Episode 62: Breakthroughs, Part 2- Choosing Our Thoughts

Peace to Live By Episode 62: Breakthroughs, Part 2- Choosing Our Thoughts - Daniel Litton
(Tap or right-click link to download broadcast)

[Transcript may not match broadcasted sermon word for word]

       We are continuing our look today at breakthroughs—victories that God gives us, as Christians, in our daily lives—insights into his truth that sets us free. Last week we discussed the grace we live by, and today I am continuing our study and we are going to change directions toward the mind, and spend two weeks, today and next week, discussing the mind. We are going to look at some insights into ways we can improve our thinking patterns, and the thoughts we choose to think about. Indeed, much of what I am going to say I don’t think has even been considered by a lot of people. Many of these things we don’t realize we do, or have a problem with, until we start to think about it. And that’s what we are going to do today, to think about what we think about.

       The mind is so central to our lives. It affects our moods and how we perceive events and people around us. The thoughts we think can either make us happy, or they can make us sad. It is true that everyone thinks about a lot of different things throughout the day: we think about the past, the present, and even things we believe are going to happen in the future. We even think about rouge thoughts, thoughts that just come to our minds randomly. And some of us suffer more than others with these rouge thoughts. Some of us have greater control over our thinking patterns, and some of us have no control at all. We have undisciplined minds, minds that just wander around all over the place.

       The breakthrough I want us to consider today is this: We can choose what we think about on a daily basis, moment by moment.

       We each have a screen in our minds, per se, much like we choose what we watch on our TVs, and we get to choose what we want to play on it. I can recall back in time when I used to be a victim of whatever came to my mind. Rouge, careless, negative thoughts would come to my mind, and I would just stand there or sit there and think about them. Like for instance, a fear would come to my mind. I might think, “Well, what if someone robs me as I am getting out of my car?” And I would just think about that until something else came to my mind. Or, I would say hello to someone, only to have the person not say hello back. And I would spend five minutes worrying about why the person didn’t say hello. I would waste mental space thinking about things I shouldn’t be thinking about—careless, vain things. The reality is, we have the ability, as Christians, to filter our thoughts, to pick and choose what we think about as thoughts come to our minds, as thoughts are presented to us.

       It is definitely true that many thoughts will be presented to us throughout the day, whether it be from our own conjuring up, from Satan himself, or just random thoughts. Again, going back to the TV analogy, it is much like when we flip through the channels on our TV. We have no control of what we see as we are flipping through the channels, but we do have the choice not to stay on that channel when we find something we don’t like. In the same way, we have the ability to pass by thoughts we don’t want to think about, or thoughts we shouldn’t be thinking about, and the ability to rest on a thought that is good for us to consider. Another way to think about it is to consider your smartphone. Do you stop what you are doing and pick up your smartphone every time a notification goes off? Or do you wait for an opportune time to look at those notifications? It should be the latter because we should not be slave to anything. Well, again, in comparison with our minds, we should not just cater to whatever thought comes to us, but rather pick and choose what we are going to think about.

       It is written in Proverbs, ““Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23, ESV). What we keep in our minds determines whether we have death in our life, or indeed whether we have life in our life. The Apostle Paul would put it another way, when he said, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6, ESV). If we want to have life and peace within our minds, and within our lives, we need to be careful what thoughts are roaming around in our heads. We can choose to focus on good things, and not replay bad things over and over in our minds. And how do we think about good things? Again, it is written in Proverbs: ““The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Proverbs 14:15, 16, ESV). We should consider each thought that comes to us carefully, and give thought to what we are going to do. We should be cautious about what we think, and not think about sinful things.

       Some of us have taken negative past events and hit the ‘repeat’ button. That is, our minds repeat those thoughts periodically because we have allowed that particular thought to be on ‘repeat.’ But we have to let those thoughts pass right by us because they will constantly disturb us if we allow ourselves to think about them. The Apostle Paul said the following about this type of problem: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:13-15, ESV). All of us should have this type of mindset, a mind that is forgetting bad, negative past events, and one that is mature in focusing on the present—things God want us to accomplish in our lives for him.

       Another thing to consider is that not only can we choose to think on good thoughts, but we can even choose to focus on our present surroundings. Again, for the person who has trouble with an undisciplined mind, that same person can find he or she has trouble with a wandering mind. A person who’s mind wanders is one who doesn’t choose to focus on the present when necessary or appropriate. Like, for instance, you may be having a conversation with a person, and you find yourself thinking about something else while the other person is talking. You are thinking about what you need to do later in the day, or something going on in the news—whatever it is—you are thinking about something else rather than what the person talking is saying. And we all struggle with this to an extent. But our goal needs to be to focus our thoughts on what the person is saying, and on caring about that individual. And there are many life situations where we can fail to focus on the present, on what is going on in the moment, to our disadvantage.

