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THE 4:8 PRINCIPLEThe Secret to a Joy-Filled Life
By TOMMY NEWBERRY
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2007 Tommy Newberry
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLIFE AS IT WAS MEANT TO BE
Discovering the Secret to a Joy-Filled Life
If you only care enough for a result, you will almost certainly attain it. Only you must then really wish these things, and wish them exclusively, and not wish at the same time a hundred other incompatible things just as strongly. - William James
What is the secret to a joy-filled life? Does such a thing even exist? Since the beginning of time, mankind has searched just about everywhere in hopes of finding out this secret. Today, most people are trying to find joy in something or someone outside of themselves. But where exactly did God place this secret to a joy-filled life? Is it possible that our heavenly Father branded joy onto the very fiber of our being? I think God gave all of us a shot at experiencing the proactive happiness I call joy. After all, we are his most beloved creation.
As humans, we search for joy in all the wrong places. And what we receive is just a sporadic sampling, a fraction of the real deal, a clever counterfeit to genuine joy. We look outside, not inside. The secret to a joy-filled life is so close, so obvious, that inside is often the last place we look. We search everywhere but within.
Living with joy is our birthright. It is God's intention for all his children. In 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul writes, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (5:16-18, NIV). As children of God, we are rightful heirs to the blessing of overflowing joy. God has declared us worthy. As a result, we have a calling, a responsibility to express and demonstrate joy by the way we live.
Being joy filled does not mean that your life is perfect. Who could claim that? It doesn't even mean that your life is great. What it does mean is that you emphatically trust God and believe that he has great plans for your life, regardless of what is happening right now. Joy is the infectious and uncontainable fruit of divinely inspired growth. It's a deeply entrenched, unshakable belief, the result of sustained right thinking and dwelling on the nature and character of God. Joy is an outward sign of inward faith in the promises of God. It is a way of acting, and it is evidence of spiritual maturity. Joy is not a distant destination at which you arrive; rather, it's a path you choose to travel each day.
Joy is the sum and substance of emotional health. It is a state of mind that must be deliberately cultivated if you are determined to live and love and influence others as God intended. How do you cultivate joy? To begin with, you make the decision never again to settle for anything less than real joy. Independent of outer conditions, joy is the result of practicing what I call the 4:8 Principle. We'll talk about that more in the next chapter.
My two oldest boys have figured out that I am not the most complex guy in the world. When we're playing capture the flag with their friends, I often hide the flag out in the open, almost in plain view. You guessed it-for a long time it's the last place any of the kids look. When playing hide-and-seek, I'll often hide in the same spot two or three times in a row, consistently escaping detection (at least for a little while). Our human nature, with an assist from modern culture, promotes the idea that solutions must be deep and complicated to be valuable. In most cases, nothing could be further from the truth. Lasting solutions are surprisingly simple. Joy is within us, but it must be released.
Keep Your Thoughts Fixed on God!
Mental discipline is the ability to keep your thoughts consistently focused. When you use the 4:8 Principle as the filter for your thinking, you focus on God and goodness to the exclusion of all else. As a result, you will begin to develop mental strength. With high levels of mental discipline, you'll reach your goals faster, upgrade your potential for joy, and become a lot more fun to be around. When you keep your thoughts fixed on God, the things of God will naturally permeate your life, and thus your goals will be in line with his will and his kingdom. Virtually any meaningful goal is within reach when you become mentally disciplined. Without the positive focus demanded by the 4:8 Principle, even relatively easy goals become a strain to reach.
With weak mental muscles, the existence of joy in your life is random and unpredictable. Mental laziness slowly dissolves your potential for joy-first privately, in your thoughts, and then publicly, coming out in your actions and circumstances. The concept of mental discipline may sound scary or even intimidating, but a life without mental discipline is far more daunting. It may be a challenge, but you'll find that the 4:8 Principle is simple enough for even a child to learn. Even better news is that there is no need to be perfect. After all, perfection doesn't really exist apart from God. All you have to do is concentrate on progress. So as you read the upcoming pages, stop trying to be flawless, and instead, focus on daily improvement.
By deliberately working to improve your mental game, you will steadily upgrade every area of your life. Your family life will be more peaceful. You will hit your financial goals faster. With strong, toned mental muscles, you'll become more fit spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and physically. And along the way, you'll begin to enjoy life as it was meant to be-full of the joy that comes from trusting in God's promises.
