When I first came to New Life Church, I established the practice that every January I would preach a month-long series on stewardship. This sermon was a part of the 2010 stewardship series. Over the years I've expanded the theme of stewardship to cover much more than finances—stewardship of our time, our bodies, our friendships, the environment, the words we use, and much more. In this sermon I covered the stewardship of our thoughts.
I had felt for some time a deepening urgency to speak about stewarding thoughts. I have a growing concern about how easily Christians lapse into unbiblical ways of thinking—fear about the economy, anger at the government, anxiety about work, contempt for certain races or classes, pettiness toward others, etc. The basic worldview of many in the church is pagan. I intended to address this doctrinally and ethically in a series I was preparing on discipleship, but I wanted this sermon to provide a broad theological groundwork: Those in Christ can and should think differently, for we have the mind of Christ. My main aim was to generate in people an excitement about that idea and to stir up their longing to grow in it. I also wanted to leave them with a few practical steps toward for growth in the area of thought stewardship. Many people told me afterwards that they had changed their minds about some matter or another, even as I was preaching.
Two other issues concerning this sermon: (1) I preached this on a Sunday that the church was saying goodbye to one of our pastors. In fact, I preached right on the heels of publically thanking this pastor, so the room was thick with emotion, and I was sad. I knew I needed a strong opening to recapture everyone's attention. I needed to steward my own thoughts well and to help others steward theirs! (2) During the stewardship series, I was also gearing up for a longer series (20 weeks) on the rudiments of discipleship. I wanted the stewardship series to be a primer for that series. With this in mind, I treated stewardship as a subcategory of discipleship. My approach: You can be a good steward and not be a serious disciple of Jesus, but you cannot be a serious disciple of Jesus and not be a good steward. I think tying stewardship in with discipleship added ballast to it.
It's all in your head. Whatever problem you have, it's all in your head. I don't mean that the problem doesn't have some external reality. I don't mean that you're making it up or that you're faking it. What I mean is what Scripture teaches: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is."
Your thoughts become you. Your attitudes define you. Your mental habits shape you. What's going on in your head governs what you do, how you live. As you think, so you are. It's all in your head.
Unhindered access to the mind and heart of Christ
In Colossians 1:21, Paul writes, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior." Here's the logic of this passage. What alienates us from God is evil behavior—our dastardliness, our choosing things that aren't in line with the heart of God. Paul says this enmity—this alienation—has a theater. It is being conducted within a certain terrain: your mind. Rebellion against God is first and foremost a head game. There are thoughts and attitudes that your mind and your heart are generating that are keeping you alienated from God. That's why when Jesus teaches the great principles of the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount, he pushes holiness beyond the behavioral and into the psychological.
For example, Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder'… but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." Then he says, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus is pushing holiness beyond the behavioral and into the psychological—into the innermost place of who we are. When Jesus speaks of the psychological, he uses the Greek word that means "soul." He is talking about the innermost part of you that sees, perceives, thinks, and judges. He is saying it's all in your head. This is why the idea of repentance literally means to change your mind or to stop thinking the way you're thinking and start thinking the way God thinks.
I love to ski, but I'm always a bit afraid of falling. I'm at that age where falling hurts. Things break and rupture. When I was younger, I was more flexible—much more daring. You could pitch me headlong down a cliff, and if I fell along the way, I would pop up, brush myself off, and keep going. I invested enormous amounts of energy in perfecting aerial techniques in order to perform skiing tricks. One maneuver that took me a while to master was the helicopter, in which, while airborne, you spin 780 degrees. I tried it over and over again, but it always resulted in a tangle of poles and a mushroom cloud of snow. I could only do it halfway. Then one day I learned the simple technique that unlocked the whole thing: you have to keep turning your head while in the air. I learned that if you keep turning your head, your body will naturally follow it. As it is in the skiing world, so it is in the spiritual. If you get your head moving in the right direction, the rest of life begins to line up with it.
