How Can Thinking Ability Safeguard You?
TOWERING waves are an awesome sight, but for sailors they spell danger. Those surging waters could cost them their lives.
In a similar way, God’s servants might face mounting pressures that threaten to overwhelm them. You may have recognized that wave after wave of trials and temptations bear down on Christians. You certainly want to counter them decisively, being determined to avoid spiritual shipwreck. (1 Timothy 1:19) Thinking ability is a vital part of your defense. What is it, and how is it acquired?
The Hebrew word rendered “thinking ability,” mezim·mahʹ, comes from a root word that means “to plan or plot.” (Proverbs 1:4) Thus, some Bible versions translate mezim·mahʹ as “prudence” or “foresight.” Biblical scholars Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown describe mezim·mahʹ as a “wariness by which to escape evil and find good.” This implies taking into account the long-term as well as the immediate consequences of our actions. Having thinking ability, we will carefully consider our options before we act, especially when important decisions must be made.
When a man with thinking ability makes decisions about the future or about situations in which he finds himself now, he first analyzes the likely hazards or pitfalls. Once possible dangers are identified, he works out how he can avoid them, taking into account the effect of his environment and associations. He can thus map out a course that will bring a good outcome, perhaps even divine blessings. Let us consider some practical examples that illustrate this process.
Avoid the Snare of Sexual Immorality
When the wind drives powerful waves toward the bow of a boat, the condition is described as a head sea. Sailors risk having their boat capsize unless they maneuver to meet the waves head-on.
We face a similar situation, living as we do in a world obsessed with sex. Every day, waves of sensual ideas and images head our way. We cannot ignore the effect they can have on our normal sexual desires. We must use thinking ability and meet the temptation decisively rather than just drift into dangerous situations.
Christian men, for example, often work alongside those who have little respect for women, considering them as mere sexual objects. Workmates may pepper their conversations with lewd jokes and sexual innuendos. This atmosphere could eventually plant immoral ideas in a Christian’s mind.
A Christian woman may also have to be employed and thus may experience difficulties. She may work alongside men and women who do not share her moral standards. Perhaps one of her male colleagues shows an interest in her. Initially, he may treat her considerately, even respecting her for her religious views. His persistent attention and close proximity could move her to want closer association.
As Christians, how can thinking ability help us in such circumstances? First, it can alert us to the spiritual dangers, and second, it can motivate us to plan an appropriate course. (Proverbs 3:21-23) In cases such as these, a clear message may have to be sent to fellow workers that our standards are different because of our Scriptural beliefs. (1 Corinthians 6:18) Our speech and conduct can reinforce that message. Furthermore, dealings with certain colleagues may need to be restricted.
Immoral pressures, however, are not limited to the workplace. They may also arise if a married couple allow problems to undermine their unity. A traveling minister observed: “The breakup of a marriage does not just happen. The couple may gradually grow apart, rarely talking to each other or spending time together. They may pursue material possessions to fill the emptiness of their marriage. And because they seldom compliment each other, they may feel drawn to other members of the opposite sex.”
This experienced minister continued: “Periodically, marriage mates should sit down and consider whether anything is harming their relationship. They should plan how they can study, pray, and preach together. They would benefit considerably by talking to each other ‘in the house, on the road, when they lie down, and when they get up,’ just as parents and children do.”—Deuteronomy 6:7-9.
Coping With Unchristian Behavior
Apart from helping us to face moral temptations successfully, thinking ability can also help us cope with problems with fellow Christians. When the wind drives the waves toward the stern of the boat, it produces what is known as a following sea. The waves can lift the stern and carry it sideways. This leaves the boat broadside to the direction of the waves and vulnerable to them.
We too could be susceptible to danger that comes from an unexpected direction. We serve Jehovah “shoulder to shoulder” alongside our many faithful Christian brothers and sisters. (Zephaniah 3:9) If one of them acts in an unchristian manner, it may seem like a breach of trust and may cause us deep distress. How might thinking ability prevent us from being thrown off balance and unduly hurt?
Recall that “there is no man that does not sin.” (1 Kings 8:46) It should not surprise us, therefore, that on occasion a Christian brother might annoy or offend us. Knowing this, we can prepare for that eventuality and meditate on how we should react. How did the apostle Paul respond when some of his Christian brothers spoke about him in a hurtful, contemptuous manner? Rather than losing his spiritual balance, he concluded that gaining Jehovah’s approval was more important than gaining man’s. (2 Corinthians 10:10-18) Such an attitude will help us to avoid a hasty reaction when provoked.
It is somewhat like stubbing our toe. When this happens, we might not think clearly for a minute or two. But after the pain subsides, we can reason and act normally. Similarly, we should not react immediately to an unkind remark or action. Instead, pause and consider the consequences of thoughtless retaliation.
