The thoughts you meditate on are most likely apparent in your everyday life. If you go on thinking the way you’ve always thought, you’ll go on behaving the same way you’ve always behaved. And if you go on behaving the same way you’ve always behaved, you’ll keep getting the same results. In other words, if you want to get different results in life, you need to change the way you think. After all, in many different ways, your thoughts create your reality. How? Because your thoughts later become your actions. Your thoughts are a part of who you are. If you don’t have thoughts – you don’t exist. And if you do have thoughts you must learn how to control your thoughts.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23
Learning to control our thoughts
If we won’t learn to control our thoughts and emotions, our thoughts and emotions will end up controlling us. Not only do we need to learn how to control our own thoughts. But also, whether we’re aware of it or not, others plant thoughts into our minds as well – advertisements, friends, family, and even the Devil. A child that grows up hearing his parents and siblings call him a bother and an annoying pest, or a girl that is constantly called fat and ugly by her friends will eventually come to think that something is wrong with them, and that the others were right. How do you think these thoughts will affect their self perception as adults? In what ways will these thoughts impact their behavior? How will it affect their manner towards other people? And all this because of lies that were planted in their minds, like poison that fills their minds and affects so many aspects of their lives.
Sometimes, when we’re faced with difficult or uncomfortable situations, out of force of habit or unintentionally, we tend to blame others for our failures. This eventually leaves us angry and disappointed because circumstances are not what we intended them to be. And finally, we find ourselves imprisoned by the negative thoughts of our mind, stuck with feelings of guilt and self-pity. How do we avoid this situation?We need to ask ourselves in every circumstance,
“Do I have control over the present situation?” If the answer is no, we still have control over the way we choose to respond, no matter how bad the circumstance is. Note for instance the words of psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Dr. Victor Frankl:
“How you respond to a situation is your own choice. You don’t have control over what happens to you, but you always have control over the way you feel and respond to what happens. I can’t control the circumstance, but I can control my response.”
Man is like a boat out on the ocean in the heart of a storm. We have very little control over the things around us, but we do have complete control over the way we choose to respond to our circumstances. It doesn’t matter how bad the storm is around us, our if we’ve experienced traumas in the past, God gave us minds that can cope with any and every situation.
Cognitive neuroscientist and believer, Dr. Caroline Leaf, says: “We all have incredible minds, minds that are able to cope and prosper under all of life’s circumstances as we learn to operate in love.”
The power in our hands
In other words, our minds are able to adapt themselves to every situation. This means that we need to reach a conscious decision that no matter what life’s circumstances are, that we’ll choose to remain optimistic and to see the glass as half full and not as half empty. This isn’t fake happiness that depends on things we have no control over or on our temporary and changing circumstances. This is joy that is based on God’s promises, and that’s why we’re commanded in the New Testament:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
This doesn’t mean that as a believer one never faces challenges, but that one’s security doesn’t depend on one’s circumstances. A believer’s joy in life is based on one’s security in the Lord. This joy isn’t a temporary feeling of excitement or giddiness. This is deep and enduring joy that is based on our security and identity in Christ. A believer is someone who understands that 90% of their life is the way they choose to respond to things that are not in their control. They either chooses to rejoice because of some temporary circumstance or because of the security they have in Messiah:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
Every day we are called to make decisions, and sometimes these decisions are not easy to make. It could be a moral conflict, or perhaps we’re asked to act against our principles at work, or maybe we’re given the opportunity to obtain financial advantage by deception, or perhaps it’s choosing whether to gossip or not. In order to navigate our ways through stormy seas, full of ethical and moral whirlpools, we need to know what values and principles we want to live our lives by. Why do we get up in the morning? What are we living for? What is the purpose of our lives?
According to the New Testament, we spend most of our lives trying to fulfil desires, wishes, longings, and inclinations that are not necessities for a happy life.Things like money, a career, and even love are not things we need in order to be truly happy. In fact, in order to be truly happy we need to stop relying on anything that isn’t God. Just as Yeshua said:
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)
Our thoughts generate our decisions. Therefore, our thoughts are like a ship’s helm that steers us through life. Most people live for themselves, just like everyone else around them. But Yeshua challenges us to act differently:
“If you live for yourself, even if you gain the whole world, what will it matter if in the end you forfeit your soul?”
