What does it take to guard your thoughts?
How can we singles monitor the never-ending flood of messages that flows through our minds, drowning us with a mixture of fear, doubt, pride, lust, anger and depression?
It seems like an impossible job. Thoughts come and go so fast we're hardly aware of most of them. The truth, however, is that we become what we dwell upon.
A peaceful, positive life requires us to concentrate on the constructive and reject the destructive. With practice, you can slow things down, identify the ideas that are harming you and eliminate them.
Make no mistake. This is not about positive thinking. It's not about entertaining happy thoughts. It's about spotting hazards and neutralizing them quickly.
Just as we can cut the junk food out of our diet, we can get rid of the junk thoughts trying to take over our lives. Let's see how.
If you want to guard your thoughts, it stands to reason that you need to know what you're guarding against. Identifying potential dangers is easier than you might expect. Jesus gave us two key commands: Love God, and love your neighbor as your self.
That actually gives us three types of thoughts to look out for:
What are thoughts against God? Lack of faith, doubting his love or protection for us, accusing him of being unfair, pride, and loving something more than him (idolatry).
Thoughts against our neighbor include envy, jealousy, hatred, lust, discrimination, mockery, anger, revenge, holding grudges, and judgment.
Thoughts against our self cover depression, criticism, worry, disgust, anger, bitterness, and fear.
"Wow!" You may say, "I can't think about anything."
Well, this list is pretty extensive, but see it like invitations to a party at your house. You wouldn't invite anyone who would come into your home and steal your things or trash your furniture or beat up your other guests. Why should you invite thoughts into your mind which will insult your God, attack other people, or damage your own sense of worth?
To guard your thoughts, you must recognize the serious threat some thoughts hold. They are poison to your well-being.
The age-old problem is we believe we can entertain destructive thoughts without actually harming ourselves. Satan used that rationalization on Eve in the Garden of Eden. We don't recognize the danger in thinking about things like revenge, but Jesus equates hateful thoughts to a form of murder.
Thoughts God would call sinful can often be pleasurable. There's no question: Sin is fun, or people wouldn't do it. It's the consequences that are deadly. Because wrong thinking is a secret act, we don't notice the harm it does. We can stop biting our nails when they start to bleed, but it's tougher to eliminate toxic thoughts when we can't see the damage they're doing.
To help shut down this mental fire hose, ask yourself a few simple questions.
Our job as Christians is not to judge people. That's God's job. It's also his job to correct or punish people. If we simply eliminated the angry thoughts about others, that would cover half our mental activity right there!
When I was young, I had a lot of critical thoughts about other people. My self-esteem was low, and by sniping at others, I drew a certain satisfaction in tearing other people down. Let me tell you it took me a long, long time to cut back on that, and I still have not eliminated it entirely. The key for me was first, realizing it was a sin, and second, understanding my worth in Jesus.
If we judge ourselves honestly, seeing our own shortcomings, we must, by necessity, judge others more compassionately.
Like any worthwhile goal, cleaning up you mind will not become automatic overnight. Over time, however, you'll see the value in it, especially stopping the self-hate before it gets rolling.
Lifelong habits take time and effort to change. Improved mental health and more peace as a Christian will be your rewards. And besides, it's the right thing to do.
If you're not a Christian, all this may seem like a waste of time. You're used to thinking and doing whatever you please.
But for those of us who follow Jesus Christ, we have an obligation to obey his commands. To ignore them is rebellion. To ignore them is sin.
Trying to guard your thoughts is intimidating, and like any other spiritual discipline, we need the help of the Holy Spirit. He is our Mentor and Guide, dwelling in us to help us conform to the image of Jesus. That's a job too tough for any human being. We can't live the Christian life, internally or externally, on our own. We need God.
Your mind is an incredible gift from God, but it does need care and maintenance. Some mental problems need professional help from a therapist or psychologist. I always recommend people go see such a person to manage serious problems.
To guard your thoughts, you must use discernment. Today, more than any time in history, many forces are trying to manipulate you, from Satan to con artists to politicians and news outlets and sometimes religious cults.
Knowing the truth demands that we be educated in the Bible, the greatest source of truth. Its values—really God's values—are unimpeachable and eternal. When we place society's standards against the yardstick of God's values, the world always comes up short.
Guard your thoughts. Pray for help with this life-changing duty. As you get better at it, you'll grow more Christlike in character and know deeper peace of mind.