by Wendy Bowman
I recently journeyed with a young woman whose thought world was full of troubling notions, ideas, fears and worries. Some thoughts were swirling in a cesspool of sexually perverse activities, some were striving to reconcile the reality that none of those activities had come to pass …… yet …… Some were admonishments to herself that these things were just ‘silly’, an attempt to halt them for sure, and more dominantly, there were relentless thoughts of guilt and shame that these kind of thoughts could ever be present for a born again follower of Christ.
What do we offer, and more importantly, does the Word have anything to say to all this?
Well-meaning people have suggested that medication can dull the relentless push of our thought world and the ensuing fear and worry that comes with the realization that we are capable of such things. And this indeed, can numb or slow things somewhat for some people. Others may offer that, behaviourally, we simply need to redirect our thoughts to other things, focusing on what may be considered more appropriate or logical.
From my perspective, as a biblical counselor, I remain very grateful for the reality that my God and His Living Word is actively able to ‘separate bone and marrow’ and fight the war with me! What does this look like?
On one level, it is important to recognize and revisit the reality of what happened in the garden. Man and woman were created in the image of the triune God and walked and talked with Him, naked and unashamed. But after the Fall, they knew the difference between good and evil and were ashamed. The purity of mind was forever altered making us open to good and evil thoughts. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … meaning all of us have sinful thoughts. What we do with them is up to us.
Another component to consider is the reality that our thought world is very complex. Biologically, there is much going on. Our thinking is profoundly influenced by current diet, rest, and activity patterns as well as overall health (or lack of). It is compounded by past memories, sensations, truths, lies and imaginations. These can be fed, stored, released, and/or brought into submission to God. Christian neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf, has written an excellent resource called ‘Who Switched Off My Brain’ to aid in better understand the links and fallout of our thought-world. Her extensive research demonstrates how the brain stores thoughts and the impact they have on us (toxic or healthy). She unfolds for us the pathways our brains (hearts) travel when we give into temptations and savour a thought too long, and conversely, putting off those that hinder, taking captive those that are wrong, creating new connections (synapses) and healthy, correct thinking.
This leads to a number of important tools we are given. It is crucial to consider what components are sinful in the sea of thoughts. These need to be recognized, repented of and stopped. So often truth or non-sinful thoughts are merged in with lies and wrong thinking, so careful journaling and a good listener can help identify which need to go! In Eph. 4:17 ff. we are told to no longer ‘walk’ in the futility of our mind, rather, engaging in the truth that we have the mind of Christ, we are to no longer ‘walk’ (think) in the old way. With the prayerful invitation, the Holy Spirit helps us to ‘renew the spirit of our minds’ moment by moment if need be, so that we can put off, those thoughts that hinder. This must be done before we savour them at all, which involves much accountability when our mind has practised wrong thinking for some time.
Be mindful of the truth that we are not alone in all this. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). This is a great time to call on the help of a mature Christian mentor asking for accountability for the putting off and putting on of correct thinking.
Another tool is known as the’ think list’, found in Philippians 4:8, which offers a comprehensive picture with which to create an extensive personalized list of thoughts to put on. Again, it must be underlined that this must be done with the help of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise we are just seeking change at a behavioral level, and this is not only ineffective in the long run, it is not God-honoring.
To summarize, as sinners living in a fallen world, we are all subject to sinful thought patterns. But thanks be to God, He has given us much to work with, to not only fight the wrong thoughts, but to enjoy and flourish with good thoughts. So take heart and think again …