Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV).
Our mind races with thoughts all day long, many times nonsensical, irrelevant, worrisome, or just random in nature. If you are like me, sometimes the worst possible time is when you are bombarded with thoughts having nothing to do with your current situation. Take worship, for example. I should be focusing on God and His glory and how He is worthy of being praised; however, too often I am focusing on work, what happened that morning, what’s for lunch, or some random song or movie… It’s annoying! It’s the same when reading the Bible or other books; how often have you read an entire section and not comprehended anything you just read because your thoughts were not focused on what you were reading?!
Our thoughts can be random, but they can also be a prelude to both positive and negative behavior. Jesus tells us that “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart that evil thoughts come— sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21, NIV). It is important to be able to control our thoughts to the point that they do not cause us to act out in sin.
Take David, for example, in 2 Samuel 11. He was at home when kings went off to war (v. 1), so right there, he was more susceptible to sinful thoughts by being idle with his time. He saw Bathsheba bathing and asked someone to go find out more about her, which was the first step that just went downhill from there (v. 3-5). Now if David just looked at Bathsheba and went about his day, he may have lusted, sure, but it would have never been chronicled in Scripture because the sin would have ended there. David didn’t control his thoughts, he didn’t stop them at the gate, and he didn’t keep his thoughts from influencing his actions.
Now Jesus absolutely raised the standard of our thoughts in Matthew 5. He stated that even thinking with anger was akin to murder as well as lustfully looking at a woman was the same as adultery. We want to not just focus on our actions but also on controlling our thoughts. That is not to say that we will not have sinful thoughts; everyone does. It’s whether we choose to camp there or not. Just like with lust, it’s not the first glance that is sin; it’s the “linger” or the second look.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV). Taking our thoughts captive requires action as well. It requires awareness of where our thoughts will lead us and stopping them before they escalate into physical action that we will really regret.
Now, there’s a positive side to our thoughts. If we control them, we can be used by God and for His purposes, we can keep from making decisions we regret, and we can live in peace regardless of our circumstance. We know the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17; however, this is a positive example for David how controlling his thoughts and trusting in God allowed him to overcome the enemy.
All the Israelites fled in “great fear” from Goliath (v. 24). David had the choice between giving in to this fear and letting it control his actions or overcoming the fear and trusting in God. He did not let the situation control his thoughts; after all, he was ill-equipped to fight Goliath and did not have the experience that anyone else in Saul’s army had—even Saul himself tried to dissuade David from facing this enemy (v. 33).
We don’t know if David struggled with this at all or if he even had a glimmer of doubt, fear, or anxiety about this. The Bible doesn’t tell us. If he did, it didn’t last long. David took captive his thoughts and confidently said, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (v. 37, NIV).
Thoughts do not have power; they cannot control the world through “the power of positive thinking” as you may hear. Our thoughts can control us, though, if we let them. They can control our actions for good or bad. Our sinful thoughts should not follow through to action but rather inaction. Our positive thoughts should also lead to following through on what God has for us, just like David did at that moment on the battlefield against Goliath.
James tells us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (1:22-24, NIV). As Christians, we are called to action, to take captive our thoughts, following through on the Word in obedience and loving our neighbor. We cannot love our neighbor in just thought or speech; rather, it requires action.
James also gives us guidance on this in chapter 2:14-19 (NIV):
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. We need to use our actions to help others who are struggling, just as we struggle with our thoughts, sin, temptation, etc. you can be sure that everyone else is struggling as well.
Plato (not a Christian) said, “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
It was F.B. Meyer who once said that when we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances (Stephen Brown, 1993).
I pray that as we focus to control our own thoughts and actions, we will also love our brother and sister enough to understand their struggle and pray with them to victory.
Discerning Reflection: How can I take captive my thoughts on a daily basis? Where do I usually have a hard time controlling my thoughts? What triggers do I need to be aware of?
Prayer: Lord, help me control my thoughts so that they honor You. Help me stop sinful thoughts before they escalate into further sin. Allow me to see where I can take positive action for You in my community and with those around me so that I can show them Your love and lead them to You. Amen.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on discerning-dad.com
Featured Image by Frank Mckenna