Whatever Happens, Think On These Things

Philippians 4:8-9

There’s a celebrity doctor and psychiatrist named Daniel Amen who has done extensive research on the brain. Some of his views are controversial, so I decided to read one of his books to see what I thought. I came away ambivalent about his ideas. But there were a few sentences I highlighted, and I want to share some of those with you.

  • You are not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better….You can literally change your brain, and when you do, you change your life…. Learning to love and care for your brain will also decrease your stress, improve your relationships, increase your chances of success in every area of your life, help stave off dementia, and prevent you from becoming a burden to others.
  • (You can) master your brain by controlling what goes into it.
  • How you feel is often related to the quality of your thoughts.
  • Watching just fourteen consecutive minutes of negative news has been found to increase both anxious and sad moods.
  • Each thought you have triggers the release of certain chemicals, which makes you feel good or bad.
  • Direct your attention toward what you are grateful for and your brain will work better.

That’s not exactly new advice. Let’s read this passage from Philippians 4:8-9 and see what the Lord has to say:

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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Such Things

The key imperative or commandment is “think about such things.” The Lord is very concerned with what goes on in our minds every day. What do we daydream about? What is our first thought in the morning and our last thought at night? What are we thinking about when we’re driving the car with the radio or music or podcasts turned off? What attitudes fill our minds?

Barclay: “This is something of utmost importance because it is a law of life that, if a [person] thinks of something often enough, he will come to the stage when he cannot stop thinking about it. His thoughts will be quite literally in a groove out of which he cannot jerk them.”

Well, in this passage in Philippians, Paul gives us eight qualities that should be true of the things our minds are thinking about.

  1. True. When I was about thirteen or so, I was walking through my Aunt Louise’s factory. There was a lot of dangerous equipment in there, but I could go through it if I followed the path that had been marked out by white lines. So I was out in the factory and I saw two of the workers by one of the machines, and they were laughing about something. I worried and worried about what had caused them to laugh. Was it because I was a little pudgy? Was it because my face was a little broken out? Was it because I wasn’t wearing the right clothes? Well, now I realize they were laughing about something that had nothing to do with me, and that I was letting a self-fabricated lie bounce around in my mind. Don’t we do that all the time?
  1. Noble – In the New Testament, this Greek word described things that were serious, noble, and worthy of reverence. As I’m developing this message there are strikes in France because of proposed retirement changes, and the garbage trucks haven’t been running. The tourists in Paris are having to walk down sidewalks in which bags of garbage have been piling up for weeks, but they do have the opportunity of choosing what to focus their thoughts on. They can either be obsessed with the garbage or they can lift their eyes to see the great monuments like the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Our thoughts can be in the gutter or we can rise above the gutter and think of things that are noble.
  1. Right. The Greek word here is dikaios, which is often translated righteous in the Bible. And closely connected to it is the next word:
  1. Pure. Think about this word “pure.” It actually means something that is not contaminated, like pure water or pure gold. In moral terms it means something that isn’t tarnished or contaminated with sinful images or impulses.
  1. Lovely. This is a word that means something that is pleasing to see. It comes from the Greek word phileo, which means brotherly love. It has to do with the joy we have when we see a friend that we enjoy being with.
  1. Admirable. This is a straightforward term—something we are able to admire.
  1. Excellent. The word “excellent” here means excellence of quality or character. 
  1. And finally, Praiseworthy. This refers to something you can applaud. I once went to hear the President of the United States speak in a high school gymnasium. I like some of the things he said, and I would applaud them. But he said other things I strongly disagreed with, and I didn’t applaud those statements. We need to fill our minds with thoughts that God applauds. 


Now, obviously as we go through life we’re confronted with a lot of things that have the opposite qualities. Almost every morning I read the newspaper, spending a few minutes catching up on the nation and the world, and thinking about warfare and death and destruction. I think about political polarization. I read about the persecution of Christians, and about secularism and about all manner of evils bedeviling our planet. 

