by Susan Thomas

Have you ever heard the statements, “you are what you think.” Or, “if you think you can’t, then you can’t!” These statements and many like them, reflect the observation that our thoughts are powerful. The things we think about can impact our lives in a significant and sometimes life-altering way.

Just the other day, one of my sweet daughters expressed her struggle with math. “Mommy, I CAN’T do it! I’ll never be able to do it! I don’t know my multiplication!” In a God-given moment of patience, I looked at her and in true, cheerleader-like fashion (motions and happy facial expressions included), I said “you may not know it now, but you WILL!” I began to chant this cheer until her look of distress gave way to giggles of delight. And she began to study her facts with renewed vigor.

It’s amazing how our thoughts can change things. Perspective matters. What we think about is HUGE. God talks about the importance of our thought life all throughout the scriptures. Our thoughts are undeniably important and God has a design for our thought life. (See Romans 12:2.)

But I believe sometimes we blame our thoughts when our problem goes deeper.

For example, as Christ-followers, we may look at 2 Corinthians 10:5 and assume that our final, great battleground resides in our thought-life.

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. (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV, emphasis mine)

Or, we look at the wonderful instruction found in Philippians 2:8 and assume that if we can simply control our thought life, all will be well.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 2:8, NLT, emphasis mine)

So we tackle our struggle with lust and try to stop ourselves from thinking about the ungodly fantasies that fight for our minds’ eye. We try and try and wonder why we continue to fail! We find ourselves paralyzed with fear so we begin to chant the memorized scriptures our friend shared with us in hopes that distracting our thoughts will free us from fear. And then we become despondent when the pit inside of our stomachs continues to almost incapacitate us.

The battle for our thoughts is no doubt a reality and crucial to the victorious life of every individual. Taking our thoughts captive and making them obedient to God is a vital practice in the life of every Christ follower. But if we stop there, I believe we have missed THE ROOT of our struggle. You see, behind every errant thought, there is a heart problem. 

Behind every errant thought, there is a heart problem.

Now I’m not talking necessarily about the errant thoughts that pop in your head and you instantly dismiss. I’m really not even talking about thoughts of temptation. I’m talking about the thoughts that linger. The thoughts that we entertain. The thoughts that can turn into beliefs. We must understand that something drives our thoughts! We have a nature, a heart condition that actively influences our thought life. The desires inside our hearts lure and entice us. Out of our hearts, thoughts flow! And because we have a heart condition that is either very, very sick or being healed by our Savior, we must take seriously the state of our hearts. Check it out!

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. (Romans 8:5)

For from the heart come evil thoughts… (Matthew 15:19)

Out of our hearts, come the thoughts that we think! Our hearts are full of all kinds of desires, and our desires are often expressed via our thoughts. While intricately connected, we must understand that the condition of our heart directly impacts the nature of our thought life. If we are dominated by our sinful nature and heart, then our thoughts will set out to destroy us and all God loves. If we are controlled by the Holy Spirit of God, our thoughts will bring life and joy to our existence and even to the lives of those around us!

So what does this mean?

It means that no amount of effort or thought control will ever be enough when it comes to the problems I face in my life. Controlling our thought life is important. But we must get first things first. We must love God. When I love God, I will obey him. When I run to Jesus, my thought life will follow.

In John 15, Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” He goes on to warn us that apart from him “we can do nothing.” It is only in intimate connection and relationship with Jesus that our hearts and lives can be transformed. Without daily intimacy with Jesus and running to him fresh every moment, our thought lives remain in a precarious and vulnerable position.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (Romans 12:2, emphasis mine)

At the end of the day, it will be GOD that transforms us and changes the way we think. If knowledge and self-control could do the trick, we would have never needed a Savior. We must resist the urge to use God (even subconsciously) to get freedom from the thing that plagues us. Instead, we must surrender to the One who loves us most and run to him with our love, devotion and adoration. As we fight to keep him first in our hearts, we then trust him to heal us from the inside out. We don’t just need new thoughts.

We need a new heart. We need a new spirit.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Will you join me in running fresh to our Savior today?

God, thank you that Jesus did not come to this world to judge us but to save us! You know that my heart is sick and runs far from you. Thank you for your desire to give me a new heart and daily heal me from the inside out. Help me to follow you each moment of my life. And when my heart begins to wander, Lord I pray you would gently draw me back to you and that I would RUN into your loving arms. By your spirit’s power, help me take my thoughts captive and make them obedient to you. Your ways are life. YOU are my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen