Although we may be more used to offering praise to God for his deeds rather than his thoughts, Psalm 92:5 shows that both are, indeed, worthy of our praise. But what exactly are the thoughts of God? While that may sound like an abstruse philosophical question, another psalm gives us a concrete example of what God thinks about:
“Many, O LORD my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Psalm 40:5 NKJV, emphasis added).
In this psalm, David also speaks about the works and thoughts of God; but in this verse he stresses an important aspect of those thoughts by telling us that they are “toward us” (ESV, NKJV, etc.), in other words, about us and regarding us – for our benefit and good. And David also tells us that God’s thoughts about us are so extensive they cannot be numbered.
Another verse that ties directly to this concept is one we know well – Jeremiah 29:11. Although this verse is frequently translated “For I know the plans I have for you ….” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV, etc.), it uses the same Hebrew word, machashebeth, that is translated “thoughts” in the scriptures we have quoted from the Psalms – and it is translated that way in versions such as the NKJV: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Machshebeth is also translated “thought” by the NIV and by many other versions in verses such as “…On that day thoughts will come into your mind” (Ezekiel 38:10, etc.).
The Scriptures tell us quite a lot about the thoughts of God, and much of what they say stresses the fact that he has innumerable thoughts “toward” or about us and for our good. Now, if we believe we are to strive to learn and live the character of God in this life (Matthew 5:48), to become more like him in every way we can (Ephesians 5:1), to think like him (Philippians 2:5, etc.), we might well look with particular interest at what these verses say. If, as David tells us, God’s thoughts toward us cannot be counted, we might want to ask how many of our thoughts are toward others, for their benefit.
This is not a small question. You may have heard the expression “out of sight, out of mind,” and as we go about our normal every-day lives it is true that we naturally spend most of our time thinking about our own work, needs, problems, goals, etc. The fact is, we have to train our minds to consistently think about others and their needs. Most of us certainly do not have “innumerable” thoughts about others; but if we desire to become more like God, that should be our goal. The more we love others, the more we think about them. That is why God’s thoughts for us cannot be numbered, and why we should be thinking more and more about others.
Although this idea is not as directly expressed in the New Testament, it lies behind several statements we read there. For example, the apostle Paul tells us: “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:20). In the context in which this verse occurs (speaking in tongues), it is clear that Paul is discussing thinking about how we should strive to profit others rather than just elevate ourselves through our gifts (vss. 19-21).
Paul talks more about thought and thinking than any other New Testament writer, but it is sometimes easy to miss his point. When he tells us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8), he is not just talking about praiseworthy things, but about praiseworthy goals and behaviors.
The apostle Peter writes something similar in his second epistle: “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3:1). These exhortations go beyond just thinking thoughts about positive uplifting things – they are urging us to use our minds to think thoughts like God does. The examples we saw in the Old Testament show we should be thinking frequently and consistently about others – about how we can encourage, uphold, help, and serve them.
We know that Christians should be “walking the walk” as well as “talking the talk.” We should also remind ourselves that we should be “thinking the thoughts” – not just positive, uplifting thoughts, but concrete, real, and continual thoughts about others and how we can help them.