What Can You Do?
When my son Ty was eight years old, he broke his right arm after his first football practice. He had been so excited after his first day of real contact that even before we got into the car to head home, he insisted on showing me, in slow motion, how he had learned to tackle. Unfortunately, he lost his balance and fell backward on his right arm, creating a buckle fracture just above his wrist. According to his doctor, Ty would have to be in a cast for at least six weeks to give the bone time to fully heal, and he would likely miss most of the games. This was not a good start to the fall.
After the initial disappointment, Ty seemed to be handling the setback fairly well. Then a couple of days later, while riding home from church, he went into a negative spiral, reciting everything he could not do with only one good arm. He was very thorough, even though his mother, Kristin, and I tried to interrupt him several times to break the self-defeating mental momentum.
When we arrived back at our house, I asked Ty to join me in my study for a few minutes. "Ty, don't you think there are lots of things you can still do, even with your broken right arm?" I asked.
"No, not the really good things," he replied skeptically.
"All right then," I said, "I'm going to give you a quick exercise, like I do in The 1% Club, that will show you how much you really can do."
Because he had no choice, Ty agreed to participate-unenthusiastically.
"Ty," I said, "write down twenty-one things you can still do with just one arm, and we'll be done."
With a curious look, Ty responded, "Dad, I'm in a cast. I can't write."
"Oh, that's right," I said with a laugh, wishing we could start over. "Then you talk, Ty, and I'll write for you."
So Ty started talking, and I started writing. Slowly, with some prodding, the first few answers came. He could read books, ride his bike, watch TV, and play video games. Those things triggered even more ideas. Ty continued, "I could hike or run. I could play in my tree house. I could go to the movies, eat popcorn, and have M&M's. I could still do science experiments. I could do sit-ups, take a bath, and make my bed." As we approached the goal of twenty-one ideas, I was writing as fast as I could.
"Okay, that's twenty-one," I confirmed to Ty.
"Keep writing, Dad. I want to do some more," he said, no longer annoyed with the exercise.
Finally, with thirty-five answers, Ty was ready to stop. I handed him the list he had dictated and asked him to read it aloud. As he read, I could see the excitement growing. There really were a lot of things a kid could still do with a broken arm.
"Can I go show Mom my list?" Ty asked.
"Sure," I said, "but let me ask you one more question first. Ty, do you think we could have made just as long a list of the things you can't do with a broken arm?" I asked, hoping to create a coachable moment.
"Yes," he quickly answered, "but why in the world would we want to do that?"
"Good point," I said as I enjoyed his smile. "Go show Mom."
Over the next few days, I have to admit that Ty and I repeated an abbreviated version of that exercise several times whenever his attitude took a dive. Within a minute or two, though, Ty's mind-set quickly shifted back into positive gear. As the tension faded, you could see the joy return. Ty was learning how to win the battle of his mind and starting to understand the secret to a joy-filled life.
Your Thoughts Are Showing
Almost everything that happens to you, good or bad, originates with a single thought. Neuroscientists can now demonstrate that every thought sends electrical and chemical signals throughout your brain, ultimately affecting each cell in your body. Thoughts can influence your sleep, your digestion, your pulse, the chemical makeup of your blood, and all other bodily functions. The secret conversations you hold in the privacy of your own mind are shaping your destiny, little by little. With every thought that races through your mind, you are continually reinventing yourself and your future. Research indicates that the average person thinks approximately fifty thousand thoughts per day. This is either good or bad news because every thought moves you either toward your God-given potential or away from it. No thoughts are neutral.
Whatever you direct your mind to think about will ultimately be revealed for everyone to see. Remind yourself with a smile that "my thoughts are showing." See, you have two options: By your manner of thinking, you can draw out the best in yourself and others, or you can draw out the worst. What you persistently think eventually but inevitably crystallizes into the words you speak and then the things you do.
Every thought you have shifts your life in a particular direction, sometimes in a minor way and sometimes in a major way. Every individual thought matters. Unfortunately, approximately 90 percent of the thoughts you have today are repeats from yesterday and the day before. This is the primary reason why effecting permanent, positive life improvement tends to be met with such stiff resistance in most people.