       A problem many of us face is that we think about tomorrow, or days after tomorrow, when we should be focused on today. Jesus taught us, ““"Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34, ESV). God only wants us to be focusing on what we need to do today. And we cannot enjoy today if we are thinking about things that are off in the future, even if it is things about tomorrow. The reality is, is that there is much to be enjoyed in our current day. There is much we can get out of the current moment. However, if we are not in the current moment, and thinking about tomorrow, we miss our enjoyment that God want us to have today. And it’s an endless cycle. If today we are thinking about tomorrow, then when tomorrow comes, we will be thinking about the next day. So, when will we ever then think about our current day? We never will with that type of setup in our minds.

       It is written in Song of Solomon, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom” (2:15, ESV). I’m sure most of us have heard that expression before, “It’s the little foxes that spoil the vineyard.” And it’s true that often the little things in life that are in disorder are what cause us the most grief. We should not hypothesize in our minds about various meanings behind our situations. And boy, this one is hard. When we are always trying to figure things out, to figure out a meaning behind something someone did, or behind an event that has occurred, we let the little foxes spoil our vineyard. I have found in life that when it comes to personal offenses, for instance, that most of the time when we perceive someone has done something against us to hurt us, usually it wasn’t intentional. Most of the time that we feel that someone has hurt us, they didn’t intend to hurt us. Unfortunately, though, we often spend a great deal of our thinking considering things about other people which aren’t even true. I’ve done this—we all do it—but we need to not do it.

       Remember, in the New Testament, James taught us, the “double-minded man [is] unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8, ESV). When we have constantly conflicting thoughts in our heads, that makes us uneasy and causes us to become double-minded. We think one way about something, and then a few hours later think a totally different way about the same thing. One key to solving this problem is to consider what is wise in the given circumstance, and if we cannot figure that out, we should ask God for wisdom. Remember, again, James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV). That’s encouraging for us because we know if we are not sure what is wise in a given situation that God will show us what is wise if we ask him with a pure heart. For James said, continuing, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8, ESV).

       We need to make decisions in our minds about certain things we are wondering about or what we are going to do about something. Living in indecision and double-mindedness will make us unsettled and even miserable over time. But making a decision is the key. Often I say use the guess and check method. If it’s something small that we are deciding, or something more insignificant, we need to make a decision and see if we are correct in our decision. Often we don’t know what is right and wrong in deciding something until we try different things. If something doesn’t work, we can reevaluate and try something else. Or, we can move on to something else. But often we need to guess at something, using wisdom, and then check to see if we were correct in our decision. Now being afraid causes us not to make decisions. Yes, there is a chance we will be wrong with what we decide, but there is the equal chance we will in fact be right.

       Another thing we can do to control the thoughts in our minds is when we are having a problem we don’t know how to deal with, or what to do, we can cast the care to God and then wait until he solves the problem for us, or shows us what to do. The Apostle Peter told us to cast all our anxieties on God, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7, ESV). That’s a good thing for us to remember that God does care about our problems. He wants to help us with whatever issue it is, and doesn’t want us to be walking around worrying about our problems. It is important for us to believe that God does indeed care about whatever it is that is bothering us. When we don’t believe that God cares, and we don’t bring the situation to his attention, it prevents him from being able to help us with it. Often we will go to God in prayer, and tell him about our issue, but then we will walk away from the prayer believing that God really isn’t going to help us. And then he doesn’t help us because we didn’t believe he would in the first place.

       So we understand that, ““Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding, but it makes itself known even in the midst of fools” (Proverbs 14:33, ESV). If we fill our minds full of God’s Word, and teachings from God’s Word, we can make ourselves wise. Indeed, it is true that wisdom is something that can be learned. It’s not that there is a wise person and a foolish person by blood. A person wasn’t born that way. A person becomes wise from careful study of the Bible. So, if we know God’s thoughts, we can improve our own thoughts. God’s Word is the filter over our mind that allows us to choose carefully what we are thinking about. We know what God thinks is good, and what he thinks is evil. And we can align our thoughts accordingly so that they are pleasing and acceptable to him. And it is good for us because it will cause us to enjoy our lives more, and to feel happier and have a better time. We won’t constantly be downtrodden with guilt and shame because we won’t be thinking about things that cause those types of feelings.

