The other day (and, by “the other day”, I mean a “number of months ago” – my wife tells me that this is not a good use of the phrase, “the other day”), I was talking with a friend at church, and happened to make a bad joke. It was a pun, which is considered by many to be the very lowest form of bad jokes, and my friend – who is a pretty funny guy, himself – told me that he really hated puns.
So, if it were you in this situation, what would you do? I don’t recall my exact words, but I do remember this: I had a strong urge to come up with every pun I could think of on the spot, and to start to tell them to my friend. (For instance, “What did the doctor say to the patient who claimed that he kept dreaming he was a bicycle?”. Answer: “You’re just two-tired.” <groan>) I’m pretty sure that I actually kept them to myself, but I was definitely tempted.
The Bible says some interesting things about the “Law” – the instructions that were given to show us the difference between right and wrong:
When we are tempted by an opportunity to sin, or by learning what sin is, we may find it difficult to think of anything but the pull of that sin on our lives. As my Dad would say, “For the next minute, don’t think about elephants”, just to show how difficult it is to overcome the power of suggestion.
At these key points, we have a choice – both in our thoughts and in our actions. We never have to sin.
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB
If you’ve been in this situation, though, you know that fighting to not dwell on something – especially if it is a strong emotion, like anger, worry, or judgement – can be really difficult.
There’s a simple way to beat my Dad’s challenge, though, and it is also helpful when we are tempted to sin: have something else to think about (or to do), ready and waiting.
When I was a kid, I memorized the numbers that were powers of 2, and could use those to drive out any intruding thought. This was helpful when I later ended up working with computers and their binary code, but in our Christian lives, we probably need stronger stuff.
God provides just the answer in His Word. The Bible is full of all sorts of promises, reminders, instructions, and challenges that we can memorize. That way, they are ready for us to focus on them when evil tries to encroach into our minds.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Psalms 119:11 NASB
I’ve heard that welders working near a car’s gas tank (at least, those that are particularly safety-conscious), won’t just empty the gas tank before making sparks nearby. Instead, they will fill the gas tank with water, so that the fumes don’t ignite.
In the same way, it’s not enough to just try to push out bad thoughts from our mind. We need to fill up on good thoughts, instead. (See also Matthew 12:43-45.)
As you read the Bible, take the time to pick out verses, passages, or promises that catch your attention. Spend the time to memorize a little bit, and go over it throughout your day until it becomes front and center in your thoughts. Then, the next time you are faced with a temptation, you’ll have something positive to replace it with.
Need a head start? Try one of the following Bible passages:
(And, in case you were wondering, the title of this article is the pun that answers the following riddle, “What do you call a knife that cuts four loaves of bread at the same time?” I’m pretty sure that this pun doesn’t bring us any closer to being like Jesus, but maybe it will remind me to fill my mind with something better in the future.)