Thought Life of the Believer

by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand

Printable pdf Version of this StudyPrintable pdf Version of this StudyTemptation generally starts as a very subtle voice in the back of “our mind” – if it is allowed to germinate, it results in sin (Jam 1:14-15). At the earliest moment of recognition we must apply sudden death to it, or it will plant its deadly seed within us. Dr. Caroline Leaf, one of the world’s leading authorities on the “cognitive neuroscientific aspects of the brain,” has studied the brain and the “science of thought” for more than 30 years. She is a devout Christian with a PhD in “Communication Pathology” from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Dr. Leaf says the average person thinks over 30,000 thoughts a day (our minds never rest while we are awake). Think about that number with the understanding that many of our thoughts have a fleshly orientation and are evil in nature – since evil thoughts have an “ally” in our flesh, they can be extremely stubborn and difficult to overcome once they are firmly implanted. Dr. Leaf goes on to say that 87-95% of all the illnesses we experience are a direct result of our “toxic thoughts” – our thoughts quickly influence our emotions, which in turn cause a physical reaction in our body; positive emotions cause our body to release helpful chemicals; negative emotions cause the release of harmful chemicals. By not controlling our thoughts, we create the conditions for illness – research shows that “fear alone” triggers more than 1400 known physical and chemical responses, and activates more than 30 differ-ent hormones in the body. Science believes that thoughts are basically neurological responses to stimuli that are shaped by past experiences – therefore it is important for us to exercise extreme care with regard to what stimuli we allow to enter into our thought processes.  Toxic waste generated by “toxic thoughts” causes the following illnesses: diabetes, cancer, asthma, skin problems, and allergies just to name a few. Everything we see, hear, or read has the potential to shape our thinking, and what we think about affects us physically and emotionally. Dr. Leaf’s message to both Christian and secular audiences is that they detox their brains by consciously controlling their thought lives – this means engaging interactively with every single thought we have, and analyzing it before we decide to accept it or reject it. Her message parallels that of the apostle Paul:Bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5). Our mind will either be our best friend   or our worst enemy – it all depends on how we choose to use it (Leaf, Who Switched Off My Brain?).

Richard Rohr, a popular writer, Franciscan Friar, and Catholic Priest, citing psychological studies, says 90-96% of our thoughts are repetitive and generally negative, and that many Christians mistakenly believe that their “thought life” actually has a life of its own; that their thoughts are so strong that they dictate what goes on inside their heads, rather than they themselves. The truth is we are the masters of our thoughts, and the controllers of our self talk. Surprisingly, many Christians believe that Satan somehow controls their thoughts and that they are just too weak to resist him, but that is not what scripture teaches – “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4). Because our thoughts have much to do with theformation of our character,” we must be extremely concerned about what goes on in our thought life. Those who would not fall prey to Satan’s devices must guard the avenues of the soul – they must avoid reading, seeing or listening to anything that causes impure thoughts; furthermore, the mind must not be left to wander at random upon every subject the adversary of our soul suggests (Phil 4:8; 1 Pet 1:13-15). This requires earnest prayer and unceasing watchfulness, aided by a diligent study of  the Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit (Ps 119:9, 11; Prv 4:23; Mt 26:41; Jn 14:26; 16:13; Rom 8:6; 12:2; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 4:6; 2 Tim 3:16-17). Guarding the gates of our minds against the invasion of sinful thoughts is a continual responsibility for the believer (Rohr, Hope Against Darkness).

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” Your thought life determines the life you live, who you are, and what you become (Prv 4:23; 23:7). Either you master and rule your thoughts, or they will master and rule you – our thoughts influence our feelings, choices and behaviors; therefore, we must monitor our thought life so that it is spiritually healthy. Dr. Don Colbert is the medical director of Divine Health Wellness Center in Orlando, Florida, and the author of more than 40 books, including the New York Times Best Seller, The Seven Pillars of Health.” Over the years, he has worked with thousands of people who have discovered that once they made a sincere effort to tackle their dysfunctional thought patterns, they experienced a significant reduction in depression, anxiety, anger, grief, shame, jealousy, and all other toxic emotions. Dr. Colbert maintains that replacing Satan’s lies with God’s truth is not really that difficult –      "it just takes intentional and consistent effort.” He goes on to say that replacing toxic negative thoughts with spiritually healthy thoughts requires an ongoing intentional study of the Word (Colbert, Deadly Emotions). Remember the words of Jesus: “If you abide in My word...    you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31-32).

Dr. James P. Porowski is the Director of Family Life Resource, a counseling center in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Professor of Child and Family Development at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He says that unsuccessful attempts at changing one’s thought patterns results from an unwillingness to change them, because they simply enjoy their misery, woundedness, lustfulness or pride more than they desire godliness. He goes on to say that the Holy Spirit empowers the change process when we are truly repentant and want His control (Gal 5:17; Jam 4:8). Mind control is the responsibility of all growing Christians. Toxic negative thoughts are the enemies of a victorious life –    if you give attention to toxic thoughts, they will intensify significantly and sin will result (Porowski, With All My Mind).

Controlling our “thoughts” is neither easy, nor is it a spontaneous action — it is a battle! And if you are not into fighting this battle you are going to be defeated (Eph 6:11-18; 1 Tim 4:7; 6:12). The devil’s attack is focused primarily on the thoughts of our minds. Together with   the flesh, Satan interjectstoxic thoughtsinto our minds – these thoughts need to be quickly removed with holy aggression and replaced with “spiritually healthy thoughts” (Rom 12:2; Col 3:1-2; Phil 4:8). God’s plan for you is to have an abundant and victorious life (Jn 10:10), and that means experiencing victory over sin, Satan, and the flesh. Why are people anxious, depressed, loveless, angry, worldly and immoral? The origin of all such problems lies in the thought life. Nearly everymental illnessand psychological disorder is the result of a toxic thought life — depression, low self-esteem, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, paranoia, psychotic illness, personality disorders, psychosexual disorders, sleep disorders, reactive disorders, excessive grief. Remember, if you allow impure destructive thoughts to germinate
in your mind – sin will conceive; be it in the heart or outward expression (Jam 1:14-15).

So what practical steps can a believer take to develop a spiritually healthy thought life?  There are four things a believer can do, and each one of them is absolutely essential -- 

1. You must have a daily quiet time with the Lord – this is the number one priority; it is the Word of God in conjunction with the Spirit that lifts us out of ruts, gives us hope, and renews our minds (Rom 10:17; Gal 5:16; Col 3: 16; 2 Tim 3:16-17; Jam 4:8; 1 Pet 2:2). The spiritual impact of not having communion with God, can be likened to your body going without physical nourishment – without spiritual manna you will suffer spiritual paralysis.  I think part of the problem for many believers is that their time with the Lord is not an "interactive time" -- that is, it is more of an "academic time."  I think it is helpful to think of your time with the Lord as a "counseling session" rather than a "classroom time."  You need to "interact with the Lord" -- pour out your heart to him, and inductively and prayerfully study His Word. . . ask God questions while you're reading His Word, and share your heart with Him while you're doing so. By the way, this will stop making your quiet time just a "reading exer-cise" where you get 10-15 minutes of Bible reading in (that's a very spiritually unproductive way to have a quiet time).  Remember, you have a relationship with God, and He so much wants you to share your heart with Him and He with you.

2. You must safeguard those areas of your life you can control – your reading, conversations, radio, television, movies, internet, music; if you compromise on this level and you will fall (Prv 4:23; 5:8; 7:25; Rom 13:14). King Solomon was likening "sin" to a "harlot" when he instructed his sons to "not go near the door of the harlot's house" -- obviously, to do so can only "ignite a person's flesh."  It's like the alcoholic going and sitting in front of the tavern.  You play with fire, you're going to get burned.  This is probably the "most basic" of all instructions to heed -- to ignore this level of responsibility, is to invite disaster.

3. You must dwell upon the truths of God’s Word – set your mind on the things of the Spirit and those things which are above; things that are good, right, pure (Ps 1:1-3; 19:14; 119:11; Rom 8:6; 12:2; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 4:8; Col 3:1-2). God wants us to be healthy and mature in our thinking (1 Cor 14:20; Phil 4:8-9).  The psalmist David tells us in the first Psalm (1:2) that "he meditated on the Word night and day."  The word he chose to share the concept of "meditating" is a word that is used of a cow "chewing his cud" -- when a cow initially swallows food when he is grazing, it goes into one of four stomachs that he has. . . the largest stomach is the one that grazed food is swallowed into. . . after awhile, the cow will intentionally "bring up a portion of the food again and chew on it" (before swalling it into another stomach for digestion).  The point is this, as believers we need to "bring the spiritual food back up again for reconsideration" (that's akin to a cow chewing his cud).  Believers are to walk with God and reflect upon His Word throughout the day. . . "ten minutes" a day in the morning just isn't going to cut it! As believers, we are to "walk with God" continually -- imagine yourself "walking with a friend" somewhere. . . you are always conscious of "his presence" with you. . . it doesn't mean that you are constantly dialogueing with him, but it also doesn't mean that you're quiet all day long. . . as things/issues come up, you discuss it with him. . . there is this "conscious awareness of His presence" pretty much all the time.  As you're walking along, something you may have read that morning may be something that you thinking about and discussing with Him.  Without these kinds of moments through-out the day, your spiritual joy will simply not be there.  You can't be madly in love with someone and not have significant periods of communi-cation with them -- and if you're constantly away from home, you've got relational issues.