       The Apostle Peter has taught us, “"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13, ESV). We have learned how to prepare our minds, we’ve just been discussing that. Now, what does it mean to be sober-minded? That means we haven’t given our minds over to anything that becomes the central theme or focus of our minds. If we let a thought get out of control, it can dominate our thinking and create a channel in our minds into which all other thoughts will flow. We can create inappropriate obsessions in our minds, constantly considering a problem we have, hoping to somehow arrive at a reasonable explanation. We can think about things we shouldn’t be thinking about, and become ‘drunk,’ so to speak, with a problem we have. That’s why it’s important to eliminate thinking about something too much, to cast an unsettled problem to God, and let him deal with it. We exercise faith that he will deal with it for us.

       If we have given our minds over to something and are trapped by a certain, reoccurring thought, then we may have to work very hard at getting rid of that bad pattern of thinking, that bad habit in our minds. Many of you are probably familiar with Thomas à Kempis, the old medieval Christian author, who said, “If we did a little violence to ourselves at the start, we should afterwards be able to do all things with ease and joy. It is hard to break old habits, but harder still to go against our will” (Imitation of Christ, 2003, p. 9). It is good to stop a reoccurring thought before it gets rooted down in our minds. If we stop it early, there is no danger of it becoming a serious problem. Like the Apostle Peter, again, said, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9, ESV). We need to start our resistance right away, and not wait until we have a problem that is out of control. Otherwise, it will be much harder for us to deal with the issue, and it will take much more effort to eliminate it. But do not fear it is too late for you, because all our thoughts can be brought into the obedience of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 10:5, 6). And there is not thought we are thinking which is too hard for us to resist (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).

       A lot of people go to a psychologist and then to a psychiatrist where they are prescribed antidepressants to make them feel better. Certainly antidepressants can and do make people feel better, but it could be the case that people may be able to avoid taking them if they would change how they think. If people would change the thoughts they allow their minds to dwell on, they could have an abundance of peace. A problem is that many don't think they can do this. It doesn't even cross their minds that the problem may be with what they are choosing to think inside themselves. A person who suffers from ADHD or Obsessive-Compulsive disorder may not feel he or she can get better, when the reality is that though Christ everyone can get better at controlling his or her mind. It may be true that because of the way you are, and the fallen nature of people, that you have a tendency to suffer from certain thought patterns, like not being able to pay attention for long periods of time or from recurring, obsessive thoughts. While it may be true you have that tendency, you can gain victory with your problem through prayer, mediation on God’s Word, and the formation of good thinking patterns and habits. Through Christ all things are possible.

       Again, consider one more analogy. I want us to imagine for a moment that we are sitting in a hospital hooked up to two different IV bags. On the one arm is a bag that represents a formula, that once in our system, will make us feel better. However, on the other arm is a bag with a formula that the nurse tells us will make us feel worse. With each bag, we have a button we can press that injects the formula, and we get to choose which formula gets into our system. The problem is that most of us will sit there and keep hitting the button for the bad formula. That is what we do when we think bad, negative, and unnecessary thoughts. If we were in the hospital, none of us would hit that button, and yet, that’s what we do in our minds when we are thinking thoughts we shouldn’t be thinking about. We continue to hit the wrong button, and then, after time has passed, we wonder why we feel bad. Just like the bad formula will get into our system and make us feel worse, so bad thoughts, when we continue to think about them, make us feel worse. We should be hitting the good button, thinking good thoughts, that make us feel better.

       Well, in conclusion I hope everyone learned new things about the mind today, and new ways to improve in your thoughts. My goal is that you will continue to grow into becoming more like Jesus by considering these things. And there may be some people out there who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. They don’t feel the Spirit of God dwelling inside them. I want to tell you today that God has the door open to anyone who would come to him, no exceptions. Anybody out there who wants a personal relationship with God can have it. God offers his salvation to everyone. All you have to do is believe. It’s that simple.

       Now, you may feel separated from God because of wrong things you have done in your life. It is true that all of us, as people, have done wrong things. We all have the sin-nature within us. We all do things against God. And our sins have separated us from him. But the good news today is that God has made a way for people to come to him by believing in Jesus. You see, Jesus came to the earth, some 2,000 years ago, and he died on a Roman cross, offering himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin. He rose from the dead, and today is with God in Heaven. God requires everyone have a payment for their sins, and Jesus’ sacrifice can be used to cover your sins. By believing in Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for your sin, you can be made right with God today.

       If you would like to come into personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and gain eternal life in him, and peace with God, then follow my lead in this prayer:

God, I believe I am not in relationship with you today. And I have done many wrong things in my life and inside my mind. I understand, though, that Jesus came to the earth, and died on the cross for my sins, to pay my sin-debt in full. Today, I want to accept his payment for my sins. I believe he rose from the dead, and I want to give my life to you. Please, Father, help me to change, and enjoy my new life with you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

- Daniel Litton


Kempis, Thomas
à. (2003). Imitation of Christ. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc.