I am a cynic. I can be quite negative, condemning, and judgmental. Now that I really think about it, cynic isn’t the right word. Critical. Yes, that’s better.
I’ve went through this life, especially this Christian life, wishing I weren’t so quick to look at the downside and find what’s wrong with something instead of what’s right. I remember many years back during a Sunday school class. In response to something the leader had said (I can’t remember what), I shared that I had been trying to follow through with Philippians 4:8. I had been having an issue with someone, who frankly, had been getting on my nerves, and I thought the verse could help me.
It reads in the NIV,
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 wrote the words down on an index card to carry around with me for the next time someone or something got under my skin. I felt like if I could just turn on some happy thoughts, I could make the bad stuff go away, cover it up, bury it.
At the same time that I was searching for a solution, I would sabotage my efforts by turning my critical nature inward and blaming myself. Thankfully, God is more forgiving and patient than I am. He recently helped me to read Philippians 4:8 with new eyes. And instead of a mere self-help remedy, I found something of real value. I found something more than the formulas offered in the 1990s “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley” skits from Saturday Night Live.
In The Message, Philippians 4:8 goes like this,
...you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
It dawned on me that the words were urging me to do more than turn a frown upside down. I was to fill my mind with things that are good, and right, and true - the important things. It’s so simple, I wonder why I didn’t get it before. God wants me to focus on Him. He is Good, and Right, and True. God wants me to read and know and apply His Word. It is Truth. God wants me to feed my mind with good things. Not just syrupy sweet slogans, but real things, deep things.
My son, Graham, and I are working our way through the Narnia book series by C.S. Lewis. In the second novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a group of children are asked to trust and follow the hero of the story, a lion named Aslan. They first want to know will their allegiance to Aslan provide a safe passage and so inquire of a (talking) beaver,
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” But he’s good.
That’s the kind of good the Bible tells us to look for. It’s why we love books like the Narnia series. It’s why we seek out timeless stories like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and Sleeping Beauty.
We long for the good. We ache for it. We want to be brave enough to fight for it. While I settle for safe, I really want good. While I assent to optimism, I really want hope. While I accept the efficient, I really want the honorable. Is He safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course He’s not, but He’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.