Taking Every Thought Captive

I confess I wrestle the most with sin in my thought life.  It is the root of my feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, discontentment, critical nature, lack of confidence, pride, worry, fear, callousness, etc. Simply knowing that we are to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) is a huge step in the right direction.  Beth Moore addresses the importance of our thought lives in her Bible study Breaking Free and in many of her other writings (such as So Long Insecurity). In a nutshell, she says to recognize the lies we tell ourselves, take them captive by switching them to what God thinks about those thoughts, and replace the lies with the truth. When we wallpaper our minds with God’s Word, we more easily recognize the lies and can replace them with truth.

Transformation in my thought life still seems to have a long way to go. However, I just read a book that inspired me to keep pushing forward in this battle of the mind.  I do not necessarily agree with all of Joyce Meyer’s theology, but she gives some extremely practical advice on how to live out our faith.  In her book Power Thoughts: 12 Strategies to Win the Battle of the Mind, I discovered some new ways to apply the ability to take thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ.

First, she reminds us that we are not to allow our minds to go just wherever they please.  Rather, when they go a direction they should not go, we should develop a habit of meditating on God’s Word and Truths. I may not be able to change all my thinking at one time, but working on one specific area, like fear, will further me on the road to victory.  My top 5 favorite “power thoughts” that I want to speak to myself repeatedly are:

·    I will not live in fear” – When my children hop in the car to take a trip without me, instead of visualizing every accident that could happen, I will try to mediate on faith and trust in God.
·    “I am difficult to offend and quick to forgive” – When someone ignores something I said, instead of feeling offended, I will presume their mind is somewhere else or they didn’t understand. I will refuse to criticize or think bad thoughts about others and instead choose to have mercy, just as I would hope they would have toward me.
·    “I am content and emotionally stable” – When I feel like life is heavy and I want to crumble into tears, I remember that God has made me a woman of strength and that He is my refuges and will hold me up.
·    “I am disciplined and self-controlled” – When I pass by the office candy jar, I don’t have to grab a handful of chocolates. Instead of thinking that I need them, I will choose to think of myself as being disciplined and self-controlled.
·    “I can do whatever I need to do in life through Christ” – When I have to accomplish a task that seems overwhelming, just reminding myself that it is a task that Jesus wants me to accomplish and will give me what I need to do it propels me.
Because our thoughts impact every aspect of our lives, we are to take responsibility for them as Jesus works simultaneously in our hearts to transform us.  Reminding myself that I am a woman of faith weakens fear and adds courage, boldness, confidence, peace, and energy.

Most of all, Jesus Christ must be the center of our thinking and our identity. He will honor our efforts to renew our thinking by transforming us into becoming more like Him.

How to Read Books Meaningfully

At the end of 1998, I patted myself on the back as I reviewed my list of books that I had finished reading for the year.  Though not always thrilled by my voracious reading habit, my husband was also impressed with my accomplishment.  Being the good husband that he is by pointing out my achievements to others, he bragged to my brother-in-law, Dan, after dinner one evening when we were visiting.  Dan considered it for a moment and then asked me what I remembered from reading all those books.  I didn’t have much to say!  He said he read one book that year, and then he explained how it had transformed his life and faith.

Shortly after, I came across a quote by Charles Spurgeon, pastor and theologian: “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by 20 books which he has merely skimmed lapping at them.”  Upon further reflection, I realized that my reading was not only largely superficial and unmemorable, but it had consumed much time, hindering me from reflecting on my own. 

With one flippant comment and one insightful quote, the way I approached reading was transformed.  I am still an avid book reader, but now when I choose a book to read, I focus on quality rather than quantity.  My reading is less superficial and more meditative. How do I practice this? First, I begin by periodically praying that God will guide me to the books that I should read. 

Next, when selecting a book, I consider if it will potentially achieve at least one or two of the following:
1.      Explain the Bible in ways that I may not come to very easily on my own.
2.      Allow me to live vicariously through the experiences of others and to increase my perception of the world. 
3.      Enhance my relationships and growth in loving others.
4.      Find deeper meaning in my current season of life.
5.      Refresh my soul and increase my delight in my Lord Jesus Christ.
6.      Increase my understanding of life and provide a glimpse through God’s perspective.

Finally, while reading the book, my method to meaningful reading includes the following steps:
1.     Determine if this is a book that can be quickly digested or one that requires slow rumination, and read accordingly.
2.     Earmark a page that holds words to be remembered. (Even in fictional books, characters may say something that I want to cherish).
3.     Return to the earmarked pages when the book is finished to find the words and determine if it still has impact.
4.     Write the words or idea in a notebook.
5.     Read and reflect on the words in the notebook periodically.

