Once a person realizes his worth before God, as we talked about in the previous article ,he gains a new perspective on life that can propel him beyond the boundaries of his current circumstances. So the first step for controlling our thoughts is having a sense of self-worth. As a result, our minds are able to practice the right kind of thinking which moves us toward our goals despite any obstacles we may encounter.
We can all remember times in our lives when we are overwhelmed in defeat and despair. In those times the grief process we experienced was a normal part of recovering from a loss. But sometimes our despair enslaves us by preventing us from getting on with life or accepting a challenge. This is the result of our faulty thinking which is characteristic of our world.
Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to the thinking and customs of the world, but to renew our minds with new ideas and attitudes from God. Yet our thinking has already been influenced by the world. From television, music, and writings of the world we have come to think in terms of:
- quick resolution to major problems
- the need for excessive material possessions
- false, unfulfilling reasons for living
- the questioning of society’s values
- and a de-emphasis on the ability of trials to strengthen a person’s character
This type of thinking contributes to the increase of violence, suicides, divorces, etc. These are symptomatic of our inability to conform reality to the world’s way of thinking. Therefore, we must change our way of thinking to match reality–God’s reality. But, before we go on, please complete the “Thought Pattern Pretest”. It will provide insight into your present ways of thinking.
Thought Pattern Pretest
1. How often do I think about my failures and how they could have been prevented?
2. How often do I remind myself about my strengths and accomplishments?
3. What promises from God’s word do I think of during difficult times?
4. Have I ever defined God’s purposes and goals for my life?
5. Am I prone to doing necessary tasks only when “I feel like it”?
6. Do I allow my mind to dwell on:
- superficial things?
- sinful desires?
- others’ faults?
- evil in the world?
- negative experiences?
Although our thinking has been influenced by the world, that influence need not continue. God has commanded us to renew our minds and has enabled us to do so. Second Timothy 1:7 tells us that God has given us disciplined minds. Also, God’s word contains many methods we can use to control our thoughts.
I. Forgetting our Failures/Remembering our Successes
Philippians 3:13-14- Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 15:17-19-I have therefore my boasting in Christ Jesus in things pertaining to God. For I will not dare to speak of any things except those which Christ worked through me, for the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of God’s Spirit; so that from Jerusalem, and around as far as to Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ;
If anyone had reason to feel he was unworthy of God’s grace, it was the Apostle Paul for he had persecuted the church before coming to know Christ. When God called him to be an apostle of the gospel of Christ, Paul could have refused, claiming that Christians would not accept him because of his past. Yet Paul’s attitude was different. Though he could not change the past and while some may never forgive his past actions, Paul was willing to leave the past in God’s hands and follow God’s leading for his life.
Paul’s focus was clearly on God. The failures of his life could be forgotten because. God had forgiven them. He could rejoice in his successes because these had been brought about by God’s power. These memories became a source of strength in trials because Paul knew they were not a result of his own ability.
Our past may be just as discouraging as Paul’s. Yet the choice we have is not to focus on those failures. Instead, our focus can be placed on God; and what great things will take place if we are obedient to his will. The victories and successes we experience through God are stepping stones to the future. not forget them–especially in times of stress. Let us not forget then—especially in times of stress.
II. Meditation on the Word of God.
Joshua 1:8-This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate thereon day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success..
Ephesians 6:17-And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Psalm 1:1-3-Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the way of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers; But his delight is in law of the LORD; On his law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also does not wither. Whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalm 119:11-I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
For Joshua to lead a successful conquest of Canaan he needed to control his thinking. Only by making the right decisions based on God’s guidance could he bring about triumph for Israel. His mind could be brought in tune with God’s mind through meditation on God’s laws. Our minds can also be brought in tune with God’s by contemplating scripture.
We may not be fighting an earthly foe as Joshua was; but we shall constantly fight spiritual battles, the majority of which occur in our minds as we fight against sin, Satan, and the world. Whatever difficulty we face, God’s victory is not assured until we use God’s word as our source of guidance and strength. Through this process of meditation, our trust and obedience to God improves and we are less influenced by the lies of Satan and the world.