Are we not to think about those things?

Well, we are. But the word “think” here in the New International Verse is translated differently in other versions.

  • The New King James Version says meditate on these things.
  • The Christian Standard Bible says dwell on these things. 
  • The New American Standard Bible says let your mind dwell on these things.
  • The Contemporary English Version says keep your mind on [these things].
  • And the Amplified Bible says, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].
  • And the Good News Translation says, fill your mind [with these things].

All of this comes down to thinking more and more about the Lord and about His ways and His will for us and His Word. Paul is simply restating what the entire Bible teaches.

For example…

  • Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the person…whose delight is in the Law of the Lord and who meditates on it day and night.”
  • Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep those in perfect peace whose minds are set on You.”
  • Romans 8:5 says, “Those who lie according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
  • Colossians 3 says: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

How Do We Do this?

When it comes to biblical meditation, I have four steps that all begin with the letter “R”.


First, we have to read our Bibles. In many periods of history, Christians would hear and learn vast portions of material. But today global literacy stands at 87 percent, and in most developed countries that number is 99 percent.

We praise God for that, because it gives us the opportunity to read God’s Word for ourselves. It bothered Jesus very greatly when His audiences did not read and ponder the Scriptures. Let me give you some verses just from Matthew’s Gospel.

  • Matthew 12:3: Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
  • Matthew 12:5: Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temples desecrated the Sabbath and yet are innocent?
  • Matthew 19:4: Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female.
  • Matthew 21:16: Haven’t you read, “From the lips of children and infants, You…have called forth Your praise.”
  • Matthew 21:42: Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”?
  • Matthew 22:31: But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you?

The Lord expects us to read His Word with reverence. And something happens when we begin reading the Bible seriously every day. In her blog, Annett Coffee writes about how she had a massive stroke at age 45 and was unable to speak for seven years. Even now, many years later, she has trouble pronouncing some words, so she writes more than she talks and she ministers through her blog. In one entry, she wrote:

I believe now that my stroke was the most important thing that ever happened to me…. I have come to not only believe in my God but got to know him and his character so very well that I realize that I can’t possibly live a minute without him. Nor do I ever want to. I began reading the Bible every day the year after my stroke. And though at times it has been tough, I committed to read straight through from the beginning to the end. The only way you can have a real good relationship with someone is to get to know everything that is important to them and by sharing everything that is important to you also. That’s why reading the Bible and prayer is so valuable. It’s actually better than the best textbook , owner’s manual, or guidebook for life and it was inspired by the very one who made us and knows what is best for us.… I can honestly say that I have never been more at peace, happier, more fulfilled than I am right now.

You don’t necessarily have to read from Genesis to Revelation, but it is important to begin reading today where you left off yesterday. And I like to read the Bible with a pen or pencil in my hand, because that helps me begin making notes and underscoring various verses that really speak to me.

You can do this. Find an easy-to-read translation and get started today.


That leads to the second step, remembering it. How do you do that? I think the most creative thing I’ve read about comes from an athlete named Vera Schmitz, who was an athlete from Missouri and an Olympic hopeful and All-American pole vaulter. Whenever she would compete, she would write a Scripture verse with a Sharpie on her arm. Later she started a website to help people memorize Scripture. If you subscribe, every month you get a scripture card, a key chain, and three temporary tattoos to help you remember the verse you’re working on. 

I’m not necessarily suggesting you subscribe to this service, but we need ways of remembering and even memorizing key verses the Lord gives us. It helps if we find ways of writing it down.


Third, you have to ruminate on it. I could have used the word “reflect,” but as I prepared this message, I read a book entitled The Art of Divine Meditation by a Puritan named Edmund Calamy, who lived in the 1600s. He was a very popular preacher in London. 

