Title: Think and Thrive
April 5, 2009
The title of this sermon is Think and Thrive. If our minds are a battlefield, then the war that begins in our minds has to be won, or it will be virtuously impossible to live out a thriving faith in Christ.
I want to begin by talking about 2 books that I heard about on the radio. The first book is entitled, The Luck Factor, and it was written by Dr. Richard Wiseman, psychology chair at the University of Herfordshire in England, who had researched the topic of luck for 10 years. His research revealed that to a large extent people can make their own good and bad fortune by their outlook on life.
As part of his research, the professor staged an experiment – he set up a cafe with a millionaire businessman played by an actor and placed some money in the front area of the café. As part of the experiment, he later interviewed 2 people who went into that cafe.
One guy walked in, he saw the money and struck up a conversation with the businessman played by the actor. They hit it off well and they talked about doing some kind of business venture together. Another guy walked into the same cafe, he didn’t see the money. He talked to the same businessman. They exchanged a few pleasantries and that was all.
The professor later interviewed these 2 men and the first guy was beaming and he said, you wouldn’t believe the lucky day I had. I walked into a cafe, I saw money on the floor and then I bumped into this rich tycoon and we started talking about potential business deals. The professor interviewed the next guy and he said, yeah it was your typical day. Not much happened.
The exact same scenario, but 2 very different responses.
The second book is entitled “The Survivor’s Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life” which was written by Ben Sherwood, who is a NY Times best selling author and regular columnist for the LA Times. The author discusses the military and how they teach their soldiers a survival mentality.
Many people die during a moment of crisis because they are ill-prepared mentally to react in a common sensical way. Instead, they panic and cannot think clearly and because of this mental paralysis, they miss their opportunity to reach safety. Like when you are in a burning airplane, you have 90 seconds to get out but people panic and they end up dying.
The most compelling account in that book about a F-15 fighter pilot who experienced mechanical failure and had to eject from the jet while it was going Mach 1. Mach 1 is the speed of sound, nearly 800 m/hr. And he is the only one to survive ejecting at that speed. The moment he ejected, all of his bones and joints were instantly crushed. Right before passing out, the pilot envisioned some military personnel driving up to his home and telling his pregnant wife that he was dead. And when he came to consciousness, with only one functioning arm, while in freezing cold water, this pilot managed to deploy a lifeboat and drag himself into the boat and survive.
What do these 2 stories reveal: First, from The Luck Factor, the professor observed that our outlook on life, such as those who believe they are lucky, is a product of our mental attitude. People with a lucky mentality perceive life with a wider lens – a life full of possibilities. Second, from The Survival’s Club, we learn from the military’s training of its soldiers that the attitude of our minds can be trained.
To me, these 2 observations fit in nicely with the importance that the Bible places on the renewing of our minds. I’ve been studying this topic for the past few weeks and it is amazing how many verses speak about this topic.
And it is my humble opinion that because we have lost the battle of the mind, we have lost the battle of Christian life, period.
We’ve all heard our fair share of messages and sermons. Many of us here are familiar with most of the Biblical stories. We’ve all prayed, at least more than your average churchgoer. Many of us have invested our time in various spiritual disciplines and discipleship programs. We have tried, whenever we could, to be available to love and serve those who were in need. Yet, at least for me, I feel a disconnect.
Given the amount of effort and energy that I have invested in the Christian life, I feel that I should be farther along. I should be far more prayerful and loving and humble. I should not be struggling with the same sins and wasting my life on meaningless things. I should be different. I should be changed.
Do others feel this way? Most things, you invest energy and you see a result. Yet when it comes to Christian life, where are the results? Where are the fruits of the Spirit? Where are the miracles? Why isn’t my relationship with Jesus more intimate? These are my struggles.
My best days are Sundays. I lay everything else side. I prioritize the Lord. I come to church with an expectant heart. So by far, Sundays are my best days with the Lord. Monday mornings, not so good. And the rest of the week, there are some high points, some low points, and many that are just plain neutral — not great, not bad, many days just pass by.