Moving from cramped thinking to wide open, windswept thinking
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it. For if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However as it is written, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him. In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit expressing spiritual truths and spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgment about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment. For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Thanks be to God! We have the mind of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God that is searching the deep things of God now comes and testifies with your spirit—lives within you. This is such an amazing thing! But here's where it gets complicated: The Spirit comes on faith. It is a free gift. We don't earn it. We don't have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get it. We just ask. We submit. But when the Spirit moves in to the house that is our soul, the Spirit sees that it is already furnished. We've been to every swap meet, bargain basement, and rummage sale this side of hell, and we've got the thing cluttered to the rafters with opinions and attitudes and biases and prejudices and ways of thinking. Basically, it all amounts to strongholds. We are filled with defense. The Bible calls it "the flesh." Any situation we encounter—a relationship with a person, a tragedy that befalls us, the loss of a job, winning the lottery, whatever—we have a fleshly way of responding to it. We have a default approach to everything in life. This is the house in which the Spirit resides. This is the furniture he has to deal with, helping us take it all out to the burn pile.
But the surprising thing is that when the Spirit shows up, he's very gentlemanly. The Spirit is not a bully. On occasion the Spirit will slap you upside the head, but the Spirit mostly nudges you, taps you on the shoulder, whispers to you. Still, the flesh has such a strong pull, so the Spirit is always inviting us over to Jesus' way of thinking.
Let me illustrate it this way: Imagine you're in a cramped, messy, smelly, dimly-lit room, and you keep bumping into things as you try to make your way around it. You can't get anywhere in there without things falling on you and whatnot. The only way to do so is to make yourself small—you have to humble yourself. The Spirit often invites you through a narrow door, through a challenging way you don't want to go, and the only way to do it is to get small. You have to humble yourself. But once you've done that, you come into a place that is beautiful and wide open. You arrive at the mind and heart of Jesus. It's amazing.
What Paul is saying in our passage is that there is no situation in which you have to stay. You do not have to stay stuck in the cramped room of your own thinking, your own attitude, your own reactions, your own fears, your own worries, your own anger. It will take a humbling effort to push through, but on the other side is the wide open, beautiful, windswept place of the mind and heart of Jesus where you can see as he sees and respond as he responds.
Four things to do to become stewards of your thoughts
Normally when we think of stewardship we think of how best we can manage for the glory of God all the material things in our possession—houses, cars, money. But in many ways we'll never master material stewardship if we don't deal with what's in our heads—unless we crawl through to the wide open place of Jesus' heart and mind. Just as we have a kingdom responsibility to manage the material things that God gives us, so we have a kingdom responsibility to manage the immaterial things he gives. God has given us rich gift through the gift of our minds. He has given us thoughts and feelings and attitudes. But if they're not stewarded well, you know where they end up: Bitterness. Anxiety. Frustration. Resentment. Entitlement. If the gift of our mind and its thoughts is not stewarded well, things can get really nasty!
I want to give you four things you can do to help you become better stewards of your thoughts—four ways to work with the Spirit in shaping the way you think.
First, repent. Change your mind. That's what "repent" literally means: to change your mind. Stop thinking in ways that you know are unproductive and out of line with the kingdom of God. Stop it. You know what I'm talking about. You know from Scripture the things that God wants for you, and you know the things you are thinking and doing that are not producing fruit in you, but you keep doing them. Repent. "Repent" not a "bad news" word. In Jesus' inaugural address, his opening statement is, "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News." Repenting is a "Good News" act. Notice that Jesus does not say you'll go to hell if you don't repent. That's true, but he doesn't say it. What he says is this: "The kingdom of God is near." He does not say, "Hell is looming close!" He says: Heaven is intersecting with earth. It's bumping up against you. The kingdom is all about you, and you can get in on it, but you have to stop thinking the way you're thinking. You have to change your mind. You have to repent.
