A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9 (HCSB)
I quote this verse to my kids all the time. For one thing, there are seven of them who can talk. Grumbling and negative talk can quickly become contagious. One kid starts talking about how much they hate dinner, and suddenly, they all find it gross and unacceptable. They’ll all be fine playing outside and having a great time until someone starts grumbling, and then suddenly, all of them are grumbling and miserable. I can completely understand how the grumbling of the Israelites sounded to Moses’ ears. I often remind my kids that words are contagious. Positive words are also contagious. If one kid thanks me for dinner, suddenly a chorus of “thank you” comes from around the table. If one kid is having a blast on the rope swing, suddenly everyone wants a turn. Good words are contagious, but so are bad ones.
I remind them (and myself) of this verse, not just because of the contagious nature of words, but also because we tend to find what we’re looking for. If you’re looking for the bad in any situation, be sure that you will find it. Likewise, if you’re looking for the good, you’ll blessedly find that. If you expect to see the goodness and beauty of God in this world, you’ll see it. If I focus on the bad, all I can see is the bad.
One of my favorite bands, mewithoutYou, has a song called A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains, which I reference quite a lot. Think about that. A glass can only spill what it contains. If you fill your glass, your inner thought-life, with good things, when the glass gets bumped, what is going to come out? Training our minds to focus on whatever is pure, lovely, and commendable is about filling our glass up with these good things, so what spills out of our lives is pure, lovely, and commendable.
Dwelling on the good isn’t some call to be a Pollyanna in a crumbling world. Dwelling on the good is focusing our hearts and minds on what is good. Those things we’ve learned, received, and heard from God bring peace to our hearts and lives. Dwelling on moral excellence and praise raises those things above lesser things in importance and shapes how we see the world. When suffering and trials come, having a cup full of the pure, lovely, and commendable works to pull us through the suffering.
During Lent, we tend to work on refocusing our lives. It is a great time for it. We set aside distractions, we learn to focus our spirits through discipline, and we set about filling our hearts with things that matter. I encourage you: focus your eyes on what is pure, lovely, and commendable. Focus your heart on things of moral excellence, worthy of praise. Focus your mind on what you have learned, received, and heard from God. Let that goodness fill you cup. Not only will you find that there is more goodness in this world than you’ve seen before, because God is at work here, but you’ll find also that you spill goodness out when the world bumps you. Let your goodness be contagious to those around you. Let yourself contain the things you wish to spill.