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Editor’s note: This post is part of a three-part series looking at the meditation of the heart and mind.

Have you ever bumped into an old friend and casually asked how he or she was doing? You were expecting a cheerful response of, “Good, and you?” Instead it was as if you had opened a closet door only to have a surplus of STUFF that was crammed in there come tumbling out upon you. How might you respond to such an overflowing closet scenario? Here are but a few possible reactions:

(a) You could try to cram it all back into the closet and pretend all is well, while leaving a time bomb for the next unsuspecting person.

(b) You could jump back in disgust, walk away, and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.

(c) You could get angry at whoever crammed all that stuff in there and yell at them to deal with their mess, while declaring that it had better never happen again.

(d) You could acknowledge the obvious mess and help whoever is responsible to clean it up, while offering loving guidance concerning the motive and manner of having a well-kept closet.

Now for a moment of honesty, how would you likely respond if a closet door swung open in front of you and you were buried in all the STUFF that tumbled out? What would be your reasoning for responding in that way (whether your own closet is well kept or not)? Of the responses above, which might seem to be the easiest? And now for the question whose answer does not conveniently fit into your day planner: Which option would most glorify God and be most loving toward the one whose closet is an utter mess?

In a similar way, the human heart (or mind) is like a closet. Though you can’t see directly what’s inside another’s heart, when the mouth is opened — guess what? — all that is stored up or crammed into the heart overflows through our words and deeds revealing much about the condition of our heart.

Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt 15:18-19).

What we say and do flows out of what we treasure or think about in our hearts. Adultery. Fits of rage. Panic attacks. Depression. Besides living in a fallen world, what is normally the common cause — or at least a contributing factor — for those struggling with some of the most difficult issues of life? Here’s a thought: our thoughts!

Consider adultery. Have you ever spoken with someone who has entered into an adulterous relationship because it was THOUGHT that adultery was a way to fulfill one’s marriage vows? That would be insane! Adultery normally takes place when a spouse THINKS about marriage as a means to “get” rather than “give,” and when the “getting isn’t good,” the temptation to THINK that he or she “deserves better” can become an increasingly convincing thought pattern leading to various manifestations of immorality. Where do our actions come but from our thoughts!

Consider anger. Robert Jones, in his booklet “Angry at God,” defines anger as “a whole-person judgment we make against a perceived wrong.” In other words, when we don’t get what we want, when we want it, in the way that we want it, we are prone to get … ANGRY! We perceive or THINK something should be a certain way, and those who fail to please us on our terms are then likely to receive our disapproval (perhaps through harsh words or the cold shoulder treatment).

Consider anxiety. When we fail to THINK about the fact that “God is at hand” in infinite power, wisdom, and goodness (Phil 4:5), we begin to (subtly or not so subtly) THINK and therefore act as if everything depends upon us. So rather than praying and trusting in the promises of God (Phil 4:6-7), we seek to take control of our own lives. When our THOUGHTS are consumed with our circumstances rather than with the character and purposes of God (Phil 4:8), we are prone to be anxious and even panic when life isn’t going as we THINK it should.

Consider Depression. While there can be organic causes of depression, depression is often strongly influenced by THOUGHTS of past sufferings and failures, THOUGHTS of current circumstances in which we feel overwhelmed, and THOUGHTS of a seemingly hopeless future.

In all aspects of life, we need to be mindful of our meditations … for from them we live. Proverbs 23:7 says of the selfish man, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” What do you tend to think within yourself? Romans 8:5-6 says, “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 set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

On what do you tend to set your mind? What are the regular thought patterns of those you are seeking to help? Are they stuck in the rut of despair? Are they believing lies and living accordingly? Where does their hope lie?

Bryan Gaines is Pastor of Family Discipleship at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas.  He regularly teaches classes to encourage and equip parents, works in the Student Ministry, leads an adult Care Group, and oversees Grace Preschool.  Bryan also leads Grace Biblical Counseling, LLC.  He is certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).

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