Steps to Controlling Your Thought Life
An eight-year-old boy and his five-year-old sister were riding in the back seat of a car. The two were immersed in conversation while their mother listened.
The boy said, “There is so much to think about. I just think all the time.” Then he asked his sister, “Bentley, do you think all the time?”
Pausing, Bentley replied, “No, I only think about half the time.”
One day Bentley will learn that our brains are always working.
Even while we sleep, our minds are still engaged – thinking, processing data, resolving problems, planning. Our mental computers are never shut down.
The problem with “so much to think about” is that we breed not only good thoughts, but bad thoughts as well. Are we thinking God’s thoughts after Him, or are we creating our own little worlds around ourselves? Are our minds cathedrals of Christ-centered worship or carnivals of self-centered indulgence?
Brad is a distinguished, educated, retired businessman. We had lunched together on a number of occasions, but he had never revealed his secret. I could not have guessed what he finally told me.
He said, “I have been having vulgar, disturbing, thoughts. I try to control my thinking, but nothing seems to work. Are you able to help me?”
Although Brad is a Christian, his mind had become the devil’s playground.1
Coulter’s problem was serious too. He was on staff of a Christian organization, yet his thought life was a hangover from a former lifestyle.
“When I am off duty,” he said, “I begin to fall back into my old habits. I think about my heroin trips, drunken binges and homosexual adventures. I visit a bar for a drink, and the next morning I find myself in a dingy motel room with a strange man. If only I could control the habits of my thought life, I could handle the rest.”
Brad had uncontrolled thoughts which he never acted out. Coulter had recurring thoughts which he acted out. Both had the same problem: debilitating thoughts that crippled their Christian lives. Scripture says, “As a person thinks within himself, so he is.”2 We are what we think.
While many of us may not fight the thoughts of a Brad or a Coulter, neither should we deceive ourselves as in Bentley’s naïve innocence. Our minds are a battleground.
The Apostle Paul prescribed a good thought life as the believer’s first step in the pursuit of holiness. He said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”3
If our thinking is faulty at the beginning, chances are our behavior will fizzle at the finish. We need to control our thoughts before they control us.
The believer’s goal is to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Paul said, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every prideful human reasoning that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”4
We need to take an aggressive role in conforming ourselves to the likeness of Jesus Christ. “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”5
Brad and Coulter longed for changed thinking and changed lives. How could they establish new patterns of thought? How could they storm the “strongholds”’ of the heart and “take captive every thought”’? How can you and I get control of our thoughts?
Pray.6 The first step is to pray, asking God to help us control our thinking. But it’s only the first step, and we should not stop there. Prayer is necessary. Prayer is first. However, prayer is not all that we must do.
Meditate upon the Word of God.7 Our minds are like recording tapes. We have recorded a bad past and bad thoughts. When a passing thought triggers the old tape, we play back the very thought patterns that we hate.8 We need to create and play new ones. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”9
We can saturate our minds with Scripture; think God’s thoughts after Him. Read the Psalms aloud to the Lord.
Think good thoughts. “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.”10 Write a list of good thoughts on a note card. Keep the card handy for ready reference.
Memorize Scripture. The psalmist said, “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”11 Three verses a week is about all that I can memorize successfully. A disciplined diet of Scripture memorization is life changing.
Know God.12 Our lives should be centered in discovering God. Begin by looking up the definition of God in a good Bible dictionary. Study it: record the list of Scripture references; note the names of God; and study His attributes. Read some good books on the nature of God.
Keep a record of past deliverances. The Bible is a catalog of the faithfulness of God. From the Garden of Eden13 to the saintly vision of the heavenly Jerusalem,14 from the Covenant with Abraham15 to the cross of Christ,16 the written Word demonstrates the adequacy of God.
God has not changed.17 Trace the contours of God’s faithfulness in your own life. Discover the face of Christ in all your ups and downs. Keep a personal notebook. Remember what God has done.18
Become accountable. “Many advisers make victory sure.”19 Ask a mature Christian to pray with you and help you.20 Jesus never sent a disciple on a mission alone. We need one another.
Sing aloud to God.21 Under the oppression of adversity Martin Luther said, “Let’s sing a Psalm and startle the devil.”
When I sing or listen to inspiring music, I am transported to plateaus of inexpressible joy and faith. A rush of fresh spiritual energy surges through my spirit. My thoughts stretch further in and higher up.
Practice what you know. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”22
An artist always keeps the fundamental forms in mind: cones, cylinders, circles and cubes. The artist recognizes the basic shapes in everything. He sketches those shapes. He practices what he knows.
About Brad and Coulter: one practiced the steps above; one thought about them only “half the time.” One learned to control his thought life; one did not.
Practice what you know. Gain control of your thoughts, and your life will take shape.
(1) Ephesians 6:11; Romans 6:12.
(2) Cf. Proverbs 23:7.
(3) Romans 12:2, NIV.
(4) 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NIV.
(5) 1 Peter 1:13-16, NIV.
(6) Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18.
(7) Psalms 1:1-2; 119:9-11.
(8) Romans 7:7-25.
(9) Romans 12:21, NIV.
(10) Philippians 4:8, NIV.
(11) Psalm 119:11, NIV.
(12) Jeremiah 9:24.
(13) Genesis 2:8 – 3:24.
(14) Revelation 21.
(15) Genesis 17.
(16) Luke 23.
(17) Malachi 3:6.
(18) Isaiah 46:9.
(19) Proverbs 11:14, NIV.
(20) James 5:16.
(21) Isaiah 12:5-6; Psalm 30:4.
(22) James 1:22, NIV.
E. Langston Haygood, Decision