So how can we connect the dots? How can we connect our Sundays and our high moments in the Lord with the rest of the days of the week. How do we experience a change that lasts and that is sustainable? Change that lasts more than a day, or a week or a month. I believe the key is to renew our minds and I want to spend the rest of this sermon unpacking what I believe this actually entails.
The main text will be Ephesians 4, but I’ll be jumping around to quite a few passages today so feel free to just record the references so that you can review them later.
In Isaiah 55:8-9, it reads – 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This verse speaks of the holiness of God. In some sense, His thoughts and His ways are completely foreign to us. He is wholly Other, totally unlike man. Our thoughts and our ways are way down here and God’s thoughts and His ways are utterly out of this world and it seems impossible to bridge that gap.
Yet in 1 Cor 2, there seems to be a way to connect the dots and close the gap between God’s thoughts and ways with our thoughts and ways. 1 Cor 2:11 reads “11For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the THOUGHTS of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
Now it gets interesting. Only the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God but that same Spirit is in each of us SO THAT we can UNDERSTAND what God has already given to us. To think – we can actually know the thoughts of God, not on our own, but with assistance from the Spirit. And now for the greatest news, jumping to verse 15 we read,
“15The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: 16″For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?”[d] But we have the MIND of Christ.”
It doesn’t say we are going to have or maybe if we’re extra spiritual we’ll have. It says we have the mind of Christ.
What an amazing statement – we can actually have the mind of Christ. This means that WWJD – what would Jesus do – is not just a catchy acronymn. Having the mind of Christ means we can know what Jesus would do in our lives because we have his mind. We know his thoughts and by learning his thought patterns and seeing how he lived his life, we can actually be Jesus’ hands and feet for our generation. Meaning, if Jesus were living in the year 2009, and he faced what we are facing, our lives as Christians should be representative of the kind of life Jesus would live if he were in our shoes.
With some work and the Spirit’s help, we CAN close the gap and eventually our minds can be reshaped and remolded into the mind of Christ. What a radical thought!
If we had the mind of Christ, I can assure you that our best days in the Lord would not just be Sundays. Every day could be our best day. Our lives can have continuity. We will be able to connect the dots and bring a sense of integrity and wholeness to our spiritual lives. Put another way, how do we live victorious Christian lives, higher dimensional Christian lives?
I don’t have all the answers, but this has been my main question to God. How can I be victorious in the Lord?
A big part is yielding to God and allowing the Spirit to do his work. But I do believe we still need to do our part. How do we close the gap between God’s thoughts and our thoughts? How do we begin to entertain the possibility of having the mind of Christ?
JP Moreland said that we are at the mercy of our ideas. I’d like to put a qualification on that statement. Some ideas are not personally impacting. I believe that good health is important — I have believed that I need to lose 20 lbs for the past 9 years but that idea has yet to impact me practically.
While we are not at the mercy of ALL our ideas, there are certain ideas that have become persistent, recurring thought patterns and I believe we are at the mercy of those ideas. In other words, our default mentality is shaped by our recurring thoughts and it is this mentality that we are at the mercy of because it colors the way we view life. And if this default mentality is not renewed, it will be very difficult to be a victorious Christian.
To be victorious in the Lord, we need to renew our minds.
Rom 12:2 – “2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the RENEWING of your MIND.”
It is interesting that in order NOT to conform to the pattern of this world, pattern being in the way we conduct ourselves, the first step is to renew our minds.
Thoughts are important and I think we often underestimate the power of our thought life in influencing the kind of life we live and the kind of person we end up becoming. We all have certain thought patterns that color the way we view life. And we bring many of these thought patterns into our Christian lives.
And whether we like it or not, we all have some default thought patterns and many of these thought patterns prevent us from reaching our full spiritual potential or limit what God wants to do in and through our lives.
Thought #1: For example, I am not good enough is one common mentality. I am not smart enough. I am not talented enough. You can fill in the blank. Let’s explore for a moment how this mentality affects our walk with the Lord. To become Christian is to finally realize, I don’t have to be part of this rat race. I don’t have to prove my worth. But as sinners, those old thought patterns return.
