Whew! What a day! It’s nice to finally be back in my apartment, reclining in a comfy chair and in my own space. Today was the first day of classes and what a first day it’s been. Besides the uncomfortably sticky weather, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many students at UCLA since..well, ever. Not only was it difficult to weave through the crowds of people on my bike, but my classes felt less inspiring than usual. I’m usually energized after the first day of classes (just ask my friends), but today was unusually draining. Maybe it’s because of the campus-wide protest against budget cuts or the weather, but either way it was a lackluster start to the new academic school year.
Even so, I sit here with much joy in my heart. I’m excited to finally sit down and write about something that’s been on my mind this entire day, to be able to communicate to you guys some experiments I’ve been conducting on myself. Yes, that may seem odd, but there’s a point to my madness and I promise it’ll all make sense.
So during my three-day summer vacation that I was able to spend at home between the end of my summer classes and the new school year, I made a point to observe myself–namely, my thoughts. I was resolved to spend one entire day “with pen in hand,” writing down any and every thought that came to mind. Much like Jonathan Edwards did throughout his life, I carried a pen and notebook everywhere I went and tried to write every thought/idea down; whether I was waking to the smell of my little brother’s musty room, thinking about slurpees from 7 Eleven, repining about having to pick up my sister from school, or spending time with the Lord, I wrote all my thoughts down in ink in my notebook. Now, as you can imagine, this was no simple task. I tried to avoid recording thoughts like, I’m writing in my notebook right now or I wonder why I’m wondering about ____ or even Why am I talking to myself? I tried to capture the significant, important thoughts that ran through my mind throughout the day, avoiding my thoughts about the experiment itself. I recorded redundant thoughts, but not the side comments that my mind makes on occasion. And even though I was only able to capture maybe 60% of my actual thoughts (it’s harder than you think), the results spoke volumes.
It is often said that a person’s thoughts dictate what’s important to them in their own life. For example, if a student is constantly worried, stressed out, or anxious about school work, it’s more than likely that school is a major priority for that student. So I wanted to gauge what my mind was consumed by on a daily basis, to determine what was important to me. Was it school? Friends? Family? God? Or even food? The results surprised me. Not only was it something unexpected, but it was embarrassing, humiliating even. My mind for most of the day was consumed with thoughts about..myself. Things like, What am I going to wear today? and I need to buy new clothes to I hope I don’t see people I know cause that would be awkward–most of my thoughts pointed to myself. A close second was..my schedule; the things I had to do consumed my mind more than family, friends, and even God. Thoughts about the Gospel made occasional appearances in my notebook, but not nearly enough. Needless to say, it caused me to reconsider my mindset as a Christian seeking to know Christ.
I was reminded of the letters that the apostle Paul wrote to his beloved disciple and spiritual son, Timothy. I deeply value these epistles, not only for their practicality, but also for their purpose of reminding Timothy and all Christians about the importance of perseverance and faith. Undoubtedly, Timothy was a spiritually mature man, and up-and-coming star in God’s kingdom, but that didn’t stop Paul from reminding him of where his mind should be. In 1 Timothy 1:18-19, Paul writes to his dear friend:
“This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regards to their faith.” (NASB)
Upon reading this, I was reminded (as Timothy most likely was) of the importance of enduring through the everyday struggles I encounter; not laying down to sinful temptations, but putting up a fight. I was especially struck by verse 19, which tells us to keep the faith “and a good conscience”. But, what does it mean to keep a “good conscience”?
Paul often wrote about having a clean and good conscience before the Lord (Romans 9:1; 13:5; 1 Corinthians 8:7-12; 1 Corinthians 10:25). He’s basically saying that because God created everyone, he instilled in us a “DNA” if you will, of knowing right from wrong. God gave us inherent understanding of what sin is (even if you don’t call it that) and what good is. This is not to say, however, that everyone still retains a “good conscience,” because the Word is very explicit about how many people have chosen to deny God. Romans 1:21 says that, “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” So, in one sense, Paul is referring to maintaining a good understanding of the standards to which God holds our actions and our thoughts.
In seeing my own thoughts played out throughout a day, I’ve come to the conclusion that what Paul calls a “good conscience” is also a healthy conscience. Healthy thoughts are thoughts of substance, not merely of good intention. Even if you have good thoughts throughout the day, have a clean conscience when you interact with friends, and continually seek to compliment people, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a healthy conscience. A good and healthy conscience is one that is filled with substantial thoughts about God, continually refreshed by the glories of the Gospel. Paul was not only reminding his young disciple to maintain and protect his inherent understanding of God and his God-given conscience, but he was also reminding Timothy to be purposeful in cultivating God-centered thoughts.
It seems that this charge to keep the faith and a good conscience was a common issue when Paul was writing to Timothy. In verse 19 Paul mentions that “some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regards to their faith”. Clearly some people failed to maintain a good conscience centered on God, which resulted in the demise of their spiritual livelihood. This places an unmeasurable priority on a Christian’s ability to keep a good and healthy conscience, to center thoughts on the Lord. If we are not cautious and careful of fighting the good fight, we risk shipwrecking our own faith. Paul not only reminds Timothy about the intangible devotion to the Lord (devotion of the mind), but seriously mentions the consequences as well.
Obviously, I needed this reminder. All too often I’m tempted to only consider myself and my own circumstances, and my experiment verified that. I’m humbled by the fact that I am stuck considering things like clothes, school, my agenda–the temporal things–above my eternal Lord and Savior. It shows me how fickle I am, but at the same time, I’m encouraged. Because of this experiment, I can now clearly see where I need to grow the most. Praise God for showing me my own selfishness and the results of my poor conscience. I think Paul’s written words to Timothy also serve me well in reminding me of the basic mentality that I should have as a Christian, and showing me the consequences of a sluggish faith. See? I told you it would all make sense in the end. Now pick up your pen, a notebook, and try the experiment on yourself; you’ll see that, much like the Christian life, it’s not as easy as you think it is but the results are more than worthwhile.