How can I take control of my thoughts?”
Answer: Taking control of your thoughts is essential. Proverbs 4:23 states: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Someone said that every sin we commit, we commit twice: once in our thoughts and then in action form. And, as the Holy Spirit dwells within the believer, we can either grieve or please Him by our thought life (Ephesians 4:30). And it is easiest to rid our lives of sin if we attack it at this fundamental level rather than waiting for it to become rooted in our lives and then try to pull it out.
There is also a difference between being tempted (a thought entering into our mind) and sinning (dwelling upon an evil thought and developing the theme of the thought that entered our mind). It is important that when a thought enters our mind, that we examine it based upon God’s Word and determine if we should continue down that path or reject the thought and replace it with another path. If we have already allowed a habit to form in our thought lives, it becomes more difficult to change the path of our thoughts even as it is hard to get a car out of a deep rut and along a new track. Here are some biblical suggestions in taking control of your thoughts and getting rid of wrong thoughts:
1. Be in God’s Word so that when a sinful thought enters your mind (a temptation), you will be able to recognize it and know what course to take your thoughts down. Jesus, when tempted in Mathew chapter 4, responded to each of Satan’s temptation with Scripture that applied to the direction that his mind and life should take instead of taking the path of the sinful thought. When tempted to meet his own need (turn stone into bread), he brought up the passage that talks about the importance of relying upon God. When tempted to serve Satan in order to obtain the glory of the world, He brought up the passages that says we are to serve and worship God alone and speak of the glory that belongs to Him and those who are His.
When tempted to test God (prove to ourselves that God is really there and will keep His promises), He responded with passages that stress the importance of believing God without having to see Him demonstrate His presence. Quoting Scripture in a time of temptation is not a “talisman,” but rather is to serve the purpose of getting our minds back down a biblical track, but we need to know the Word of God AHEAD of time in order to accomplish this. Thus, a daily habit of being in the Word in a meaningful way is essential. If you are aware of a certain area of constant temptation (worry, lust, anger, etc.), I encourage you to work on studying and memorizing key passages that deal with these issues. Look for both what you are to avoid (negative) and how you are to properly respond (positive) to tempting thoughts in these areas.
2. Live in dependence upon the Holy Spirit…chiefly through seeking His strength through prayer (Matthew 26:41). If we rely upon our own strength, we will fail (Proverbs 28:26; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 26:33).
3. Do not feed your mind that which will promote sinful thoughts. This is the idea of Proverbs 4:23. Guard your heart…what you allow into it and what you allow it to dwell on. Job 31:1 states: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman” (NKJV). Romans 13:14 states, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Thus, avoid periodicals, videos, web-sites, and times and situations that will set you up for a fall.
4. Pursue hard after God. Replace sinful thoughts with godly pursuits and thoughts. This is the principle of replacement. When tempted to hate someone, you replace those hateful thought with godly actions: do good to them, speak well of them, and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Instead of stealing, work hard to earn money so that you can look for opportunities to give to others in need (Ephesians 4:28). When tempted to lust after a woman, turn one’s gaze, praise God for the way He has made us…male and female, pray for the woman (for example: “Lord, help this young woman to come to know you if she does not, and to know the joy of walking with you”); and think of her as you would your sister (put your sister’s face on her in your mind) (1 Timothy 5:2). The Bible often speaks of “putting off” wrong actions and thoughts BUT THEN “putting on” godly actions and thoughts (Ephesians 4:22-32). Merely seeking to put off sinful thoughts without replacing those thoughts and pursuits with godly ones leave an empty field for Satan to come along and sow his weeds in (Matthew 12:43-45).
5. Use fellowship with other Christians the way God intended. Hebrews 10:24-25 state, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Seek out a fellow Christian who can encourage you from the Word in the change you desire (best if of the same gender), someone who will pray for you and with you, who will ask you in love how you are doing, and one who will hold you accountable in avoiding the old ways.
Lastly and most importantly, I do not know whether you have already placed your faith in Christ as Savior from your sin or not. This is where you absolutely must start! Without this, there can be no victory over sinful thoughts and temptations and His promises for his children are not for you; nor is the Holy Spirit’s power available to you! If you are not trusting Jesus now as your Savior from your sin or do not understand what I mean by this, visit the area of our website dealing with this all-important issue: http://www.gotquestions.org/eternal-life.html.
May God bless you as you seek to honor Him with what matters most to Him: who you are inside and not just what you appear to be to others. May God make Jesus’ description of Nathanael true also of you…a man in whom there is no guile (John 1:47).