CHRISTIAN LIFE & GROWTH
Christian thought control
By Susan Lockhart
Before I was a born-again Christian, I would have been amazed at the prospect of actually controlling my thoughts. In fact, I figured it was fine to think anything I wanted to, as long as I never acted upon it. Then I got a shocking wake-up call from the Bible: lusting for someone in my heart was the same as adultery (Matthew 5:28), and hating my brother or sister was the same as murder (1 John 3:15). And Genesis 6:5 says, "The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time."
Huh. What we think does matter, after all.
This makes sense, considering that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in us. (1 Corinthians 6:19.) The Holy Spirit shares with us everything we eat or drink; everything we say, think or do. He knows us more intimately than we know ourselves. Under these conditions, aren't we being rude hosts if we fail to make the Holy Spirit – our invited Guest – as comfortable as possible? Aren't we vandalizing God's temple when we allow ourselves profane or inappropriate thoughts?
And let's be perfectly honest with ourselves. Haven't we all had mean or unbecoming thoughts, even after becoming Christ-followers? Haven't we judged people in our minds? Puffed ourselves up with pride? (An excellent argument can be made that all sin is sourced from pride, but that's for another article.) And if any married readers say they have not had angry thoughts about their spouse, I would remind them what the Bible says about liars.
I call these things "toxic thoughts." We all have them and we need to conquer them. Of course, we still have a sin nature and cannot become sinless until God makes us so, but we ought to see regular improvements in our lives as we divest ourselves of unacceptable behavior patterns with the help of the Holy Spirit. Note that the onus is upon each of us to take steps in this area. The Holy Spirit is the Helper, not the doer.
When I decided to take control of my thoughts, I wanted to own them, not allow them to own me. But I believed it would be very difficult to do this, and any successes would be small. After all, I reasoned, my thoughts just pop into my head! How am I supposed to prevent that? But again, I wanted to cleanse my heart and mind in order to be more hospitable to the One in me. Furthermore, Jesus told the adulterous woman in John 8:11 (KJV) to "sin no more," so I knew that I could certainly be victorious to some degree.
When I actually put my mind to it, though, I found that it was easier to capture the errant thoughts than I'd realized. I knew then that I could make great strides in putting off toxic thoughts if I only worked at it. I'd learned that the keys were twofold: that I had to genuinely want to do it, and that I needed to follow some habit formation principles to help make it stick.
The approach I personally used – and my brothers and sisters in Christ may have other ideas, which I'd love to hear – was to actually take notice when an inappropriate thought popped into my head. Not to put too fine a point on it, but up until this time, my thought life was like brain vomit. My so-called brain would simply spew out all kinds of random garbage, and I seldom took notice of it. And after I finally did, it became clear that some of my thoughts would have to go.
Once I realized that much of what I was thinking was just plain wrong, or, if not wrong, then fruitless or worthless, I would shout "toxic thought!" in my mind and very deliberately shift my thinking elsewhere. The "elsewhere" is the best part about this process, because I decided to simply begin praying for strength, reciting a memorized Scripture in my mind, or my personal preference, singing praise songs. Obviously, it doesn't matter if you do this silently or for everyone to hear. (Actually, it might matter if you do it out loud while at work, in the classroom or a movie theater, for instance!) This is also a really great reason to start memorizing some new Scriptures – doxologies are so much the better. Another thing I would do is try to thank God for as many things as I could think of.
Furthermore, consciously thinking "toxic thought!" when you do have them helps a lot because, if you're like me, you never realized how often you let your thoughts run amok. Once you start confessing them to yourself, you become ashamed of the darkness in your heart, and the desire to "clean house" becomes strong. You begin to understand how prone to temptation you really are. How so? Occasionally, you'll notice a toxic thought forming, and you'll realize that you actually want to think the inappropriate thing, you want to dwell on some hurt or slight or anger, and you have to make an active effort to put it aside.
Though the techniques are simple, developing a consistent habit in thought control is not so easy. It is a daily struggle and requires sacrifice. It requires commitment and inspiration and strength of will. It requires that you become very mindful of God's commands so you can recognize when your thoughts become toxic, and to not be discouraged if you backslide or forget. It means knowing that great habits are formed daily, and not giving up. It's worth it in the long run as you find yourself becoming holier than before, and therefore closer to God.
Victory over toxic thoughts is nothing new. As the Apostle Paul told the church at Philippi, "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).
Illustration: Catiana Nak Kheiyn
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Published on 10-14-13