feed our hearts in positive ways, and one (though not the only) reason it’s important is because as God’s church we are now his ambassadors, privileged with the task of making Jesus known in the world. And where does this task begin? In us, in our hearts! By fixing our gaze on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, we can serve as channels for that truth, nobility etc to a needy world. The supreme embodiment of all these qualities is the living Jesus. So I don’t find, in Philippians 4:8 or anywhere else in the Bible, an excuse to steer clear of the sad, ugly, messy stuff that isn’t part of God’s design for his world. Rather, this verse is our way in to tackling it. It points us, lovingly, to the transformation that God loves to bring about in us so that we can then effect his transformation elsewhere.
Increasing what’s good for us surely goes hand in hand with reducing what’s bad for us. The opposite of true is untrue. The opposite of noble is *checks dictionary* ignoble?! Anyway, you see where I’m going! If we let negative content into our hearts, that process of transformation will of course be slowed down. It’s not that it can’t happen at all, because all things are possible for God. It’ll just take longer. And why oh why would we want it to take longer when we could live life to the full right now?!
So, we may need to break away from those things that just aren’t doing us any good. For some people this could be something quite complicated like extracting from a damaging relationship. It might involve breaking free from a bad habit or addiction. Or it might actually be those activities which masquerade as leisure pursuits but lead us into negative thinking. For example, I mentioned that Facebook is something I have recently decided to decrease. I find some elements of Facebook very useful. In a world that offers us a bewildering array of social media to choose from, I hereby crown Facebook as the best contender for staying in touch with people I don’t see regularly! The ability to post photos is particularly brilliant in this regard, as is the Messenger function. Facebook is also an utterly brilliant medium for tracking down details of local events, and for making others aware of said events too. A couple of my communities organise themselves exclusively on Facebook (my book group, neighbours on the street where I live) so if I miss it, I miss out! And of course, let’s not forget that this blog boasts a Facebook page which is the primary means by which many readers engage with the blog. These are all good things!
However, there are some things I have seen on Facebook, while aimlessly scrolling away, that I didn’t like, and which have stayed with me in an unhelpful way. So I made the decision a couple of months ago to get Facebook working for me, rather than the other way around! I decided to skip the newsfeed, and turn on notifications or use the search function for things I DO find practically useful and/or heart-feeding. I guess the heart of the matter is that I don’t wish to allow Facebook total access to my life! If my life was a house, I’d let Facebook into this room and that room, but not every room in the house.
There is someone who deserves access to every room in my house, someone who can be trusted to feed my heart in the ways I need. I want to offer Jesus access to every room in the house! I don’t want the stuff that does me no good. I want to think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – anything that is excellent or praiseworthy. That’s who he is. That’s how we can progress as his disciples. That’s how his Holy Spirit can bring transformation.