Leaning In

quote-chalk-think-words.jpgWhen I first became a Christian, one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding ; In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV). However, as I have aged and faced various trials, I find that the road is still crooked in places, along with being bumpy, forked, and hilly. Man’s religion has taught us not to question anything concerning God, His wisdom, or His Word “You’re overthinking it,” religion says.

Why such opposition to thinking on our own? We seek God individually, yet we try to find a community of other like-minded individuals to try and make sense of it all. One of the dangers of this “groupthink” is that logic, reason, and common sense can be shunned in favor of a misplaced faith or even superstition. If you were taking a trip and you knew the path was wrong or knew you were lost, wouldn’t you stop and try to figure out a new route? Recalculating the journey would not only be for our safety, but our sanity as well. During my life I have found myself at both of these extremes- the “faith-minded,” and the “logical seeker.”

I’ll admit in the last four to five years I have drifted in my faith, going from one church to another, to no church affiliation, seeking answers in familiar places, only to be left with even more bewildered thoughts. I have been a Christian since my early twenties (as of now, I’m in my forties), I have a seminary degree, and have done missions work. I say that not to boast, I just want to give you perspective on my struggle with faith. I believe part of my struggle was not doing my due diligence of what was taught. “The Bible says it and that settles it,” would be a typical retort when faced with opposition either from my mind or someone else.

How many of us, if we were to be honest with ourselves have struggled in faith? How many of us have come down from the Sunday morning emotional high only to be slapped in the face with the Monday morning reality? Why are we so scared to seek our own wisdom? Do we fear that we will be ostracized from our comfortable group? Are we scared of the accusation of “not having enough faith?” How many of us have sat by being passively-minded waiting for the miraculous to happen and watched things get worse? I’m not saying that miracles don’t happen, but we shouldn’t always expect the supernatural, sometimes we need access the resources and means at our disposal.

I’ll admit there is still at lot I don’t understand, even as I put more weight on my critical thinking and learning. For instance, as Christians we seek to “be in God’s will,” or speak of “God’s plan,” yet we seldom have a clear understanding of these terms. How can God straighten out a crooked road if we don’t know which road to take? It feels an awful lot like guess work. In these situations, I can relate to the quote from the baseball player Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I know the theological arguments and cliches for this next point, but why does God’s plan and will involve so much suffering, even for those who can’t defend themselves? Babies born addicted to drugs, born with birth defects, children who battle cancer, face poverty, children are verbally, physically, and sexually abused by parents and others, face starvation, and other horrendous struggles, which turns them into broken adults.  It breaks my heart to see such things and at the same time hear that “God has a great plan for your life.” I’ve reached a point where it is difficult to reconcile such things.

Please keep in mind that I am not attacking God, the church, or anyone else, I just have a lot of questions on my mind that need definitive answers in this life and not the next one.

Book Review- As a Man Thinketh

In an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

Originally published in 1902, James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh is one of the classic works when it comes to the importance of managing our thoughts and perceptions concerning our current situations and how our thoughts shape our circumstances, health, character, and our hopes and aspirations.

Allen’s inspiration for the book title is Proverbs 23:7, which states “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (KJV). Allen’s premise is also congruent to the adage attributed to Marcus Aurelius and Shakespeare, “All thinking makes it so.” Allen’s premise also agrees with Jesus’ statement of “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34). I will share nuggets of wisdom found within Allen’s writing.

Thought and Character

“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”[1]

 “A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of favor or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with Godlike thoughts. An ignoble and bestial character, by the same process, is the result of the continued harboring of groveling thoughts.”[2]

 “…Man is the master of thought, the molder of character, and the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.”[3]

Thought and Circumstance

“Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself.”[4]

“The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.”[5]

“Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.”[6]

Thought and Health

“Clean thoughts make clean habits.”[7]

“If you would perfect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind.”[8]

Thought and Purpose

“A man should conceive of a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it. He should make this purpose the centralizing point of his thoughts.”[9]

“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.”[10]

Thought and Achievement

“All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts…His suffering and his happiness are evolved from within. As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”[11]

Thought and Vision

“Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.”[12]

“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good…Self-control is strength; Right Thought is mastery; Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, ‘Peace, be still!’”[13]

I have read As a Man Thinketh multiple times throughout the years and I can say that every time I read it, I gain deeper and deeper insights. No matter your stage of life, no matter your situation, take control by how you are thinking about the situation, and correct the course. Gaining control of our thoughts will be a daily battle, so do not give up; do not surrender. God bless you all.

[1] James Allen, As a Man Thinketh. New York: Barnes and Noble (2007 edition): 3.

[2] Ibid, 4.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 11.

[5] Ibid, 12.

[6] Ibid, 12.

[7] Ibid, 28.

[8] Ibid 28.

[9] Ibid, 33.

[10] Ibis, 36.

[11] Ibid, 39.

[12] Ibid, 48.

[13] Ibid, 56-57.