He referred to a most unlikely passage in the Bible. Leviticus 11 says that there are clean and unclean animals. One of the indicators was this. The animals that chew the cud are clean, and the ones who don’t are not.

Calamy said the same is true for people. The ones who chew the cud are clean—and getting cleaner every day. What did he mean by that?

I grew up around livestock and I’ve owned livestock. Some barnyard animals like cows and sheep have a divided stomach. They graze and eat all the grass they can and swallow it whole, and then later they find a shady spot, regurgitate it, and chew it up really good before swallowing it again.

This special stomach is called the ruman, and that’s where we get our word ruminate. It means that we let our minds chew on whatever it is that we’ve read and remembered. 

In his book, Edward Calamy wrote: “A meditating Christian is one that chews the cud, that chews on the truths of Jesus Christ, that does not only hear good things, but when he has heard them, chews them over, ruminates on them, so that they may be more fit for digestion and concoction, and spiritual improvement.”

Let’s say you’ve been focusing your attention on this particular verse—Philippians 4:8. It says, “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” You consider what’s been occupying your mind. Has it been filled with worry about something? Has it been filled with impure images? Has it been filled with the nonstop coverage of some story in the news? Are those things excellent or praiseworthy? How would you explain this phrase to someone else? You just sit there and ruminate about this. 

Whenever I’m preparing a sermon, I find that after I’ve studied the selected passage as well as I can, I inevitably have to talk a walk or pace back and forth in my office, trying to figure out how to explain this material and make it practical and apply it to life.

That is rumination. That is reflection. That is biblical mediation. 

  • We let the Bible change our thoughts.
  • We let our thoughts change our attitudes.
  • We let our attitudes change our behavior. 


And that brings us to the final step—we realign our life to what we’ve learned. We respond. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

And the promise is that the God of peace will be with us during the process.

Years ago there was a motivational expert named Henry Thomas Hamblim. I want to take something he wrote and read it to you, but I’ve updated it in my own words. He said, in effect…

The world today is in its present state simply as a result of mankind’s collective thinking…. And each individual is what he or she is, what their lives are, what their circumstances are, simply as a result of their own thinking. 

What we think, we become; what we think is the mainspring of all our actions; what we think is what builds our environment around us. 

What we think determines the kinds of friends we have, whether we are happy or miserable, successful or not. What we think either builds us up or tears us down.

The Washington Post recently ran an article entitled “America Was Obsessed with this Self-Help Craze 100 Years Ago.” We call the decade between the first and second world wars the “Roaring Twenties.” During this time, there was a Frenchman named Émile Coué, who developed a concept called autosuggestion. During the 1920s, this fad swept over America like the wind and everyone was caught up in it. Here’s what people did. 

They bought a strand of 20 beads, and every morning when they woke up, sometimes without even getting out of bed, they repeated this phrase twenty times in succession: “Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” 

They could keep count of how many times they said it by moving their fingers through the beads, one at a time, like using a rosary. In the evening when going to bed, they would do the same. 

America became infatuated with this practice, and for a little while Coué was the most talked about man in the country. He died in 1926, and American’s quickly forgot about the frenzy, but his ideas lived on. The Washington Post said he led the way for the likes of Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale, and more recently Oprah Winfrey, who told her followers: “Look at yourself in a full-length mirror. Now compliment yourself. Yes I can do it. Repeat those empowering words aloud every morning and every night.”

I’m not selling you any beads, and I’m not trying to push any self-help slogans. But when it comes to the specific Bible verses God gives you, I want to suggest repeating them over and over.

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…. And the God of peace will be with you.

In closing, let me give you the devil’s version of this: 

Finally, my pushovers, whatever is disturbing, whatever is worrisome, whatever is sleazy, whatever is impure, whatever is worthless, whatever is filthy, whatever is doubtful, whatever is bitter—if there is anything crude and perishable—think on these things, and the heartaches of the world will engulf you.

For what it’s worth, I suggest the original version—Philippians 4:8!