4. You must pray that you not enter into temptation – by praying we humbly admit that we are ever in need of God’s mercy and grace; none of us have the capacity to stand in our own strength (Mt 6:13; 26:41; 2 Cor 12:9-10; Eph 6:18).  The truth of the matter is we do not have the strength within ourselves to "stand" (read Paul's testimony in Romans 7) -- to think prayer is only for spiritual infants is complete hersey. . . such a viewpoint is to be completely ignorant of the nature of your flesh. . . we are all "extremely weak" and "desperately need God's grace" every hour   of every day -- and we only receive grace when we "humble ourselves" (that's admitting our weakness) and "crying out to Him for help" (Heb 4:15-16). Remember the encouraging words of the Lord to the prophet Isaiah: “God will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee” (Is 26:3; Rom 8:5-6; Phil 4:6-9).

To change our thoughts is to “change our life” – the process of sanctification starts with the “renewal of our thoughts” (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23). Obviously, we will never achieve sinless perfection in this life, but we are to “press on toward that goal” (Phil 3:12-14; 1 Pet 1:15; 2 Pet 3:18). The reality of the Christian life is that it includes a lot of joy, suffering, and sin (Jn 15:11; Rom 14:17; Gal 5:22; Rom 8:17; Phil 1:29; 3:10; 2 Tim 2:3;   1 Pet 4:1, 13; 5:10; Mt 6:12; Phil 3:12; Jam 3:2; 1 Jn 1:10) – we are all a work in progress (2 Cor 3:18).  The believer's part in the sanctification process  is that of listening to God (reading and studying His Word), believing God, and obeying God... and when we do, God does His part -- much of what God does in and through us is done in conjunction with our cooperation.  The apostle Paul put it this way:  "We plant and water, but God causes the growth" (1 Cor 3:6) -- we don't have the capacity to cause anything to grow... all we can do is plant and water. Period.  As believers we are "transformed" by the Holy Spirit -- both of the verbs in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinth 3:18 are in the "passive voice," meaning that "we are the recipients of the action"(God does the transforming work in us as we exercise and grow in our faith).  It is important that the believer be mind-ful of "what he is able to do," and "what he is not able to do" -- we are to simply be "humble servants of the Most High," and as servants we are to simply obey the Master, and He does everything else.  To the degree that we press on toward the goal, and fight the good fight of faith, and cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ... to that degree we will experience the joy of the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The more we deliberately sin, and the less we strive with God, the more chastening we will experience, the darker our world will be, and the greater our pain will be (Ps 32:3-4, 9; Prv 18:14; Rom 5:3-5; Heb 12:4-11; 1 Pet 4:12). The Christian life is a lifelong journey in which we as believers are exhorted to press on to maturity and cooperate with the Holy Spirit... that he might become conformed to the “image of Christ” (Rom 8:28-29; 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18; Phil 2:12-13; 3:13-14; I Jn 3:1-3); and central to this transforming work is the believer’s thought life  (that's our area of responsibility). Our prayer should be that of the psalmist David: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Ps 19:14; 26:2). Remember, without cultivating an intimate relationship with Christ (Phil 3:10; Jam 4:8), and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:6; Col 3:1-2), and fighting the fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12), and growing in grace (2 Pet 3:18), our progress in sanctification will be minimal (Jn 15:4-5; 1 Cor 3:12-15; Gal 6:7-8).  This is our calling! (1 Th 4:3a).


Dr. Caroline Leaf  “Who Switched Off My Brain?”  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub., 2009.
Richard Rohr   “Hope Against Darkness.”  Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001.
Don Colbert  – “Deadly Emotions: Understand the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection....”  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub., 2006.
James P. Porowski “With All My Mind, God’s Design for Mental Wellness.”  Nashville, TN: Life Way Press, 2002.