How to win the battle of the mind
The biggest wars are waged in our minds, because our thoughts determine for what and for whom we live our lives. Our thoughts have incredible power, even the thoughts of our subconscious mind. Have you ever set an alarm, only to wake up several minutes earlier because your body just knew it was time to get up? Or did a certain smell or taste ever cause strong emotions or memories to suddenly surface, suddenly throwing you back in time? Did your body ever overreact to something someone said? Your pulse quickens, your heart begins to beat hard, and you’re suddenly filled with fear and anxiety? These examples, showing the potency of thoughts, are only the tip of the iceberg. This incredible potency functions partly under our control, and partly out of it in our subconscious.
2000 years ago, long before the psychology coaches, psychologists, and personal trainers came along, Yeshua and the writers of the New Testament understood the potency of our thoughts, a conclusion that is only being reached today by leading psychologists. They taught about the incredible power our thoughts possess and about the effect they have on our lives and on the lives of those around us.
Why are our thoughts so important? It’s because our thoughts not only affect our lives, they also become part of who we are:
“For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” (Proverbs 23:7)
Putting it simply, you gradually become what you think of yourself as, deep inside. Our thoughts have the potential to become reality. If you constantly worry about getting sick, like a hypochondriac, you really will get sick. If you start believing that everything in life is bad, you’ll sink into depression.
However our thoughts can cause amazing things happen as well. The nation of Israel was established because a man named Herzl thought, meditated on, dreamt about, and hoped for the establishment of our nation! What started as Herzl’s thoughts turned into the reality that we all live in today.
Our mind, or what the Bible calls our “heart”, is like a garden
If our conscious mind is like a tree, our subconscious mind is like the soil out of which grow the roots of the seeds that we plant. If we plant negative and bad thoughts in the soil of our garden, we’ll get rotten and decaying roots, which will eventually grow into rotten and decaying trees. And it’s a lot harder to uproot an entire tree than to just remove roots.
Every time we think thoughts, it’s as if we’re planting seeds. The question isn’t whether we’re planting seeds or not, it’s what kind of seeds we’re planting. We’re either planting good seeds or planting bad seeds. Our words and our actions are the fruit of those very seeds we planted previously in our thoughts, the product of our thoughts. If we plant bad seeds – for instance, if we think of ourselves as worthless, unappreciated, and useless – we’ll become depressed, feeble, and insecure. Bad seeds bear bad fruit, that not only poison us but others as well. Good seeds bear good fruit that not only bless ourselves, but others as well. Every bad word that was ever spoken, every fight, every war, every murder, and every heinous act – began with a thought. All this implies that we have free will.
Free will and free choice
Many times we hear religious people say that fate has predestined everything, that it’s all in the hands of a higher power, that everything that happens, good or evil, happens because God willed it to be so. Yes, we can deny free will, and therefore find an excellent excuse to do whatever we want without bearing the consequences of our actions. It’s easy and takes away the burden of responsibility, because we don’t have control over our actions if everything has already been predestined. But according to the New Testament, we do make decisions – all the time.
We must choose between two different types of thought: between the thoughts of our flesh and the thoughts of the Spirit of God that dwells within us. The thoughts of the flesh are self-centered and focus on ways we can serve ourselves what to eat, what to wear, how we’ll make more money, and other wishes, desires, and lusts of the flesh. The thoughts of the Spirit, however, are motivated by love: care, support, grace, forgiveness, and compassion.
The problem is that these two mindsets are often contradictory to one another, like a never-ending duel, even over the small things, like wanting to pray. When Yeshua asked his disciples to pray, he spoke of this very conflict:
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
Are we helpless in regards to our thoughts? Are we forced to be watchers on the sidelines, to accept every thought that comes? Are we forced to let every thought that pops into our minds to remain there? Of course not! We need to obtain complete control over our thoughts.
