How to Battle Negative Thoughts

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

I’ve had several conversations recently with ladies who are struggling with oppressive, negative, angry emotions. They are surprised when I tell them that the key is to learn to take control of their thoughts. We tend to focus on our feelings, but forget that those feelings are fed by our thoughts.  And our thoughts can be controlled. Negative thoughts, depressive thoughts, sinful thoughts, angry thoughts can and must be brought into submission. It’s a matter of paying attention to what’s running around in your head.

Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, one of the Temple priests during the Babylonian captivity. The situation seemed hopeless, and this is reflected in his Psalm. In verses 1-9, Asaph lamented God’s apparent rejection of His people. In verse 2 he says “my soul refused to be comforted.” Ever been there? I know I have. But look at verse 10, Asaph turns his mind and heart on a pivot, like a door on its hinges. “Then I thought, to this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord…I will meditate on all Your words” (vs. 10, 11, 12). Did you catch the keyword? Thought. In that moment of despair, Asaph took control of his thoughts and changed the focus of his heart and mind.  He deliberately remembered and meditated instead on the character and deeds of God. And when he opened that door, hope and peace flooded in.

We see the same change of mind in Lamentations 3, which starts out: “I am the man who has seen affliction,” (v.1) and continues for 20 verses saying “my soul is downcast within me” (v. 20).  And then verse 21 begins with that hinge word: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” There’s the clue again “I call to mind.”  Jeremiah’s whole focus and attitude is transformed. A change in his focus changed everything.

Paul said, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Then we take the Philippians 4:8 prescription – I’ll let you look that up. It’s how we battle mental negativity. Beloved, the only sure way to find peace in seasons of struggle is to intentionally turn your thoughts to God, to wrap His Words around you like a comforter, and trust in His love, faithfulness, and peace to carry you through.

The Secret to Contentment

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There have been seasons in my life where I was very discontented. Oh, no major crisis or struggles were going on, just a sense that I wanted . . . something more. Something else. And then there have been seasons where I was very discontented and everything was going on, there was one crisis after another knocking me off my feet. And I want anything else but what I had in my life.  After many of these up and down cycles, I discovered the answer to my discontentment.

Contentment is a daily choice.

To choose an attitude of gratitude and Joy and do away with complaining and envy.

To choose to hope in God’s promises. To choose to believe that He is everything He says He is, and He is able and willing to do everything He promised in His Word.

To choose to focus my thoughts and fill my mind with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

No, I didn’t learn this overnight. Contentment is a life-long lesson. It’s one I’m still learning day by day. Paul said it best, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). We learn contentment comes from experiencing the faithfulness of God through our struggles and trials. It comes as we learn to lean into Him when we are weary and worn and walk with Him when the road is long and hard.

Contentment grows in the heart that is rooted deeply in the Bible – our light and life (Ps. 119:105, Deut. 32:47). Our minds don’t naturally default to the good. So we must intentionally, deliberately, and faithfully make time for God’s Word every day.

Contentment comes in communing with your Heavenly Father. There is no substitute for prayer. On your knees. Sitting in your favorite chair. Writing in a journal. Aloud or silently. Just pray – your Father longs to hear from you. Your heart longs to connect with Him.

We will be content only when we realize whose we are – not who we are, where we are, how much or how little we have, or what is happening around us. We can be content because God loves us, cares for us, and is preparing a place for us to be with Him forever. Beloved, are you content with God?

Prescription for Peace of Mind

If I’ve learned anything at all about the Bible, it is that this is a practical book with real-life answers for real-life needs. The Bible doesn’t just give us wise philosophy – or as my grandmother called it – “pie-in-the-sky thinking.” So when a friend came to me recently to talk about her constant negative, anxious thoughts, I offered her the Bible’s prescription for the mind.

“First, you have to get rid of those negative thoughts,” We talked about 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” “You have authority over what goes on in your head,” I said. “You must claim that authority and banish negative and anxious thoughts.” I showed her how I make a grabbing motion over my head to “take captive” my thoughts, then a motion of flinging them aside – literally casting them at Jesus’ feet. I’ve done this with thoughts of doubt and fear and sin. It may look kinda silly, but the physical acting out of it is powerful. I believe it also puts the devil on notice that I’m taking charge of my mind.

I continued, “Then immediately fill your mind with Philippians 4:8: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’” “What do you know is true?” I asked her. “God is in control.” “Yes! And God loves you.” “And God is good.” “Exactly! And God has a plan and a purpose.” Her face began to relax. “What do you know that is praiseworthy,” I asked. “Jesus!” she replied. “What can you praise Jesus for?” “He is my Savior. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords.” “What do you know that is lovely?” I said. “My daughter,” she answered with a smile. “And when you memorize scripture,” I reminded her, “you have a ready supply of ‘whatsoever is right.’ For every negative thought satan plants in your mind, you need a positive Word from God to counteract it.”

May I offer the same prescription to you, Beloved? Your thoughts are just that—YOUR thoughts. You have authority over them. You can make them obey you – but it takes effort and repetition. What is the result of this practical exercise? “The God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9b). Do you need some peace of mind?

