It was just an ordinary day as I pulled into the bustling playground with my 3 year old daughter. I’d been feeling down but going through the motions. An inner sadness was threatening to choke all joy from my heart. Craving help, my spirit turned towards God, but in a resigned sort of way, stuck in my mess, feeling alone & powerless. But despite my resignation, He graciously spoke. His words came to me, simple but confronting, “Sarah, your thoughts are becoming your poison”. “Okay God, that’s heavy” I sighed, “I can feel in my spirit the truth in your words, but please expand”! Thankfully for me, the Lord did.
Many a day I’ve come under a dark cloud of discouragement or low mood for no obvious reason. I’d surrendered to this oppression of spirit which was far from the abundant life that God had placed within my reach. Purpose & joy seemed to elude me. Because, as I wrote about in ‘Goodbye Stinkin Thinkin’, there can be well worn thought paths that we repeatedly stumble down to get to low places. We wander there on autopilot, winding up at familiar but unpleasant locations; conditions of soul & heart that the Son came to free us from. Jesus desires to lead us back to abundant life but to navigate our way, we must pay due attention to our steps. Yes, one step at a time, because lots of little steps make up a journey & with any trip there is always a destination. We don’t have to keep retracing old paths. Father God calls us out of lies and into truth.
Would you ever knowingly drink poison? I know I wouldn’t! The last thing I need is to be sick or suffering physically. Nor do I desire an early death or to go through my days struggling to survive. So I avoid known poisons & focus on generally consuming nutritious food. But what about the diet of my soul? Negative thoughts are toxic to our mind and emotions just as poison is to the body. We can’t ‘feed on them’ and expect mental, emotional & spiritual well being. Yet like junk food, we are drawn to destructive ponderings & like poor food habits, we can find an unhealthy thought life becomes second nature. Overtime this leads to illness of heart & can contribute to staying in a state of low mood or discouragement long term.
A quick google search reveals that one definition of the word poison is “a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed”. Likewise many of us can die a slow spiritual death by thoughts. We may not be dying but we may be ill of spirit/ not fully living. God created our minds to be nourished & nurtured with the goodness of truth knowing that the diet of our mind becomes integral to who we are and what we do. Eventually all of us become our thoughts. That is why in the safety net of God’s grace & mercy, we must make the choice to direct/ control our thoughts. Like little steps, each thought is part of a journey that leads to a bigger destination & when we arrive there, we start to act according to the surroundings we have chosen. The funny or not so funny part is that we often aren’t aware of the little choices we made to get there, we are just aware of the destination we find ourselves in. Because we don’t take responsibility for our part to play, we feel we are afflicted victims instead of powerful individuals with the potential to overcome.
Jesus placed a lot of emphasis on thoughts but many people in His time were focused purely on maintaining right behaviors such as observing the Sabbath and staying faithful to their spouses. Many were convicted when Jesus took it a step deeper, revealing that wrong desires & thoughts or issues of the heart were what needed addressing first and foremost. One examples of this was when God, through the 10 commandments, commanded us to get rid of envy. God knows where envy leads. It starts with thoughts that we choose & when fed, it leads to actions that destroy relationships.
Many people claim that we can think about whatever we want as long as we don’t act on it. That argument has been used to justify watching objectionable & harmful entertainment amongst other things. But God was very clear that what we fill our minds with impacts who we are & works out in our words & actions. As Jesus said, ‘the mouth speaks what the heart is full of’ (Luke 6: 4-5). Not only does the bible show us the right way to live, it also teaches us how to think in alignment with the truth & tells of the blessings that come with right thinking.
To overhaul our thought-life we must first become aware of what we are thinking. Letting our minds run wild will find us lost, like a child allowed to wander off with no direction into the forest. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can learn to identify negative patterns of thinking & correct them. We can develop the discipline of embracing life-giving thoughts instead of depleting ones.
Often there are themes that drive our negative thoughts. These could be described as roots or lies & as we know roots can go very, very deep. We can discover the theme of a negative thought by asking God why we are thinking it. How did we end up here? Is the underlying theme rejection, fear of not being looked after, self-pity, powerlessness or us just contemplating doing something wrong? If so, we can acknowledge the root & speak the truth of God into the lie that is operating. One example of a root is the fear of rejection. You may over-analyse things you’ve said thinking that somehow you can protect yourself by working things out so that you never put a foot wrong. But this is taxing. It feeds into fear & makes us feel uncertain & insecure. It operates outside of grace & is in direct opposition to God’s desire for our lives. We are left feeling anxious & down for an indefinite period of time. But we didn’t have to agree with that lie & walk that path. God has accepted us, loved us, and called us His own. We could instead spend the same time & energy pursuing that truth & living in the freedom of agreeing with Jesus.