And if you don’t challenge those thoughts, that mentality of I am not good enough colors our relationship with God. And God becomes someone we are either ashamed to approach because we are failures or someone we work really hard to try to please.
Thought #2:Another common mentality is people who view life as a glass that is half empty. No matter how many blessings this person receives, he or she manages to see only the negatives. What happens when you bring this into your life with God? God is the cause of your sense of unfulfillment. My life is not what it ought to be because God is not blessing me enough.
Thought #3: Then there is the victim complex. This person is stuck in the past. Something happened – someone wronged me. These kinds of people, you can do 100 loving things for them and they will remember the one slip up. Nothing you do is ever enough. Someone wasn’t there for me and you put up walls of distrust and God is a person who abandoned you when you needed him most. And though these people seem weak, they are incredibly strong and end up shaking their fists at God and complaining, where were you, how did you allow that horrible thing to happen?
These are some thoughts patterns that recur. If not one of these, there are plenty of others. And each day, something happens that triggers the mental play button to be pressed and a particular thought pattern is allowed to cycle through our brains over and over again until they form grooves. And whatever happens in life, even small things like a comment from a coworker, or an extra long commute, we hit the play button in our minds and allow that old record to move along those well-traveled mental grooves.
That is why it is extremely important that we proactively seek to renew our minds and form new grooves. With help from the Holy Spirit, our minds can be molded and shaped into the mind of Christ.
How do we form these new grooves and renew our minds?
First, to renew our minds, we need to practice solitude.
I have some stats to show why I believe we are losing the battle of our minds.
Some studies show that an average person has 1,000 thoughts an hour. Our brains are overloaded. If that were not enough, technology has vastly limited the possibility for a reflective pause or quiet moment.
Did you know that the average American spends more time using media devices —television, radio, iPods and cell phones — than any other activity while awake, according to a new study from Ball State University?
That’s nine hours a day using some media device. Can you believe it?
Technology has invaded every corner of our lives.
1967 – Amana, a division of Raytheon, introduced its domestic Radarange microwave oven, marking the beginning of the use of microwave ovens in home kitchens. Cooking could be done in a few minutes. Technology was becoming readily available to the mass public.
Back in 1967, America had more high schools than shopping centers. Today, we have twice as many shopping centers as we do high schools.
In 1967, the telephone was a push button. Today, we have the iPhone.
In 1967, the internet didn’t exist except in the imagination of some government scientists. Today – If I can’t connect to the internet, people feel like they are going to die.
This technological boom has led to an explosion of products, services and advertising.
Product clutter. The average supermarket has 40,000+ Items to choose from.
There were 40 Billion Product Catalogs Published in 2009.
Today, there are more financial transactions in a single ½ day as there were in all of 1965.
Advertising clutter. The # of messages an average persion sees in a day is 3000.
And the average person can only process about 100 messages in a day. That means the rest of the 2,900 is just noise.
66% of Americans literally feel bombarded by advertisements/media and who can blame them? There are over 12,000 magazine titles, 25,000 internet stations, and hundreds of TV stations.
Not to mention hulu, facebook, twitter, myspace, Gtalk, skype to name a few.
For the first time in history, advertisers and marketing agencies are finding that the barriers to competition are not actual competitors but rather the mental walls that people put up to avoid clutter.
Is it no wonder that the message of God is having a hard time penetrating the minds and hearts of people? The message of God has to compete with the dazzling lights of Hollywood, the limitless choices on the internet and the persistent barrage of advertisers. And because of all this, to defend ourselves, researchers have found that we have erected mental walls to carve out some sliver sanity against the bombardment and barrage of all these choices and media messages.
In light of this, Psalm 46:10 rings especially loud and clear – “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Stillness is a lost art. We don’t change because we rarely turn off all the media devices and unplug ourselves from our technological world. Don’t get me wrong — I love technology. Without it, I might be out of a job. But although technology is supposed to simplify life and make things more convenient, have you noticed that with each passing year, with all the increases in technology, life seems to get more complicated.
