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.

Take Control of Your Heart

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Several years ago, I had an “SVT Episode,” supraventricular tachycardia – or extremely rapid heartbeat.  In the Emergency Department, I was hooked up to an EKG machine to monitor my heart rate, which was soon brought back to a normal rhythm.  During a follow-up echocardiogram, the technician turned the monitor toward me so I could see my heart in action.  It was fascinating.   We all know how vital the heart is to human existence.  The heart, spiritually speaking, is also the core of our Christian life..

Often when we think of the heart, we think of emotions.  However, that is a 21st-century understanding of a 1st-century word. The Greek rendering for the word “heart” is kardia – which you should easily recognize as the medical term for all things concerning the physical heart.  In Greek, it points to our conscience self – our thinking and understanding. That should give us a great deal of insight into the role of the heart in the Christian.  The heart is where we find motivation based on reason and conscious thought and it is the root of our emotional nature. In simpler terms, the heart is the place where we talk to ourselves because that is what thinking really is. And our thinking controls our feelings. No wonder Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” How? We mentioned “conscious thought” – that’s what you think about intentionally, like when you’re focusing on the steps to a project. We also have to pay attention to our “unconscious” thoughts – the ones we don’t initiate. These come from our subconscious and reveal the raw condition of our hearts. We have to bring those thoughts into submission to Christ, casting out anything unChristlike and intentionally choosing Philippians 4:8 thoughts. (Go look that up if you need to.) It may seem silly, but I will often do a lasso motion with my arm to take my errant thoughts captive. Let me tell you, paying careful attention to your thoughts all day is exhausting. But over time you and I can retrain our hearts to think rightly and truthfully.

Diet and exercise can help our physical hearts. Our spiritual hearts need a workout as well to become healthy and strong. Beloved,  take control of your thoughts because your thoughts control you.