In the past ten years, I have had people ranging from family members to coworkers to people I’ve just met comment on my peaceful nature. Where does it come from, and how do I maintain it?
I have come to understand that just as “you are what you eat”, I become what I ingest. In the computing world there is a very basic principle called GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
Scripture tells us to be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1) and Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure… think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
We would all agree these are great goals, but the tasks of renewing our minds and focusing on excellent things are crazy difficult in today’s world. Matthew 6:22 is another familiar verse that helps me.
The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
Modern translations use clear, or healthy, or good in place of the word single, but the sense of the verse is if you are focused on the one right thing, your life will be full of light.
Imagine there is a 6-month-old child in your living room. The baby is surrounded by toys and loving adults and safe things to explore, but he is determined to crawl over to the burning fireplace. Every few minutes someone has to pick up the baby, turn him around, and distract him. Sometimes our thoughts are like that. Like the baby’s toys, we have many good things to consider and explore in our lives, but instead we keep thinking about the unruly family member or difficult situation. We need to get into the habit of changing our thinking by picking up our thoughts, turning them around, and filling them with good things. Even better, we can focus on the one right thing: keeping our eye single, looking to Jesus.
We are constantly bombarded with bad news and harsh words. I am incapable of being exposed to that without being affected, so I avoid most mass and social media. However, avoiding the garbage is not enough. I need nutritious content to actually nourish my heart. A coworker once asked me, “If you don’t watch TV, who tells you what to think?” My response: the Bible and the Holy Spirit do a great job of telling me what to think, and what to think about.
Not only are we surrounded by innumerable negative influences, but there are also hundreds of good causes that compete for our attention. This is where I must rely on the guidance of Holy Spirit. There are countless situations in the world and in my community that desperately need attention. But I have limited time and resources. To maintain my peace, I have to stay focused on my calling, and trust that God is raising up others to do the rest. I can pray and contribute widely, but I need to “stay in my lane” when it comes to where I invest my time.
Replacing media time with time alone with the Word and the Lord has worked wonders for me. It’s in this time that God’s promises have come alive, and the seed of God’s word has borne fruit in my life. In John 14:1, Jesus tells us not to be anxious, and then he tells us how.
Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me.
Believe means to fully trust in and rely on God. It’s not just mental assent. In Philippians 4:6, we find more instructions:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…
If I’m still anxious I ask myself, “Did you skip the part about ‘with thanksgiving’? Are you rejoicing in the Lord??” (Yes, I talk to myself like that. Don’t judge me!) Because if I did it right, I have the promise of the rest of the verse:
…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
I’ve heard it said that if you’re still upset after you’ve prayed, that’s not prayer, that’s just complaining. When I have trouble getting out of a negative loop in my head, I find a way to play some worship music, stand up or walk and praise God out loud until I have recalibrated my perspective. When I focus on the truth that God is on the throne, and he’s already provided a solution for every problem I’m ever going to face, I can truly be free of whatever burden I’m carrying. I know there is joy in the presence of the Lord. I can choose to get into his presence, or stay in my own miserable skin.
If you struggle with swirling emotions and negative thoughts, try changing what you feed yourself. Replace some/more of your media consumption with regular time alone with the Lord and his Word. Drown out those negative voices with praises for our powerful, loving God. In the comments, share what works for you to deal with worry and fear, or tell us about your favorite scriptures or songs that lift you up. See you there!