By Virginia Brandt Berg
“I just cannot overcome my bad thoughts,” a woman wrote me, asking for advice. “As you may remember, I wrote you before about someone near to me who is very spiteful and says such unkind things, and I told you that I had overcome my urge to say anything back. I have been able to control my tongue, but I haven’t changed my thinking any. I may have self-control outwardly, but I’m seething on the inside.”
That letter reminded me of a story about a little boy named Jimmy who was punished for doing something that his mother had told him again and again not to do. At last she said, “You sit in the corner until I tell you that you may get up.” Jimmy sat there, but he was very angry and willful about the whole thing. After a while his mother asked, “Jimmy, are you ready now to obey?” And Jimmy said, “Well, I’m sitting down, but I’m still standing up on the inside!”
Often it’s that inward struggle of the mind that’s the hardest to win. That’s why God’s Word makes it so plain that we’re supposed to take control of our thoughts: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8 KJV).
I once heard someone say that he believed the greatest power God has given us is the power to think. Our thoughts are a vital part of us, and they accompany us wherever we go. We can no more get away from our thoughts than we can get away from our shadow. When our thoughts are positive and principled, they become the best of traveling companions, but when they aren’t, they dog our steps and rob us of happiness and peace of mind.
It’s the old foundation principle that our desires, which are what motivate us, are the direct result of our thinking. We exhaust our energies dealing with those results, while failing to deal with the source, which is the mind; we fail to “think on these things.”
All high and holy aspirations come from high and holy thinking. When we stop to consider the miracle of life, the world God created for us, and the marvel of His love, we realize that we’re surrounded with so much that’s beautiful and wonderful. It’s an awful shame when our thoughts go wandering among weeds and brambles, when they turn to ungodly and ugly things.
We get so busy that we don’t take time to think properly, to meditate. It reminds me of another story about a mother who went to visit her son in the big city. He was so busy rushing here and there that all he had time for was, “Hello, Mother!” and “Goodbye, Mother!” One day she said to him, “Son, when do you do your thinking?”
Many of us are like that. We get too busy to stop and think, to turn our thoughts toward God and the life-giving truth of His Word, to “set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
The battles of life are first fought on the battleground of the mind, and the issues of life are determined there. Murder is first committed within the precincts of the mind, before the shot is fired. The thief puts out his hand and steals the watch, but first he has stolen it within the precincts of his mind. We teach our children that they shouldn’t do this and they shouldn’t do that because it’s wrong, but do we teach them to think? Do we teach them to center their thoughts on things that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praiseworthy”?
Thinking seems to be a lost art these days. People don’t take the time to think things through. If they did, God would show them a plan; He would show them how to get the thing done or how to unravel the problem situation if they would just stop, look to Him, and give Him a chance.
Getting back to that woman’s letter, it seems almost unpardonable to allow our minds to linger on thoughts of hate and criticism and resentment. But how do we overcome such thoughts?
The only way to get rid of impure thoughts is to overthrow them with thoughts that are “pure and lovely.” The way to get rid of malicious thoughts is to overthrow them with loving, positive thoughts. The only way to reap a proper harvest from the fertile garden of the mind is to carefully sow good seed and carefully tend the crop. As my father taught me when I was a little girl, “Sow a thought and you reap an action. Sow an action and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap character. Sow character and you reap a destiny.” God’s Word says that as we think in our heart, so are we (Proverbs 23:7).
Thoughts may seem to be the most insignificant of things, known only by ourselves, but psychologists tell us that each thought influences the total of our consciousness. If a thought is repeated enough times, it becomes a thought pattern. Those who train their minds to think kind, gentle, loving thoughts will grow to be kind, gentle, and loving. But those who habitually think negative thoughts will develop ugly temperaments and be ruled by feelings of resentfulness, bitterness, and anger. Their life will shape itself, not in a way that is beautiful, but in one that is debasing. They will find their soul bending downward in a sort of a permanent moral curvature, while those who “set their minds on things above” grow straight and tall and true.
Ask God to help you “set your mind on things above,” and as you continue to look to Him, He will transform you through the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). That’s the secret to overcoming bad thoughts!
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