The second thing you need to do to become a better steward of your thoughts is what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 10. Paul reminds us that we do not fight with the weapons of this world to demolish strongholds. The word "stronghold" is a military word for a fortress. Paul uses this image to speak of the established, entrenched ways of thinking, acting, and reacting that are in opposition to the ways of God. Paul says we build these strongholds for defense purposes. As we engage in arguments to rationalize our behavior, as we elevate pretensions to pat ourselves on the back, as we entertain thoughts that continue to feed us bad information, we keep building and strengthening the ramparts of these strongholds. Paul says we have to go and tear these strongholds down. We must demolish them. The word he uses speaks of a siege of sorts. We are to "take every thought captive and lead it obedient to Jesus." In other words, the thoughts that are feeding the things that are taking us captive—the angry thoughts, the resentful thoughts, the lustful thoughts—we have the power to conquer and reverse them. In this text Paul paints the picture that we are no longer in a war camp. The allies have arrived, and the tables have been turned. We can take captive the captives and lead them where they need to go, which is down to the pit.
The third thing you need to do to become a better steward of your thoughts is to start worshiping God. In Romans 12, Paul says that the renewing of our minds—the renewing of our thinking—is key to our transformation. We become new creatures by renewing our minds. In other words, it's all in your head! We must renew our minds concerning worship. Worship is not just on Sundays, but every day. Our life is an offering to God every day. We need to wake up in the morning and say, "God, I'm turning to you. I'm giving myself to you. I'm putting myself at your disposal again. I'm here to serve you. Everyday." I often hear people say, "Oh, I'm so glad it's Sunday. I'm so dry, so empty. I need to come to worship." I don't want to sound too harsh, but the reality is that's not how you're supposed to come in on Sunday. What I hear when someone says that is, "The only time I worship God is when I come here and the band plays." Scripture says your whole life is to be a turning to God. Everyday we are to worship God, thank God, give ourselves to him afresh, push away all the stuff that's annoying and distracting.
The fourth and final thing you need to do to become a better steward of your thoughts is to rebuild a different kind of world in your mind through Scripture. Consider the first three verses of Psalm 1:
Blessed is he, blessed is the man
who does not walk in the way of the wicked
Or stand in the way of sinners
Or sit in the seat of mockers,
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by water,
Which yields its fruit in season
And whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
The person who is soaked in the Word of God—not someone who just dribbles and drabs but is soaked in the Word of God—is constantly freshened and shaped by the Word of God. The person who lets the Word wash over them and take hold of them concerning, say, the kindness of God, becomes a kind person. If someone meditates on the glory of God, they live more and more in the sense of God's magnificent splendor.
I want to close with a reading I came across by Dr. Gregory M. Lusignot:
Today when I awoke, I suddenly realized that this is the best day of my life, ever. There were times I'd wondered if I'd ever make it to today, but I did. And because I did, I'm going to celebrate.
Today I'm going to celebrate what an unbelievable life I have—the accomplishments, the many blessings, and, yes, even the hardships that have come into my life, because they have served to make me stronger. I'll go through this day with my head held high and a happy heart. I'll marvel at God's seemingly simple gifts—morning dew, sun, clouds, trees, flowers, birds.
Today none of these miracles will escape my notice.
Today I will share my excitement for life with other people. I'll make someone smile. I'll go out of my way to perform an unexpected act of kindness for someone I don't even know.
Today I'll give a sincere compliment to someone who seems down. I'll tell a child how special she is, and I'll tell someone I love just how deeply I care for them and how much they mean to me.
Today is the day I'll quit worrying about what I don't have and start being grateful for all the wonderful things God's already given me. I remember that to worry is just a waste of time, because my faith is in God and his divine plan, and that assures everything's going to be fine.
And tonight before I go to bed, I'll go outside and I'll raise my eyes to the heaven. I'll stand in awe at the beauty of the stars and the moon. I'll praise God for all this magnificence.
As the day ends and I lay my head down on my pillow, I'll thank God for the best day of my life, and I'll sleep the sleep of contentment, of a contented child, excited with expectation, because I know tomorrow is going to be the best day of my life, ever.
This could be the best day of your life—and tomorrow and the day after that. It's all in your head.
To see an outline of Buchanan's sermon,click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________