I knew an elderly woman who was a prolific crocheter. Each day she would sit in her living room, crochet hook flying, afghan materializing from wrists to ankles in a matter of hours. And while this sweet woman crocheted, she thought. She was also a prolific thinker. Her thoughts would fly faster than her crochet hook. But unlike the ordered, controlled, and intentioned action of the hook, her thoughts were random and mismanaged. The more she thought, the more she questioned. The more she questioned, the more she answered. The more she answered, the more she believed, and soon the results of her thinking yielded a product of suppositions sewn in certainty. The poor subjects of her thoughts soon were blindsided by her anger, leaving them reeling and wondering what they had done to provoke her. “Uh oh,” they would think. “She’s been crocheting again.”
Recently I was behind a car which had a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Brilliant. I have fallen into this pattern more times than I care to admit, especially in my marriage. The thoughts start out small, then burgeon into monstrous assumptions that have absolutely no foundation in truth. I get into trouble when I act on anger over issues that I have manufactured in my mind.
Scripture makes much of human thought. Christ, for example, demonstrates his heavenly standards through a series of “You have heard it said” statements that call out people’s thoughts:
“You have heard it said…
…’You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment (and)…be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-22)
…’You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28)
How steep are the expectations of God! Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, tells us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” How is this done? Some days taking every negative, unfounded, critical, angry thought I have captive would be as time consuming as having to tell my heart to beat or my lungs to breathe.
Heaven’s standards are impossibly high. But the love and grace of God reach identical heights. God is kind, and his word gives us practical help in overcoming the deluge of battening thoughts that persistently invade our minds.
God teaches us how to pray so that we allow him full access to our minds. In Psalm 139:23-24, the psalmist writes,
"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
Of course, God always has full access to our minds in the sense that he always knows what we are thinking. This prayer, however, is one of humility and obedience. It’s also one of courage. We are to ask God to show us if there is anything in our thought life that needs rooting out. We are acknowledging that we do not have a right to our own hearts, even in our thought life. We are to give everything to God, heart, mind, and body, which, in the end, are safer and much better cared for than if we tried to manage them on our own!
Capturing every thought is literal and intentional. When negative thoughts come, we are to counter-think. “Lord, please take this thought captive and replace it with your words.” Philippians 4:8 tells us to think on things that are true, lovely, and excellent. Romans 12:2 says to be transformed. How? By a renewing or our minds. How do we do that? By immediate prayer and meditation on God’s word.
Charles Spurgeon said, “No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God.”
J.I. Packer puts it this way:
"Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us-”comfort” us, in the old, strong, Bible sense of the word-as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ."
We are to replace our thoughts with thoughts of God! He is faithful to help us shed light in the darkest places to free us from the captivity of negative thinking. To his glory and for our good!