A significant impediment to joy in our lives is the presence of worry. When we struggle with the "what if's" and the "it might's", then we prevent ourselves from enjoying the sweetness of joy. In fact, the meaning of the Greek word that we translate as "worry" literally means to choke or strangle - that's a pretty apt description of worry! Wondering about what might happen. Letting our imaginations conjure up frightful scenarios. Responding to those vain imaginings with dread and fear...and then our lives are robbed of joy - and of peace!
What, then, is the key to winning over worry, so that we can experience joy and peace?
To win over worry, we must learn to conquer our thoughts.
Of all the keys to joy that we have examined, this one is perhaps the key to all the others. What happens in our thought life is more than important - it is critical. What I allow my thoughts to be determines how I feel...and how I feel eventually determines how I act. Over and over and over I see in my own life and in the lives of those around me how unhealthy thought patterns wreak havoc in attitudes, responses, feelings, perspective, and behavior. So conquering my thoughts is vital!
This is why Scripture exhorts us to conquer our thoughts in Philippians 4:8,9-
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you
Likely this is a familiar passage and we are tempted to glide right over it without digging in to apply it to our own thoughts. Let's unpack it...
Whatever is true - Say your child is having some health issues and tests are being run. Do you allow your thoughts to run to scary test results and fret about how you will handle it? Focus instead on what is true right then. At that moment, tests are being run. The terrible results are not truth right now. Only the tests are truth. If the scary diagnosis is indeed true, then God will give us grace at that time to handle it - but not before. Or another scenario - we can conjure up imaginary conversations in our head, attributing words to someone that they never said. And then we respond in our heads, controlling what we say and then what they say, and on and on. It doesn't take long before our attitude towards that person is adversely affected!
So focus on what is true, not what might be true.
Whatever is honorable - there might be things you know to be true, but they do not bring honor. Don't camp out on them - instead, let love cover. A multitude of sins. Strive for honor.
Whatever is right - That thought about the other person - is it right? Or is it a product of your imagination or your insecurity or your fear? Ask yourself if that thought is right.
Whatever is pure - Purity can apply to morality and to motive. Is that particular thought wholesome, unblemished, decent? Is that motive unselfish, loving, genuine? Pure.
Whatever is lovely /of good repute/excellence/worthy of praise- It is wise and beneficial to not fill our minds with unlovely things. Garbage in= garbage out is the principle here! There is no such thing as harmless trash - what we put in our minds transforms who we are.
How do we make this work? How do we conquer our thoughts? Don't ideas and thoughts just pop into our head? We can't do anything about that!
Or can we?
By applying the Philippians 4:8 filter to what we allow our minds to dwell on is the first and primary step. That will train our minds to think on the things which birth peace and joy in our hearts.
But sometimes, those nagging, worry-inducing thoughts worm their way into our heads. What about then?
It is futile to try to dismiss them, to "not think them". Say I told you NOT to think about pink elephants. No matter what, do not think about pink elephants. For the next three minutes, do not think about pink elephants!
What image pops up in your head right now?
Try as you might, you cannot stop that picture from slipping onto the radar of your brain.
So what are we to do about the "pink elephant" thoughts that we don't want, the ones that rob us of joy and peace and bring pain and destruction instead?
Scripture does not leave us defenseless. 2 Corinthians 10:5 instructs us We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
We may not be able to stop a thought from coming into our head but once it's there we can make it obey Jesus!
Destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God - Worry is actually very simply believing something is more powerful than God and His provision. So, challenge any thought that does not acknowledge the power of God and who He is. For instance, if fear of "what might happen" threatens your peace, then answer that thought with the truth of God's character!
Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ - Once that scary thought enters your head, you can make it obey Jesus. Don't try to ignore the thought; instead, submit it to the truth of God's Word. Are you afraid you won't have enough money? God says He will supply all you need according to His riches in Christ Jesus. Are you worried that the medical test will confirm a terrible disease? God says His grace is sufficient for whatever He calls you to do. Take those thoughts to their most extreme (eventually, the worst that can happen is that you die) - and face it. Stare it down. Don't ignore it. Then stand there in the possibility of the worst you can imagine...and you find that Jesus is there. He has conquered even death. Yes, we are weak, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed towards us (2 Corinthians 13:4)
Once we learn to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, to make them submit to the truth of God's Word, peace fills our hearts. Joy is full.
Let's do it.