We don’t have to dwell on every thought. We can choose to reject them and to dwell on other thoughts instead. The Apostle Paul explains this very issue:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16-17)
It’s important to understand that even though our thoughts are always present, we choose how to respond to them, what thoughts to dwell on, and what thoughts we choose to accept and believe. We can dwell lies about the world, about ourselves, and about God or we can dwell on thoughts that strengthen the inner man, through love and truth.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
When we feel physically drained, stressed, in pain, or lazy we can choose to give in to these feelings, and feel frustrated, annoyed, and miserable, which, by the way, not only affects us, but is also detrimental to those around us. Or we can choose to be aware of these thoughts, and choose to repress every negative, depressing, and stressful thought, choosing instead to declare every morning the words of King David:
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 118:24)
Be conscious of your thoughts, discern and distinguish them, and train yourself to be aware of every thought, until you get used to subduing and rejecting negative thoughts, replacing them with positive thoughts. The choice between being miserable because of life’s circumstances and between rejoicing according to the will of God is yours alone:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
It’s impossible to remain bitter and upset while thinking thoughts of love, grace, and peace. We need to make a decision. Even if everyone else around you is stressed, annoyed, depressed, and pessimistic – remember:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Instead of thinking self-centered thoughts, such as: “Nobody appreciates me”, “I’m tired of being taken for granted”, think positive thoughts, such as: “Who can I encourage today? Who can I support? Who can I help?” Instead of thinking pessimistic and melancholy thoughts: “Nothing’s going right! I’m so tired of everything! I hate this! Leave me alone!” think godly thoughts, such as: “Even when things are rough, God still loves me and he is my strength!” Whether we like it or not, we’ll always have to deal with trials and tribulations in this world, and therefore:
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)
Of course, we’re not asked to “empty” our minds of thoughts, as they do in the meditations of the Far East, but to reject negative thoughts and to replace them with positive thoughts.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Your biggest battle, whether you’re aware of it or not, is inside your head
Your thoughts have the capacity to encourage, create, and uplift yourself, as well as those around you. But your thoughts can also be self-centered, and can cripple, shatter, destroy, and cause death. In our minds, in our thoughts – that’s where the real war takes place. That’s where the fiercest fighting happens, and it’s there that the Devil attacks us with lies, in attempt to render us powerless and leave us in a state of uselessness.
For instance, we’ve all experienced traumas in one way or another, particularly during our childhood. And we’ve all got skeletons in the closet, embarrassing and shameful secrets and sins we’ve committed. The Devil uses this to plant thoughts in our minds: “There’s something wrong with you! You’re a second-class citizen! You’re not as good as the others, and there’s no way you’ll be successful or find ways to enjoy life! You’re damaged goods!” Even though we might feel like this from time to time, we cannot let ourselves succumb to feelings. It would be tragic to live a life driven by emotions. So before we learn how to live our lives the right way, we first need to learn how to think in the right way. Why? Because our thoughts generate our actions and not the other way around.
If you want to see different outcomes in your life, you need to change the way you think.
You can’t go beyond the limits of your mind. If you’re like the lion who saw himself as a coward, you’ll always think of yourself as some hapless kitten. Modern research in the field of psychology has shown that if we repeat something long enough, it will automatically become a part of who we are.
Dr. David Feldman, a psychologist at Santa Clara University in the United States, gives the following example: “The first 10 times a pianist plays a particular sonata, he or she must think carefully and consciously about what each finger is doing. Eventually, however, playing the piece becomes automatic.”
Now what do you think will happen if we tell ourselves over and over again that we’re damaged goods, that we’re no good, or that nobody really loves us? It will gradually become a part of who we are. We’ll become indifferent, bitter, and unhappy people who deal with constant depression. And what will happen if we constantly distrust others, think that everyone is against us, envy others, constantly plot and plan ways to get revenge and to hurt others, or disparage others and their motives? What will be the outcome of those thoughts? What deeds and actions will these thoughts yield?
The Apostle Paul gives a list of examples of the works that are produced from the thoughts of the flesh:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
As followers of the Messiah, we are called to overcome and reject thoughts of the flesh and to replace them with things from the second list of examples, works that are produced from the thoughts of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-25)
It’s an ongoing battle. We’ll always have to deal with conflicting thoughts of the flesh and of the Spirit in our minds. What thoughts we choose to dwell on is a decision we must make every day. The question is whether your thoughts control you, or whether you control your thoughts. Who is the victor in this battle? And are you even aware of its existence? We don’t always choose which thoughts enter our minds. Sometimes thoughts from our subconscious pop into our minds. But this doesn’t mean that we must accept, believe, or even dwell on every thought that comes to mind. We can choose to overcome such thoughts. In other words, our part in this war is to examine every thought that comes to mind and make a decision for each one every single time – whether we accept and believe it or whether we overcome and reject it. Sounds exhausting, right, to stop and check every single thought that comes to mind, to bring it before the Lord and, if necessary, to overcome and reject it. It’s true, and this is perhaps the hardest war that we all must wage. When we choose to follow Christ our lives don’t get easier. Quite the opposite, we have new standards to live up to, and therefore we must work harder on improving ourselves, our characteristics, and our personality.
