The awe-inspiring abilities latent within the human mind are indeed wonderful and important to the believer. One of these great abilities is mentioned in the book of Colossians, chapter 3, verse 2, “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” Here we are exhorted to set our thinking (the word “mind” is phroneo, thoughts) on the things of God. Your mind has the ability to concentrate upon a specific matter, and to remain in that state of concentration for a period of time. Christians should continually be thinking of spiritual matters.
There are mentioned in the Word specific things upon which we, as believers, should concentrate our thinking. We are also blessed with several records of men who concentrated upon things other than what the Father intended. As we examine these we can learn by their mistakes. The records clearly show what was the outcome of their concentration upon inferior things, and, above all, how these men were brought back to a right understanding of upon what they should concentrate.
Asaph, the psalmist, gives us our first insight into this subject in Psalm 77. He tells us of the time in his own life when he faced serious problems. His autobiography in this Psalm tells us, “When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted” (verse 2). His mind refused to be comforted.
In the midst of tremendous trouble he said, “I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint” (verse 3). He briefly remembered the greatness and the goodness of God to him in past days, and yet he was troubled. He could not conceive why this particular problem was upon him, nor why, as he thought, God had left him alone. As his mind went from thinking about the great things of the past days to the terrible problems of the present, his spirit was overwhelmed.
So much so that he tells us in verse 4, “You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.” Psychologically this description speaks of tremendous depression. Even though we do not speak, the human mind is always active. Asaph found that although problem was so great he could not speak, yet his mind began recalling some of the events prior to this crisis.
“I thought about the former days, the years of long ago” (verse 5). He remembered the goodness of God in past days. “I remembered my songs in the night” (verse 6a) — that great time when through the sheer exuberance of joy I sang in the darkest night. “My heart mused and my spirit inquired” (verse 6b). Why has this happened to me?
“Will the Lord reject forever?” he queried in verse 7, “Will he never show his favor again?”. Has my day of grace ended? Has my wonderful fellowship with the Father some how come to an end? Doesn’t He like me any more? Verse 8 continues in the same questioning vein — the human mind at work in the midst of trouble. “Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?” Are God’s promises finished with now? Does this mean that everything God has promised will no longer come to pass? The questioning continues, “Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (verse 9).
If we were honest, we would admit that many times our mind has followed a similar pattern. Undoubtedly each one of us could write as graphic a description of the working of the mind in the midst of trouble as this Psalm. However, what is written here is written for our learning.
We should now carefully observe how this man was able to get on the right track once again. In his autobiography, he said, “Then I thought, To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples”(verses l0-14).
What made the difference? What caused this sudden statement of thanks and praise to God? This man had found that as long as he looked within, as long as he sat there and let his mind ramble on in the field of negative thinking, just so long would he be miserable. But the moment he started thinking about the greatness and the goodness of God, and this was declared positively, at that moment the problem sank into insignificance.
We, too, should be careful upon what we concentrate. To concentrate upon yourself, your feeling of unworthiness, your supposed inability, will always drag you down. Multitudes of Christian believers are constantly exhorted to search their hearts and examine themselves. How far greater it would be if we spent our time considering what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, considering how we can manifest in a greater measure the more abundant life that Jesus came to give us. Let us learn the lesson well — as long as we look within we shall be miserable.
Another autobiography that will help us in our quest is given in Psalm 73. This honest and factual account of the working of the human mind should again be noted carefully. This particular man, Asaph, did not spend time looking within but his error was equally as bad. Looking back upon the incident, he starts with a positive statement in verse 1, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me,” he said in verse 2, “my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.” He felt very insecure, as if he was perhaps slipping rapidly into insanity.
The interesting thing to us in our current search is that he clearly tells us what caused this state. Verse 3 commences with the word “for”, giving us the reason for the statement of verse 2. “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Asaph’s problem was not of looking within, of feeling unworthy, of feeling unable to do things; his problem was one of looking without, at other people. These people had no faith in God, were out to make every cent they could, and were people to whom it seemed nothing ever went wrong.