This approach enables me to ponder the messages conveyed in a book and apply them to my life.  If I can find a few words in a book that I want to remember or one idea that could change my thinking or actions, then the book was well worth reading, and perhaps even life-transforming. 

Being Versus Doing

My eyes are on Jesus, but where are my feet going?  Lately I have been ruled by my emotions and circumstances.  My eyes have tried to focus on Jesus, but my feet keep tripping over my emotions.  To get my feet under control, I must determine in advance what it is He wants me to do and just do it, regardless of how I feel at the moment. 

It is natural for me to start a “to-do” list which will easily be swept aside, forgotten, or induce guilt at my failure to accomplish.  But what if I had a “to be” list instead?  First I could consider what Jesus wants me to be.  Considering the things I do or want to do (or don’t want to do but should do) in line with who I want to be may help me to become more focused and less controlled by emotions or circumstance.

·        I want to be a woman of strength, love, confidence, humility, peace, courage, gratitude, beauty…the list could go on and on, but maybe I can be more specific:
·        I want to be a wife that encourages, supports, and loves my husband, enjoying his presence and bringing him joy.
·        I want to be a mom with the character of Jesus, who guides her children in a way that leads them to desire Jesus as the center of their lives and live passionately for Him.
·        I want to be a woman of prayer, to see the power of the Spirit at work in my family, my life, and the world around me.
·        I want to be a woman of the Bible, who loves to study and obey God’s Words in every area of its teaching and to grow deeper in my faith.
·        I want to be a woman whose heart is prone to praise and thankfulness to God so that I can keep my perspective on God’s power, might, and love, submitting to His beautiful authority in all areas of my life.
·        I want to be a woman of love, that the fullness of Christ may overflow in my daily actions and relationships.
·        I want to be what Jesus wants me to be and to engage in every opportunity for relationships where I can display my faith and show His greatness.

How do I do these things on a practical level?  I think it is a series of choices made at the daily level—choices in what to do and what not to do.  I choose to start my day in the Bible and with prayer and praise instead of hitting the snooze button in the mornings.  I choose to think before I speak when I feel short on patience instead of lashing out.  I choose to seek out my children or my husband to chat with or I choose to have a quiet time or exercise instead of sitting in front of the TV with a remote.  But what if my brain feels like fuzz or my body feels like a sack of potatoes? I choose to read or exercise anyway, and if it doesn’t work after attempting it, then I will exercise or read – choices that consider my body without being ruled by it.

Transformation - My Responsibility or God's?

Approaching menopause, I find that becoming more like Jesus is sometimes harder to accomplish as hormonal fluctuations make me wonder if I’m turning into a crazy woman!  Maybe I need a more methodological approach.  In order to be transformed to be more like Jesus, is there a schedule or program I can follow?  A list of things to read or do to speed up the process? Maybe if I read my Bible through this year and study a couple books in depth, spend 20 minutes in prayer on my knees daily instead of ‘shotgun’ prayers while I’m in a rush, memorize one new scripture verse every week, be in church 2-3 times a week, never miss the women’s Bible study, serve more in ministries at the church or in my community, maybe then will I be transformed faster? 
Checking off a list hasn’t accomplished what I hoped.  It either instills guilt in me for not accomplishing enough, or grows pride in me for what I accomplish. Something is missing from the list – the heart of the goal – a deepening of my relationship with Jesus.   
Just as we cannot accomplish justification ourselves, neither can we accomplish sanctification ourselves.  In my previous post, I explained that justification and sanctification are bound together in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  They were both a single definitive act (1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:11; Acts 20:32, 26:18). Just as justification is by faith, so is sanctification.  We are united with Christ by faith, and by faith we accept that sin no longer masters us.  By faith we receive the Holy Spirit’s power that enables us to live for God and overcome the pull of sin.  The Spirit does the sanctifying work to make us more like His Son (I Peter 1:2, Romans 15:16).
Sanctification is also a lifelong process (Romans 8:13).  Regeneration is the beginning point for progressive sanctification, and sanctification is not a static state but a dynamic state through which the struggle with sin continues.  Though we have entered definitively into new life with Christ and are dead to sin (Colossians 3:1,3), we are commanded to put sin to death (Colossians 3:5). 
In Scripture, we find the Greek forms of the verb “sanctify” in both the indicative mood (meaning a statement of fact or reality) and the imperative mood (meaning a command to actualize the reality).  There is a tension between God’s sovereign work of holiness in us and our responsibility to practice obedience.  As a result of our new condition, we are responsible to seek to become more like Christ by following the pattern he set for us.   But God inwardly transforms us as we yield our hearts, minds, and wills to the Holy Sirit and is thus a divine gift, not human effort on its own.  As we wait for the indicatives to become a complete reality, we follow the imperatives to make the new dominion manifest in our will and actions as far as possible until its consummation.  God enables us to desire to work out the imperatives.
It’s all about the relationship rather than my list.  Maybe this year I will read the Bible through multiple times, but it won’t be because I have to check off a list.  It will be because I desire to know God and His ways more.  Maybe I will pray more often on my knees, but it will be so that I can hear God’s voice and get His perspective on the world around me, not just because it seems like something a spiritual person should do.  Maybe I will memorize 10 or 60 verses this year, but it will be because I want to meditate on them and impress them on my heart.  Maybe I will serve in a church ministry and in my community again, but it will be because I feel called and compelled by the Spirit from the overflow of the Father’s love in my heart.  It will be because I want to make Him look great in my life, rather than because I feel obligated or expected or fear not having a purpose. 
Still, I desire to ensure that all these activities that were on my list are a part of my life because it is in these things that I receive God’s instruction through relationship with Him.  First, though, I must rid myself of the accomplishment perspective and replace it with the intended purpose.  He designed these things to be a part of my development and growth.  Therefore, I will discipline myself to do them even when I don’t “feel” like it because I want to walk every step of this life closer to Him, and in doing so, He will change me! 