Malcolm, a missionary for years, explains what he does when he is offended. “My first step is to go through a checklist of questions: Am I angry with this brother because our personalities clash? Is what he said really important? Is the effect that malaria has on my nerves exacerbating my feelings? Will I see things differently in a few hours?” Often, as Malcolm has found, the disagreement is unimportant and can be overlooked.*
Malcolm adds: “Occasionally, despite all my efforts to clear up the situation, the other brother’s attitude remains unfriendly. I try not to allow this to upset me. Once I have done all I can, I see the matter in a different way. I mentally put the matter in a ‘pending file,’ rather than a personal one. I will not allow it to drag me down spiritually or affect my relationship with Jehovah and with my brothers.”
Like Malcolm, we should not allow the misconduct of one individual to disturb us excessively. In every congregation there are many delightful, faithful brothers and sisters. It is a pleasure to walk the Christian way “side by side” with them. (Philippians 1:27) Remembering the loving support of our heavenly Father will also help us keep matters in perspective.—Psalm 23:1-3; Proverbs 5:1, 2; 8:12.
Not Loving the Things of the World
Thinking ability can help us to face another subtle pressure. When the wind drives the waves toward the beam, or the side, of the ship, it is known as a beam sea. In normal conditions, such a sea may slowly push the vessel off course. During a storm, however, a beam sea can cause the boat to capsize.
Similarly, if we succumb to the pressure to enjoy all that the wicked world has to offer, this materialistic life-style can push us off course spiritually. (2 Timothy 4:10) Left unchecked, the love of the world could eventually cause us to abandon our Christian course altogether. (1 John 2:15) How can thinking ability come to our aid?
First, it will help us gauge just what dangers we are up against. The world uses every marketing ploy imaginable to entice us. It incessantly promotes a whole package that supposedly everyone should pursue—the showy life-style of the rich, the glamorous, and the “successful.” (1 John 2:16) We are promised the admiration and approval of everyone, especially of our peers and neighbors. Thinking ability will help to counteract this propaganda, reminding us of the importance of ‘keeping free from the love of money,’ since Jehovah has promised that ‘he will by no means leave us.’—Hebrews 13:5.
Second, thinking ability will prevent us from following those who have “deviated from the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:18) It is so difficult to contradict those we have liked and trusted. (1 Corinthians 15:12, 32-34) Even if we are influenced only minimally by those who have abandoned the Christian course, it could hinder our spiritual progress and eventually put us in danger. We could be like a ship that steers just one degree from its proper course. Over a long journey, it could miss its destination by a huge distance.—Hebrews 3:12.
Thinking ability can help us to determine where we are in a spiritual sense and where we are going. Perhaps we recognize the need to have a fuller share in Christian activities. (Hebrews 6:11, 12) Note how one young Witness used thinking ability to help him pursue spiritual goals: “I had the chance to pursue a career in journalism. This had a real appeal for me, but I remembered the verse in the Bible that said that the ‘world is passing away,’ whereas ‘he that does the will of God remains forever.’ (1 John 2:17) I reasoned that what I did with my life should reflect my beliefs. My parents had abandoned the Christian faith, and I did not want to follow their example. So I determined to live a life of purpose and enrolled in the full-time ministry as a regular pioneer. After four satisfying years, I know that I made the right choice.”
Facing Spiritual Storms Successfully
Why is it urgent that we exercise thinking ability today? Sailors have to be sensitive to danger signs, especially when storms are brewing. If the temperature drops and the winds freshen, they batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst. In like manner, we must prepare to face pressures of gale-force intensity as this wicked system nears its end. The moral fabric of society is unraveling, and ‘wicked men advance from bad to worse.’ (2 Timothy 3:13) Just as sailors regularly listen to weather forecasts, we must heed the prophetic warnings of God’s inspired Word.—Psalm 19:7-11.
When we use thinking ability, we apply the knowledge that leads to everlasting life. (John 17:3) We can anticipate problems and decide how to overcome them. Thus we will resolve not to be swayed from the Christian course, and we can lay “a fine foundation for the future” by establishing and pursuing spiritual goals.—1 Timothy 6:19.
If we safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability, we do not need “to be afraid of any sudden dreadful thing.” (Proverbs 3:21, 25, 26) Rather, we can take comfort in God’s promise: “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you.”−Proverbs 2:10, 11.
Christians should try to make peace, in line with the counsel at Matthew 5:23, 24. If the matter involves serious sins, they should try to gain their brother, as outlined at Matthew 18:15-17. See The Watchtower of October 15, 1999, pages 17-22.
[Picture on page 23]
Regular communication builds up the marriage