Fighting for Joy - Part Two

Think on these things


We are looking at practical instructions the Apostle Paul gave us in Philippians 4 to help us fight for joy during difficult times. In part one of this blog series, we examined the importance of prayer.

The second practical suggestion we are given is to fill our minds with life-giving thoughts.

It goes without saying that if you are filling your mind with garbage, you will not experience much joy. If you spent most of your time today binge-watching TikTok, nursing an old grudge, or arguing politics with your uncle on Facebook, don’t expect to be filled with the joy of the Lord.

Instead, here is what the Apostle invites us to do: 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” (v. 8).

Notice that this not a negative command. Paul does not say, “Don’t think about bad things.” Such a command would be no more helpful than saying, “Don’t think about pink elephants.” The mere mention of what we must not contemplate immediately brings the matter to mind.

What we are given here is a positive command. Rather than telling us to fight to keep bad thoughts out of our minds, we are told fill our minds with that which is good. We are instructed to contemplate matters that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and excellent.

It is worth noting that, in this chapter, Apostle is not calling us to rejoice in our circumstances, or to rejoice in some general sense. He specifically says, “Rejoice in the Lord (v. 4). Even in our darkest moments, we have a good Savior. He loves us dearly and rules in our world. An essential step in the pursuit of joy is to turn our thoughts to him.

What can help us do this is to meditate on Scripture, sing spiritual songs, and read good Christian books. These are important things for any believer to do. Anything that draws our attention to the revealed Word of God is likely to lead to joy. Psalm 19:7-8 says, The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” God’s Word brings joy.

But the adjectives listed in verse 8 are not necessarily religious terms. Good literature is noble and true. Good art is right and pure. Good music is excellent and praiseworthy. Watching the sunset or walking in the park can fill your mind with lovely, admirable thoughts. There is so much in God’s creation that is life-giving and good. Filling our minds with the contemplation of God’s good gifts is an effective way to pursue joy.

Years ago, when my son was in high school, I went with him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a day he had off from school. It was a busy week for me. The subway ride was stressful. The crowds in the museum were getting on my nerves. I was not in a joyful mood. Then we walked into a room filled with landscapes painted by a movement of artists called the Hudson River School. I stopped and looked at the beautiful art. Suddenly, I felt joy. I felt it in my body. The tightness in my shoulders released. The furrows in my brow relaxed. My breathing slowed down. I smiled. Gazing at the beauty of God’s creation through the work of gifted artists led me to an experience of joy. I felt my heart praising God.

This experience can happen to us in many ways. Yes, the world is a dark place, but it is still our Father’s world. No matter what we are facing, the Spirit can help us to turn our thoughts toward Jesus. And we are surrounded by things that are pure, lovely, noble, and true. What can you do this week to “think on these things”?