How Joyful People Think
By Jamie Rasmussen
Words change over time. Some words that become culturally entrenched in one generation get hijacked by the next generation and take on an entirely different meaning. It’s sometimes hard to keep up with the changing meaning of some words, especially as we get older.
Philippians 4:8 uses the same qualifying word for each line of thinking: whatever. It is repeated six times as a front-runner to each of the first six attitudes: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, and so on. Some scholars argue the repetition is poetic. Others argue it’s for emphasis. My guess is both are true. What matters more is what the author meant by the use of this relatively common word.
Words change in their meaning. The meaning of this word has changed even within our own culture. In our day, the word whatever carries two vastly different definitions, reflecting a tension between a traditional meaning and a more contemporary one.
The traditional “Doris Day” meaning
In 1956, Doris Day sang “Que Sera, Sera” (Whatever Will Be, Will Be). Mixing Spanish with English, this song uses the word whatever in a way that defined the mindset of a couple of generations. You can’t control the future, so don’t worry about it; just sit back and go along for the ride. Ultimately, “Que Sera, Sera” is a song about fate—whatever happens will happen.
The contemporary “sarcastic teenager” meaning
You ask your teenager to clean up a mess, and the look you get is as if you just asked them to fly to the moon and plant a flag. You repeat your request with more authority and your teenager responds with “Uh, like, whatever.” It’s clearly a dismissive, sarcastic, I-think-you’re-an-idiot use of the word.
If the use of a word can change within a generation or two, imagine how it can change in two thousand years over many generations and across different cultures. Neither of our contemporary uses of the word whatever comes anywhere close to the word [Paul repeated six times] hosos (pronounced HAH-sahs) means. This fascinating, positive and even inspirational word is used to refer to limitless volume. A pictorial example emerges in the miracle of the feeding of five thousand people. “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as [hosos] they wanted” (John 6:11, emphasis added). The people ate “whatever” their hearts desired.
I believe Paul challenges us to approach each perspective with Spirit-led creativity and invites us to dream big on a very personal level. Paul used the word whatever to show us how to turn a couple of fish into a full-course meal.
IMAGINING THE POSSIBILITIES
One of the things I tend to struggle with is frustration while driving. I wouldn’t say I ever engage in road rage, but I can get frustrated in urban traffic, especially at the end of a long day or when I am in a hurry to get somewhere. By the time I finally arrive at my destination, my mood can really be spoiled.
The power of a biblical whatever can become a game changer. When somebody cuts me off in traffic or is going too slow in the fast lane (which should be one of the seven deadly sins) I slow down (literally and figuratively) and filter my thinking through the eight thought arenas of Philippians 4:8.
“Whatever is true”
It is true that the person in front of me doesn’t know how to drive as well as I do. It’s also true that I sometimes do what they did. I cut people off now and then. Maybe I should cut this guy some slack.
“Whatever is honorable”
Though I am tempted to join the 50 percent of tailgaters, honkers and yellers, honor [looks] differently than lashing out—let’s protect my honor and take the high road (pun intended).
Before I know it, with half the thought arenas of Philippians 4:8 applied to the problem at hand, I am already feeling better. In fact, just going through this mental exercise distracts me from what else I might have been thinking as it focuses my mind elsewhere (even upward). Joy is right around the corner. How many scenarios occur in your daily life that could use the power of a biblical whatever? Maybe it’s:
• a decision at work that has you perplexed
• what to do with your teenager who each day is increasingly distant from you
• a personal habit that gets the best of you—you can’t seem to see your way to victory
• a nagging spiritual problem such as doubt, confusion, discouragement or fear
The biblical whatever is bound to make a difference. Unlike any kind of cognitive therapy our world offers today, this way of thinking promises to transform. How could it not? It comes from God.
Let the journey begin.
Excerpted from How Joyful People Think by Jamie Rasmussen. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Copyright 2018. Used by permission. BakerPublishingGroup.com