One of the central ways we overcome the temptations to fear, worry, anxiety, or bitterness is to obey the Scriptures that tell us to set our minds on things above. Consider these commands to set, seek, and meditate:
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6).
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
We all know how our minds drift all the day long, and we tend to be easily carried along to where ever they might take us. But thoughts left to themselves often go dumpster diving, digging through fleshly things, carnal things, earthly things, untrue, ignoble, unjust, impure, unlovely, and unkind things. The dumpster is always full of this stuff: your own past sins and failures, the sins of others, bitterness, worries, and lusts. And then we wonder why we are worried, envious, lustful, bitter, anxious, or fearful. But we’ve been feeding on this stuff from the dumpster all day!
The way out of the dumpster requires mental discipline. And mental discipline is spiritual discipline. We must lay hold of our thoughts, and put them where God wants them. No more allowing them free rein, because they always find a way back to the dumpster again. This requires patience and diligence.
Setting your mind on things above means picking your thoughts up and moving them to an appropriate topic. How do you begin doing this? First you have to tune in. What are you listening to all day? What are you listening to when you go to bed, when you rise up, when you hop in the shower, when you drive across town? You may be surprised to notice how much fault finding, reviewing of hurts and wrongs, wishing for things you don’t have, dissatisfaction, and complaining are going on. Not to mention the conversations you are crafting in your head which will deal with so-and-so. This requires action on your part. Just as you do when you don’t like the song on your car radio, you must change the station.
Consider fearfulness and worry as examples. Most worry is simply telling bad stories to yourself. Stop going over and over what “might” happen. Tell yourself to shhhh. Change the mental conversation to something else, something cheerful, something true and good. There are so many choices!
We are to meditate on virtues, things that are worth praising. To meditate means to spend time thinking about. This is what I mean by mental discipline. You must pick up your mind and set it on good things and then spend some time thinking about those things. Plan dinner, make a shopping list, pray for your friend, count your blessings, sew a quilt, work in the garden, bake some bread, read the kids a story, get on with your work, whatever it might be. All these things are praiseworthy. And then when your thoughts drift back to the dumpster, snag them right away by the back of the neck, and set them on things above.
So much of depression is letting your thoughts dwell on sad things, dumpster diving into the past or the might-have-been or the have-nots. Anxiety is the fruit of dwelling on worries and cares instead of casting them off your shoulders to God’s. Lust comes of thinking of forbidden things. All these things come of listening rather than talking to yourself.
It takes time to establish a pattern of (1) noticing when you are dumpster diving and (2) getting out of there. At first you might feel like all you do is work on this. But it will get easier. As it becomes a habit of mind, you will see how blessed it is to dwell in the green pastures of virtuous, praiseworthy thoughts, and the dumpster will be less of an attraction.
In this, as in all our spiritual life, we must get grace from God to set our minds on things above, where He is. If we want to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we won’t be finding it in the dumpster, but rather at the right hand of God, where Christ is. And “to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).