Have you ever found yourself stuck in thought patterns? Fear, worry, and anxiety can easily set up camp in our minds, but so also can selfishness, greed, hatred, discontent, covetousness, jealousy, lust, and others. Many times we don’t even realize just how entangled our thoughts have become; sometimes we’ve just gotten so used to them that we have forgotten any other way.
Some years ago I shared reasons to read the Bible. One reason among the many is that we’re told in Romans 12:2 to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” According to BibleStudyTools.com, the Greek word for “renew” there means, “renovation, complete change for the better.” God changes us when we are saved but it takes the rest of our lives, continually spending time with Him in His Word, to “renovate” our thinking and make it more in line with His.
Part of that transformation comes through regular time in the Bible personally and with other believers in church. In a blog post titled “‘You Have Cancer’: When Theology Meets Your Fears,” Tina Walker wrote:
Soon I discovered that cancer was not the enemy – my flesh and Satan were. I wasn’t fighting breast cancer so much as I was fighting myself. And, although I wouldn’t have articulated it this way at the time, my theology was going to determine the outcome.
By theology, I mean the type of practical theology that doesn’t always take the form of a chapter and verse memorized just for the time of need. I’m referring to the accumulation of things learned about God over time. It’s the impression, the viewpoint we have about our God. It frames the way we think and the way we react to everything that happens around us and to us.
We also need to ask Him to “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). We need for Him to alert us to our blind spots and make us aware of wrong thinking.
But what do we do when we are plagued with thoughts we know are wrong, and even prayed for deliverance and victory over certain wrong thought patterns? I used to pray, “Lord, change my thoughts.” That’s not entirely wrong, because we can’t do anything without Him (John 15:5); however, He has given us tools in His Word to help us combat wrong thoughts. II Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
Someone once said that the best way to deal with a wrong thought is to replace it with another thought. If we just chant to ourselves, “Don’t think that, don’t think that, don’t think that,” we’re going to be stuck. Erwin Lutzer, in his book How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit, says that if someone tells you not to think of the number 8, then suddenly that’s all you’ll be able to think of. So rather than passively wishing and hoping our thoughts would be different, we need to actively turn our minds to right thoughts.
Sometimes that will happen during the regular course of our Bible reading: I don’t know how many times God has led me to help right when I needed it at that time. But sometimes it does take “chapter and verse for a time of need.” It helps to take a concordance and look up verses related to the problem we’re having. I’ve had the experience of angry feelings just melting away after reading verse after verse about anger. It helps to write them out, both so that they can work themselves into our minds while we’re writing them, and also so we can have a handy list to refer back to. Sometimes it helps to look up a number of verses; sometimes it helps to just take one especially helpful verse, write it out on a small card, and take with us everywhere to refer to often, pray through it, soak ourselves in it until it becomes a part of us. The more we are in God’s Word, the more the Holy Spirit can “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
It helps, too, to concentrate not just on the negative thought you’re trying to change or eliminate, but also on the positive one that needs to take its place. Ephesians 4:28 says don’t steal any more, but rather labor. Verse 29 says don’t let corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but rather that which is edifying. Verses 31-32 say, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” So when I am angry, I need to focus on love, forgiveness, and forbearing instead. When I am anxious, I need to remind myself of God’s sufficiency for whatever I am anxious about.
A few other considerations help in transforming our thinking. Recently I was talking with someone about a matter weighty on their heart, but they didn’t really want to listen (evidenced by their interrupting me in mid-sentence). I know at times I have experienced anxious thoughts frothing and spilling over like bubbles in a fountain. Jesus said to His disciples once, ” I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. (John 16:12). Sometimes we need to ” Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a) before we can even hear or receive what He is trying to tell us. There are many verses about inclining our ears or heart to Him. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 30:15a: “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” The more time we spend in His Word, the more we learn of Him and trust in Him, the more we rest in Him and quiet ourselves before Him, the more we can receive the ministry of His Spirit conveying His truth to our hearts.
I don’t mean by any of this that our sanctification or victory over sin is all in our hands. As I said earlier, we can only accomplish anything for God through His grace and power. But He has instructed us to read and meditate on His Word for this and many other reasons.
The ultimate means of change comes from beholding Christ: II Corinthians 3:18: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. II Peter 1:3-4