Brains are pretty crazy places. At least mine is. Quite calmly I ask my brain to start mulling over one thing, and it does that, but then it links to a second thing, digs a tunnel to a third thing, rides the subway to a fourth thing, health-consciously jogs back to the first thing (which is a long trip by this time), and then suddenly grabs hold of three shiny new things all at once. Sometimes it feels like there is just no rhyme or reason to my thought process (or lack thereof).
Then there are those other moments in which my brain won’t do anything I ask it to, like when I’m tired or hungry or doing math…
Yet, despite all of that, God says to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” I need to be so in control of my wild, jumpy thoughts that every one of them is in obedience to Christ. In Jeremiah 17:10, God says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” God knows every one of my thoughts, even the most fleeting, and I will stand before God and answer for every one of them. Wrong thoughts are just as much a sin as wrong anything else.
I am sure I’m not at all the only person who struggles with this or who gulps a little when thinking of the state of my thought capturing skills. Thankfully, having the very personal, very involved God that we do as Christians, He doesn’t just leave us there in a lurch waiting for us to fail. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” That even applies to the temptation to think wrong thoughts (or to not think right thoughts).
So, first of all, what is it that we are trying to control exactly? We can’t just be thinking about the Bible all the time so what do thoughts that are in “obedience to Christ” look like?
Well, our thoughts shouldn’t include entertaining thoughts of sin. Just because you don’t do it, not fighting the temptation is still wrong. Jesus gave the example of lust. He said, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Just because the man didn’t actually commit the adultery doesn’t mean he wasn’t sinning by enjoying the thought of it.
Also, our thoughts shouldn’t distract us from God. I don’t know how many times I am praying or sitting and listening to a sermon and my mind wanders off until it is a thousand miles away. I know that it is honoring to the Lord to listen and James 4:17 says, “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” I know better, but I’m not making my thoughts do the right thing. That’s sin.
Our thoughts also shouldn’t be mean spirited, selfish, disrespectful to God, etc. The list could really go on and on. Thankfully, the whole idea is summed up in Philippians 4:8. It says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, 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 anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Nice and simple. If we are worried that a thought should be banished, but aren’t sure, we can just compare it to this list. Is the thought pure? Is it lovely? Is it of good report? Is there virtue in it? If the answer to any of these is no, out it goes!
Ok, but even knowing all of these things, I tend to struggle. Thoughts creep in all the time that really shouldn’t be there, and I really struggle with pinning my thoughts down to focus on long bouts of prayer or a lengthy sermon. Thankfully, the Bible has an answer for that too.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Lots of my wrong thinking happens because I have been listening a little too closely to the world and not quite closely enough to God. It’s really easy to start thinking like those you listen to. That’s why we have to let our minds be renewed by being in God’s Word. We have to fill our minds up with those pure, lovely, virtuous things so that we don’t even care to think of those things that don’t live up.
We also have to take it seriously. Since thoughts are kept only in our mind, it’s easy to think they don’t matter as much as the other things we do. No one else sees them or hears them, so we think we can put fixing those off a little longer. But the Bible says things like, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Out of our innermost selves come our actions. Our thoughts guide our words, our motives, and everything we do. If we aren’t watching our thoughts, everything else will soon fall apart too. Like Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” This is serious stuff.
Finally, we have to pray about it. God is able to help us do anything if we are willing to yield it to Him. One of my favorite prayers about thoughts in the Bible is in Psalm 19:14:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
I need to pray every day that both the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart are acceptable in my precious Redeemer’s sight.
Is this something you pray about often? What other verses come to mind that help you keep your thoughts in check?