Transformation – Instantaneous or Gradual?

At certain times of my monthly cycle, which is becoming more and more difficult to predict the older I get, I find I can relate all too well to Paul’s cry in Romans 7, “I do not understand what I do, for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I’m quick to blame hormones when my fuse is suddenly short, rude words fly out of my mouth, or I’m hit with feelings of insecurity. Why do I still struggle so hard against sin if I’m supposed to be a new creation and sin is no longer supposed to master me? Why is it so easy for my flesh (hormones) to take over control?
In those times, I find myself grateful that my actions have nothing to do with my standing before God, theologically termed “justification”.  Justification is a courtroom term explaining God’s legal act of placing us into a right relationship with Him instead of condemning us. Our status before God changes when we confess that we are sinners and need the forgiveness and salvation offered through believing that Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sins on the cross. 
My own standing before God is not something I earn; it comes by God’s grace. No amount of work can earn right standing before God (Ephesians 2:8-9). But the other good news is that there is also no amount of my moodiness or lashing out that takes my status away! Even further, He doesn’t see me merely in neutral standing when he forgives me – He sees Jesus in me and views me as righteous (Romans 3:22-24)! It is His work alone, and my only part is to believe it and receive it. 
Before we are justified, God is already up to something – He begins the work of regenerating us so that we are able to choose to have faith in Him.  In regeneration, God instantaneously acts by working in us that gives us, giving us the ability to respond to Christ’s work on the cross by faith.  Our salvation is the result -- He gives us new spiritual life, a new heart with His Spirit in us (Ezekiel 36:26).   
If we have been regenerated (given new hearts) and justified (forgiven and viewed as righteous in God’s eyes), we are also immediately sanctified.  To me, the theological term “sanctification” is a fancy term for transformation, but it literally means to be “set apart”, or made holy.   Sanctification is instant in that we are no longer under the rule of sin and have the power to overcome temptation (I Corinthians 1:2, 6:11; Acts 26:18).  So shouldn’t transformation be immediate and obvious?
Sanctification is also progressive.  Regeneration is the beginning point for sanctification, so sanctification is not only a static state but also a dynamic state through which we are gradually changed as the struggle with sin in this world continues.  While we have been given the Spirit’s working power in us to make us truly alive, it takes time for it to become evident in our character and will.  Sanctification increases throughout life as we live in relationship with Jesus and seek after Him.  By faith we receive the Holy Spirit’s power that enables us to live for God and overcome the pull of sin. 
I may be stuck in this body with all its flaws and chemical/hormonal variations, but God is using it as part of my transformation process.  It’s like a monthly drill to see if His Word has penetrated into my heart as reflected in my actions when under pressure.  It is training grounds for strengthening my faith and reminding me to depend on Him.  While I will never be perfect in this life spiritually or physically, I have a hope that someday I will have a resurrected body free from both spiritual and physical struggle!