1996 – I got my first pager and I think that was the beginning of the end.
Recently I got a blackberry because I am in IT and I need to monitor my company’s servers. But now I know why they call it crackberry. Having email at your fingertips seems like such a time saver, but it ends up taking up far more time because I check my email way too often.
Because of my commute, I spend 1.5 to 2 hours a day on the road and I used to spend a majority of the time listening to music or sermons. But I am realizing that God has given me this time to be still before him. God knows that I am so restless that on my own, I would not seek out solitude. So in some ways, this commute is the best chance I have to be still. And just taking a few minutes a day to be still and to analyze my default thought patterns has been a really helpful first step in renewing my mind.
I encourage you to find some time to be still before God.
Being still is a discipline. It does not come naturally for many of us. I try to pray sometimes and as soon as I close my eyes, all these thoughts come rushing in. Esp our old thought patterns.
It is so unnatural for our minds to know what to do with stillness. Our minds are so overstimulated throughout the day that even when we do have a quiet moment, it takes a while for our minds to wind down. Our minds have been conditioned to crave distraction.
Finding stillness or solitude is just the beginning. Now we need to train our mind along new grooves.
So how do we do it?
That brings me to my second point.
To renew our minds, we need to not only carve out stillness, but in that stillness, we need to rehearse the promises of God.
Please turn with me to Ephesians 4:17 – 5:2.
Eph 4:17-24 – ” 17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the FUTILITY of their THINKING. 18They are DARKENED in their UNDERSTANDING and separated from the life of God because of the IGNORANCE that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having LOST all SENSITIVITY, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. 20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were TAUGHT in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to PUT OFF your old self, which is being corrupted by its DECEITFUL DESIRES; 23to be made new in the ATTITUDE of your MINDS; 24and to PUT ON the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Upon reading Ephesians this time around, I realized that this book is all about renewing of our minds.
The Ephesian church is a place where 2 distinct thought traditions clashed. You had the veteran Jewish Christians who had grown up in the church so to speak. And this Paul guy is going around sharing this new revelation — the mystery that has been kept hidden throughout the ages is this — the gospel that you thought was reserved for the Jews only is for both the Jews AND the Gentiles.
And so Paul is urging the Jewish Christians who are supposed to be more mature in the Lord to embrace their new Gentile brothers and sisters.
And knowing that this is going to be hard for his fellow Jews, Paul stresses over and over again that there needs to be unity of the Spirit. Eph 4:3-6 – 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Jewish people and the Gentiles growing up in totally different mindsets are called to be united under one God. For the Jewish believers, this would require a major mental shift.
But Paul lays out a challenge of equal difficulty for the new Gentile converts.
In chapter 4, in an interesting play on words, he says to both the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do. Of course, this wording would have caused the ears of the Gentile listeners to perk up a bit more. It is quite obvious Paul’s intention — and the new Gentile believers especially would have felt the sting of Paul’s words.
Paul is reminding them that there is a fundamental distinction that separates these Gentile believers from their non-believing Gentile friends and families. For the Gentile believer, there has been a renewal of the mind from futile thinking (v. 17) to productive or right thinking.
It is a renewal from darkened understanding (v. 18) to enlightened understanding. It is a shift from ignorance (v. 18) to having the eyes and ears to perceive spiritual things. And Paul’s challenge to them is quite clear — you Gentile believers, do not fall back into your old pattern of thinking.
And this hits close to home. Even though we are saved by the blood of Jesus, because we didn’t guard our minds, we end up returning to our old ways of thinking about life, about relationships, about our life, our purpose, the way WE think things should turn out in our lives.
So how does this shift from futile, darkened, ignorant thinking to proper, productive, enlightened thinking occur? Verse 21 – you were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. So teaching and having the right knowledge is the first step. The truth of God needs to be taught.
