In the first ten years of my association with Harald Bredesen, we took a bike ride almost every day. He had once collapsed in a pulpit, and the first diagnosis was that it might have been a heart attack. Later, doctors found no evidence for such an event, so he referred to the collapse as "my near brush with a heart attack."
Bicycling is good for the heart, he said, so we biked. But on those rides, his "near brush" was never far from my thoughts.
At half his age, I would often ride up hills twice to his once — his idea. I would bike hard to the top, turn, go back to the bottom, then back up to meet him as he made his way to the top. One day we rode up a particularly steep hill. The road was little more than a driveway servicing three or four houses and a water tank. I got to the top, turned to see how far up Harald had come and, to my horror, saw him halfway down the hill, sprawled across the road, his bicycle on the ground beside him.
I rode hard to the rescue, pedaling as fast as I could, putting all the power I had into every stroke. By the time I reached him, I was going very fast indeed. I hit the brakes, but nothing happened. I had recently come to the area north of San Diego from Lubbock, Texas, one of the flattest regions on earth. I had little experience with hilly terrain. It just didn't occur to me that with the momentum I had built up going down the hill, the brakes would be inadequate — utterly inadequate.
I passed him without noticeable slowing. It was like a horror movie seeing him so still on the pavement and me, unable to stop or even slow down, as I flashed past. I braked hard all the way to the bottom of the hill. Once on the main road (and level ground) the bike finally came to a stop. I looked up the hill, and he was still laying across the roadway. I shifted to a low gear, and pedaled again with all my might, this time climbing.
When I got close to him, I called out, "Harald, are you okay?"
A head rose from the asphalt. "Yes."
"Why are you on the ground?"
"I just wanted to rest a minute."
This was Harald all over again.
Why couldn't I stop as I headed down that hill? Yes, there was gravity and inertia. But the real problems were the choices I made at the top of the hill and on my way down. Every hard push of the peddle was a choice. The momentum I created on the way to him, removed my ability to choose when I decided I wanted to stop.
Little Things Accumulate
We often speak of the big choices young people face. Imagine a boy who loves video games so much he can hardly tear himself away. Suppose he plays when he should be doing his homework and the next morning scrambles to get the work done. He probably does it poorly, if at all. Imagine this happening day after day, night after night. He's pedaling down a hill. He's predetermining his choices. He's removing some of his best options.
Big decision — Who will he marry? A million little things go into it. A rule of thumb is, he won't marry the wrong person if he never dates the wrong person. Who will he date? That depends on who he hangs out with, which has to do with where he hangs out, what he spends his time on, and what's important to him.
Even before he marries, he makes a commitment to remain faithful to his new wife. That's the big decision, but little choices will tell the tale. Day by day, hour by hour, microsecond by microsecond, he will choose his own thoughts. This choice is often predetermined by what he chooses to put into his mind. He will choose whether or not to turn the television on and, once on, what he will watch. He chooses his attitude as he watches. He will choose what to read, what internet sites he will spend time on. He will choose the ways in which he views other women.
The day Harald and I were on the hill, I made a big decision. I determined to do the right thing. "I will stop halfway down the hill and help my friend." But the big decision was overwhelmed by a flood of little ones. I thought I could choose to stop when I got to a certain place, but the cumulative effect of the little decisions made the big one for me.
Big decision — I will not become an alcoholic. Did anyone ever decide to become one? Strangely enough, alcoholism is completely avoidable. No matter what your genetic makeup, you can avoid the addiction by never starting to drink. (In my opinion, the Bible doesn't require everyone to be a teetotaler like me, but the observation above is still true. If you don't start, you won't have to stop.)
Big decision — I will lose weight. Once again, the big choice is meaningless if not followed by thousands of little ones, and would not be necessary if not preceded by many small, but bad choices.
Don't Sweat the Little Stuff, but Don't Think It's Really Little
Small decisions — Who will you spend time with? Jerry Springer?
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. — Psalm 1:1 (NIV)
Small decisions — What do you choose to think about?
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. — Psalm 1:2 (NIV)
Our choice of thought life may be the biggest of all small decisions. There are many aspects to it. Imagination, for instance, is one of the most powerful tools in the world.
What Do You Dream Of?
An envelope arrives in the mail. It says, "Guaranteed $10,000,000 winners, Joe Blow, Rochester — Mary Christmas, Baltimore — Tom Gilbreath, Lubbock." Obviously, I haven't won ten million bucks. If I had, they wouldn't say so on the outside of the envelope. Eventually, they'll have to tell me the truth. Why do they want to fool me in the meantime?
Is it to get me to open the envelope? Partially. But why does it make me open the envelope? Most of us know it isn't true half a second after we see it. But even half a second of hesitation can give an adrenaline rush, and make us start imagining what it would feel like to win. Once the envelope is open, they want me to pick out the color of my new Cadillac even though I haven't won it yet and almost certainly will not. Why? Because when I pick out the color, I invest my imagination. I see myself winning, see the car in my driveway and myself in the car.
In state lottery commercials, the whole point is to get you to imagine yourself in your dream home, driving your dream car, living a dream life. If you dream what they want you to dream, they have you.
Look at any commercial. Eating cornflakes can seem like an existential experience. A mouthwash may allow you to finally achieve the happiness that has been so elusive in your life until now. (Who can be happy if his breath stinks?) Imagine the warm sensation of security you will feel as you take your family down the highway on Michelin tires.
And it works. People aren't buying lottery tickets. They're buying permission to dream. And they're dreaming everywhere. How often do you hear someone make reference to what he will do when he wins the lottery? It's safe to say, he thinks about it far more than he talks about it.
Your imagination is powerful. That's why Satan wants it. So does God.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. — 2 Cor 10:3-5 (NIV)
Medical science shows that what we think about influences our ability to think, influences brain chemistry, and overall health.
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life . . . — Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NIV)
Every day the great choices of life and death are made . . . thousands of times . . . by each of us.
We often correctly say that sin is sin and God hates all sin. But we know intuitively that murder is worse than gluttony. Why would one be worse than another? Because murder is never just murder. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of sins accompany it — sins of rebellion starting with decisions made in a microsecond to push thoughts of God aside — decisions that form patterns, patterns that become habits. And nothing takes you down the hill as fast as entrenched habits.
Such microsecond decisions are like a virus infecting the spirit. They multiply and they make you sick. Each decision to push God out of your thoughts and replace Him with lust of a sexual or materialist nature is "rebellion." Sins in imagination precede sins in "the real world."
Whatever He Does Prospers
The Lord wants you to fill your thoughts with Him. He wants you to read the Bible as if it contained the most important words ever placed on any page — because it does.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night, He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. — Psalm 1:2-3
What's smaller than our choice of thoughts? What's bigger?
Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. — Philippians 4:8
Want to live an overcoming Christian life? Think on these things. Want to be full of joy and a joy to others? Think on these things. Want to be a good mom or dad, a good employer or employee, a good example, a success? Think on these things.
Think on these things and a thousand years from now, the world will still be better because you did.
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