Controlling My Thoughts
Self talk. What runs through our thoughts. My mind races a mile a minute. All the time. Things pop in and out of my head - some good and some bad. Some pleasing to God and some not. I'm sure you can relate.
What we let control our thoughts dictates a lot about us. Our outlook, our mood, our response to others, and even our actions. I was reminded of this at cardio rehab yesterday. The instructor said what we think about will affect our progress.
When I am walking closely with Jesus, spending time reading the Bible and in prayer, things just go smoother for me. I am less anxious, at peace, kinder, gentler,...
Conversely, when I'm not doing those things, I get down in the dumps, worry, anxious, unkind,...
I first noticed this phenomenon early in my spiritual journey. I was in a weekly women's Bible study group from September to May and this group always had homework and Bible reading with it. We would spend time praying for each other and interacting with each other. I would spend time reading the Bible, learning more about Jesus and in a relationship with Him and with other Christians who encouraged me and lifted me up. And then June hit and we quit meeting and my very thought process would change. I became critical and grumpy and somewhat depressed. After maybe 3 years of this (I am a slow learner - ha) I realized that just because the group wasn't meeting didn't mean I should take a hiatus from God. (Just going to church weekly is not sufficient for me to stay connected to God.) I became purposeful about doing my own studies and reading Christian authors and spending time in Bible reading on my own during these summer breaks.
We all struggle at times with controlling our thoughts. Sometimes we let the negativity and doubt wash over us. I recently had a heart attack and a stent put in. I am surprised at the level of negativity running through me these past couple weeks. I have been having a big old pity party for myself - 'I'm too young', 'I'm not overweight', 'This is unfair',... 'Poor little old me'.
The peace of God which I know exists is alluding me right now.
Christians talk frequently about "the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension." (Philippians 4:7) It is a real thing. It truly is. Paul talks about how he has "learned to be content in whatever circumstances." (Philippians 4:11) Get that? Whatever circumstances - even the bad ones. But notice something else - notice the "learned". There is a correlation between walking close with God and having that peace and contentment. It is learned.
What is our default mode more often than not when the negative thoughts start coming? To worry, to panic, to try to fix it,...
What should our default mode be? To pray about it, to turn it over to God, to give it to Him.
The book I took to the emergency room and started reading while I was in the hospital and finished when I got home was Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. (Excellent interesting book that I recommend. Affiliate link - thank you for supporting Passion to Know More's website.) In the Appendix 1 in the back titled Belief and Doubt, Dr. Gary Habermas writes about Christians having doubts about their beliefs. But as I read this I was thinking about my negative thoughts. Dr. Habermas writes ... the "cognitive' or "cognitive-behavioral method," the central idea is that what we tell ourselves, think, and do will determine how we feel, as well as our subsequent actions.
He goes on to talk about it isn't necessarily what occurs to us, but how we think about those occurrences. How we process our thoughts. I could so relate to this! I have learned to do this in the past! I have learned to redirect my thoughts to Him. I have witnessed others who do this too. Recently a friend walked through Stage 3 Colon Cancer. She had a peace and contentment that everyone witnessed and it was because she was focusing on God. Being human, it is easy to go down that pity party path. To focus on the negative. To worry. To become anxious. Sadly, this has been my reality post heart attack.
Dozens of biblical texts also teach us to stop worrying and being "downcast" by changing what we say to ourselves. Instead, we are to replace these thoughts with meditation on God's truth, His promises, worship, or prayer. Other passages tell us to avoid irresponsible or careless words, anxiety, envy, and other emotions that lead to anguish. Instead, we are to teach uplifting truths to ourselves and to each other, producing healing and peace.
[Source: Dr. Gary Habermas, Distinguished Research Professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Liberty University; from Appendix 1, Belief and Doubt, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi, published by Zondervan, copyright 2014, pages 329, 330.]
How do we learn to do that practically?
We prepare by learning God's truth. We walk with Jesus, We read God's Word. We talk to Him.
And in Philippians 4:4-9 Paul gives us an outline how to train our hearts and minds!
But before we get to this I want to back up to Philippians 4:1.
Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
What does it mean to "stand firm in the Lord"? This terminology is used frequently in the Bible. First note that stand firm is an action. It requires us to do something - stand. Duh, no really. It requires us to do something. We don't see spiritual growth by laying down or sitting there. It doesn't just happen to us. We must take action. And what does "firm" mean? It means standing our ground on what we know to be true. My text note for Philippians 4:1 in my Christian Standard Bible says Stand firm recalls Roman soldiers who never retreated for fear of being killed while under assault. Now that is interesting. Don't retreat! Retreat from what? Retreat from the battle of your thoughts. The fluctuations of your heart. The doubts you have. Don't give in. We begin by standing firm in the Lord.
Now to Paul's practical advise on how to take hold of that self talk in our minds.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
We rejoice always. This is very difficult to do sometimes when we have had something go terribly wrong in our life. We may not feel like rejoicing. We must make a choice here. The Lord is near. We sometimes don't feel Him near. Feelings are not always indicative of truth. It doesn't matter if we feel His presence because we know it is there. Say it out loud, "The Lord is near."
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
What does Paul tell us to do next? Pray about it with thanksgiving. Even after all of these years of walking with Jesus, this is rarely my initial behavior. I will waste countless minutes, hours, and sometimes days in worry and fear and trying-to-fix-it myself mode. The peace and contentment allude me. And then it hits me - have I prayed about this? Have I spent time thanking God for all He is doing in my life? For my life? For His great mercy and blessings? Sometimes I pray about my situation and thoughts - giving the situation to God; and then I shortly take it right back and begin worrying again. I realize I did that and give it back to God. Take it back again... You get the picture. I am slow on the up-swing. When I truly give my negative thoughts and worry to God, I have experienced His peace. Nothing can be more joyful than to trust Him, even in the darkest circumstances. To trust Him in decisions I am making. To trust His presence. To trust His working through this, whatever "this" is. To trust.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Amen to that! It is the most confounding thing. I can't wrap my head around it. Peace and contentment. What we all desire. What many of us have experienced. What a rich man would give his fortune for. And what He will give us if we trust in Him.
And what does Paul tell us to do lastly? He tells us to "practice these things."
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Again, this takes action on our part. It takes practice. It takes standing firm in our beliefs. Standing firm on our Rock. Repeating the truths of Scripture. Focusing our thoughts and heart on Him. We are changing out our anxious thoughts for God-honoring truths. Not just once. But over and over. Redirecting our thoughts and our hearts to what is important; to our walk with Jesus.
We stand firm in the Lord and we do that by:
We worship the Lord.
We pray about everything with thanksgiving.
We focus on the truth.
We practice theses things over and over until it becomes second nature to us.
I'd like to say I am an expert at redirecting my thoughts to Him. I am not, although what a difference from even a decade ago! I see progress in controlling my thinking. When I get negative, downcast, and fretting; I now wallow less in the negative, I am quicker to turn to Him, and I am quicker to feel the peace of God.
We hear "Practice makes perfect."
It is sound advice for our self talk that is raging in our minds.
Peace. It isn't allusive. He wants to give it to us.