It’s Time to Trust God

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I stood in the shower this morning, hands full of shampoo suds before I remembered – today was supposed to be a skip day. My hairdresser (who is also my sister-in-law) told me to skip the shampoo every other day to preserve my color (what – you thought this was natural?). But I get in the shower, half asleep, and go through the same routine I’ve followed since I was a kid. It’s so ingrained in me that I don’t even think about what I’m doing – I just operate on automatic pilot. I’d have to actually wake up and pay attention to do it differently. My morning shower routine is not the only habit I need to change. My thoughts – especially in difficult seasons – tend to follow a well-worn path that leads me into negativity, anxiety, and discouragement.
Over the past few months, a series of bombs – mostly financial – have gone off in our life and put us in a very hard place. My “default” line of thinking is to worry, to agonize and fret. As my thoughts roll into that familiar negative rut, doubts start to fill my mind about God’s faithfulness and love. He was so good to us last summer, will He help us again? Is He weary of our neediness? Have we reached the limit of His goodwill? Will He give up on us and leave us to figure it out on our own?
I know I’m not alone in this habit of negativity. You have shared your own struggles with me and I’ve tried to encourage you when you’ve said the same things.
Beloved, it’s time for you and me to say “Enough!” It’s time to wake up and shake off the habit of negativity and start a new habit of faith. As Paul said, it’s time to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). It’s time to remember God’s rock-solid faithfulness and never-failing love. It’s time to turn our minds to “what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8). It’s time to intentionally take control of our run-away thoughts and redirect them to trust in the goodness of our Heavenly Father. It’s time to believe that the God who parted the Sea and walked through the fire and shut the mouths of lions is still in business today. It’s time to expect God to act on behalf of His children.
I’m starting a new habit of positive faith today. I’m not going to give in to worry and fear any longer, Not while I know my God is still on the throne. It’s time. Who’s with me?

Your Shield of Faith (Part 2)

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A couple of days ago I wrote about the importance of the Shield of Faith and how faith is more than thoughts but is, by definition action.  In a word, faith is obedience.  But I want to come back to faith as a thought because our actions are born out of our thoughts.  Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (KJV).  Our thoughts hold the key to our actions and attitudes and behaviors.  What you think matters.  That’s why Paul exhorts us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Consider once again the Roman soldier in battle.  When the enemy advances, swinging his sword, the soldier raises his shield to protect himself.  And when the enemy is shooting arrows and throwing javelins at him, he can crouch behind his shield as the weapons of warfare bounce off.  Likewise, you and I have to become adept at taking a position of safety behind our shield.  Obedience is faith in action and faith is our defense against the enemy, but we often have to “think” ourselves into raising that shield of faith.  We have to think about what is true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy.  And not just one fleeting “God is good,” but a continuous monologue of faith.  We have to speak truth to ourselves and let it permeate our hearts so our arms have the strength to raise that shield and hold it in a position of obedience.  When we claim what we know is true about our God, when we remind ourselves of His power over our enemy, His goodness even when we don’t deserve, His faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness, His promises that never fail, His sovereign rule over every aspect of our lives, His wisdom that is working out the perfect battle plan, His everlasting, never-failing, rock solid love for us —we are standing firm behind our shield of faith.

One more thing – when the battle is at it fiercest and the enemy is swinging hard, the soldier knows that he cannot lower his shield; he must keep a firm grip and stay behind his protective barrier.  A wise soldier knows that if he sticks his head out from behind his shield, he’s going to get clobbered.  You and I cannot lose our grip or lower our shield.  We’ve got to stay in our protective position.  Picture yourself crouched down, your head safely lowered behind your shield, behind everything you know is true about your God. Looks a lot like the position of prayer doesn’t it?

The battle is on and the enemy is relentless.  But you have a strong shield when your thoughts are fixed on what is true about God.  The soldier who stays behind his shield is a soldier who survives the battle.  Raise your shield of faith Beloved –Yahweh Magen – the Lord your Shield will protect you.

Peace of Mind

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

We need peace in this world.  We need peace between ourselves and God.  We need peace when we are afraid.  And we need peace when we are upset and our minds are a whirlwind of anxious and angry thoughts.  We need the peace that only comes from the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.  This is the peace we are focusing on in this week of the Advent season.

I am upset today.  My mind is racing with a hundred thoughts of frustration and anxiety, all because of some comments my seminary professor made.  I am having a hard time grabbing hold of the things that I need to focus on today.  I need peace of mind this morning.  I wonder if you do too.

God promised us the gift of peace, and if you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior, that peace is yours.  We’ve seen that He has made peace possible between us and God, and that He is our peace when we are afraid.  But what about now, when the real issue is simply my thoughts and attitude?  How do I find peace when my mind is anything but peaceful?  I have to choose peace.

The peace of Christ is there for me, but it is my choice to receive and apply it, or to leave it on the shelf and continue to stew.  Where will I allow my thoughts to roam – to the wasteland of anxiety or to the peace of Christ?  Two verses of Scripture offer me important keys.  From the Old Testament, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trust in you” (Is. 26:3). And from the writings of Paul, “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).  I can have the peace of God by focusing my mind on Him, trusting Him, remembering His faithfulness and His character; and by submitting my mind to the control of the Holy Spirit.  I cannot just grit my teeth and force myself to be at peace.  Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), and it only comes when I am surrendered to the Spirit.  Ephesians 4:23 tells us to “be made new in the attitude of your minds.”  This will only happen when we fill our minds with the things of God; things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil 4:8).  Isn’t it interesting that when we consider all these characteristics we are to think on, they all add up to one thing. Jesus.

Holy Father, Giver of true Peace, I chose today to turn my thoughts to the Baby in the manger, the flesh-and-blood gift of your perfect peace.  Let my mind be at peace, Jehovah Shalom as I trust in You.  Amen.