Our negative thoughts—thoughts of anger, bitterness, self-deprecation, anxiety or gossip—are some of the hardest things to manage in our Christian lives. Do you agree?
In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” In context, Jesus was talking about the Pharisees’ (Jewish religious leaders) obsession with outward cleanliness and food. He pointed out that no matter what you wear or eat, it’s not what goes in your body that makes you sinful, but what comes out of your body (your mouth!) that reveals your heart.
And what comes out of our mouths starts in our minds.
Those negative thoughts that we think are oh-so private? They’re not. They manifest in our friendships, our family relationships, our attitude and our comments to others. We can’t hide them. The patterns we embrace mentally become patterns of behavior externally.
This should give us pause. Are we thinking rightly? Are we in a habit of negative thinking that is causing strain in our relationships? I have to ask myself this throughout the year. I’m a “rehearser.” I’ll plan out whole conversations in my head or rehash old arguments with a better response time. All this does is plant seeds of bitterness, resentment and dissension in my heart. But in the moment, those thoughts feel good.
So what can we do to break the habit of negative thinking?
Replacing the Negative
Negative thoughts feel good in the moment, but they’re not holy. And as Christians, we have received Jesus’ righteousness, which covers our sin—and this calls us to a higher standard! We need to live up to the holiness imputed to us. This is called walking out our salvation. Living our salvation day by day doesn’t start by reforming our outward behaviors; it starts in our minds.
You’ve heard this verse a billion times, but I’m going to share it again: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
Really meditate on what is being said here. If you want to know God’s will, you must renew your mind. Renewing our mind requires replacing worldly, fleshly thoughts with thoughts from the mind of Christ. Paul describes these in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
These are the kinds of thoughts we are to embrace. These thoughts renew our minds, which opens our eyes to the will of God! When we are blinded by resentment, anger, bitterness or anxiety, we cannot see God’s will clearly—which means we cannot act on it willingly. Renewing our minds through God’s Word and Spirit replaces the negative thoughts with God’s truth.
Not Just Positive Thinking
“Think positive” is a nice line, but biblically, it’s not that simple. Sure, you can make yourself think about a positive thought every time a negative one comes along, but you’ll be playing a mental game of Whac-A-Mole for the rest of your life. If you want to make progress with negative thought patterns:
- Acknowledge that negative patterns exist. Don’t write them off as a non-issue because “everyone deals with this.” You are holy in Christ; be holy as He is holy.
- Renew your mind! Get into the Word daily so you know who God is and how He interacts with you.
- Ask for wisdom and peace in your thoughts.
- Don’t stop praying over your thought patterns and emotions. Persevering in prayer is so important.
- Meditate on God’s truth at every opportunity.
How do you manage your negative thoughts? Share in the comments below.