The Importance of “Vertical Thinking”
Too many men, including men in the church, become victims of “horizontal thinking.” What in the world is horizontal thinking you ask? It is simply getting caught up in the world’s definition of success. In his book THE MAN IN THE MIRROR Patrick Morley writes “Today men are consumed by desires to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.” A man allows himself to focus on temporal gain to make him feel like a “real man.” The next promotion, a newer more expensive car, a bigger house, big boy toys (trucks, sports cars, motorcycles, boats, country club memberships, etc.) and numerous others. Not that any of these things are in and of themselves evil, it is when we devote most or all of our energy to achieve them that they become dangerous. They are often devious and subversive in how they take hold of a man’s vision of what his life is suppose to be. Before long, he is consumed with the “horizontal issues” in life and he has lost interest in pursuing or maintaining a vertical relationship with his Heavenly Father. At this point Satan becomes his greatest ally by showing him all kinds of reasons why his actions are justified. “I’m doing this for my family” or “I know I’m not conducting my life the way God wants me to but once I accomplish this goal, I’ll get things in order” or “Doesn’t God want successful people in His church” or “If I gain more then I can give more” and many other rationalizations that we are convinced will keep God at bay. The interesting thing is “later” rarely ever gets here and the groundwork has been laid for a man to continue down the path of “horizontal thinking.” What a man intends to do and what he actually does can often go in completely opposite directions. That is what makes “horizontal thinking” so dangerous.
The best way for us get an understanding of “horizontal thinking” is to look at a scriptural example. In Mark 10 we learn of the rich young man that comes to Jesus to pose a question. Beginning with verse 17 and reading through verse 22 it tells us “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good–except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother. ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Jesus knew He was being set up when the young man called Him “Good teacher.” You see the young man already had a preconceived answer he was looking for. When he told Jesus he had followed the “law” since his youth he expected Jesus to tell him he had already accomplished what was required of him to get into heaven. When Jesus tells him to “sell everything you have” it wasn’t because Jesus found fault with wealth but it was the fact that this young man placed more importance on his wealth than he did in his relationship with Jesus. He was caught up in “horizontal thinking” and he had lost site of the more important “vertical thinking.” It is also important for us to note that the scripture says that Jesus “loved him.” In spite of the fact that Jesus knew this young man was trying to set Him up, Jesus was drawn to the young man and His desire was to open the young man’s eyes to the importance of a personal relationship with his Heavenly Father. The young man walks away “sad” because he didn’t get the answer he expected and he was unwilling to let go of his “horizontal thinking” to gain a vertical relationship with Jesus.
I love how THE MESSAGE translation of the Bible in Galatians 5 gives us a reminder on this issue. It says “You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread. Deep down, the Master has given me confidence that you will not defect. But the one who is upsetting you, whoever he is, will bear the divine judgment.” This scripture indicates we should not only take this issue seriously (“And please don’t toss this off as insignificant”) but recognize that God takes it very seriously. It is also important to note that it tells us “This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.” It is not within God’s nature to try and derail us from being obedient. These verses also let us know there will be “divine judgment” for those who interfere and draw God’s children away from “the true course of obedience.”
So how do I avoid “horizontal thinking” and strive to maintain “vertical thinking?” First let’s acknowledge that it is not always the easiest task to accomplish, but it can be accomplished. It starts with what Rick Warren so aptly stated in his book The Purpose Driven Life, “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.” You see, “vertical thinking” is focused on God and not on self. All men, by our very nature, are selfish to one degree or another. Throughout history this has been the eventual downfall of so many men because they became more and more focused on satisfying themselves above all else. David gives us a good “test” for our daily walk with the Lord in Psalm 15. David writes “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.” Lets look at several of the items David has listed here to help us maintain our “vertical thinking.”
David tells us we are to walk “blameless” and do what is “righteous.” Blameless does not mean without sin. It does mean we are known to maintain a lifestyle that is based upon “integrity.” If there is one thing our society today could use more of, it is men of integrity. The dictionary definition of integrity is “Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.” Integrity for God’s man is strict adherence to God’s code of conduct, not the world’s. It’s doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do with no ulterior motive. It is doing what you say you are going to do and if you can’t, it’s letting people know you will not be able to keep your word. God’s man does not use integrity only when it is convenient but at all times, even when it is not easy. “Vertical thinking” requires that we act in compliance with God’s divine law and by doing so we will be free from sin. While our relationship with Jesus Christ makes us righteous before God, it is our daily actions and behavior that make us righteous in man’s eyes.
Psalm 15 then tells us God’s man is one “who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.” We have all experienced the hurt that comes from someone lying to us. It is especially painful when it is someone close to us. “Vertical thinking” requires that we build relationships based upon truth. That’s why Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 verse 25 “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” God’s man does not get caught up in slander and gossip. James tells us “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” Peter teaches us “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (1 Peter 2:1). “Vertical thinking” requires that we harness our tongue and stay away from those that cannot control theirs.
David then tells us God’s man is one “who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD.” Who do you look up to? Who is your role model? Are they worldly men that model “horizontal thinking?” We must choose our heroes carefully and recognize that we are sending a message by those we choose to shape our lives after.
“Vertical thinking” requires that we seek out Godly men to set the example which we use as our model for daily living.
The next issue is God’s man is one “who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” “Vertical thinking” tells us we keep our promises, even when it is not easy or convenient. It means we keep our promises even if something “better” come along that we would rather do. “Vertical thinking” requires that we keep our promises the same way God keeps His promises to us.
Verse 5 tells us God’s man is one “who lends his money without usury.” Usury means interest. “Vertical thinking” requires that we utilize the resources God has provided without looking for personal gain or attaching “strings” to the item borrowed. Simply, don’t take advantage of someone’s need. I believe this applies not only to money but in today’s world, it could be said of any resource we have available that could help another person resolve a need or problem.
David then gives us one last item and that is God’s man “does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Innocence or guilt should be based upon truth and not whether the accused can “buy” their way out of the situation. Moses was given very clear instruction from God when He said “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16: 19). “Vertical thinking” means truth cannot be bought at any price.
“Vertical thinking” certainly requires us to maintain very different standards than those set by the world around us. Who are you living to please, the world or your Heavenly Father? There is certainly short term satisfaction created by the standards of the world but how does that relate to your eternity? God’s man uses “vertical thinking” to keep him focused on daily living that leads to long term satisfaction which is spending eternity with our Heavenly Father with all of the benefits of a good and faithful servant. I am reminded of that wonderful hymn refrain that says “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” Men, may your life be full of “vertical thinking” and may the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of Jesus magnificent glory and grace!