by Pastor James Lee
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:4-8)
To think well is to think patiently, slowly, thoughtfully, over time, to “dwell on these things.” To think patiently, also means, to think persistently, faithfully, continually, consistently – we’re to ponder them without ceasing, as patience requires lots of time and humility, for we don’t get it all at once. It’s why we see things later upon restudy. The Greek word for “dwell” is logizomai which is the root word for logarithm. We need to have the same deliberate, prolonged, patient contemplation of “these things” as it takes to weigh and solve a difficult, complex mathematical problem. We don’t do that quickly, nor superficially.
Remember that 1 Cor 13 declares love is patient. So then impatience is not loving. It’s a form of self-love. Sometimes I sin against my wife Sandy when she’s talking to me, and I’m not listening or not listening well, trying to multitask. But that’s not loving her when I do that, especially when something important from her heart is being shared. The truth is that we do that with the Lord. We’re not fully there, are we? If you want an argument for the grace of God, then there’s at least one right there. He doesn’t treat believers as they deserve, and He doesn’t treat us as we treat Him. T. David Gordon wrote, “We become acclimated to distraction, to multitasking, to giving part of our attention to many things at once, while almost never devoting the entire attention of the entire soul to anything.” Wow. That’s pretty descriptive of the age and even us as Christians, who are products of this age. That’s hardly loving God with all our entire being, is it? We sort of mechanically do that. Remember who was quite good at that? The Pharisees…they were always hearing, but not understanding. They were busy in religion and life, but their hearts were far from God.
We’ve generally neglected the art of biblical meditation. We don’t seem to know what it means to be still and know that He is God. Try to convince someone you love them by giving them 10 minutes a day, or by saying the same rehearsed lines every time you speak to them? We need to concentrate and camp out in God’s Word. We need to fill up our minds with biblical truth, instead of never drawing from its deep well, with only sips, here and there, when we’re in trouble. Rather, we need to chew it over in our minds until it becomes a part of us and how we think. Gerard Chrispin says, “We read and rush off too quickly. We listen to the Bible being expounded and leave too thoughtlessly. We must meditate on these things in order to cultivate that mindset of holiness that we had been considering.” We shouldn’t be assigning “patient thoughtful mediation” such little value, while assigning greater value elsewhere. We need to make for a quiet time early in the morning, or in a private space at lunch, or in a corner of the house at night. So we’re reading and rereading, meditating, asking questions, praying over a word or phrase, contemplating a concrete application, sharing with others, and taking every thought captive to Christ! It requires us to think patiently, to think slowly, to think devotionally, and not just check it off our spiritual-to-do list.
The Puritan Isaac Watts wrote a standard introductory book on how to think in 1724. For about 200 years, it was the go-to-textbook at institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale, and is still regarded highly. The title of that book was Logic: The Right Uses of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. That’s the title! Some say my sermon titles are long? Now do you think Isaac Watts knew how to mediate and think deeply? It seems so. That’s why his book has stood the test of time. Not just the content, but how it was communicated as part of the writing process. That’s why most of us can’t just read Shakespeare quickly. We have to sit there and decipher it. We don’t read poetry or philosophy like we read our daily newspaper. So when we read our Bibles, how much more we have to give patient attention to every single word, phrase, thought? In contrast, Kent Hughes says, “The greatest danger in our busy, increasingly post-literate world is that we make little or no effort to think God’s thoughts after Him, to hide His Word in our hearts so that we might not sin against Him. We cannot be profoundly influenced by that which we do not know.”
Why are we all in such a hurry? I know there is no virtue in being not busy, as we should be diligent stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to us… which is everything we have and are. So the question is what are we so busy in? Do we love Christ? Is He our all in all, sufficient for all our needs? Is He our overarching priority directing all other priorities to be subservient to His glory? Are we seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness? Or is the reflection of our lives not very different than the rest of the world… run the rat race, make money, get a home, have 2 ½ kids, or whatever else it might be? Some of us need to stop watching TV as much as we do, or some of us, perhaps frankly need to throw them away. TV as a medium is impatient and suited for the insignificant. Watching the news or reading an online article about Aleppo might inform us, sadden us, cause to pray, and I’m glad we have that access. But it’s quite different if we were there on mission or if we were to read a book, giving lengthy contemplation to what’s going on there. For example, the book by Mindy Belz, a reporter who was on the ground with fleeing refugees, titled They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. If you read that, you don’t think you’ll be profoundly affected? Don’t get me wrong, any news and prayer and care is good, because we can’t dwell on everything equally. That’s not what I’m saying. But I’m outlining what our media does…it makes those things so disposable…so sadly trivial to our hearts.
We need time to think. Anything hurried usually is shallow, declining toward the opposite of deep. It is NOT something even close to being worthy as God’s loving Revelation to us! Carl Honore in his book In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed wrote, “We live in a world of scarce understanding and abundance of information. We complain that we never have any time, yet we seek distraction. The modern storm of bits and stimulation relents only when we sleep. And only if we remember to turn off our iPhones. Lost in all of this is the art of stillness. We have come into the belief that the simple act of reading confers understanding. We rush, we skim the surface, and fail to make real connections with the world or other people. Thinking requires time and space. It’s slow. It means saying I don’t know.” It means, he says, saying I don’t know. Ultimately, it’s about humility. Listen, sports fans leave games early, no matter how close the score, just to avoid the traffic out. The curse of multitasking is that people think they’re so clever, so efficient, so modern, but all it usually means, is that they’re usually doing 2 or more things…not very well.
We’ve lost the art of doing nothing, shutting out the background noise. Did you know that “boredom” was a word that didn’t even exist 150 years ago? Somehow we say we’re so busy, but then have the gall to say we’re bored. And we get all fidgety, panicked, awkward, looking for something to do or say. We don’t like silence, whether we’re with people or whether we’re home alone. Being bored demands repentance, and I don’t say that flippantly, because you’re not then doing what God calls you to do. We should never be bored. As children of God, called to be a light to the nations, we have too much to do…to be “bored.”
Actress Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia in Star Wars, once quipped, “instant gratification takes too long.” We’re so impatient, and that’s not a fruit of the Spirit. And I’m not patient, I’m a type A, gotta do this or that, burn myself out type of person. As I age, I’m still as passionate as ever, but not only have I had to slow down and learn the sanctification of rest. I’m learning the utmost importance of quiet study, prayer, and meditation. I have to say no to say yes. Honore said, “Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, stressed, superficial, impatient, quantity over quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, caring, patient, reflective. Fast eats time. One consequence of fast is that we make poor decision after poor decision. It’s not like we make a bad decision and we’re done with it. No, they come back to haunt us, creating issue after issue.” To dwell on these things is to give thoughtful thought to, with the goal of God’s glory and the spread of the gospel! It’s not hearing a few facts from a guide as we stop to click a few photos and nod to each other “it’s so cool” while on a bus tour. It means getting out and spending time there, taking it in and allowing it to become a significant part of us. It’s to set up base camp at the foot of Yosemite Valley and marvel. Even further, it’s to explore the back country wilderness, and feel the incline and thin air, to brush against weather, hang your bear proof food canister up on a tree, lay down next to the camp fire and see a night sky like you’ve never seen it. The inverse irony of our times is that the average length of a sermon has declined 10 minutes each of the last four decades where 40 years ago the average sermon was 60 minutes, and today, it’s 20 minutes. I argue that to think that less of the Word of God is making real progress, is NOT thinking well?! That’s NOT thinking well! That’s thinking like the world. We’re all busy, but the question is with what are we busy? We should not deprioritize the Word of God and prayer, we should re-prioritize it!
John Piper urges us to swim in the deep end of the Bible, “Too many of us settle for too little from our Bible reading. Often, we are content simply to check off the box of our Bible reading, and if we come across something we don’t understand, we’ll run to a commentary or give up without a fight. The payoff of this type of shallow reading is too small. If we want to walk away from the Bible with authority in our bones like fire, we must learn to grow hungry in our Bible reading — we must learn to grow discontent with splashing in the shallows and learn to swim in the deeps. We must labor in looking at THE book.” Humility means saying I don’t know. So when we’re rushing, we’re only cultivating our arrogance towards God and man. That’s the opposite of prayerful dependence in v.6-7! Which is why I believe, we don’t pray deeply, why we don’t pray at length. It is why prayer meetings are usually small, very small, or not at all in our day… and always far less attended than Bible study. It’s our prideful independence, not prayer dependence. It is also partly why we don’t read our Bibles, or take it more seriously. Because in that prideful independence, we entertain in defiance of its very clear instructions…such “respectable sins” as bitterness, discontentment, indifference, immodesty, clear non-evangelism, laziness, neglect of fellowship, subtle greed, worldliness, etc. As Sven Birkerts warned, “The harder it is for you to slow down, the more you need to be rescued.”