Don’t Think Too Much About Pink Elephants. Think About the Right Things.

The best part of any good heist/prison break-out/escape movie is the planning stage. In the planning stage, you get to see how the crooks plan to execute the heist/escape and get away with it. That last part is huge. They don’t just plan the actual job/escape, they plan how they’re going to deal with the ramifications of it.

In the television show Prison Break, Michael Scofield intentionally gets arrested so he can break his wrongfully-accused brother out of prison and get out of the country. Not only does Michael have a plan to break out of prison, he has a plan for afterwards. He’s set the necessary implements in place so he and his brother Lincoln can get away safely.

(I’m not spoiling anything – the show is called Prison Break, you think they’re not going to get out?)

These characters spend a lot of time focusing on the aftermath of their actions. I think we can take a lesson in the Christian community and learn to do the same thing.

We spend a lot of time as a Church telling each other and the world what not to do. We spend a lot of time saying, “No.” And there’s good to that. We need to be speaking truth about things we should not do. We should not look at pornography. We should not gossip about others in the church or in the workplace. We should not lie. We should not physically attack someone unprovoked. We should not hold bitterness in our hearts towards other people, Christian or not.

However, with this focus on what we’re not supposed to do, we miss out on two very important facets.

First, how do we respond if we do these things?

Growing up in the church, you’re told to not do a lot of things. I can look back and remember things I was told not to do. Don’t have sex before you’re married. Don’t cuss. Don’t drink. Don’t hang out with the “bad crowd.” Don’t this, don’t that. What happens if you do? Most of the time we don’t talk about this part. We’ll be hesitant to approach it or we’ll simply say, “Pray and ask God for forgiveness and don’t do it again.” Isn’t there more?

Shouldn’t we spend more time talking about what to do after we sin? We’re going to sin. It’s a proven fact. In those situations, there’s only so much good that comes from saying, “Don’t do ________.” In those situations, we need to learn how to approach the aftermath, how to work through the “getaway,” if you will. We need to be teaching people how to deal with their sin, what to believe about themselves, what to believe about God, how to deal with the guilt and shame that comes from it.

I’m not saying we don’t tell people what not to do. Knowing what is sin is huge. In Romans 7:7, Paul says, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'” But the focus needs to be on what to do in response to the inevitable: us sinning.

Second, what can we do instead of these things?

You know the whole idea where someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant and all you can think of is a pink elephant? It’s called the “ironic process theory.” I think we can subconsciously encourage this in Christian culture when we overload on what not to do. We think so much about not doing something that we end up thinking about it and doing it anyways.

Instead, why don’t we focus more on what we could do? We’re losing our minds trying so hard not to sin that we can easily forget what we can do instead. If I’m trying so hard not to look at porn, it would be easy for me to just slip right into it. If instead I focus on what I can do, psychologically I’m more likely to do it. The difficulty is learning to focus on what I can do instead.

And then comes the Gospel. When we don’t do the things we’re supposed to, which is going to happen, we remember the grace of the Gospel, that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t change our eternal state, it doesn’t change God’s love for us, it doesn’t change His loyalty and devotion to us, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still His adopted son/daughter.

I think thinking about the right things is something the Christian culture could be doing a lot better job of, and it’s an idea that runs through a lot of my blog posts. Instead of speaking out constantly about how bad Planned Parenthood is, we should be helping those who want to get abortions find a different way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Instead of bashing the Supreme Court for their decision on gay marriage, we should be speaking about how doing things God’s way is 10 million times more satisfying. Instead of getting all worked up over Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, we should be doing life with those struggling with their gender identity. This is very conceptual and doesn’t always translate to practicals easily. It depends on the situation. But it’s vital.

I could be wrong, as always, and I could be missing something huge. The cool thing is the grace of the Gospel covers me in that too.

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