But v 22 clarifies what the outcome of this teaching is. It is not just knowledge acquisition. We are not learning about God. If that were the case, only the scholars and professors would enter heaven. No, this teaching leads to something utterly different and rather unexpected — a putting off of your old self.
What does this mean? What is this old self? Well, from the latter half of v 22 we read that the old self is the part that is corrupted by deceitful desires.
And then v 23 gives us an interesting insight. The old self has a lot to do with, what? The ATTITUDE OF YOUR MINDS. The attitude, the disposition, the default outlook and mentality. This is a large component of our old selves.
And to hammer this point in, Paul goes on to say in v. 24 that we need to put on the new self. And there is not a whole lot of detail mentioned except that this new self is something created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. But we can infer that the new self is the exact opposite of the old self. This means the new self has a new attitude of mind.
And the rest of the verse from 25 to 5:2 speak about the ethical implications in community life among people who are either putting off the old self and putting on the new self or who are still stuck in their old darkened thoughts.
But it may still be unclear what putting on this new self or this new attitude of mind entails practically.
At this point, there are a number of things you could say such as remembering our past and what God did for us, remembering our testimony and so forth.
But I’d like to mention one thing that is not often talked about, and that is, rehearsing the promises of God.
Mental rehearsal is not something new. It is done all the time in the world.
In sports, the elite athletes picture success. They picture the bball going through the net when the game is on the line. Or pitchers prior to throwing the ball envision throwing that perfect pitch and striking out Ichiro. Koreans are not that good at picturing mental success because Koreans, myself included, crumble under pressure. Tiger Woods and athletes of his caliber in their respective sports are physically not much different from many others. Yet these top athletes have a distinct mental edge.
The Bible is full of God’s promises. When you think of rehearsal of God’s promises, what comes to mind? You may think as I have thought prior to this study that a promise is something that God says will come to pass some day in the future, but there is little impact on my life today. And if a promise is something completely future oriented, then there is little point to rehearsing the promises of God today.
That’s how our brain works. Whatever seems impossible or too far off, we just put it into a future, “does not apply to me” category. That verse must be a promise. And we gloss over it.
But God promises that TODAY is the day of your salvation. Today you can have an abundant life of fruit bearing, life to the full, life of joy, peace, patience, a life of victory over sin, higher dimensional living. And instead of saying Yes, Lord, I agree, we think, well, I am not experiencing those things right now so they must be a “promise,” something in the future that I do not have to pay much attention to right now.
And our minds settle for a mediocre Christian life. We settle for a shell of a life when God promises so much more, not just in a future sense, but right now.
But when we lack faith, and our minds tell us, No, that kind of victorious Christian life does not apply in my case, then it’s all downhill from there. We won’t expect God to work that way and we will stop seeking God for anything more than a little forgiveness here and there. And the most tragic thing happens – Christian life becomes boring.
Peter says it this way in 2 Peter 1:3-8 – 3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through the PROMISES, we participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. The goal is not simply to feel good about ourselves. The goal is not self-improvement. I am not talking about a prosperity, name it and claim it gospel. A better, shinier, richer you is not the goal.
The goal is this — we rehearse the promises because through God’s very great and precious promises, the result is in v. 8 – so that we are kept from being INEFFECTIVE and UNPRODUCTIVE in our KNOWLEDGE of the Lord. The goal of this rehearsal of God’s promises is to be better at knowing God.
Peter says in verse 3 that EVERYTHING we need for life and godliness has been given to us in Christ. In other words, we lack nothing to live a completely victorious, godly life of abundance and power. We have no excuses. We may say, Lord, I lack this or I don’t have that. But God answers, No you have everything you need.
Cling to my promises. Believe them. Rehearse them in your minds. Unless you believe that this kind of life is possible in this life, you will never come close to reaching your full spiritual potential. And when you fail repeatedly, as we all will, we will keep lowering the standard until our lives are utterly devoid of the divine.
This means we need to renew our minds by challenging our old thought patterns which make us believe that a life of victory is more than possible — it is expected.
