~ A Letter About Five Letters ~
introduction: This is a modified version of a letter I wrote to my grandson on the occasion of his entering his teen years.
To each Christian graduate,
We are so very proud of you to this point of your life! We continually pray for you because we know that most of your life is ahead of you. We are also acutely aware that life is like a football game in that one or two plays will often determine the outcome. When you line up for each play, you never know which play will decide winning or losing the game. Likewise, as you arise each morning, you never know which day will present life-changing choices for good or bad which will have major impacts on your life’s outcome.
There are five little letters which will make all the difference in the aim of your life. Will you be just a person? Or will you be a person of God? We are so glad that you have indicated the latter choice! Whether your actual trajectory is successful will depend on your choices now and each day forward. We would like to share with you a very important sequence—a domino effect—that will to a large degree affect your success in hitting your target.
First, and most important of all, we pray that you will control your thinking. “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Ephesians 2:3). A basic truth to understand is that your thoughts will eventually produce results. “But the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
The Apostle Paul understood this principle (2 Corinthians 10:1-5); so did the Apostle Peter (Acts 8:21b-23), the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:12), and Solomon—the wisest man who ever lived (Proverbs 23:7). Certainly Jesus Christ understood the importance of thoughts! (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-29).
Second, when you repeatedly think in a particular way it will become an attitude. Attitudes are insidious. You think a particular way just once. But the next time it is easy to think the way you did the previous time. Before long you have developed an attitude (a habitual way of thinking). That is why it is critical to constantly test the correctness of your thinking. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5). The battle is easily lost unless you understand that attitudes are formed by patterns of thinking.
I have found that a good way to change an attitude is by replacement. Imagine a glass which is half-full of milk and is glued to a surface. Your task is to fill the glass with pure water. One way of accomplishing that is to pour a pitcher of pure water into the glass. As the glass fills it becomes half water and half milk. As you continue to pour, the water replaces more and more of the milk until eventually the glass contents are as pure as the water in the pitcher. You have replaced the milk with water.
The same is true of attitudes (i.e., thoughts that are glued in place by becoming an attitude). Replacement takes a conscious effort on your part! It takes personal discipline—but it works! “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). “Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest whom you confess” (Hebrews 3:1). The route to being a person of God is to be continually “made new in the attitude of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23).
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5). “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5b).
Third, while thinking leads to attitudes, it does not stop there. Attitudes are important because they are the most fundamental aspect of motivation—your motive for taking a particular action.
While it is true you will sometimes be motivated by positive external factors (such as rewards) or negative external factors (such as fearing a loss), your most important motivations will be internal (your developed attitudes). Usually your motivations will be a combination of two or all three types. One quick example is the motivation for salvation can be from fear of hell, desire for the reward of heaven, or an internal response to the grace of God. “You love Him, because He first loved you” (1 John 4:19).
Fourth, your motivations are critically important since they influence your actions. Fifth, repeated actions become your lifestyle. The lifestyle you choose to develop is critically important because it will determine whether you are a person of God and that in turn has eternal consequences. But remember it all begins with your thinking.
In 70 plus years it has been my observation that as people grow older their inner character—who they really are—becomes increasingly transparent while there reputation—who people believe they are—becomes increasingly accurate and increasingly aligns with their character. This is why as people grow old they usually are seen as either increasingly better or more obviously bitter.
We will continue to regularly pray for you and your thought life. More importantly, since you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, He is constantly interceding on your behalf and the Spirit of God is constantly available to guide and comfort you—but your responsibility is to listen to Him. Life on earth is not easy, but to the degree you seek to follow God’s way and His will for your life, is the degree to which you will have increased your capacity to enjoy heaven for all eternity-future.
Fortunately, God knows you will fail at times, and He has also provided for that inevitability. “If you confess your sins He is faithful to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will put the right desires [thoughts] in your heart” (Psalm 37:4a). “Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
The underlying important point is that as a human your soul will live forever. Life on earth is an extremely tiny portion of forever! We are praying that you will remember this sequence: Correct Thinking > Divine Attitudes > Controlled Motivations > Godly Lifestyle > Spiritual Victory > Keep Fighting > Well done, “good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:23). Your trajectory has brought you to your desired bulls-eye.
In closing, let us say that since in all likelihood many of us will arrive at our eternal home before you, be assured we will be waiting for you at your finish line, cheering you on each step of your way to your heavenly home!
Your brothers and sisters in Christ
~ Robert Lloyd Russell, ABUNDANT LIFE NOW