Choosing My Thoughts

The difference between a New Year’s Resolution and One Word (besides the former usually being abandoned by February 1) is one is an attempt at behavior modification and the other is a matter of focus. A single word can take your mind off a negative action you are trying to change and focus your mind on something positive. If you want to see what others are using as their One Word, go to the One Word website (myoneword.org). It can be anything: a Bible verse, an attribute of God or even a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. 

I thought my word would be pearl, but as I rolled it around in my mind, the word choose popped up as a better way to focus. Speaking of minds, the last half of 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us: “We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One” (TPT). Other translations say we bring our thoughts into captivity, or capture rebellious thoughts. By using my word to focus, I hope to work on making my thoughts bow in obedience – at least I’m going to try. I can choose to practice Philippians 4:8, thinking about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. I can choose praise and gratitude. I can choose love and mercy, to trust, to be kind. 

My word this year is about much more than making the right choices in life. We deal with making choices every day and I’m sure I’m just like everyone else – some are good and some are not. But actively participating in my spiritual transformation means making conscious, on-purpose choices to capture and bring into submission my wayward, sometimes rebellious and self-willed thoughts. Choosing to do this won’t be easy but God’s Spirit living in me will encourage me and reinforce my good choices, which will not only carry me past February 1, but perhaps even through the rest of my life.

Christian Life: Active or Passive?

Another aspect of either/or thinking (see last week’s post) concerns Christians and how they (we) approach God and our lives in relation to him. Many think Christianity means we do our part and God does his. If we meet him halfway, will he reciprocate? Does our part involve praying and obeying, fulfilling his requirements and then and only then, will he answer our prayers, bless us and secure our salvation? Or is it as some have described marriage – 100% on both sides? How much of our life as Christians is active and how much is passive? 

I must admit in my zeal to get away from my legalist past, I may have become a bit too passive in my way of thinking. I used to believe obedience was what God wanted most from me, but grace taught me he wants my heart more – a relationship built on love and trust. I may have begun to expect him to just change me without much, if any, effort on my part. But I’ve learned my transformation is not my part/his part, either/or, passive/active – it’s much more complex. 

The interplay between God and humans, divine and physical, is way too complicated for us to understand and I can’t possibly explain it. All I really know is that Jesus loves us. But I’m also learning it’s both passive and active. His love is always and continually active in our lives. He is intimately involved in every moment, every breath, each trial and every joy. We can and should be active as well – actively receiving his love, participating in his life in us and in our transformation. 

We can choose to be as active as we want; we can also be as passive as we want and sometimes it’s all we can do. Even though it’s both active and passive at the same time, this year, my word is choose – and I choose to be more active in my relationship with him, to not be just a passive recipient or expect him to do everything. My life and his are deeply intertwined and I don’t want to be a spiritual couch potato, but fully involved in the life of Christ.

Either/Or?

Have you ever noticed we humans tend to think of almost everything in terms of either/or? We know things that are black and white always have shades of gray, but we tend to dislike the gray areas. We have a difficult time wrapping our minds around ideas, situations and even people that don’t fit into our preconceived notions of how they should be. Taking the shades of gray into account means we have to be flexible, open-minded and willing to let things be a bit uncertain.

We also tend to think God is the same way, that with him, everything is black and white – good or bad, on the naughty or nice list, going to heaven or consigned to hell. Trying to figure out how he thinks is an exercise in futility at best and dangerous at worst. Isaiah 55:8-9 are verses we should keep in mind or our brains could explode: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (NIV)

But we do know he is full of grace which teaches us that what seems either/or to us isn’t necessarily so with God. We say things like, if you hurt me or slander me, you can’t be my friend. We used to hear of parents who disowned their children for disobeying them. We are quick to judge and condemn others when God would give them a second chance. We think we know how to tell if someone is saved or not and we write off people we think are lost causes. 

In this increasingly polarized and divided society, may we all remember that people aren’t either/or, but are complicated spiritual beings with many shades of gray. Jesus understands who we are all the way down, while we often don’t understand ourselves or others. Let’s try to be flexible, open-minded and less hasty to judge others, giving them the latitude to fall somewhere between either and or. 

Choosing to Make a Pearl

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore and I know I’m not alone. But I do ask God for a new word every January. So far, it’s a toss up between pearl and choose. I’ve already been using pearl a lot (maybe that says something about me that goes even deeper than I’ve realized, but that’s a subject for another day). Making a pearl requires two things – I have to first, choose to remind myself and second, act on it, purposely making a pearl by praying and giving the situation to God. If I don’t choose to do it, it doesn’t happen. 

I read somewhere that whatever you’re not changing, you’re choosing. It’s easy to make a passive choice by doing nothing, which results in no changes. So no matter what your word or resolution is, the key to making anything happen is choosing to act on it. I can tell myself all day long to make a pearl, but if I don’t take the time to analyze what’s happening in my mind, turn to God in prayer, ask him to give me patience, peace and equanimity to start covering that irritant and then guide me with his grace in surrender, trust and dying to self, no pearl will form. 

We all make choices every day, some more difficult than others. Jesus made choices too, from deciding to empty himself to become a human, to rejecting the temptations set before him by Satan and then the most difficult one of all – to surrender himself to death on a cross. Thinking of the choices he made has helped me decide: this year I choose to choose. What I choose to do and to think affects everything in my life, all day, every day. Making the right ones, though sometimes difficult, will definitely be a change for the better for me. May your year also be filled with right and good choices.