May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
- Psalm 19:14
For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
How great are your works, Lord,
how profound your thoughts!
Senseless people do not know,
fools do not understand,
that though the wicked spring up like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.
But you, Lord, are forever exalted.
- Psalm 92:4-8
“Robert Browning said, ‘Thought is the soul of the act.’ Emerson said, ‘Thought is the seat of action. The ancestor of every action is thought.’ If God destroyed the world once for its continually evil imaginations, is it not reasonable to believe that all of the sin, lust, and licentiousness that is rampant today grieves His heart just as it did in that day? Many people dream of sin, imagine sin, and—if granted the opportunity—would indulge in sin. All they lack is the occasion to sin. So, in the sight of God, they are sinners as great as though they actually had committed immorality. All transgressions begin with sinful thinking. You who have come to Christ for a pure heart, guard against the pictures of lewdness and sensuality which Satan flashes upon the screen of your imagination, select with care the books you read, choose discerningly the kind of entertainment you attend, the kind of associates with whom you mingle, and the kind of environment in which you place yourself. You should no more allow sinful imaginations to accumulate in your mind and soul than you would let garbage collect in your living room.”
- Billy Graham, Day by Day with Billy Graham (Devotion for 9 July)
I was looking for a different devotion in a different month, but somehow, I saw this one and I realized God was drawing me to this topic.
Billy Graham gives several practical thoughts on combating bad, sinful thoughts.
We can avoid reading books that can trigger bad thoughts. I enjoy mystery novels. I also branch out into adventure thrillers, spy novels, and other such things, but to be perfectly honest, when the hero has a romantic interlude that gets too specific, I skip a few pages and hope that the details of the affair are over. If a novelist does not know when a little foul language is too much, I deem the author too much to read. One well-known author who speaks often of a Christian faith has used more F-bombs per page than almost all other authors that I read. It may not be God’s name that is being thrown around, but it is vulgar and may only be necessary to get the publisher’s attention. Thus, maybe I should avoid certain publishers. I have gotten to the point where I only read certain authors word for word.
Billy Graham talks of choosing the appropriate entertainment to attend, but we can expand that to what we listen to on the radio and what we see on television, either network programming or streaming. I have heard people lament about how these first-person fighting games (shooting, sword slashing, or fist fights) get children in the mode of fight first and ask questions if the opponent is conscious afterwards. But I know from my old Memorial Day tradition that old war movies can change your mood drastically.
My Memorial Day tradition is a thing of the past. I missed Vietnam by a year really. I often talk about how the military withdrew within days of me graduating college with a military commitment, but if I had graduated a few months earlier, I would have probably missed going to Vietnam since they were planning on everyone coming home. But each year during Memorial Day weekend, I would watch war movies and put myself in the place of those on the screen. I would ask if I could respond as they did? Could I do a better job? Would I collapse under the pressure? And by Monday afternoon, my wife would pull my grumpy, angry, emotionally-shattered self away from the television to crank up the grill – bringing me back from the funk that I got myself into.
Billy Graham’s focus seemed to be around sex, adultery, poor romantic relationships. But bad thoughts fester in the realms of anger and greed. There is more than one way to be immoral. There is more than one commandment.
Thinking of avoiding friends that lead you astray and places where temptations abound, I heard a panel discussion among pastors talk about an audience question the other day. The question dealt with whether a Christian should have unbelieving friends or should the Christian isolate from unbelievers. There were mixed answers, but one pastor, I think, answered it best. We are to shine the light of Jesus to those around us, but if those around us drag us into their immoral lifestyle, the light gets too dim to be seen. We should always have that time set apart from the world to focus on Jesus and God’s kingdom. When we are strong in our faith, then we can be in the world without being a part of it.
But in my recent fiction writing, I have discussed subjects that could trigger such thoughts are lust, greed, and anger. But in an upcoming story, maybe soon, but maybe months away as it is not fully developed, I deal with a side character in my list of characters and a new character whose existence has recently been hinted. I am writing about starting a relationship with terrible baggage on both sides in the past but trying to do this new relationship correctly. I think they will find it impossible until God becomes part of their lives.
I bring it up in that each waking moment when my mind is not on what I am writing, researching, studying, etc. I am thinking about these two people sitting on the sofa, discussing what a deep, meaningful relationship might be, something neither of them has ever experienced. And in the process of formulating a discussion in my mind, there is no triggering temptations regarding lust, anger, or greed, although all three are discussed. They may be mentioned out of frustration, but there is an immediate path forward to avoid that temptation.
Maybe what God is saying through my imagination is that while Billy Graham’s avoidance of situations that immediately place us into temptation, what may be the next step is to press forward in our imagination, and with our earthly relationships, to proactively think of the right way to do things, rather than simply avoiding the wrong things. It may test our patience when the relationship does not move forward fast enough to suit us, but the relationship will be worth it.
And if we can understand that type of lasting relationship, our relationship with Jesus becomes that much stronger.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.