While I am not an expert, I do like to go fishing (often with someone with more skills than me…and a decent boat). Generally, when a big fish takes the hook, and someone manages to reel it in, the fish doesn’t give up very easily. It twists and turns, thrashing its entire body back and forth, trying to get back into the water. With the right tools and techniques, a fish like this can be handled until the hook is removed and the catch is put into the cooler. On the other hand, if it gets loose because its slippery scales (or skin, if it’s a catfish) allow it to evade handling, it will typically flop around on the floor of the boat – unless it actually manages to throw itself out of the water, free to swim on for another day. This is an even bigger challenge for species of fish with spiky fins, or catfish with stingers, since they can injure the occupants of the boat.
Something our preaching minister said in a sermon made me think of this scenario, but not when catching fish (although there’s probably an object lesson here about being “fishers of men”). Rather, when we are fighting to do the right thing – of setting our mind on what we should, as the verse below reminds us – wrong thoughts will fight to take over.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Philippians 4:8 NLT
In contrast to what this verse instructs us to dwell on, bad thoughts (whether negative, evil, self-seeking, or otherwise inappropriate for a follower of Jesus) don’t just swim idly by, or sit there and let us take control of them. Instead, they fight and thrash their way through our minds, trying to force their way into our focus.
Sometimes, it’s a lot of work to take thoughts captive. Bad thoughts – whether harmful to us, or to others – keep pushing their way back into our consciousness. Whether it is resentment against another person, unrighteous anger, attention to the wrong thing, or any number of other intruders to my thought life, I sometimes struggle with keeping my mind focused on good things. There are drives home from work when I have to keep pushing aside the negative, and continually bringing something better into the “spotlight” of my mind.
So, what do we do?
- For one thing, we can fill up our mind with good thoughts. The more that we are armed with truth and positive reminders, the better able we are to replace evil thoughts with something better.
- Also, we can ask for help.
- See Romans 8:5-6, Galatians 5:16-17.
- The race of life is not a solo effort. We have coaches, in the form of those who have struggled with similar thoughts, and successfully battled back against them. We have a captain, in the form of Jesus who overcame evil, even though He was offered plenty of opportunities to fill His mind with junk (just like we experience).
- Ask God for help in fighting this battle. I don’t believe that He is looking for a chance to catch you on a technicality, secretly hoping that you will fail. Instead, He designed you to live a life for Him.
- Ask for prayers from those that you trust, and – if you are really serious about conquering intrusive thoughts – ask one or two close friends to hold you accountable. “Accountability” may sound like an intimidating concept; however, like accountants have auditors to make sure that the books are correct, a good friend who will check up on you regularly (ensuring that you are keeping on the right path) is worth more than many self-help techniques.
- In addition, we can remember that there’s a way out of each temptation.
- See 1 Corinthians 10:13.
- When our mind is pulled towards inappropriate topics, and continuing to dwell on them would be sinful, look for the “escape hatch”. Your path to freedom may look different than mine, but one option that often works for me is to distract my wandering mind with something better.
- Having said this, we should remember that being tempted is not a sin in itself. Don’t feel guilty when you are under attack by forces – both within and without – that try to steer you towards sin. Being enticed is not sinful; sin is allowing ourselves to be baited into the trap of wrong actions (which may include allowing our hearts to go off in the wrong direction). Be wise in avoiding temptation when you can, but don’t let this fallen world and humankind’s sinful nature tell you that you are loved by God any less when you are tempted and successfully resist.
Resist evil thoughts, and battle back. In the end, even if they fight like a northern pike or try to sting you like a spunky catfish, you – with a little help from the Master Fisherman – can show them Who is in charge of your mind.