Replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones

This summer, my pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith. The eleventh step on his list is “replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones.” What kinds of thoughts are spiritually unhealthy? How do you replace them with healthy thoughts?

Before considering thoughts that are unhealthy, I thought about the interplay of thoughts and feelings. Do thoughts and beliefs influence feelings or do our feelings drive our thoughts? I think the answer is both. I also think that both thoughts and feelings influence behavior but feelings are harder to control. If I am angry, rational thoughts fly out the window and I am more likely to say something I should not say.

❤ The Voice of Authority 

Before you can replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones, you have to recognize that your thoughts are unhealthy. Consider this list of negative emotions: hate, fear, anger, jealousy, guilt, shame, blame, anguish, pity, despair, sorrow. Negative emotions are not necessarily unhealthy. It’s healthy to feel sorrow when you experience a loss or to be afraid when you are in danger. Does the negative emotion help you process and accept an event that you cannot change? Does it motivate you to change things you can realistically change?

I think it is important to recognize that unhealthy thoughts may fit a pattern. We may be in the habit of reacting in a way that is not healthy. Blaming other people for our problems. Blowing things out of proportion. Jumping to conclusions. Making everything personal. Healthy emotions match the situation. Healthy thoughts are constructive.

But now, I’ll get to the heart of why it is important for a Christian to recognize and deal with unhealthy thoughts.

Last week, I listened to a sermon on the Hebrew word for heart, leb, לֵב. Pastor Bruce explained the meaning of the letters. The first letter (read from the right to the left) looks like a staff or cane and the other represents a tent. The staff symbolizes authority and the tent symbolizes being in the tent or home. Taken together, the heart is the voice of authority within the human body. It is what we know as the conscience.

The heart is the home for thoughts and emotions. A Christian’s heart belongs to God. We are commanded to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Any thought that keeps me from loving God with all my heart or from loving other people as I love myself is not spiritually healthy. Bad thoughts do not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Our actions reveal what is in our hearts. As Jesus pointed out, hypocrites, though they may act righteous, neglect matters that are important to God – justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus compared the heart to a cup or dish that hypocrites clean on the outside, while inside, the cup is filthy with greed and self-indulgence (Matthew 23). Unhealthy thoughts of anger and resentment keep followers of Jesus from being the light of the world. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness (1 John 2:9).

Our words often reveal the unhealthy thoughts in our hearts. “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

Think about good things

I made a list of healthy, positive thoughts: love, trust, gratitude, peace, joy, hope, mercy, comfort, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Even making a list of healthy thoughts is good for my heart! There is no shortage of healthy thoughts to replace unhealthy ones.

In reality, I know that I can’t flip a switch to replace my unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones. I have to consciously think about what is good and right and admirable. I have to remind myself to not lean on my own limited understanding. I have to remind myself to trust in the Lord with all my heart because he is the source of all that is good. I have to intentionally put bad experiences in perspective and to remind myself why I have hope.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

We all have unhealthy thoughts that are replaceable with healthy ones. At times, I have struggled with fear, anger, impatience, envy, and despair. Fear can be replaced with love, anger with compassion, impatience with patience, envy with gratitude, despair with hope.

Reading List:

Psalm 138:8
Proverbs 3:5-6
Philippians 4:8
John 15:9; 16:33
Romans 12:1-2
1 Corinthians 10:31
2 Timothy 2:15
Hebrews 13:14
James 1:12-21
1 Peter 5:7
1 John 4:18

Focus on who you are (and can become) rather than on what you should do

I am making my way through a list of practical steps my pastor gave the congregation to help us go deeper in our faith.  The tenth step is “focus on who you are (and can become) rather than on what you should do.” I interpret “what you should do” as God’s purpose or calling for your life. I have learned that it is easy for me to get ahead of myself, especially when I spend too much time thinking about what I should do in the future instead of focusing on the here and now.

What should you do?

A few years ago, I hoped that God would call me to do something radically different with my life. I had been an accountant for about 25 years and was unhappy in my job. I started blogging, which opened up a side of me that I had always suppressed. I started praying that God would lead me where he wanted me to be, hoping he would lead me to an opportunity that involved writing. When I heard nothing, I thought maybe I wasn’t listening closely enough or praying hard enough. Or, I thought, maybe God is too disappointed in me to call me to do anything for him.

