When I finally succumbed to fitness mania, I had no idea that one simple dieters’ proverb could change my life as well as my body: “You are what you eat.” Maximum health doesn’t stop with my body; spiritual health, too, is affected by intake. My spiritual makeup is the cumulative result of what I’ve been feeding my heart and mind. And I’m convinced God is even more concerned about this than what I allow to enter my stomach.
I read a warning that challenged my misplaced priorities: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). “Diligence” here refers to one who is posted to keep watch. It implies a guardedness as to what types of ideas and influences are allowed to enter one’s heart and mind.
Why the need for such tight security? God knows that what goes in will come out. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Lk. 6:45).
My heart has the capacity to hold an abundance – of ideas, beliefs, convictions, priorities, and thoughts. In God’s sight, the critical issue is what makes up the abundance of my heart. Is it an abundance of healthy treasure or that which makes me sickly and weak?
I examined my mental and spiritual consumption, starting with my reading material. Whether a novel magazine, or short story, I asked myself, “What is this teaching me? How does it influence me, be it ever so subtle, and what values does it portray?”
I became increasingly aware that every piece of literature projects values of some sort, invisibly woven and carefully determined by the choice of words. Those values can range from humanistic to Christian, but whatever I open my heart and mind to, it will make an impression on me.
Even without long-term exposure, the words and thoughts from a song or a book do sink in. Whatever a person sees and hears becomes a part of his thought-life and memory. And although I may feel confident I can sift through what is being portrayed in a book or a magazine, I’ve found that even the chaff I thought I’d thrown out has made a lasting impression on my mind.
The negative values or unscriptural principles I’ve exposed myself to are now as much a part of my memory as the positive ones; they’ve become a part of the abundance of my heart.
As a parent, I began to see that I also needed to teach my children to be selective in what they feed their minds. They are still in the process of forming their values and beliefs, and their young minds are easily molded by their daily intake. A closer look at their books and cartoons revealed an unhealthy, mental diet.
Ever so subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, our children are fed false beliefs. For example, the media convince them that possessing each new toy, pair of shoes, or after-school snack will make them happy. Older children “learn” that if they wear certain jeans or drink a particular cola, they will be attractive to the opposite sex and popular with their peers.
Many if not most television programs, including cartoons, feature lying, selfishness, and a “me first” philosophy, disguised in a clever plot and portrayed by funny or endearing characters. What God calls “sin” becomes a relatively “good” thing. And as my impressionable child “eats up” these viewpoints, they become part of his values.
For our teenagers, pressure to conform and be accepted is powerful. As they view television, listen to the radio, or read magazines, they are bombarded with influences that create a deep dissatisfaction within and a yearning to conform to the world.
Girls feel they must use the right makeup, wear the right clothes, and develop the right figure, or they’ll never be loved by a man. They also pick up that being a wife and a homemaker are rather demeaning roles for today’s intelligent woman. Without solid scriptural teaching, they won’t have the wherewithal to see what God has emphasized – that we value the adornment and beauty expressed in a “gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4).
But children and teenagers aren’t the only vulnerable ones. Christian women may be particularly susceptible to the negative influences in some reading materials, as they spend more time reading than men do.
Many of the current secular women’s magazines plant seeds of discontentment. Without realizing it, a Christian woman can find herself increasingly dissatisfied – with her husband, who is not like the men she reads about, or with herself as she notes the standards portrayed regarding physical attractiveness or self-worth.
I began to see how easily I was influenced by the value system seeping through those magazines. How often had I bemoaned: “My hair never looks like that.” “My house isn’t filled with beautiful furniture.” “I sure don’t have the shape she’s got.” “I wish I could afford a wardrobe like that.” I began to realize that to a large degree, my growing discontentment and lack of thankfulness could be attributed to the magazines and books I’d been reading.
Even some so-called “religious” literature can subtly deviate from the truth by planting and cultivating selfish desires disguised as “blessings God wants you to have.” Feeding my mind on this type of material encourages me to place my security and hope in all the wrong things.
“If only I looked like her…” “If only I had a husband like that…” On and on the list goes for the one who has taken his eyes off the Lord’s priorities and has fallen to the world’s unrealistic and deceitful value system.
In Philippians 4:8, God gives us guidelines for discerning what we should be feeding our minds: things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable – anything virtuous or praiseworthy. The Greek definition of “true” means “conforming to reality.” For the Christian, this speaks of God’s reality, not a false philosophy that the world would embrace.
I could immediately eliminate much of my reading or viewing material by evaluating it in terms of the first quality alone: “Does this conform to reality as God sees it?” “Do I really need to look this way to be accepted and attractive?” “Is it true that a marriage is strengthened by an occasional extramarital fling?” “Does this TV show portray the truth about what’s right and wrong, moral and immoral?”
I began to teach my young children to separate truth from lies. Some reading material or television shows we eliminated entirely, while others became a vehicle for teaching them discernment. They soon learned not to believe everything heard on television or read in books. We judge what is true in light of God’s Word.
Another value God wants us to reinforce is honor: “Does this book present ideas and thoughts that are honorable?” “Can I, as a believer, respect the principles it sets forth?”
Yet another value to hold on to is virtue. This Greek word means “moral excellence.” As believers, we ought to hunger for moral excellence. Unfortunately, too often we are satisfied with far less; we justify ourselves because we aren’t too bad, or at least not as bad as most of society.
But God wants us to hold His Word as our standard, rather than to compare ourselves with others and to settle for just getting by because we’re not as bad as the next guy
“As [one] thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23:7). Mentally, “you are what you eat.”
What’s on the menu for today?
Susan Stevenson, Moody