Mark Lawson is my Assistant Committee on Publication for the Bristol, TN area. He frequently writes a guest religion column in his local newspaper (Bristol Herald Courier). I know you will enjoy his guest post.
We never experience anything passively. Whether or not we admit it, we “judge” how something relates to us. For example, when introduced to someone, we frequently judge based upon appearance: is he fat, thin, white, black, young, old? Does he look “like me?” When something happens at work, at home, in school, or at church, we unconsciously ask ourselves whether it make me happy, sad, contented, or angry. Our thoughts determine how we act or respond–how we deal with people and events. Thus, how we think governs our lives to a great extent.
Many wise men and philosophers agree about the power of thought. The Bible (Proverbs 23:7) tells us that as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) concluded, “We become what we think about. A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.” In the 19th Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) found that “A man’s what he thinks about all day long.” His contemporary, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), wrote: “You must control evil thoughts in the first instance, or they will control you in the second.” James Allen (1864-1912), the British author of As A Man Thinketh, wrote: “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” Similarly, two other Britons, Thomas Carlyle, said that “Thought is the parent of the deed,” and Julian S. Huxley wrote, “Sooner or later, false thinking brings wrong conduct.” Bishop Edward Steere, an Anglican minister in Africa, warned, “Do not think that what your thoughts dwell upon is no matter. Your thoughts are making you.”
World events demonstrate the effects of wrong thinking. Witness the cruel regime of Saddam Hussein, and at other times during the Twentieth Century, the horror of Hitler, Stalin, and the ethnic cleansing of Eastern Europe. In each case, human rights violations followed predatory thinking.
How do we control our thinking, or make sure we are thinking correctly? First, we have to want to do so. We can insist upon seeing ourselves and our fellow man in the best light possible. For example, we can know that the person down on his luck truly does not want to be that way, no more than the person suffering from sickness wants to be sick. Can a seemingly unpleasant person truly want to be that way, or is it more likely that he is suffering just as much as those around him? We have to want to see things differently, and we have to open our thought for the right answer. We can know that God will provide the answers.
I tell my kids that what they think about anything is the most important thing in the world. They may tell me that an acquaintance “made them mad.” I remind them that no one can “make” you anything. It is never a person, place, or thing that disturbs us, but it is always our response that determines what we feel. We have the ability to watch our thinking and to properly evaluate events.
And what might those answers be? The author Willa Cather (1873-1947) talks about “miracles.” She says: “The miracles of the church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.”
What is there about us always. We can know that there is a higher truth, perfectly understandable when we get rid of our preconceptions and human wilfulness, when we open our hearts to the right idea of our fellow man. And what will happen as a result of our improved thinking? We will be blessed with peace, certainty, serenity, confidence. At the same time, we will be better husbands, wives, parents, neighbors, citizens, and church members. We will, in short, experience the “kingdom of God” referred to in Luke:
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)
Not “out there” somewhere, but within you.