What’s your computer’s screensaver? You know – the picture that comes up after a few minutes of inactivity. In the olden times there were only a handful of stock pictures to choose from, but nowadays the choices are infinite. Some hi-res close-up photograph of a butterfly wing or a satellite shot of the Sahara desert from space. Perhaps a random assortment of your family photographs. If you’re unimaginative or just haven’t worked out how to change the default screensaver setting then perhaps you’re greeted by a blank screen when the computer goes into power save mode. Whatever it is, it’s what comes up when you’re not actively using the computer for anything else.
Your computer screensaver (or lack of one) may or may not reveal something profound about your personality and thoughts, but did you ever think about the screensavers of your own brain? What are they? They’re the things your mind reverts to thinking about when it’s left to its own devices. When you’re not focused on a particular task in hand – you’re not trying to solve that calculus equation or write that essay or cook that meal or repair that broken door handle or watch that TV show or listen to that lecture or carry on that conversation. In those empty moments of your day, when you’re walking or driving or riding the bus or waiting for the coffee to brew or mowing the grass – what are the screensavers that come up in your mind? What are the things you think about when there is nothing specific you have to think about?
I’ve been challenged about this over the last few days because I’ve been reading John Owen’s masterpiece on the Christian’s thought life, ‘Spiritual Mindedness’. One of the things he says is that our ‘voluntary thoughts’ are the best measure of what’s going on in our hearts – the things are minds are drawn towards when we’re left to ourselves rather than the things we have to think about. Anyone can have spiritual thoughts about the things of God when they’re listening to a sermon or in a Bible study – the real test is whether or not we ever think about those things when we’re on our own?
So what comes up on your screensaver? What does your mind revert to dwelling on when it gets a spare moment? Do you find yourself regularly meditating on biblical truth? Reviewing the sermon you heard last Lord’s Day? Thinking through its implications for your life? Do you find yourself going back in your mind to the things you read in your devotions that morning, trying to memorise that verse that struck you with fresh power? Do you regularly send up prayers of praise and thanksgiving as you think about the greatness and goodness of the Lord manifested in a thousand ways in your daily circumstances? Do you pause to confess your sin as you play back some conversation from an hour ago and realise as you assess it in the light of God’s word that there was an element of gossip or untruth or malice mixed in with it?
Or is your screensaver a slide show of last week’s football game, tomorrow’s assignment, tonight’s movie, scenes from your favourite TV show, the chorus of the inane lyrics of a catchy song that’s burrowed its way into your brain, a few choice lustful fantasies, several grudges you’re fattening up against people who have offended you in some way. The pictures in our screensaver needn’t necessarily be evil – but the challenge is, are they positively godly? As Paul exhorted the Philippians, Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
One last challenge from Owen to my brother Pastors. He says that the best measure of what’s in our hearts is not the thoughts we have to think for our work, and then he points the finger at us ministers of the Word in particular:
…men whose calling and work it is to study the Scripture, or the things revealed therein, and to preach them unto others, cannot but have many thoughts about spiritual things, and yet may be, and oftentimes are, most remote from being spiritually minded. They may be forced by their work and calling to think of them early and late, evening and morning, and yet their minds be no way rendered or proved spiritual thereby. It were well if all of us who are preachers would diligently examine ourselves herein.’ (Owen, Works vol. 7, p.276)
As Pastors we may spend ten hours a day reading and exegeting and teaching and preaching the Bible, but if we only think spiritual thoughts in the study then something is wrong. Do we still love to talk about the things of God even when we’re not ‘on the clock’? Do we love to listen to preaching and read good Christian books and think about truth that has absolutely no bearing on next week’s sermon or adult class or pastoral visit? ‘It were well if all of us who are preachers would diligently examine ourselves herein.’