There’s something each of us does every week that can feel like an annoying obligation, but we know we have to do it, so we do. Can you think what it is?
No! It’s not going to church!
It’s taking out the garbage.
Taking out the garbage at my house is especially un-fun because we have two children in diapers. Now, I’ve managed to get out of the task for almost three of the past eight years, and all I had to do was get pregnant so I can’t do the cat litter. Come to think of it, that may be why we have three children.
If no one took out the trash, do you know what would happen to our homes? They’d get flooded with trash. No one wakes up in the morning and says, I’d like to make ten gallons of trash today. But we just do. Trash happens.
When Ari Derfel, pictured above, goes to a restaurant and receives a drink, the first thing he thinks about is where he’s going to put the plastic straw when he goes home. This man collected his garbage for an entire year, just to see how much trash one person created—and it was 96 cubic feet. We make a lot of trash. And I think it’s the same with our thoughts. Trash, junk, just accumulates in there. We collect it, all day long, without thinking about it or planning for it. News stories, celebrity gossip, regular gossip, advertising—we spend ridiculous amounts of time thinking about negative things. Even the junk we listen to in the car—a lot of it, if we’re honest, is just plain garbage.
What happens if we don’t take the garbage out of our minds?
There’s a saying: garbage in, garbage out. The Bible puts it this way, in Proverbs 23:7: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Where the mind goes, the man follows, says Joyce Meyer.
Paul, writing from prison, says
- “Always be full of joy in the Lord.” Philippians 4:4.
Now, we wonder, Paul can’t really mean this, can he? Aren’t there times in our lives when we are grieving, or hurting, and it’s natural not to be full of joy?
The reason we can always be full of joy is that biblical joy is not the same as worldly happiness. Worldly happiness is grounded in circumstances, but biblical joy is grounded in certain hope. You can be sad because your husband or your wife has just died, but be joyful at the same time, because you trust in a truth greater than death. For instance, we call the day Jesus died Good Friday. That’s not because we believe that it was a happy day, but we are joyful when we think that through death, God brought us new life.
Why should Christians always be full of joy?
- Philippians 4:5: Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
How is this tied to being joyful? For one thing, if we are joyful, we can’t help but be kinder to others. If our life is grounded in the ultimate reality of Christ, suddenly in makes a big difference how we treat the waitress at our table, or the cashier at the grocery store, or our family and coworkers. I met a woman once who always answered the phone, not with her name, but with “praise the Lord.” Now, I think when you answer the phone with “praise the Lord,” it affects how you would treat people over the phone. When our hearts are set on good and holy things, when we are aware that Christ is near at hand, we become kinder to others.
Now the worst of the garbage that can stink up our minds is worry. Worry is the opposite of faith. Paul says:
- Philippians 4:6-7: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
In Greek, the word “worry” is “peripateo,” and it means “to walk around in circles.” And that’s what we do when we worry: we walk around in circles, and we don’t get anywhere. The big lie that worry tells us is that by thinking about something, we can control it. Some of you are still worrying about things that happened years ago, as though you can change the past. You can’t change the past, and you can’t determine the future. Here’s something a wise person taught me: outcomes are not my job. You and I are called to do our part in the present moment, and leave the outcome up to God. Why? Because you and I aren’t the best judge of what the outcome should be! So don’t let worry be the stinky, moldy cheese in the garbage pail of your mind. Take it out.
How do you take out the garbage of your mind? Well, it’s a little different from taking out the garbage from your home. The best way to get garbage out is actually to put something better in, so that it takes up all the space and there’s no room left for junk. The good news is, if you know how to worry, you know how to pray. Every time you feel that worry coming in, turn it to a prayer. Say, God, I entrust the outcome to You. Paul tells us how to keep the garbage out:
- Philippians 4:8-9: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
The best way to keep garbage out is to let God in. To think of the whatever is true, and honorable, whatever is right, and pure, and lovely and admirable, the things that are excellent and worthy of praise. This isn’t just about the power of positive thinking. This is about making room for the things of God in our minds, giving space for God to speak to us. Recently Dan and Diana were watching together the movie Field of Dreams. It’s a story about heaven and baseball and a man who builds a baseball diamond in a cornfield. It’s also a movie that demonstrates the eternal truth that when you have something important to say, you should have James Earl Jones say it. This man Ray hears thoughts in his head telling him to build this baseball field, and one of the thoughts is: if you build it, he will come. In that case, it was making a space for his father to come back from heaven and play ball with Ray. But the basic thought is true: if you build it, He will come. If you make space for holy things in your thoughts, God will fill it with joy.
One way we can do this is by memorizing Scripture. I’ve provided you with a memory verse this week, as with every week this year, having no idea if anyone has actually taken the time to memorize these verses, but the more we fill our mind with Scripture, the more we will have to fall back on in those moments when we need encouragement. Here are just a few thoughts from the Word:
Memory Verse ~ Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
“Nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
1 Samuel 16:7 “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
When we decorate for Christmas, it creates a great joy in my heart. The day after Thanksgiving, we start a fire in the fireplace, turn on the Christmas music, and trim every blessed needle, every nook and cranny of our home. For once, our house is clean, neat, and tidy, and yes, the garbage is taken out; and there is light, and beauty, and the joy of the season.
What if we were to do the same with our thoughts? What if we were to take out the garbage, and make room for joy and light and love, for something beautiful this season? Perhaps if we did, we’d discover a bit of the joy to the world that God wants to give us this season; perhaps if we did, we wouldn’t just say “peace on earth and goodwill to men,” we’d experience it, even for a moment, in our hearts.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.