One day as I prayed, it occurred to me that maybe where God wanted me to be is right where I am – seeking him, growing in my faith and learning to be more like Jesus.

For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13).

Hannah Brencher wrote about the fear of missing God’s calling, Don’t miss the call. She was driven crazy by all the talk about God’s calling. Many of us think that if we mess up, our calling is not going to happen. But messing up is exactly what Jonah did when God told him to go to Nineveh to preach and he instead ran away. Even though Jonah resisted, God still used him for his purpose.

As I once did, we may want God to hurry up and reveal his “calling” to us. Our calling is not some far off goal that we will reach if we just pray hard enough. As Hannah wrote, “You are in the middle of your calling right now.” No matter what you’re going through right now, you’re in the right place.

Wendy van Eyck wrote about why you don’t need to stress about finding your calling. She also learned some valuable truths from the story of Jonah. God will make the right things happen at the right time. God will not give up on us. “God is consistently, and lovingly, guiding us to the exact place he needs us to be right now.”

God works in us to fulfill his purpose, despite our ignorance or our inertia and even our resistance.

Focus on who you are

Our self-identity is based in part on our relationships with other people. I am a daughter, sister, wife, friend and coworker. Many of the relationships come with conditions. But I don’t always meet everyone’s expectations; I mess up and let people down.

My sense of self also comes from what I do to make a living and how I choose to spend my spare time. My talents and interests give my life meaning and purpose, a reason for getting out of bed every day. If I do something well and people admire or appreciate my efforts, I feel competent and valued.

Because Jesus loves me, my identity is not dependent on what other people think of me or on what I do. He loves me because he loves me, not because of who I am or for what I do. Jesus chose me to be a part of his family, just as he chose his disciples. He loved his imperfect disciples and he loves me.

I am known by God and loved unconditionally. God knows every corner of my heart, the good and the bad. He created my inmost being. He knows what I will do before I do it. As flawed as I am, because he loves me, I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Focus on who you can become

God is the potter and I am the clay. When I submit my life to his hands, he is free to shape me into something useful and beautiful. He won’t lead me unless I give him the reins. I have to let him discipline me when I do wrong, just as a father disciplines his child. When I stumble and fall, he picks me up and puts me on the right path.

Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14).

When Jesus saved me, I took off my old self and put on my new self. The new me is still flawed but it is continuously being renewed by his wisdom.

Jesus showed me who I can become. Merciful. Compassionate. Pure in heart. Forgiving. Humble. A peacemaker. A person who is eager to do what is good.

Focus on the inner work

When we become preoccupied with what we think we should be doing with our lives or where we want to be in the future, we may not appreciate the work God is doing here and now in our hearts. God doesn’t care whether you’re a waiter or an accountant or homemaker or any other kind of doer, as long as you do whatever you do with a heart that seeks him.

Instead of focusing on what you should be doing with your life, fix your eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Make every effort to live in peace with others. See to it that no one misses out on the grace of God.

Reading List:

Genesis 17:5-7
Deuteronomy 7:6-8
Psalm 40:1-3; 139:1-18
Jeremiah 18:1-6
1 Corinthians 15:56-58
Colossians 3:10
Philippians 2:13
Titus 2:14
Hebrews 12:1-29
1 John 3:9; 4:19; 5:18

 

Remember who you once were and embrace your new identity

At the end of a sermon series called “Living Deep,” my pastor handed out a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. He called the ninth step, “learn from your history and get wiser.” When I read this phrase, I thought he meant, learn from your mistakes. But after reading the Bible verses he shared, I think he was saying: “remember who you once were and embrace your new identity.”

One of the verses on the reading list was Deuteronomy 7:6, which says “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

Although the Old Testament story of God’s chosen people of Israel is not my history, I can relate to it and learn from it. It is a story of rebellion and disobedience, of second chances and God’s unfailing love. In Psalm 105, David reminded the descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that God would forever remember the covenant he made. The prophet Jeremiah said that the Lord would make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.

