10. POISE THROUGH THOUGHT - CONTROL
In my first pastorate a young lady, 29 years of age, wore a facial expression that reminded me of an approaching cyclone. It came as no surprise to me to discover that she enjoyed very poor health! Her house was a mess, and her general appearance looked like an accident going somewhere to happen. When I shook her hand at the end of the service, it was so limp I felt like handing it back to her. I would say, "How are you?" She then proceeded to tell me her tale of woe.
I was only 22 years old, but I learned one lesson in a hurry. I stopped asking her how she was. When I shook her hand, I shook it, believe me! I gave her my finest smile and said, calling her by name, "You look so much better. You must be feeling better." Believe it or not, within a few months she was looking better and apparently feeling better. With the help of some friends, I dropped a seed thought into her mind that became a dominant thought. And as she thought, so she became.
What is poise?
Over time, what I observed in that woman was an increase in her poise. You will find poise complex in its makeup. The Amplified New Testament translates Philippians 4:5 as follows: "Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit). The Lord is near [He is coming soon]."
The word translated "unselfishness," "considerateness," and "forbearing spirit" can also be rendered as "fairness," "reasonableness," "mildness," "patience," and "leniency." The word further carries the sense of "congeniality of spirit." It is all this that underlies and defines the term poise. You will mark the person of poise one of unassuming assurance, an easy dignity of manner. You may define poise as the peace of God expressed in human behavior.
How do we develop poise? There are many ways. But you will not get far unless you can take command of your own mental processes. Poise, then, first requires that we exercise thought control.
Control your thoughts, control your feelings
Finally, brethren, 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
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. —Proverbs 23:7
I have already said that while we cannot control our feelings directly, we can control them indirectly by controlling our thoughts.
You can control your thoughts consciously if you want to. To be sure, it will take some discipline. Arnold Bennett, in his splendid book How to Live on Twenty-Tour Hours a Day, challenges the reader to think on any given subject every day for at least 15 minutes without permitting his mind to wander. I challenge you to try it.
Many people can brood for 15 minutes. They can worry for 15 minutes. But very few people can focus their attention on any given (and I might add, worthwhile) subject for 15 minutes. Almost without exception, after two minutes their minds will have drifted onto something else.
To repeat a statement previously made in this book: you cannot have thoughts of fear and, at the same time, act courageous. If you want victory over anxiety, you must develop the control of your thoughts. Only by doing this can you develop the poise that conquers worry.
We are what we think
The old saying is true. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, "A man's life is what his thoughts make of it." Ralph Waldo Emerson states that truth in another way when he says, "A man is what he thinks about all day long." Our dominant thoughts tend to externalize themselves. What lives within sooner or later finds concrete expression.
It's an old trick, but school children still love to play it. One will go to Billy and say, "You look terrible. Are you feeling well today?" A little later another one will approach him with a similar suggestion. And then a third. And a fourth. Soon the thought of his not being well becomes Billy's dominant thought—and he goes home sick!
So take care what you let into your mind. Paul instructs us to think on things that are true. Don't think on falsehood. If you think on falsehood, soon you will become false. Your heart will condemn you and your worries will increase.
Think on things that are honest and praiseworthy. As you do so, your thoughts will inevitably begin to externalize themselves. Think honestly, and you will live honestly. If you cannot describe something as good and honorable, then refuse to think of it at all. It will only pollute your mind and sap your resolve to win over your worries. Think on things that are pure. As Peter would say, "Gird up the loins of your mind" (1 Peter 1:13a). An impure thought always precedes an impure deed. Keep your thoughts pure, and your deeds will be pure. Pure thoughts are incompatible with worry thoughts.
The apostle Paul says, "Think on things of good report" (see Philippians 4:8). The words "good report" come from two words meaning "fair speaking." The phrase could also be translated "attractive." Attractive thoughts will also deliver you from worry and from being a sourpuss.
Paul then adds, "If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." The word "virtue" comes from the Greek word aresko, which means "to please." Here again, learn to control your thoughts so they will relate to that which pleases. That means they will be pleasing thoughts.
Under God, you have the power to control your thoughts. Some people unwittingly invite misery because they invite into their minds destructive thoughts. They use no discernment in the selection of the guests they invite into their minds. They think worry thoughts, fear thoughts, anxiety thoughts. Consequently they don't see the glass half full; rather, they always see it half empty. They spurn the sunlight of optimism for the ominous clouds of pessimism. They come up with sanctimonious witticisms like"I expect the worst so I will never be disappointed." In a way they're right. Expect the worst, and you will get the worst. Thoughts of the worst dominating your life tend to externalize themselves into your outward actions, which means that your expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You yourself, therefore, create a self-destroying monster.
Think for yourself
Do your own thinking. You must guard yourself even against the well-meaning but often negative and damaging advice of relatives and friends. They may mean well, but they often pull against your best interests by encouraging you to go easy on yourself. Don't leave your mind open to the negative influence of other people. Read the biography of any dynamic personality—any achiever—and almost without exception you will discover that discouraging remarks, poor advice, negative influences, and downright opposition were thrown across his or her path by people in his or her inner circle.
Misery loves company, and you can be sure that other worriers will do their best to drag you down to their level. The following story illustrates the point well.
There were two farmers. One was a pessimist, the other was an optimist.
The optimist would say, "Wonderful sunshine."
The pessimist would respond, "Yeah, I'm afraid it's going to scorch the crops."
The optimist would say, "Fine rain."
The pessimist would respond, "Yeah, I'm afraid we are going to have a flood."
One day the optimist said to the pessimist, "Have you seen my new bird dog? He's the finest money can buy."
The pessimist said, "You mean that mutt I saw penned up behind your house? He don't look like much to me."
The optimist said, "How about going hunting with me tomorrow?"
The pessimist agreed. They went. They shot some ducks. The ducks landed on the pond. The optimist ordered his dog to get the ducks. The dog obediently responded. Instead of swimming in the water after the ducks, the dog walked on top of the water, retrieved the ducks, and walked back on top of the water.
The optimist turned to the pessimist and said, "Now, what do you think of that?"
Whereupon the pessimist replied, "Hmmm, he can't swim, can he?"
In the strength of God, control your thoughts. Let them be regulated according to the will of God. Such thoughts will lead to inner poise that is a shield against worry.