“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” Martyn Lloyd Jones
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3-4)
Growing in Christ includes putting off sinful behaviors and putting on Christ-like ones, but it begins with battling at the levels of the heart (desires) and mind (thinking). The two are inseparable (Matt. 15:18-19). The heart leads our head down certain ways of thinking, and our wrong thinking reinforces wrong desires.
When I refer to the mind or our thoughts, I’m referring to our ways of thinking and processing that are in accord with God and His Word or against it. It includes our beliefs, objects we set our mind on, our logic or rationale, and our patterns and processes of thinking. Most of our thinking and processing is happening and we might not know it. We don’t realize our thinking is leading us somewhere until we’ve landed at the doorstep of some place we don’t want to be.
Our thoughts are a key part of whether we will trust God and believe His Word or pursue idols and believe Him to be unworthy of our trust. The Bible tells us what we set our minds on will shape our behavior and our desires (Col. 3:1-4; Rom. 8:5-8). It’s not “you are what you eat” but “you are what you think about” (Prov. 23:7). Renewing the mind requires pausing to think about our thinking,evaluating it in light of God’s Word, turning from wrong thinking, and setting our thoughts on God and His truth.
Many Christians approach their thought life like a lazy river at a theme park. We sort of set back, relax, and if we slam into a wall, then we’ll readjust, but otherwise we let the flow take us where it will. Scripture gives us active verbs that tell us that approach won’t work: renew, set your mind, destroy arguments, study, store up, consider, and take your thoughts captive.
So what might this look like? How do we take the war to the field of our minds rather than waiting for an alarm to go off? Here are ten simple ways to renew our minds.
- Read and study Scripture with an openness to God changing your thinking. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into truth, wisdom, and discernment to see unbiblical thinking. Reading and applying God’s Word regularly is the absolute essential place to start. Things like memorization, meditation, journaling, even reading good Christian books and listening to sermons, help us plant God’s Word in our minds. The best way to crowd out unbiblical thinking is by cramming your thought life with biblical thinking. Fill your mind with by daily digging in and delighting in God’s Word (Ps. 1), thinking about the things that are true and good (Phil. 4:8), rehearsing the gospel (Rom. 8), and by setting your mind on Christ (Col. 3:1-4).
- Pray. Paul tells us peace of mind comes from casting our cares on God and entrusting them to him (Phil. 4:6-7). The Word and Prayer are our two biggest weapons in the battle of the mind. Think of them as God’s one-two punch, or his left-right combo by which we fight against anything contrary to God’s Word. We seek God’s help in prayer, we cast our thoughts or cares or fears on God in prayer, we ask for wisdom and truth, we confess our sinful thoughts and thinking in prayer, and we turn our minds from worldly things to God himself by talking to him prayer. And we also then fill our minds with what God has said is true, with God’s words to us, with the truths and promises that replace the lies, and with truth that recalibrates our thinking and beliefs. This can include prayers in the moment, prayers throughout the day, prayers at set times (morning, meals, bedtime), prayers with God’s people, prayers when in the Word, and various kinds of praying (lament, thanks, confession, petition).
- Think about your thoughts. Pause to reflect on and evaluate your mind and heart to see what the thoughts and desires are behind your words and actions. What was I thinking in this moment? What truth or lie was I acting on? Am I thinking in line with what “feels true” or what I know is true? Is the way I’m viewing and relating to God rooted in truth or contrary to it? This point could also include “put your emotions in check.” It’s not that these emotions aren’t valid, true, or significant. It’s just that they aren’t ultimate and they don’t have authority like God’s Word. In our “crazy busy” culture, pausing and reflecting on anything—especially our own thinking and feeling—seems not just hard to fit in but a lost discipline. But, if we have any hopes for fighting fleshly thinking then it requires enough time to think about what we’ve been thinking about.
- Act quickly. When you have a thought contrary to Christ—whether an object, desire, lie, unbelief, or wrong line of thinking—don’t let it linger or run its course but immediately confess it, turn from it, submit it to Christ, and redirect it towards truth and righteousness. Take the thought captive immediately (2 Cor. 10:3-6). Every inch you give to wrong thinking results in it taking a mile that must be won back and fought even harder against. Treat them like pests in your yard. The lies and error we let stay around become brave and will come back unless they’re immediately met with strong resistance. Be quick to confess and repent.
- Game-plan based on an honest knowledge of our weaknesses. Protect or Guard your mind from influences that lead it away from truth or honoring Christ. You have to know your personal level of discernment and personal weaknesses to know what tempts you and what sources promote ungodly thinking. Consider how the enemy would and does attack you, and then plan accordingly by setting higher walls and reinforcing supports where they are prone to attack. Go read 1 Peter 5:8-9 to be reminded that you have a real enemy you must resist.
