I once heard of a pastor who, while mentoring new members at his church, always asked the same question: “What do you think about when you have nothing to think about?” At first glance, this question seems a bit absurd and unnecessary, but as the case with these often goes, such is far from the truth.
Do you ever find yourself thinking about nothing? You will probably be relaxed and free from any obligations in order to do so. Our minds seem to be always going from one thing to the next, figuring out problems, creating more problems, and the many miscellaneous things that cross our minds. I could never tell you to think of nothing. You would probably start trying to think about what thinking about nothing would look like. Similarly, if I said, “Don’t think about an elephant,” you would immediately be thinking about an elephant. The point is, we are always thinking. We are always listening to ourselves, reminding ourselves of things past, thinking about the present situation and events taking place, or imagining what the future might hold. So it is rarely the case that we are truly thinking about nothing.
What is meant by “nothing” is the times where we are not obligated to think. These are the times where we are at liberty to think on whatever we would like, where nothing is forcing us to think about anything in particular. What do you think about during these times? Is it an imagination of future events? A depressing introspection? Other’s actions towards you? The list could go on. These are the thoughts only you know about (unless you are unashamed to tell others), and the thoughts your mind seems to automatically travel toward.
What we think about when we have nothing to think about tells us a lot about ourselves because it tells us what we truly desire most. The thing which naturally consumes our mind is usually our greatest affection. It is the thing which sits upon the throne of our hearts.
The way this question is worded tells us a lot about the way our minds work. It could almost be worded, “What do you say to yourself when you are listening to yourself?” Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “Most of your unhappiness is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself.” I think he was getting at the same point as the question. Your mind is running whether you like it or not, and you will react to it; either you are going to sit back and listen or you are going to direct the conversation by intentionally thinking about something.
Since I don’t know what you think about, I can’t say whether positive or negative thoughts consume your mind. But I can make a guess, and that guess would be that much of the time your thoughts drift towards negative things – or even a negative twist on positive situations. For some, it is quite obvious to see since their conversation tends toward negativity, but for others, such is not the case. Nevertheless, we all sin, and sin is the great cause of negativity. Sin causes us to have a negative disposition to others and to life in general. When listening to ourselves, we will usually hear the negative rather than the positive. It seems as though one must make a modest effort to think positively of others, while a negative approach to people usually comes naturally. Just look at children, no one teaches them to be mischievous. All teaching directed towards children has to do with proper behavior and better manners. If no one told us of our inherent sinfulness, we would still understand something to be wrong with us. Just listening to what we think about is enough to tell us something is wrong.
This is why we must intentionally think. It is the reason we find Moses, Jesus, Paul, and Peter all calling us to remember the gospel, to think on things above and not below. Intentional thinking is, in a sense, talking to ourselves. We must remind ourselves of the good news of Christ. We must intentionally think about the gospel and the implications of it for our lives. Otherwise, we are prone to wander to places of sin. We must preach the gospel to ourselves to combat the sin which is ready at the door.
Have you thought much on how Christ died to atone for your sin? Do you think of Christ as your righteousness? Does the wonder of how the Holy Spirit works to convict, comfort, and work in the hearts of believers consume you for a while? What about the Trinity? Do you ever spend time thinking about the reality that God is three persons in one essence? Have you dwelt on the promises and the blessings found in Christ? When you are not obligated to think on anything, do you recall to your mind a passage of Scripture you have recently read so as to think on it for some time?
You are the most influential person in your life because you are the person you listen to the most. Therefore, what you think about when you have nothing to think about is incredibly important. Will it cause you to live a life of holiness, or will it lead you to live a life similar to the world’s way of living? Your mind matters, your thoughts matter, what you intentionally think about matters, and it matters for eternity.