The goal of rehearsing the promises of God is to become more effective and more productive in our knowing of God. We will know God for who He really is — not a powerless God who can no longer do miracles, but a God who gave us all the tools to live a higher dimensional spiritual life.
Unfortunately, seeking moments of stillness and rehearsing the promises of God is not sufficient. It is not enough to say, I am going to grit my teeth and brute force change.
Taking our active role in renewing our mind and doing things like carving out still spaces and rehearsing the promises of God is a start. But those alone will not change us. Even while we practice those 2 things, we don’t always reach effectiveness and productivity in our knowledge of Jesus.
For my third and final point, to win the battle for our minds and to renew it properly, we have to recognize that the battlefield of our minds is a spiritual battle.
Because the real work is done in prayer. So I am offering this renewing of mind through stillness and rehearsing the promises of God as a new way to pray.
This battle of our minds is primarily fought in prayer. God is always trying to woo us to him on one side and Satan is trying all that he can to prevent that from happening.
To illustrate this, Ephesians begins with a declaration of how things were before we knew Christ in Eph 2:1-3.
Eph 2:1-3. 1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts.
Those who are not Christian have only their sinful nature so they end up following their default CRAVINGS, DESIRES and THOUGHTS.
Then the middle section of Ephesians is the part we read earlier about salvation which entails putting off the old attitudes of our mind and to put on a new mentality.
And at the end of chapter 4:25-32, it says,
25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26″In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
There is an expectation that right thinking would lead to right behavior such as speaking truthfully, working hard, being useful with our hands, sharing with others, building others up in speech, being compassionate and forgiving one another.
But instead, we see that a return to wrong, darkened, futile thinking has led to BOTH wrong emotions and wrong actions.
The wrong emotions include — anger, bitterness and rage.
And the wrong actions include — lying, theft, impure speech, brawling, slander, malice, not being compassionate, not forgiving one another.
If Ephesians stopped here, we might be depressed. I want to have right thinking, right emotions and right actions, but I can’t do it. That is true, we can do our part but the real battle is prayer and the real work is done by God. Only God can change our thought pattern permanently.
That is why in the final chapter of Ephesians, Paul talks about spiritual battle – Eph 6:11-12 – 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
So our battle is not against flesh and blood but against Satan and the spiritual forces of evil. And we lose to the devil’s schemes repeatedly because we fail to understand that the reason we are rendered utterly ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of the Lord is because Satan attacks our thoughts and we let him.
We don’t guard our thought life. We don’t see how our thought patterns trigger certain emotions and eventually a life pattern that is totally ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of God. So for many of us, Satan defeats us in our thought life so easily because we don’t view our minds as a battlefield and therefore put up so little resistance.
James describes the nature of the devil’s scheming against Christians by saying in James 1:14-15. 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
How does Satan tempt us? He sends a thought our way, just like he did with Adam and Eve in Genesis. Did God REALLY say you must not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? That’s a thought.
But they failed to challenge that thought. They sat on that thought and it grew into doubt. Now Adam and Eve are like, yeah, the serpent is right, God is holding out from us — now the wrong thought has escalated into a wrong emotion — doubt.
A thought that has been recycled through our mind unchallenged (did God really say) affects our emotions (doubt) and eventually turns into a desire. Adam and Eve saying did God really say has turned into, I WANT THAT FRUIT (that’s desire). A desire is a combination of a thought and an emotion. A wrong thought leads to a wrong emotion and eventually a wrong desire. Then, it’s just a matter of time before a wrong action occurs and sin is committed.
This is how a temptation which comes in the form of a thought grows into desire and leads to sin and death. Wrong thought, wrong emotion, wrong action.
My most recurring thought pattern is hard to describe as purely something in my mind because there is emotion involved. It’s a feeling as much as it is a thought that my life is not quite right and there must be something better around the corner.
How does this play out in my life? Well, I am constantly restless. Rather than being content, I’m always thinking I should be doing something else. The grass is always greener. When I was in school, I didn’t like tests so I couldn’t wait to graduate. Then now that I am working, I don’t have enough free time and I long for the days when I was back in school.