Jesus said ‘be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your minds’. Two definitions of the word ‘renew’ are (a) to “give fresh life or strength to” and (b) to “resume (an activity) after an interruption”.
Fresh life & strength comes to our thoughts through the word of God & the Holy Spirit who are always in agreement. When it comes to our physical bodies, just eradicating unhealthy substances won’t produce health, we have to actively feed on the right nutrients. A thought life won’t produce spiritual health merely by trying to reduce poisonous thoughts. It’s not enough to get out of reverse and into neutral, we must put our foot on the accelerator to move forward. To thrive it’s essential to feed daily on the truths in God’s word. We must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to streams of living water – His word that brings life. Jesus lived on every word that came from the mouth of God. Likewise our survival is totally dependent on us agreeing with the truth.
Godly thinking is something that MUST be resumed after the interruption of an impostor thought. To be transformed we must repeatedly go back to what we know to be true…every. single. day. for the rest of our lives! We can’t give up on pursuing life in our thoughts. It truly is a matter of life or death! Our thoughts do shape us. They shape our legacy. They are the difference between whether or not we overcome challenges. They have eternal consequences. We must make our thoughts submit & bow the knee at the feet of the Holy God. He is the awesome Father who showed us the way of life out of His utter love for us, His children.
I’ve written a lot about concepts and ideas, but now let’s get practical! How do we promote the renewal of the mind? Here’s a few tips I’m working to apply in my own life.
# Be Intentional. Commit your thoughts to the Lord each morning, asking that they be based on His truth.
# Run to Him. Nip feelings of discouragement & low mood in the bud by spending time with God & in His word, sooner rather then later.
# Discern: To think right we must be able to know when our thoughts are unhealthy in the first place & what truths are needed to replace them. For this to happen we must spend enough time studying God’s word, so we can have a yardstick by which to measure all thoughts. Good sermons, podcasts & teaching books are also helpful here but don’t take the place of studying God’s word directly.
# Evict Impostors. When you identify an unhealthy thought don’t let it hang around, treat it as an unwelcome guest. Counter it IMMEDIATELY with the truth. If God shows you the underlying root, spend time listening to what He has to say about it. Paul writes that they demolished arguments and every pretension that set itself up against the knowledge of God. They took captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians: 10:5 paraphrased).
# Declare! Speak the truth OUT LOUD as a declaration instead of just thinking it! Don’t be afraid to sound a little bit crazy to the kids if they are around! Have some power statements like “I choose to trust God, I won’t be afraid” & verses like “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition present your requests to God” (Phillipians 4:6).
# Sing! Sometimes when I wake up discouraged, I sing some very basic worship songs. The songs “This is the day that the Lord has made”, “It’s a happy day” and “I’m trading in my sorrows” are 3 of my favourites. It’s amazing how my feelings about the day change when I bring forth child-like worship. I’m reminded of God’s goodness & as a result have a happy awareness of Him from the beginning of the day, which is where the enemy wants to get me off on a bad foot.
# Memorise scripture! I never would have said this a few months ago & to be honest I’m not very good at committing to it. But our ladies bible study challenged ourselves to remember about 10 memory verses & the few that I have memorized, have made a big difference to my thought life. Memorised verses can be declared out loud at any time to oppose negative thinking and re orientate our thoughts.
# Share. Sometimes we get caught in the cage of our own perspective and we need someone from the outside to help free us. Sharing troublesome thoughts with a trusted spouse, friend, family member, leadership or counselor can really help us to overcome. Secret struggles tend to fester, but when they are exposed to the light, the burden lifts and we can get the help we need to change. I believe God loves to use people in His work.
# Grace. Grace. Grace. We are not perfect. We don’t have to stress about this nor try to be perfect. We can relax into God’s guidance knowing that He will lead us little by little to improve our thought life not because we want to be ‘good’ in our own strength but because we know God’s ways are life. We don’t do this in our own strength. We follow a gentle yet empowering Leader.
# Look upward & outward. Lastly when we feel bad it’s so easy to get self-absorbed. But true joy comes from spending a lot of time focusing on God & others. We can’t fix ourselves. But the more we focus on God and spend time in His presence the more whole, healthy and joyous we naturally become. Having thoughts that look to encourage and bless others brings joy.
Lord I thank you that you give us life giving thoughts. Holy Spirit please show us when our thoughts are not based on your truth and lead us gently back to agreeing with you. We commit our thoughts and moods to you & ask that you use them for your glory. Thank you that your ways bring life & life to the fullest.
In Jesus name, Amen.
Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. – Psalm 19: 105