After reading about God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, I read the Parable of the Wedding Banquet in the New Testament. The last verse, Matthew 22:14, struck me as significant because it says: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The “All about Jesus” website explains what the parable means. Jesus was alluding to the history of the people of Israel. The invited guests who refused to come to the wedding banquet are the descendants of Abraham who turned away from God to worship other gods. God sent deliverers to turn the hearts of his chosen people back to him. Even though his people rejected him, God kept trying to get them back. He warned them. He disciplined them. They were stiff-necked, refusing to repent. God sent messengers or prophets to warn his chosen people that they would be punished. In response, the Israelites killed God’s messengers.

Even so, God – the king who prepared the wedding feast – did not give up on mankind. We are his beloved creation. He made us and he loves us. See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1) He loves us so much, he continues to invite the world to his banquet: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

Jesus fulfilled the promise of a new covenant and made the old one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)

Those of us who have accepted the invitation to the wedding feast have a new identity in Christ.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,  so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

– 1 Corinthians 26-31

I remember who I was before Jesus – a shy, young girl. I wasn’t special. I certainly wasn’t of noble birth. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Christ Jesus became my wisdom from God. God values the meek and the lowly. As a young woman, I wandered away from the God who had always been with me. Then about twenty years ago, something bad happened that reminded me how good God is. I remembered who I am in Christ. In him I find my worth, in him I find my identity.

Reading List

Psalm 105
Deuteronomy 7:6
Job 14:5
Isaiah 46:3-4
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 
2 Corinthians 5:17
Colossians 1:16
1 John 3:1; 4:9

You Say (Lauren Daigle)

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am because I need to knowYou say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity, o-ooh

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
Oh, I believe

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory, o-ooh

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

Oh I believe
Yes I believe
What You say of me
Oh I believe

Dive deep & immerse yourself in Scripture

I am ever so slowly making my way through a list of steps my pastor gave the congregation to help us go deeper in our faith. I read the verses Pastor Brad provided to support the eighth step, “Immerse yourself in Scripture” and thought it would be easy to write about the verses. Instead, I found myself wrestling with a verse that Christian frequently quote.

2 Timothy 3:16

According to the New International Version translation of the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” Christians often quote 2 Timothy 3:16 as evidence that every word of the Bible was inspired by God. In other words, the Bible is infallible.

Is every word of the Bible really infallible? If every word of Scripture is God-breathed, how do we explain inconsistencies? Did God, the supremely intelligent Creator, give Moses the inspiration to write a simplistic account of creation? When was Genesis written and why does it matter?

I searched for commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16 to find out what other people think of it. I found a long article written by Frank W. Nelte, The Real Story Behind the Translation of 2 Timothy 3:16.  He believes that the original Greek was mistranslated; Paul’s statement is more accurately translated as “Every writing that has proceeded out of the mouth of God…” This translation is consistent with The New Testament translated by Richard Lattimore, who endeavored to keep the meaning as close to the Greek text as possible.

Every writing that is divinely inspired is also useful for teaching, for argument, for correction, for education in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and equipped for every good work.

In addition to wrestling with the issue of whether the entire Bible is inspired by God, I struggle to see the usefulness of much of the Old Testament writings. The Old Testament includes the Pentateuch (The Law of Moses), books on prophesy, books on the history of Israel, and poetic and wisdom writings. While useful in understanding the big picture themes of the Bible, I learn and grow more by reading about Jesus and the good news of the gospel.

I remember reading that Thomas Jefferson compiled his own version of the Bible (The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, now known as the Jefferson Bible) by editing out the parts he didn’t like or believe to be credible. According to Wikipedia, Jefferson had high regard for the moral teachings of Jesus but did not believe in miracles or the supernatural. While I don’t want to use Jefferson’s approach to studying the Bible – picking and choosing my favorite parts, I do want to study Scripture intelligently.

Immerse yourself in His Word

Now that I’ve reflected on the meaning of 2 Timothy 3:16, I have fine-tuned my pastor’s advice for going deeper in my faith. Immerse yourself in God’s word. Every word that comes directly from the mouth of God and every word inspired by God is useful for growing spiritually.

His word teaches me.

His word corrects me.

His word penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of my heart.

