It was a typical day in South Africa, weaving around potholes on the dirt road with my good friend Goba. Of course the day was really hot, the road was dusty, and the air conditioning didn't work. I think everyone in South Africa perceives they must have a constant supply of Coke products, and Goba insisted we stop at a little corrugated metal roof covered "tuck shop" to get a surprisingly cold Coke and orange Crush. A bit later after finishing his Coke, Goba rolled down the passenger window. In a flash, I comprehended that he was about to carelessly toss out his empty plastic bottle, adding it to what I internally grumbled against...an unacceptable quantity of thoughtless litter that seems to cover the beautiful land.
Instinctively I cried out, "No! No! No!"
He paused in mid-motion, looked shocked at me, responding with instant Zulu wit: "What? What? What?"
"You are going to totally just pollute the land by throwing that out!" I cried. "Of course you know that it won't disintegrate - it's plastic! It will just stay there and add to the litter! Doesn't it matter about how beautiful your country is!?"
He looked at me as if to say...why in the world would Nathan even bring up such a thing to be considered in this situation? There was a split-second pause during which I quickly sensed that he had a totally different filter through which he was processing life and his instinctive actions.
He answered straight-forwardly, "I am doing the school children a favor who are walking along this road. You must know that it is a very hot day, and they will see this bottle on the road. They will pick it up and fill it from the well pump and have a bottle to carry water in now."
"Come on, now. You are not serious." I replied, amused at his quick but seemingly unrealistic comeback. I thought it was a very clever rationalization for sure. "Throwing litter all over the place is a big deal; how will that make your country beautiful? Really now, who would ever actually pick up someone else's discarded plastic bottle and drink out of it? You are just making that up!"
"No. It is true. Look at all these school children, in their uniforms, whom we keep driving by. It is a hot day and they must walk for 5-10 km each way to school on this dusty road and through the paths. I walked this road when I attended New River School over there on the top of the hill. Whenever a car would drive by, they would throw out their cans or bottles to us to use for water, and we would have a foot race to see who could get it first! Then we would use that as a cup for as long as it lasted."
With that, and my objection clearly irrelevant and insignificant, he tossed out the bottle as we passed the next group of kids. I slowed down a bit looking in the rear-view mirror through the dust cloud at the kids racing for the bottle. One young boy held it up with a huge white-toothed smile that spoke of both victory and thanks toward us.
Different Filters for Different Folks
There are ways of thinking in the world and in our culture that hugely impact our approach to life. These influences can become unconscious mind filters in our life that shape our perceptions, expectations, and even reflexive reactions. I think we form "Thought Patterns", from which we act and respond to life. I wonder if most of us even realize the filters through which we're processing life?
What influences our thinking?
Clearly Goba has beliefs and assumptions that provide a very different view of "right" behavior than the filters through which I saw the same situation. In this world, we are influenced by what's around us and as a result develop reasonings (i.e. thought patterns) that define our approach to life.
That made me think: How am I seeing life? What's most influencing me and developing my thought patterns? What's right what's wrong...and what's just different?
A quote I've heard a lot recently says:
"We can't afford to see things about us that God doesn't think about us."
How do your thought patterns align with how God thinks? How can we be aware of the filters we are seeing through? Are our thought patterns and resulting manner of life based on world-focused wisdom and cultural expectations?
Here are some ways to work through this:
1. We can decide to think about ourselves and this world like God thinks.
That's the starting place. Transformation in life happens when thought patterns in our mind start being renewed to think in a manner consistent with how God thinks (Rom 12:2).
2. We can choose to engage situations from the perspective that Jesus saw and engaged them.
Matthew chapters 14-18 seem to have an underlying theme calling us to see deeper and to establish new kingdom ways of engaging life. For example, when Jesus wanted to feed the 5000 people (Matt 14), his thoughts toward the situation were vastly different than those of the disciples! The disciples initially reacted from a viewpoint of inadequacy. They reasoned that the situation was defined by their resources and circumstances. Jesus had an entirely different reasoning in the same circumstances, because he saw things differently.
I preached about this a couple weeks ago, and I'll post a followup blog
about seeing deeper to describe this more effectively.
3. We have to pay attention to what's influencing our pre-existing thought patterns.
Jesus warned his disciples to be careful about the significant influencers (Pharisees and Herod) that impacted their thinking. In fact he said that the teaching of these influencers was like yeast. Receiving the words spoken by the Pharisees or Herod could go deeply in, with potential to touch every nook and cranny of a disciple's way of thinking.
Be careful...of religious systems where God is seemingly at the center, but in actuality he is viewed as powerless, absent, and impersonal. Watch out for those influencers that are condemning, aim to control your access to God, and are swayed by the currents of culture. Be aware of those who intend to weigh you down to follow expectations based on human traditions they created, that keep you from life and freedom God intends.
Be careful...of the political systems that are about power, exalting of individual "heros", and the elevation of human solutions as the answer to fix any problem. Watch out for those who swap God's created definition of who you are and replace it with human feelings, and mob-type sways of opinion. Be watchful of those who aim to influence your thinking by fear, lack of trust, and violence. Don't let yourself be swayed from God's perfect ways even when the system tries to regulate or redefine good to meet their objectives.
I think these influencing forces (think "yeast in your mind") still exist today. The culture around us, the Herod of our day, is intended to shape our thought patterns (which I think may be why the ongoing news bombardment from all sides seems so crippling). These systems declare things differently than the Father regarding His plans, His ways, and the flow of His intentions for this world and your life!
Since Jesus said that we can be influenced by their speaking over us, we should take note. We easily can begin to entertain thoughts about ourselves, this world, even the Father’s character/nature/intent that HE doesn’t think!
Transforming Our Thinking
Thoughts, imaginations, speculations, and reasonings that are inconsistent with God are like strongholds (2 Cor 10:3), and can get you stuck in your spiritual life. They will contaminate your thinking like yeast through bread, and hold you to lower level of living, thinking, and acting than God intends.
However, you can actively pull down these thoughts by taking them captive! This means that anything that is inconsistent with the way God thinks is to be identified and cast aside.
(Practical Tip to Cast Aside: When you recognize that you're not thinking the way God thinks, just actually verbally reject it the old thought, declaring that you don't believe that anymore. State the new belief that you choose to believe consistent with God's thoughts about the situation. Repeat until becomes ingrained.)
Transformation happens when our thought patterns start being renewed. Imagine if someone from another culture were evaluating the "WHY?" behind your actions. What filters would they discover?
Start recognizing "Thought Patterns" and filters you have, from which you act and respond to life.
Imagine what will happen as we renew our minds with thoughts that God has about us, this world, and the future? We will establish NEW mind filters in our life that shape our perceptions, expectations, and even reflexive reactions to respond to life like Jesus did!