And even while working, I always find a reason to be unhappy. The commute is too long, the work is too stressful, I have to do too much overtime. At my current company, I didn’t like working with customers and partners on the business side so I asked to be moved back into IT so that I can fellowship with the computers. Then the computers started freaking out and crashing and I didn’t like being stuck in a server room and I wanted to be around people again.
So WHEN I have this kind of mentality toward work, the commute seems extra long and I walk into the office already defeated. My boss may be in a freaky mood and I say there he goes again and the rest of the day is shot. Satan has won. And no matter how good I have it at work objectively, I will always perceive things with a sense of dread.
Who knows if God placed me into this kind of environment to train my character, or to reach out to a coworker, or to help strengthen my fellow Christian brothers?
The point is, I can’t know for sure God’s full plan at every moment. But one thing is certain – wherever he places me, God expects me to thrive, to be salt and light. To rise above my circumstances instead of being dragged down by them.
And often because I leave my thoughts unchallenged by just ignoring them or distracting myself so that I don’t have to dig a bit deeper, I have already lost the battle.
So I tried to practice this message this past month or two. During the commute, rather than drowning out these thoughts with music, I turned off the music and tried to be still. And in that stillness, with God’s help, I was able to take a step back and look at my thought patterns. That was the beginning.
And I began to perceive how quickly darkened thoughts creep in and I began to challenge these thoughts by praying, Satan, I know that’s you. Get out of my mind. And I followed this up by rehearsing the promises of God in prayer such as 2 Cor 5:17 – I am a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.
Or 1 Cor 10:13 – “13No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Lord, I know I am being tempted, but you always provide a way out. I don’t have to fall to this thought pattern again and again. I am a new creation. Lord, help me to renew my mind.
And that’s how I have been praying.
As you’ve heard, Daniel and I tried to reach out to our neighborhood last Saturday. The night before, the brothers had gone out fishing and stayed up late so I was already tired. Then on Saturday we had lunch with our in-laws in Torrance that ran a bit late. And we had to be back in Pasadena by 2pm to host our first event and the traffic was really bad on the way back. So I’m tired, I am rushing and there is traffic. But mentally, I was still positive. I was praying, if just one person comes, I know that would be your confirmation.
Then we held the event at 3 different locations and no one showed up.
But I was okay because I feel like God placed this on our hearts to reach out to our community and we had prayed about this off and on for several months and the prompting wouldn’t go away.
But that night, honestly, I struggled. Thoughts rushed in. Maybe we should have planned more. Maybe we didn’t pray enough. Not everyone is excited about this, did I pressure others to do this? Maybe Alhambra neighborhood outreach is not the right ministry – maybe we should do outreach on another college campus. And the final thought, look at the labor, no one came, maybe it was all done in vain.
In the past, I would have tried to sleep it off and hope that these kinds of thoughts do not come back. But this time was different.
I realized that those thoughts are the voices of Satan.
So I prayed, Lord, help me to overcome these thoughts. Lord, you promised in the Great Commission that as we go out and proclaim your name, that you would be with us, to the very end of the age. Lord, I need your presence to cast out these thoughts.
This is how at least I have begun to renew my mind through rehearsing the promises of God in prayer.
In closing, I’d like to share on final passage. 2 Cor 10:4-5 – 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Our minds are a spiritual battle field. But take heart. Next week, we’ll be celebrating God’s greatest victory. Jesus came to die on a cross and he descended to the pits of hell. And just like a Roman general returns home after a military victory with a train of his enemies held captive as prisoners of war, Jesus is our Great Victor and Satan and his forces of evil are his captives.
Jesus has demolished all strongholds. He has demolished all arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. We still have our battles to fight but we can be condiment that the resurrected Jesus is proof that the war has been won. Therefore, Satan cannot touch his children. God has given us in Christ the amazing ability to take every thought and make it obedient to Christ.