His word endures forever; it stands the test of time.

Every word from his mouth sustains me. I treasure it more than my daily bread.

His word accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it.

He sent his Word to heal me.

The Word is my rock and my foundation.

The Word is alive and active.

The Word lives in me!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Reading List

Job 23:12
Isaiah 40:8; 55:11
Psalm 107:20
Matthew 4:4; 7:24-27
Luke 11:28
Colossians 3:16
2 Timothy 3:16 
1 John 2:14

Simplify your life and make time with God a priority

At the end of a sermon series called “Living Deep,” my pastor handed out a list of steps to help us go deeper in our faith. The seventh step on his list is “simplify your life and make time with God a priority.” I can see why he phrased it the way he did. Our lives can become so full and complicated that it’s hard to make time with God a priority. But you simply can’t go deeper in your faith without spending time in prayer, worship, and spiritual reflection.

Simplify your life

One way to simplify your life is to stop chasing things that don’t really satisfy. Solomon wrote, whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. So much of what we do with our lives is meaningless. The pleasures of life are fleeting.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.  – Ecclesiastes 2:11 (NIV)

Jesus said we shouldn’t spend time worrying about even our most basic needs like what we’re going to eat or what we’re going to wear. God cares for us and he knows what we need.

To simplify your life, find contentment and joy in the basics of life. Be content with less.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8

When you simplify your life, your priorities change. You stop serving money. You stop trying so hard to prove your worthiness. You stop loving this world and the superficial things it has to offer.

Between work, family, recreational, social, and other activities, our days fill up quickly. These days, it seems like everyone is busy. Being seen as busy has almost become a form of competition or a badge of honor. What does our need to seem busy really say about us? Do we need reassurance that our lives have purpose? Just as we should stop trying to find meaning in things, we should stop trying to fill the void or sense of emptiness, with meaningless activities.

I work full-time but busyness is not what keeps me from making time with God a priority. During my downtime, I am distracted by social media and television. My mind is led astray from my sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

When I think about the impact of distractions on my spiritual life, I’m reminded of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13). When the farmer scattered the seed, some of it fell among the thorns which choked out the plants. The worries of the world and the meaningless ambitions of this life can keep the message of Jesus from bearing fruit in us. They can keep us from making time with God a priority.

Prioritize time with God

Jesus said that our first priority should be to seek his kingdom and his righteousnessWhere your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21, 33). Apart from God, I have no sense of well-being (Psalm 16:2). Apart from God, my heart is restless. My soul hungers and thirsts for God.

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. – Augustine

I want to make time with God a priority because the Lord restores my soul. He is my refuge and my strength. He fills me with shalom, the inward sense of completeness or wholeness. With God, I can sing, it is well, it is well with my soul!

Come all who are thirsty. Why waste your money on bread that doesn’t give you strength and your labor on things that do not satisfy? Listen, listen to God for the life of your soul is at stake (Isaiah 55:1-3).

I want to make time with God a priority because the Lord redeems my life. Every day, he crowns me with love and compassion (Psalm 103).

I want to make time with God a priority because his word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105). His law is perfect, refreshing my soul. His statutes are trustworthy, making wise the simple. His precepts are right, giving joy to my heart. His commands are radiant, giving light to my eyes. His ways are more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. (Psalm 19:7-11)

When I make time for God, his priorities become my priorities. When I live in accordance with his Spirit, my mind is set on what the Spirit desires. I want what is good. My ambition is to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God. This is meaningful.

I struggle to make time with God the priority that it should be. I talk to God every day. I read the Bible but usually don’t spend much time studying or reflecting on what I have read. I confess that I can be spiritually lazy.

Lord, I want to make it my ambition to lead a quiet life; to be in your presence; to listen patiently for your voice; to seek your face; to pause and reflect at the end of each day. May this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Reading List:
1 Chronicles 16:11
Psalm 46:10; 131:1-2
Isaiah 55:1-2
Micah 6:8
Matthew 6:21-33
Luke 16:13
John 6:35, 14:23
Romans 8:5-6
2 Corinthians 11:3
1 Thessalonians 4:11
1 Timothy 6:6-8
1 John 2:15-16, 28