Before we get started, I just have to confess that this post was terribly difficult to write. I knew what I wanted to say. The direction has been clear to me for days, but oh, how I struggled to actually write it. I have nearly worn out the delete button on my laptop. I have been sidelined by a million interruptions, almost all of them in my head. (The puppy had been very uncooperative, too, wanting lots of attention and threatening to chew my new rug if I didn’t pay it.) I have folded laundry, chloroxed my kitchen cabinets, checked football scores, scrolled through Facebook… I even made dinner already, and I hate to cook.
As I walked the dog in the 96 degree heat (see, I told you I was having a procrastination problem) I was thinking about why this post was giving me fits. I had a Homer Simpson moment: DOH! My topic this week? The battlefield of the mind.
That phrase, the title of a Joyce Meyer book I read years ago, describes perfectly what happens between my ears. This week I struggled with distraction because I wanted to write this post and had to fight to focus. Most of the time, however, I battle fear, worry, insecurity, and a host of other negative thoughts. All that negativity- which really has its root in unbelief- leads directly into counterproductive behavior like nagging my kids, complaining to my friends, and lying awake at night worrying.
I want joy. I want hope. I want peace. But if I really want those things, I have got to fight for them, hard. There are a lot of things in our world today that don’t bring joy, hope and peace. But God gives us exactly what we need to win the war against discouragement.
If you are serious about fighting for the blessings God has for us, start with Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We are going to focus on one small piece of the many wise things Paul says: monitoring our thought life. Paul talks about rejoicing, he talks about prayer, and then he talks about what we do with our minds. I am going to use the Amplified version because it’s advice worth amplifying:
Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s Word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; of there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things, center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart. Philippians 4:8 AMP
Keep in mind that when Paul writes these words, he is in prison. Paul is not naïve about what lies ahead for him or the challenges that the fledgling Christian church will face or the darkness that Jesus said would invade the earth. Paul encouraged the Philippians precisely because he knew they needed it.
Paul is not advocating either ignorance or denial; the first in his list of good things to think about is “whatever is true.” It doesn’t do anyone any good to be willfully ignorant, to sugarcoat sin, or to pretend that suffering does not hurt. Rather, this list begins with the reminder that our thought life must first be grounded in what we know to be true.
Personally, I waste a whole lot of time thinking about whole lot of things that I don’t really know are true. For example: I think about how my son was grumpy before school this morning, and I can come up with fifty different reasons for his moodiness. I might think about why my friend has not responded to my text, and conclude that she is too busy for me, or is mad at me, or whatever. One day this week a friend called to tell me that her husband gave her a “dirty look” as they crossed paths in the driveway, and she assumed he was still mad about their earlier disagreement. After we hung up from our call, she went in the house- and immediately texted me a picture of a bouquet of flowers that he had left for her to find. He wasn’t mad at all- the opposite, in fact- but I had to laugh because she did what I so often do: she assumed she knew what he was thinking. I waste so much time being a mind-reader and I am astoundingly bad at it. I can bulldoze through any peace of mind with other thoughts that bear limited resemblance to the truth: my opinions, interpretations, prognostications, grudges, and guilt often wreck my mind. Then I get mad at myself for not being more joyful because I “should” be so grateful.
I have got to fight for what I know to be true. The truest thing I know is the gospel of Jesus Christ; Jesus is the greatest reality that supercedes all other realities, but I have to battle to keep my eyes on Him alone. Listen to the warfare imagery Paul uses:
The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defense that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 Phillips
Every thought must be captured and subjected to interrogation: is it true? If I am not sure, then I ask for discernment: what can I know to be true in this particular thought? I love what the Amplified suggests, that our thoughts must be “confirmed by God’s Word.” If I cannot confirm or deny it in the Word, then what does the Word say? I know that His Word is always a safe place for my mind to linger.
I am not for a minute saying that you won’t have to think about some tough things that aren’t directly spelled out in Scripture. You will have to decide where to cast your vote in November- but God is “ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations.” (2 Chronicles 20:6) You will have to figure out how to pay for a new roof and spring tuition and auto insurance- but He will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). Allow the Word of God to have its powerful way with your mind: “… let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)
Now let’s go in search of some lovely thoughts.