Text: Philippians 4: 8
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
The more I read this Bible verse, the more I am in awe of Paul. He is writing this passage languishing in a prison where the hope of release looks very bleak. He is aware of his death and getting ready for it. In midst of that he exhorts the Church of Philippi. Paul certainly was a man who had too many discouraging things happening in his life. He had opponents who hated him. There were people who thought he was useless. There were people who even made fun of his appearance and speeches. Take a look at this. ‘For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”’ (2 Corinthians 10: 10) In midst of all such negativity how did he manage to have so much hope? Not only that, he also gave hope to people around him.
Facebook had a patent question that it asked “What’s On your mind?” In short it was asking what you are thinking about. Did you know that the average person has 10,000 separate thoughts each day? That works out to be 3.5 million thoughts a year. If you live to be 75, you will have over 26 million different thoughts. Already most of you have had over 2,000 separate thoughts since you got out of bed this morning. You’ll probably have another 8,000 before you go to bed tonight. Then you’ll start all over again tomorrow. Every one of those 10,000 thoughts represents a choice you make, a decision to think about this, and not about that. So what gets clear is that thinking is a choice. But it is also true that our thinking gets influenced by the people and circumstances around us. There are many circumstances that discourage us. We face rejection, people call us useless. When we look around we feel out of place. We hear voices like “I am not good enough. I am not fair. I am not intelligent. I am never going to succeed. Nobody loves me” These are the range of voices that go on buzzing in your head. It pulls you back. It makes you fear taking a risk. You are afraid of falling. Everything looks very tough.
Let me share a small parable. There once was a bunch of tiny frogs who arranged a climbing competition. The goal was to reach the top of a very high tower.A big crowd had gathered around the tower to see the race and cheer on the contestants. The race began. No one in the crowd really believed the tiny frogs would reach the top of the tower.Heard throughout the race were statements such as, “Oh, way too difficult”, “They will never make it to the top”, “Not a chance they will succeed”, and “The tower is too high”.The tiny frogs began collapsing, one by one – except for those who, in a fresh tempo, were climbing higher and higher. The crowd continued to yell, “It is too difficult! No one will make it”!More tiny frogs got tired and gave up. But one continued to climb higher and higher. This one refused to give up!At the end of the race, all had given up climbing the tower except for the one tiny frog who, after a big effort, was the only one who reached the top!All of the other tiny frogs wanted to know how this one frog managed to do it. They asked him how he had found the strength to succeed and reach the goal. It turned out that the winning frog was deaf!
Now it is not possible for us to turn deaf to what people say. Neither can you avoid negative thoughts. Because the more you avoid negative thoughts, it becomes more prominent. Try telling yourself “I am not going to think about red.” The more the color red will pop up. So Paul says instead of avoiding negative thoughts, just hear a different voice. The voice of the Lord. Once when Paul complained about an ailment to God and asked him three times to get cured he heard the Voice of God saying ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9). This is why memorizing Bible Verses is so powerful. I had all kinds of negative thoughts before writing my Marathi paper in standard Eight. My head was full of the voice of my teacher who ridiculed me as I had failed in her subject. I just did not know what to do. This voice just stuck with me. There is when my mother told me to read Psalms 91. “Whoever goes to the Lord for safety, whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty, can say to him, you are my defender and protector, You are my God, in You I trust…..” That was the voice that helped me sail through. I did not avoid a negative voice, I heard a different voice.
I will end this meditation with a story that has transformed me. Before going to Seminary as a pre- Seminary training, I was assigned to Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai. The special task that I was assigned by the director Rev. Dr. Moni Mathew, was to teach the 16 children who were preparing for their Standard 10th exams. This was exciting as I had to teach History, Economics, Business Studies and English along with Roshen George and Koshy Kurian. Before the exams there was an aptitude test arranged for these 16 children. I was with the Psychiatrist and Psychologist when they did the test. All the feedback was given to me. It quantified how successful a candidate would be in clearing the 10th Standard exam. Out of that, one boy Prakash was given the lowest marks. The Psychologist made it very clear that “He is not a good choice for academics. He will not do well. Be prepared that if he appears he may fail in all the subjects. He just does not have the aptitude.” My heart sank. I shared the results with Moni Achen. He said “Prakash will write the exam. These are tests. It may be wrong. Do not tell this to him. If he knows this he may be discouraged. You just encourage. If he fails, it is ok. I will take care of that.” Honestly it was very tough teaching Prakash. He took time to understand. But he was the most sincere among the 16. He woke up every day at 3:45 AM. He studied. He had many doubts. He kept asking all of us. He told me “It is very tough. I do not understand a lot of things. But I am praying. I am trying my best.” There were days Prakash felt discouraged but he kept trying. The day of exams came. One after the other exams was getting over. We all were worried about how the children would fair. This exam allowed failure in 2 subjects. So I was hoping atleast that they should achieve. The result was out in July when I was in Seminary. The first result I asked Koshy was about Prakash. I expected the worst. I prayed for the best. He had passed in every single subject. Yes. Prakash had passed in every single subject. I just could not believe my ears. Tears flowed. I am still misty eyed writing this. Prakash had too many things against him. But he believed in God. He tried his best.
I have myself been a slave of other peoples’ opinion. Do not get me wrong, the friends who have critiqued me have helped me grow. But there are way too many things that pull you down. There are many stereotypes that we need to subscribe. Let nobody else decide what you can or cannot do. Hear the Voice of God who has created you. Let his voice guide you on. So my dear friends’ whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ Amen
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church