How easy is it for you to keep your thoughts thankful, positive, and joyful? When Paul challenges us to “take captive every thought,” does that feel hard or easy?
If you’re like me, that feels impossible. My mind feels like that commercial with the cat-herding cowboy. As soon as I take one thought captive, all the other thoughts go scattering in all directions.
Of course, it’s not like that all the time. On good days I can sustain focused thought for hours and I can recount numerous reasons to be thankful. For example, I’m grateful to have a loving wife, amazing friends, gifted children, and countless books, adventures, and fond memories.
Toxic Thought Bombs
But it doesn’t seem to take a very large “toxic thought bomb” to make all those good thoughts dissipate. Dr. Caroline Leap actually describes it as hot air. When a new thought pattern hasn’t fully taken root—which takes a minimum of 21 days—it will turn into vapor if not cultivated to maturity.
That’s what happened recently when my wife and I started talking about finances. We started with prayer and level heads, but it didn’t take very long for me to become overwhelmed.
In my Monday morning quarterback seat, I know and remember that God has always been faithful to us. I also know my wife loves me and that we have committed to weather every storm together. But on that night the stress was mounting and my thoughts started turning negative.
I wish I could tell you a story of a valiant recovery. The truth is I lost this skirmish, but I haven’t lost the battle. I’ve actually recovered more quickly than ever before.
The enemy wants to take us captive
When Joseph talks to his ten brothers about when they sold him into slavery, he says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20 ESV).
I know the enemy wants to prevent me from becoming thankful, but God will not let him prevail. As for me, I am learning to take captive every thought and turn it into a reason to be thankful. That’s how I know I’m not going to lose the battle.
Want to know how? Maybe it will encourage you in your battle to be thankful.
3 Ways to Take Captive Every Thought
“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.”2 Pet. 1:3 — NLT
1: Trust in God’s power and love
God’s all-powerful love provides us with everything we need to live a godly life. If you’re like me, you’ve discovered many times that you can’t live a holy life on your own. I can provide daily evidence of this truth.
But God’s power is limitless. His mercies are unending. His compassions never fail.
These are not trite truisms to put on posters or bumper stickers. These are life-changing, explosive thoughts.
The problem is we treat them like bumper stickers or slogans. We become so familiar with them that we miss the dynamite that exists here to explode the toxic thoughts that seek to destroy us.
When you come to know God you are eternally changed. Your mind starts to become like God’s. His Holy Spirit comes to live inside of you. He is your new tutor. He’s not a harsh schoolmaster, but a loving guide and friend. Because he loves you, he disciplines you for your own good.
Love is both the foundation and the power for how we change our thoughts and lives.
2: Take captive faulty beliefs
Paul teaches the Corinthians about the dangerous battle taking place in our minds. Satan knows that the best way to keep us from following God is to keep us confused, distracted, and rebellious.
In 2 Cor. 10, Paul tells us that we must fight spiritual battles with God’s mighty weapons. False teaching and beliefs must be corrected one thought at a time.
Science proves that the longer we’ve held onto a false belief, the harder it will be to let go of it. Logic will sometimes convince us that we are wrong, but we often need a change in our hearts and even our bodies.
When you’ve believed something for a long time you develop coping methods and even faulty arguments to support that belief. If you’re persuasive, you can even get others to follow you. In fact, that’s how cults get started!
I remember taking a senior-level economics course in college. I became convinced of a particular theory. As we prepared for an exam, I persuaded everyone in my study group of my theory. We all gave the same answer on the exam. We all got it wrong. When the professor explored how this happened, all the fingers pointed at me. He gently dismantled my theory and he showed me my faulty thinking. I forget the lesson in economics, but I’ll never forget the lesson in persuasion and faulty beliefs.
3: Start by taking captive one thought at a time
Derek Prince tells the story of setting a woman free from demonic oppression. He slowly and patiently released her from the tormenting power of 73 different demons who had been assigned against her. He did it one or two demons at a time.
That’s how it works with our minds. You can’t teach someone quantum physics in one lesson. A counselor can’t reverse years of trauma in one session. A musician can’t learn to play the piano after only one lesson. And if you have negative habits or memories, it will take even longer.
A good teacher or counselor will work on one thing at a time. I’ve been meeting with a counselor for over a year. While we sometimes discuss more immediate issues that arise, we keep going back to this one pervasive negative belief: “I’m not enough.” We’ve been working to replace that thought with the positive belief, “I’m more than enough.” Because this toxic thought has been present for most of my life, it’s taking a lot of different strategies to pull up its roots.
But we’re working on it one thought at a time. The positive belief is gaining strength as the negative belief is dying.
CHALLENGE: You can take your thoughts captive.
The same thing can happen to you. Start with the biggest negative belief you have. Work to replace it with a positive scriptural truth.
Memorize it. Pray about it. Repeat it. Sing it. Shout it. Put it on your computer screen. Set a calendar reminder to say it. Invite your friends to say it to you. Do everything you can to make this new thought part of your mindset.
And keep doing it every day for the next 21 days. Then do it for another 21 days. And another…
Watch and see how the false belief weakens and the new belief strengthens.
When you get knocked down, get back up. You can do this.
In 2020, I co-wrote a song with Brianna Shelko called Take Another Step. The chorus says:
You can move the mountains 🏔Take Another Step, Words & Music by Brianna Shelko & Phil Mershon
If you really want to
Even when they doubt ya
When the pressures on you
Take another step
Do another dare
Let’s climb the hill together
I’ll meet you right there.
Just take another step. Take another step.
Father, I thank you for showing me daily grace and strength. I praise you for the way you created the brain, our bodies, and the mind. I pray you will keep training me to use my mind to combat fear, doubt, and negative beliefs. Show me how to replace those with grateful thoughts that help me see you more clearly. Deepen my love for you. I pray it for your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.