What is on your mind?
What’s on your mind?
An article by Sheila Jacobs
Do you like fantasy? By that I mean, novels, films – fiction. We can get quite engrossed in a thriller, or a drama, can’t we?
There’s a downside to having a good imagination, however. We can let it run away with us. One of the ways we can do that is to have one-sided conversations. You know the type: ‘Next time I see her, I’ll say this. Then she’ll say that. And I’ll say…’ And before we know it we are all worked up about something that has never happened! It was only a few months ago that someone pointed out to me that this kind of ‘fantasy’ is a complete waste of time. And it got me thinking about what really occupies my mind.
The thing is, when we live ‘in our heads’, we may miss what actually is. We can let our thoughts slide into yesterday, with all its regrets and recriminations. But while the past is a good place to visit, it’s not a good place to live. Living in yesterday simply isn’t helpful. It means we can’t move forward – especially if our thoughts tend to centre around a particular event or individual so that we are locked into something – or someone – from our past. We just cannot move on while we are looking back. We have to learn to let go.
Of course, sometimes we don’t really want to move on. The past is a known country and a safe place to dwell. But we can start to view it with rose-tinted glasses if we aren’t careful. The Israelites did this long ago, when they were released from Egyptian slavery. Rather than recalling the bad treatment they had suffered, they remembered the wonderful food they used to eat… Numbers 11:5-6 tells us they said: ‘We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’ (NIV) Manna was God’s daily, miraculous supply for them; the bread from heaven. But they despised it.
And of course, one of the big things that happens when we ‘live in the past’, apart from becoming discontent with our present circumstances, is that we can allow bitterness to creep up on us – along with unforgiveness. Jesus spoke a great deal about the importance of forgiving. If we don’t forgive, we lock ourselves in with the person or the situation that has so hurt us. We need to forgive for our own sakes, and trust everything to God… who promises to work things out for ‘the good of those who love Him’ (Romans 8:28, NIV).
Just as we can’t look back if we want to move on, neither can we spend our lives imagining what will happen in the future. This can actually lead to a great deal of anxiety, because we just do not know what will happen tomorrow. For all our angst and fear and trying to plan, we are not in control. Tomorrow is an undiscovered country. Just as the past is set in concrete and cannot be changed, so tomorrow is as yet unwritten.
When the doctors told me I had Meniere’s disease, a consultant said that I would very likely need an operation in which I’d be left deaf. I was shattered. But on the day I was due to return to the consultant, I took my Bible with me and read in Psalm 139:14 how I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (NIV). And I realised it is God who has the final word in my circumstances. I went into the consulting room and the doctor at that point told me that he had just given me the ‘worst-case scenario’ and that I may never be ill again and I should ‘go and live [my] life’. Quite a turnaround from the previous meeting. Are you anxious? The future may not be as you think. Relax! Trust God.
Another thing that can happen when we are ‘living in the future’ is that we can make our hopes and desires our idol. But God wants us to worship Him first, not another person, or thing, or dream, or desire, or ambition. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and live to please Him right now, and step into the future from a position of peace and rest in Him.
So, with living in the past and living in the future ruled out, where does this leave us?
Going back to the Israelites, they were clearly instructed to take enough manna for the day – not to keep any for tomorrow. If they did collect manna for the next day, it went off. Exodus 16:20 says that it ‘was full of maggots and began to smell’.
This says that it is important that we focus on the day, remembering that Jesus is the Bread of Life. We need to remain in Him, as He tells us in John 15, on a daily basis. Why so? Well, while we can live on stale bread, it is better to have fresh! How can we hear fresh words for our lives if we are not in daily contact with our Saviour? As with any relationship, there needs to be contact! We need to hear from Him and learn from Him, as before all else we are His disciples. Aren’t we? Think about that for a minute.
Before our personal relationships, before our marital situation, before our jobs or careers, before our family circumstances… we are disciples. Learners. Followers of the rabbi, Jesus.
As we spend time with Him, with the fresh bread, we will find ourselves being filled with His Holy Spirit. And that living water will spill out of us to those we meet. We are bought with a great price, and we are not our own (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, KJV). We belong to Jesus. He must come first in our hearts and our minds. Actually, where your mind is your heart will follow. Let’s remember that feelings can lie to us. We need to base our lives in the reality of the Word of God, and bring our thoughts and feelings and imaginations into alignment with what it teaches.
When Jesus was on earth He spent a lot of time with His Father, and did not have His own agenda. As disciples, we can boldly ask Him for the power to live the same way. We have to trust Him rather than be resentful about the things that we think He isn’t doing; sometimes He takes His time. We can’t see Him working behind the scenes, but some things just can’t be done quickly. And some wounds, perhaps wounds we don’t even know we have, can be deeper than we realise. Perhaps the great Shepherd is restoring his damaged sheep in ways we cannot even begin to imagine.
But when He has done His work, let us be ready to move on at His pace and be willing to surrender to wherever He wants us to go. Just as the Israelites followed the pillar of cloud during the day and fire by night, stopping when it stopped and moving when it moved (see Numbers 9:15-23), let’s learn to do the same as we live in step with God’s Spirit.
If you are hoping to meet the right person, just think how amazing it will be if you are living ‘in the now’ with Jesus, and meet someone who is also living the same way. To be with someone as you walk together with Jesus is the aim, I think, of most Christian singles. It is like the two on the Emmaus Road – they walked together, and Jesus walked with them as they ‘told Him their stuff’, heard Him reveal Himself through the scriptures, and invited Him to remain with them as they learned from Him and fellowshipped further. Remember, even alone, deepening our relationship with Jesus is a beautiful and powerful thing. It isn’t second best. It should be the first and most important relationship we have; being single is an excellent season to spend quality time with Jesus, and to mature that growth in knowing Him.
So remember, fantasy, living in the past or in the future, robs us of the pleasures God has for us today. Let’s make sure our imagination isn’t making us miserable! The New Testament tells us to ‘[cast] down imaginations’ (2 Corinthians 10:5, KJV) and to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). We may hope for a better tomorrow, but let’s hold it lightly. God knows what we need and we have to learn to trust Him. And you can only really trust someone you know very well. How do you get to know them? By spending time with them. People recognised that the disciples had ‘been with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13, NIV). It would be wonderful if people could recognise the same of us. Getting to know Jesus is exciting and the most fulfilling thing we can do!
© Sheila Jacobs 2016
Sheila Jacobs is a freelance writer and editor, speaker, and award-winning author. Single, she lives in rural north Essex, and is currently serving as a deacon in her church, Elim Braintree.