III. Setting Your Minds.
Colossians 3:2-14-Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory. Put to death therefore your members which are on the earth: sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience. You also once walked in those, when you lived in them; but now you also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and shameful speaking out of your mouth. Don’t lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed in knowledge after the image of his Creator, where there can’t be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondservant, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do. Above all these things, walk in love, which is the bond of perfection.
Just as a torpedo fixes on and heads toward a target, so our minds can be set for right thinking. In Colossians, Paul warns us not to think in terms of earthly things which have no value in the world to come, or things unrelated to the knowledge of Christ, but to think on things that are heavenly–which are eternal and are related to the characteristics of Christ.
Paul explains that we are to put to death (that is to rid from our lives) any thoughts of impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. In their place we substitute a new self, modeled after Christ. This self develops out of a knowledge and dependence on Christ which manifests itself through our thoughts and actions of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love–qualities that are the result of a life yielded to God’s spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Our minds can be set as we daily forsake unrighteous thoughts and actions by considering ourselves dead to them and alive to Christ. In addition to this, we maintain our daily relationship with Christ through prayer and Bible study which provide us with a growing knowledge of his image. Finally, we purposely practice those behaviors and virtues of Christian character in place of any unrighteous attitudes and actions. Thus we program our minds to be obedient to the image of Christ and the workings of his Spirit.
IV. Selective Thinking.
2 Corinthians 10:5-throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ;
Philippians 4:8-Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things.
Turning again to the writings of Paul, we find another method for controlling our thoughts: selective thinking. Paul understood that all of us are the products of the thoughts we dwell on. When our thinking is right, our actions are right: when our thinking is wrong, so are our actions. Therefore, to insure that our thoughts and actions” remain right, Paul suggests that we can bring our thinking in obedience to Christ by dwelling on those things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and excellent or praiseworthy. Let’s examine each of these, one by one.
True: to dwell on those things which represent truth instead of things which are false. Satan the father of lies would have us think incorrectly about the character of God, the danger of sin, the validity of our salvation, and our worth as God’s children.
Noble or Honorable: thinking on that which is serious and lasting rather than on what is superficial, temporary, and valueless in God’s eyes.
Just: thinking on what is righteous and what produces righteousness. The opposite of this is to dwell on what is evil. In Romans 12:21 Paul warns, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We will not be tempted to return evil when our greatest concern is to do what is right.
Pure: Dwelling on that which is clean and blameless rather than allowing thoughts that are dirty and sinful. Failing to heed this will result in sin in our lives, as the book of James says, “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. . .” (James 1:14-15).
Lovely and Good Report: to look for and consider the pleasing and best qualities in others and yourself. Such thinking tries to build others up rather than tear them down.
Virtue and Praise: to focus on what we can praise God for in our lives and the lives of others. Such thinking precludes jealousy and envy because we do not see others as better than ourselves, for we recognize each is valuable and unique in God’s sight as we perform our particular function in the body of Christ.
V. Choosing our Role Models.
Proverbs 13:20- One who walks with wise men grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.
1 Corinthians 4:14-17- I don’t write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, I became your father through the gospel. I beg you therefore, be imitators of me. Because of this I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every assembly.
In Philippians 4:8 Paul has given us these standards to govern our thinking. Yet. let us move one step further and apply these to our most important source of influence, our role models. In Philippians 4:9 Paul concludes his discussion on selective thinking by emphasizing his position as a role model for believers: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Yes, Paul was way ahead of his time in recognizing our capacity to follow role models. For God did create human beings with this drive and capacity to imitate others. This capacity helps infants learn how to speak and causes teenagers to copy their favorite rock stars and athletes. We are all people in search of role models-those people, institutions, and situations we admire and consider worthy of imitation. The selection of role models is important because it affects our values. When a person has a well established set of values, he will seek role models who exemplify those values. Yet, when a person’s values are not well defined, he will seek a successful role model and adopt that model’s values for his own. By this process our lives and destinies are shaped. Therefore, as Christians it is essential that our role models be in line with our values or else our lives will be turned aside from God’s purpose.