- Talk to Yourself rather than Listening to Yourself.This echoes prior thoughts, but rather than sitting back in the recliner chair of your mind and letting your misguided thinking talk to you, put wrong thinking in its place and talk to it. You will either let your wrong thinking have the floor and spew all its harmful junk, or you will take the microphone yourself and speak truth into your own soul.
The Psalms do this all the time, but go to Psalm 42 for a perfect example. In the midst of lies from enemies, personal doubts, unbelief about God, and discouraged thinking, he decides to talk to himself rather than listen to himself. He tells himself to hope in God (Ps. 42:5). He reminds himself that this has an end and God will not cause this to last forever (Ps. 42:6). He tells himself who God is and what that means for him. He remembers God, likely by recalling what he knows to be true of God and ways God has been faithful in the past (42:6). He preaches God’s steadfast love to replace his fears or other’s shouts that God is against him or will abandon him (42:8). He tells his soul to hope in God and reminds himself why he has reasons to do so.
- Fight lies with truth and promises. Every day we’re tempted to believes lies: lies about ourselves, about God, about others, the gospel and God’s Word, and lies about the world we live in. So many struggles for believers take place because lies whispered into their ears aren’t immediately pushed aside with truth. Compare how Eve listens to Satan’s temptation (Gen. 3:1-7) to how Jesus fights his temptation by using Scripture and God’s promises (Matt. 4:1-12).
One of the best things we can do when reading God’s Words is to see and grab onto his promises. These promises reveal who God is, what he’s provided and done for us, and so often they will be key truths to fight back against the lies we’re tempted to believe. When you’re reading the Bible and you come across the Bible, stop and mark it and consider where or how you might live on it. Again, know the lies you’re especially tempted to fall prey to and then find truth and promises to fight back. This is another place that preach the gospel to yourself daily matters. Counter our natural tendency of turning to a false gospel based on our works by preaching to yourself the true gospel of free grace in Jesus.
Sometimes it helps to put it on paper. Write down a lie you’re tempted to believe. Then write next it to a corresponding promise or a truth about God.
The Lie The Promise or Truth
No one is tempted like me. This struggle isn’t unique to me (1 Cor. 10:13).
God can’t forgive me. If I confess my sin, God will forgive (1 John 1:9).
God is withholding good. God cares for us and withholds no good (Ps. 84:11).
- Think rightly about your identity in Christ. This is similar to the last point but gets more specific since identity drives behavior. Think about what you’re placing your identity in in this moment or what you’re believing about yourself or how God views you. Remember both who you are in Christ and who God is for you—including all the blessings and provision for your growth—when tempted or in trials. Don’t let wrong thinking in the area of identity lead you astray. If I believe I am defined by a temptation, sin, a desire, habit, or part of my personality rather than believing my fundamental identity is who I am in Christ, then we will usually submit to that defining characteristic rather than Jesus. Again, you might write down lies and truth in these areas.
The Lie The Promise or Truth
I am (insert any sin) and can’t change. I am new in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)
I am ugly, shameful, or unclean. I’m washed & righteous in Jesus (1 Cor. 6:11)
God cannot love me or like me. I’m loved deeply in Christ (Rom. 8:1, 31-39)
- Think in Community. We need other people who can speak grace and truth into our lives and minds. Often, we get stuck in our thoughts or can only see things from one perspective. If we have unbelief, wrong doctrine, are convinced of lies, have a skewed perspective, are stuck in a pattern of thinking, or feel so mentally and spiritually weak that we cannot speak truth to ourselves, we desperately need God’s people to come around us and speak truth and grace to us to help us think.
We’re often blinded by lies or deceived and trapped by them. It’s not that we can’t see or discover the lies that tempt us, but often we struggle with doing so. But, the people around us that we are doing life with are often much better set up to help graciously speak truth about possible lies we are believing. They can help us combat lies with truth. They can speak the gospel and God’s promises over us when the lies cloud our thinking and believing. (More on this soon.)
- Evaluate your thinking by its fruit.This one might be more helpful in areas that feel gray or you’re unsure as to what’s really true/false or right/wrong. Does this lead to holiness, love, obedience, joy, and maturity or does this way of thinking produce effects of selfishness, dishonesty, impurity, guilt, or discouragement? How do my emotions, my relationships, my word, and my actions indicate godly versus ungodly thinking?