That verse in the KJV was a favorite among youth leaders during my upbringing. In the ESV, it reads like this.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.The application of this verse I heard as a youth was not to fill my mind with questionable movies or music. I should listen to classical music or conservative Christian music with no rock beat, read Shakespeare but avoid most television shows, and so forth. The Reformation hit me in my mid twenties, giving me a hermeneutic through which to interpret Scripture that I had never had before. After leaving the loosely formed fundamentalist movement in which I grew up, I didn’t give that verse much thought. I guess I was caught up in so many other facets of Scripture I had previously missed in my first 25 years as a believer that I didn’t take as much time with ones that were emphasized in my youth.
Of late, that verse has become precious to me in a new way. It's a clear indicator of where God wants us to set our minds. I think it is less about questionable TV shows, books, or music and more about the realities of our daily lives. When we are in the midst of difficult life circumstances, God's sweet instruction is to focus on the good. If 10 things went wrong in a day, it's good and right to think on the one that went right as I fall asleep. Some nugget of good happened today – if not in my immediate vicinity, something good happened somewhere. God's gift to us in the middle of the bad is the freedom to focus on the good. It's not sticking our head in the sand. It's not an excuse to sin by ignoring abuse or injustice. Instead, it's the manna for enduring through all those other things.
On any given bad day, God did something good somewhere. Probably, He did something good directly in your life. But like the children of Israel, we see the wilderness and our longing for the promised land, and we miss the manna He provides day by day. We focus on our longing for home, but we miss that our God just PARTED THE RED SEA. We don't want to wander in the desert, so we take for granted the FIRE BURNING IN THE SKY to direct us. Most of all, we miss in our modern lives the hundreds of ways hour by hour, day by day, our Father gives us manna, our daily bread, to sustain us.
How many times in my life have I longed for deliverance from long term struggle and trial?! That has seemed the norm in my life rather than the exception. Yet, day in and day out, God gives manna. Today that manna was in the form of a visiting friend who loves Jesus, who road on a ferry with me where we got to see killer whales. We dressed for rain, but the sun came out. We laughed, we cried, and we prayed. Manna.
Sometimes it's gifts of grace from my children (and it's so easy to focus on the worst that they do, not the best). Sometimes it's gifts of grace from my church. Many times it's the gift of sunshine after rainy days in Seattle. It can be a good glass of wine shared with friends. Or prayers said over me from a sister in Christ who called me out of the blue. It's God's daily bread, given us to sustain us in the middle of trial. And God says, “Think on that!”
Tomorrow there will be more manna. I'm working out as the Holy Spirit works in me to recognize His manna as He gives it and think on those things that are lovely manifestations of His daily grace. I thank God that I don't have to think all the time on my struggles. I'm not sticking my head in the sand when I don't think 24/7 on what is wrong in my life. And I am seeing a profound shift in my mental state as I think more and more on the lovely, pure, and praiseworthy things, no matter how small, that God brings into my life each day.