Now we all have role models from a variety of sources:
- Our favorite television programs
- The books and magazines we read
- The activities we enjoy watching or participating in
- And those people we admire the most
It does not matter who he or she is; when we admire someone, we tend to imitate him. But we can control this effect by seeking role models that conduct themselves according to God’s standards found in Philippians 4:8:
True: He is free of falsehood and deceit.
Just: Right moral conduct is demonstrated in his life.
Noble: He seeks serious and lasting goals.
Pure: His motives are blameless and sincere.
Lovely: His purpose is to build others up.
Vitreous: He seeks the best out of himself and others.
Praiseworthy: His accomplishments bring praise to God.
When we choose role models that fit into these standards, we help insure the development of thoughts and values that honor God. You can put your role models to this test by determining who they are, evaluating the behavior of each one according to Philippians 4: 8-9, and. following only those who are in line with God’s standards.
VI. Positive Affirmation.
Read Matthew 17:20- He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most assuredly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
The last way we can control our thinking is through positive affirmation or what psychologists call self-talk. This is the demonstration of our faith in God to control our circumstances when we remind ourselves of the possibilities that he can accomplish in our lives. Jesus gave us this principle as he taught on prayer: ” For most assuredly I tell you, whoever may tell this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and doesn’t doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is happening; he shall have whatever he says. ” (Mark 11:23).
Notice here that there is a direct correlation between what we say and what we believe. When we tell ourselves that we are worthless and that our future is hopeless, we believe it. Yet, when we remind ourselves of our value in God’s sight and the possibility of improvement, we will begin to expect a positive outcome. In turn, our attitudes and actions will follow suit, and change can come to our situation without being hindered by negative thinking.
Positive affirmation calls for us to be both optimistic and realistic. We should only hope for the impossible when God has directly shown us that he will intervene. The result of unrealistic hoping leads only to depression. If you are accustomed to thinking yourself into depression, you probably keep setting your sights too high.
Our affirmation must be made on a realistic evaluation of ourselves and God’s will for our lives. Then we can be confident of this truth: ” Faithful is he who calls you, who will also do it.” (1 Thess. 5:24).
Strategies For Putting These Principles into Practice
Having covered the six principles of disciplined thinking, here are several ways you can incorporate them into your life:
1. See the negative experiences of your life as being placed into a strongbox that is sealed and dropped into the deepest part of the ocean. As long as you leave them there, they will not free themselves (He will tread our iniquities under foot; And you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19b).
2. Make a list of your abilities and successes in life. Keep it handy to remind you that God has made you what you are and he has been leading through all the challenges of your life.
3. In the course of your Bible study, God will show you promises of what he can accomplish in your life. Meditate on these scriptures and they will become a source of strength and guidance. Because our thinking is controlled in part by our actions, we can set our minds by choosing the type of behaviors which reinforce right thinking. For instance, I do not need to wait for feelings of love to demonstrate love to others. Instead, I can start showing love to others and yielding my life to the one who is the source of love. Then feelings of love will follow.
4. Remind yourself to practice selective thinking (and to carefully choose your role models), make copies of this list and place them where you spend most of your time: at your desk, in your car, in your kitchen, etc.
Am I thinking on things that are:
True and not false
Noble and not superficial
Right and not evil
Pure and not sinful
Lovely and not critical
Admirable and not detestable
Praiseworthy and not self-glorifying
6. Make a short list of positive affirmation statements about Make these specific your value and potential as God’s child. and applicable to your present situation. Then memorize and repeat these during the idle moments of your day. Use this method whenever you are recovering from a defeat or loss.
So, are you going continue with the same old negative thinking that has been hindering your progress? Why not start applying these principles today and soon you will discover the victory that God has in store for you.