He listed carefully his observations in verse 4 and following. He notices first their good health and abounding strength, causing them to swell with pride. Their own ability to supply their needs and greeds makes them people whose “eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish” (verse 7 KJV). Because nothing ever went wrong with them, or so it seemed, “they scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression” (verse 8). They did not mind what they said or to whom they said it. In fact, so sure were they of their position they spoke against the heavens itself, against the greatness and goodness of God. “They say, How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” (verse 11). In verse 12 he concludes his observations, “This is what the wicked are like — always carefree, they increase in wealth.” His accurate observations sound like the 20th century. People with health and prosperity, but without ethics, morals, and above all, without a knowledge of God.
The observation of these things caused this man to literally sit down and wring his hands in despair all day long. He tells us that “when I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me” (verse 16). This man learned that when we look around we are distracted from the major emphasis of life. We are distracted from the attitudes, beliefs, and concepts which should characterise the believer. Looking around will always cause distraction, even as looking within will cause us to be miserable.
We must continue further in this autobiography and discover how this man got back on the right track once again. The great secret of his change in thinking is given in verses 16b-17, “…it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” Until he went to the place where God’s Word was spoken, where God’s praise was given, he could not comprehend the situation. There in God’s house he thought and dwelt upon the greatness and goodness of God. He then realised that the situation was actually the reverse of what he had been thinking.
In verse 2 he told us that his “feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.” But in verse 18 he states clearly to God, “Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.” The situation was exactly the reverse. Instead of his feet being slippery, he was the one who was secure. But they, the wicked and prosperous ones, were indeed slippery. “How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!” (verse 19).
The secret is obvious. Spend time searching the Word, filling your mind with the great thoughts of all God has done for you in Christ Jesus. Then you will see things from God’s point of view and not from the point of view of this world.
Asaph saw the error of his ways, for he tells us in verses 21 and 22, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” But he says now, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (verses 23 and 24).
To look within will make us miserable; to look around will make us distracted. Then where should we look? Upon what should we concentrate?
To understand the positive viewpoint as to what we should concentrate upon, we will look at several verses in different parts of the Word. Since we have used the Psalms for our material so far in this study, let us first notice these words in Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to him are radiant…” This statement of fact is given by David, following his testimony of God’s goodness in his life. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (verse 4). He then states, “Those who look to him are radiant”, to show that this situation is common to all God’s people who will adjust and control their thinking.
The result of looking unto Him is to be radiant; to have a smile on your lips, a song in your heart, and a spring in your step. Since God is Spirit, this looking to Him cannot mean a physical look. It means to concentrate upon the nature and acts of a loving Father.
In the book of Hebrews we are exhorted to look to Jesus. In chapter 12 and verse 2 we read, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of [our] faith…” The impact of the words “fix our eyes” is interesting and vital in the Greek. A more literal translation would be, “Looking away from all else unto Jesus.” Not just a brief glimpse or a fleeting thought, but a continued, prolonged concentration upon what God did for us in Christ Jesus. We should look unto Jesus, for He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The next verse in Hebrews chapter 12 gives added light on this subject. “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (verse 3). Both of these verses from Hebrews signify an action that we are to do by an act of our will. There is a choice involved; we can do it or we can choose not to do it. We can choose to look unto Him and be radiant, or we can choose not to consider Him and thus become “wearied and faint in our minds” (KJV). There is only one intelligent and logical choice for the believer: to look away from all else unto Jesus.
A similar exhortation is found in Hebrews 3 :1, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Again we are exhorted to consider, to fix our thoughts on Christ, especially in relation to what God did for us in Christ Jesus and freely made available to every born-again believer. How great, how wonderful, how thrilling it is to fill our minds with the greatness of the Word.
The important things in life are not those things which we can see but rather eternal, spiritual things which cannot be observed by the human eye. In II Corinthians 4:18 we read, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Again the exhortation is given to fill our minds with spiritual matters. Undoubtedly as we live our natural lives in a material world, there are many things we must think upon. However, the real, lasting things are the spiritual. Surely if these are the things that are going to count then we should spend time concentrating upon them.
Let us consider one more verse that will help us in understanding the object which should fill our minds. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast [“stayed on thee” KJV], because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). This perfect and constant peace is something to be desired by every believer. It is available as we spend time keeping our mind, our thoughts upon God.
Considering unitedly all these great promises, we find the secret of how to be radiant. It is simply looking to Jesus; looking not at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen; staying our mind upon Him.
Let us remember that looking within will make us miserable; looking around will cause us to be distracted; but looking unto Him is the great secret of radiant Christian living.
Copyright © 1998 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated,is from the New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.
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