Steps to improving your thought life
First of all, we need to get rid of all the weeds, all the thorns and thistles that have been planted over the years, whether we’re aware of it or not, in our minds. And then, when we see that bad seeds are being planted anew, we need to stop them for growing any further. Don’t just wait and watch them grow, weed them out and plant good seeds in place of the bad ones. The Devil is pleased when bad seeds are planted in our thoughts, not just because we poison ourselves, but because we end up serving the Devil’s agenda – to poison those around us. The bad seeds that you plant destroy not only yourself, they also affect the atmosphere around you. You know exactly what we’re talking about – those thoughts we all struggle with: thoughts of jealousy, self-centeredness, dishonesty, arrogance, bitterness, anger, and contempt. Those are the bad seeds, the poisonous thoughts that led to the rejection and crucifixion of our Lord and Messiah. But God, in his sovereignty, chose the Messiah to be a seed himself: with his resurrection from the dead, he sowed good seeds on our behalf, that overcame the poisonous seeds. He rose from the dead to give us a new life, not just for future eternity, but starting now, on Earth. Yeshua created a vine on our behalf, to withstand the snares of the Devil. Alone, we don’t stand a chance against the Devil. But if we become a branch in the vine of Yeshua, we receive good nourishment to bear good seeds.
“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:3-5)
So next time the thought pops in your mind – that you just can’t take any more, that you don’t have what it takes, that you’ve run out of strength, that you’re a failure, and that there’s no chance you’ll succeed, choose to reject that thought and replace it with a positive thought:
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Don’t let yourself go to bed thinking, “Nobody really understands me”, or “Nobody really loves me”… Instead, dwell on these thoughts: “God understands me, he knows my deepest and darkest sins and secrets, and yet – he still loves me!” Professional athletes work out every day for countless hours, to improve and prepare themselves to reach their goal of winning the competition. We must behave likewise in a spiritual sense. We’re talking about a mindset change.
We need to develop an inner foundation of spiritual truths: starting with the knowledge of God and basing our identity in him. When you feel like you’re going through spiritual attack go back to that same foundation, remind yourself of your identity in him as a son or daughter of God.
We need to remind ourselves again and again, to meditate on these eternal spiritual truths until they become an integral part of who we are and our identity.
One of the most important things is to know who we are in Christ. Without the knowledge of our identity as children of God, we’ll live in the constant mindset of underserving slaves:
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:15-17)
We must not only choose our thoughts and change the way we think about ourselves, but also concerning others. We’ve been taught to automatically judge others first. “He’s not the brightest.” “She lacks a sense of style”, “He’s such a pain!” “She’s uneducated” “He’s got two left feet” However, the New Testament teaches us to see each other through the eyes of the Messiah, to see one another as God’s creations:
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-17)
The New Testament beat the Psychologists by 2000 years!
In summary, leading psychologists of today have come to the conclusion that the best way to bring about real change is through cognitive behavioral therapy. That is, to change the way the mind thinks through training and re-conceptualization, and thereby bringing about behavioral and perceptional change. These conclusions, that are only being reached by the best psychologists of today, were already concluded in the New Testament, 2000 years ago.
It’s important to remember that our lives are rarely made up of events but of the way we respond to them. We don’t have control over most of life’s circumstances but we do have control over the way in which we respond.We need to choose anew every day whether we choose to dwell on the selfish thoughts of the flesh or whether we reject them and replace them with thoughts of the Spirit, that are intended to uplift, encourage, and bless us. In this world, knowledge is power. The more you know, the more capable you become and the more accomplishments you achieve. Likewise in a spiritual manner.
So now that you know, there are no excuses. Start today! Be aware of every thought that enters your mind and ask the Holy Spirit for help to identify, discern, and suppress negative thoughts, and to replace them with positive thoughts. It’s easier said than done, but in the end – it’s all worth it.