Have you ever stopped to consider that many of the problems we face as Christians stem from a lack of thinking? I mean think about it (no pun intended). Most of us have heard someone say, “You’re over-thinking the problem,” or, “Don’t think about it, just do it.” And from a certain point of view, we are capable of over-analyzing issues, but we’ll get to that in a minute. For now consider how we under-think. In fact, consider how many of us are actually afraid to think.
Hebrews 11, the classic chapter about faith, actually sets out a startling principle that I had never seen before. Look in verse three – “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3 ESV). In this context the word understand means to think or to reason. As I began pondering the implications, I continued reading and I arrived at verse 19 – “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:19 ESV). This verse speaks of Abraham’s testing with Isaac when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac up on the mountaintop. Abraham didn’t just blindly go up on the mountain, he considered, or thought through the ramifications of going through with what God was demanding. Faith is not without thinking. In fact the Bible teaches that much thinking should accompany great faith.
I know what many of you are thinking. You’re thinking that under-thinking isn’t the problem, but instead its over-thinking. Many of you have this verse running through your mind: “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11 ESV). And some of you are thinking that faith doesn’t need great thinking because then it ceases to be faith. Please allow me to deal with each of these challenges to thinking.
First, the notion that we over-think issues needs to be cleared up. What most of us think of as over-thinking is actually needless worrying. Many of us get caught up in thinking through what could happen, what-might’ve-beens, and shoulda-woulda-couldas. You do not have ultimate control over the future and you cannot change the past, therefore fretting over either classifies as worrying and sinful. It is not the kind of thinking that we see Abraham exercising.
Second, when Jesus instructed us, “do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say,” this is yet another admonition to refrain from worry. There is nothing here to indicate that we should not think upon the faithfulness of God, think upon his provision, and think about how he has delivered us in the past. We should think about the Gospel anytime we come under persecution. Thinking should be a close ally in those times.
Finally, if you believe that thinking reduces faith, you have believed amiss. Some of the greatest thinkers to ever walk the face of the earth were deeply faithful Christians. In fact, to reduce Christianity down to simple faith that shuns deep thinking is a disgrace to the Gospel. The problems of the world are complex, and they require a solution that is equal to the task. The Gospel is as deep as it is wide. Too many of us are content to wear spiritual floaties and splash around in the surface waters instead of diving deep where the deep problems of life find their resolution.
Many of our problems stem to a lack of thinking. When we encounter doubt we don’t think deeply about the promises of God. When we encounter opposition we don’t think about the true nature of our opposition. When our relationships go awry we don’t think about how Jesus has purchased our reconciliation. No, instead we look at our issues on the surface and cry out to God for solutions that don’t even fit what’s really going on. We desperately need to become thinkers. I said earlier that many of us are actually afraid to think. Perhaps the fear of thinking is really a fear finding out how broken we truly are.
The New Testament in numerous places instructs us to think; to name a few, Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:8, and Colossians 3:2. Jesus very clearly teaches us to think about the cost of discipleship before becoming his disciple (Luke 14:25-33). Thinking must become a steady practice of anyone who wishes to grow in maturity in Christ. Not every deep thought produces great faith, but every act of great faith is accompanied by deep thinking.