Sometimes our minds are filled with creative DIY ideas, exciting plans for the next holiday celebration, or what to make for supper.
Other times our minds are filled with other things: ugly things, thoughts that we would be mortified if anyone knew about, but ones we still allow our minds to dwell on.
It is as if that particular track on the recording is stuck on repeat: we replay bitter thoughts about a hurt relationship or how we’ve been wronged in the past. We expand on imaginary conversations, arguing how we’re right and they’re wrong. We become increasingly ungrateful and dissatisfied with our current circumstances because we compare what we have with what our friend has. We grow more critical by the minute as we list all the short-comings of the other person and exalt our own perfections.
Many times we don’t even realize what is going on until we are rapidly gaining speed down the path towards sin. The struggle to do what is right is often intense. However, once we recognize that our minds are being filled with unholy and unrighteous thoughts, we are called to take intentional steps to, as they say, “nip it in the bud.”
It is at this moment that we must do what Scripture describes as being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) and we must choose to “yield [ourselves] unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and [our] members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (Romans 6:13)
So what are some specific steps we can take towards pleasing God with the thoughts of our minds and the meditation of our hearts?
Here are four categories of thought where our minds need daily renewal:
1. Choosing Love instead of Hate
Often our thoughts center around a particular person–how they irritate us, annoy us, have hurt or wronged us. Such thoughts often threaten to consume us.
Yet Scripture is clear what our actions should be towards those who either legitimately hate us or who we’re convinced hate us based on their actions:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Most of us haven’t experienced such extreme treatment as persecution and cursings, but even if we have experienced such, we’re still to choose to love them.
Unfortunately, the hurt often goes deep–really deep–and it is difficult to renew our minds with love.
Perhaps one of the most practical ways to renew our mind when it is filled with hateful thoughts towards another person is to pray for that person.
Have you ever tried genuinely praying for someone, while at the same time trying to maintain hateful thoughts about them? Has it ever worked for you?
It hasn’t for me.
I think God, in His divine wisdom, has designed it that there can be no room for hateful, unloving thoughts if we have approached the throne of grace and are interceding for that person.
Thus, in that moment of temptation, we must choose to obey God’s command to love: start by using such moments as reminders to pray for that person who has filled our heart with such hateful thoughts. Pray that God would give us His love and patience toward that person, even if they do irritate us. Pray that God would show us how to minister to a need they may have. Pray that He would help us to forgive where they may have wronged us, even as He has forgiven us.
2. Choosing Truth instead of Lies
Sometimes our thoughts are not directed towards people as much as they are simply a myriad of lies that we believe about ourselves, other people, and the circumstances of our lives. And as women, we’re experts at arriving at fantastic assumptions, are we not? Someone looks at us just so and we’re sure their actions towards us are laced with malice, pride, and ulterior motives. Before we even realize what has happened, our mind is filled with thoughts that are nothing short of boldfaced lies.
When we realize we are embracing lies in place of the truth from God’s Word, we must remind ourselves of the truth that should be filling our minds with instead.
As we evaluate those lies about ourselves, our circumstances, or the assumptions we’ve arrived at about another person, we must run them through the grid of Philippians 4:8, which reminds us that we are to only think on those things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, filled with virtue and praise.
If our thoughts don’t fit into one of those categories we are to take them captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). Once again, we must pray that the Lord would help us to grab hold of such unrighteous thoughts and obey Him. Memorizing and meditating on Scripture is one way to intentionally fill our minds with truth.
3. Choosing Forgiveness instead of Bitterness
This slightly overlaps with choosing to love instead of hate, but I think this is also a category of its own.
To one degree or another, we’ve all experienced the poison of holding on to past hurts: we convince ourselves that it feels good to linger on those thoughts about how a person has hurt us, we consider how we might make them feel the pain they have inflicted on us, and we assure ourselves that if they would do just this one thing, all conflict would be resolved.
But we also all know that those are all lies: we’re deceiving ourselves with such thoughts. We know that the main issue is that we must forgive.
However, in the meantime, our soul is being eaten up alive by the bitterness that is seeping into the furthest recesses of our heart and mind.
In these moments, we must remind ourselves of Christ’s call to forgive, for Ephesians 4:32 reminds us that God’s forgiveness of our sins is the standard for how we are to forgive each other:
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Christ has forgiven us the great debt we owed. He took the punishment we deserved and paid the price for our forgiveness.
In paying for our forgiveness, He has enabled us to forgive those who have hurt us, and in turn, treat them with kindness and tenderheartedness.
Yes, sometimes the hurt goes deep into the inner parts of our soul and leaves wounds with lasting scars. But adding bitterness to such wounds is like adding lemon juice to the paper cut–it doesn’t help. It just makes it worse.
If forgiving each other were an easy task, we wouldn’t need Christ’s enabling power. But it is hard–perhaps one of the hardest things we will ever be called to do. In such moments, we must choose to rejoice in Christ’s forgiveness of our sins and plead that He give us the grace and strength to also forgive others, as He has forgiven us.
If God has commanded it, will He not also enable us, as we rely on the Spirit’s work in us, to obey His commandment?
4. Choosing Joy instead of Discontentment
Sometimes the thoughts that seep into our minds are simply thoughts of discontentment: the house seems small and out-of-date, the day is dreary and long, there isn’t enough coffee, and the routine of motherhood is wearisome.
In these moments, Scripture gives us two specific ways to renew our minds:
Philippians 4:4 tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18 boldly instructs us to “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Right now, you might be thinking: But Paul doesn’t know what my day has been like. He doesn’t know how tired I am. He doesn’t know that all I need is some chocolate, a good book to read, and some peace and quiet all by myself. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have four kids under five.
You’re right: Paul doesn’t know all that.
But God does.
And it is God who has instructed us to find our source of joy in Him. He is the One who has told us to give thanks in all things.
So when we are tempted to indulge in those “poor me” thoughts, we must choose to obey these commands and claim the grace He has given to enable us to obey. Out of joyful obedience to Him, we must choose to lift our hearts in praise to God for His character and to find our source of joy in Him, not in our circumstances.
Taking decisive action against this bold invitation for a pity-party may be as simple as looking for the little blessings He has already sent us that day. And then thanking Him for them.
As Psalm 118:29 reminds us,
“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.”
So as we go about each day, let us be attentive to what is filling our minds and in turn, rely on God’s Word, His grace and His strength to glorify Him with the thoughts of our hearts.