If your aim is to maximize your potential for joy, you must first discipline yourself mentally. This is your responsibility, something for which you must immediately take ownership. Do your part now so that God can honor your faith and empower you to live a life of excellence. Think the thoughts you would think if you trusted God's promises completely. Make the shift from random, reactive thinking to deliberate, purpose-driven thinking. You have authority over your thoughts, but God will not force you to exercise this aspect of your free will any more than he will compel you to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, read the Bible, or wear your seat belt. Right thinking is a choice you have to make for yourself the rest of your life. If you are committed, you can select your thoughts and thereby shape your life here on earth into something spectacular. The alternative is to give up this freedom and live a life of mediocrity dominated by uncertainty and suspense. This may sound harsh at first, but I know it is the truth-and I suspect you do as well.
In Romans 12:2, we are taught that transformation is the result of a renewed mind. The apostle Paul writes, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will" (NIV). The idea is that you have to retrain your thoughts and feelings if you want to experience God's ideal for your life and get the most out of every moment of every day. Unfortunately, most people struggle to change or renew their circumstances (lose weight, fix their marriage, make more money), when they should be asking God to help them renew their minds. When our minds are renewed, circumstances take care of themselves.
The secret to living an exceptional life tomorrow is purely a matter of thinking strong, joyful thoughts today. It is the net result of programming your mind with the kind of high-quality ideas and boundless possibilities that will set you free and allow you to soar and thrive as God intends. I can't overemphasize the importance of developing mental discipline. The battle you wage against your human nature is an invisible one that will be won or lost in the mind. Minute by minute, hour by hour, in the hidden workshop of your mind, you are constructing thoughts of good or evil, depression or joy, success or failure. You are writing your own life story as a human being with each subtle and soundless thought you think.
The Gift of the Present
Did you know that you cannot be joy filled without thinking thoughts of joy? You cannot worry without thinking worrisome thoughts. You cannot be afraid without thinking thoughts of fear. Can you remember a time when you were thinking of hope and happiness but felt depressed at the same time? Can you imagine acting loving while thinking bitter thoughts of anger and resentment? While thinking, you have only the present moment. All you have is now. Think of it as the gift of the present! A blissful memory is experienced as present joy. A gloomy memory is experienced as present pain. As a result, thinking, talking, and worrying about what you don't want can never bring you what you do want.
The importance of right thinking is emphasized throughout the Old and New Testaments. In Proverbs, we are taught that "as [a person] thinks in his heart, so is he" (23:7, NKJV) and also that we must "keep [our] heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (4:23, NKJV). Protecting our minds from negative input will be the focus of part three.
In Job 3:25, we are warned that the things we intensely fear have a tendency to become reality. And Jesus repeatedly reminds us that what we receive will be the result of what we believe. He underscores this point in the Sermon on the Mount when he teaches that even to think lustful thoughts is a sin, yet if "your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light" (Matthew 6:22, NLT). In Matthew 15:18, we're taught that people are defiled or made unclean by what is in their hearts-in other words, by the way they think. Jesus knew well that persistent thoughts eventually lead to action. So did Paul, who encourages us to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). Can you imagine a negative, cynical, self-defeating, or "woe is me" thought being obedient to Jesus Christ?
Finally, in the great simplicity of truth, James sums it up when he writes that one who doubts is "a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8, NKJV). Being duplicitous or impure in your thinking is really the opposite of being mentally disciplined. It's like praying for sunshine and then grabbing your umbrella as you walk out the door. It is forgiving your spouse for a grievance and then repeatedly rehashing it in your mind. It is hoping for the best and secretly fearing the worst. It is the inability to direct your thoughts in a deliberate, preconceived direction. Though God's grace doesn't demand mental discipline, living a life of excellence must be preceded by it.
God designed your mind to be immensely powerful. This mental resource is one of the most wonderful blessings from our Creator. Even better, as part of your free will, he gave you command over your mind. This does not mean you must use this power, but it is available. This dominion over your thought life can be used to maximize your God-given potential, or it can be misused or even ignored. The way you think can either multiply or shrink your gifts and talents. How are you doing in this area? Up to this point in your life, have you been a faithful steward of your mental life?
Excerpted from THE 4:8 PRINCIPLE by TOMMY NEWBERRY Copyright © 2007 by Tommy Newberry. Excerpted by permission.
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