Battleground of the Mind
There is a battle going on constantly. It is the battle for your mind, for your thoughts. In Scripture we learn that the evil one is a liar and a deceiver (John 8:44). He lies and works hard to deceive us. I know that in this evil culture it is hard to comprehend the reality of the spiritual war that is going on around us and within us. We have been conditioned to deny the reality of the spiritual forces of wickedness. However, as our eyes are opened to reality in Scripture, we will recognize the battle for our minds and thoughts.
Mark Twain, great American writer and thinker commented about the power of our thoughts. He said, “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those of other things, are his history.” Our thoughts are powerful and control many aspects of our lives. It is interesting how everything begins first as a thought. Look at the great buildings in the large cities. They did not just happen. They first began as a thought, an idea, in someone’s mind. Think about your achievements. Every one of them began as a thought. Jonathan Edwards, Reformed preacher and scholar tells us, “The ideas and images in men’s minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them.”
One of the controlling images of yesterday and today is fear. Anxiety and its sister depression are conditions with which millions suffer. Some call them thought disorders. They have a basis in reality but are exaggerated to the level where they negatively affect people’s daily lives. We are now living in an Economy created by foolish people. The experts warn that monitory inflation is now above 9%. Everyone is affected by the results of foolish government economic policies. Each day our wages and savings are being seriously eroded by inflation. It is as though a thief is robbing us of nearly 10% of our income and savings. It is no wonder that people are anxious and depressed as this is out of our control and few wise people recognize the dangers. It is a fearful time. How can we avoid falling into the pit of fear, anxiety and depression? Is there a way to live with peace and tranquility rather than fear?
One of the most effective ways of dealing with fearful thoughts is to recognize that such thoughts can be under our control. Paul writes the Christians in Corinth: “We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Out of control thoughts can be brought into control as we follow Paul’s advice and take captive every thought so that it is obedient to Christ Jesus. The Lord wants us to have his peace, not fear. The evil one delights in our fears and anxieties. The last thing he wants us to do is to take captive all our thoughts and make them obedient to the Lord. One theologian wrote: “If you allow the enemy to run rampant among your thoughts, you will be miserable, resentful, ineffective, and untruthful in your service for Jesus Christ.” As we take every thought captive, we become better people in the service of our Lord. As we take every thought captive, we live in the peace of the Lord, not fear.
In the last part of his letter to the Christians in Philippi, Paul writes final exhortations. He zeroes in on anxiety and offers several antidotes for it. He begins by telling them (and us) to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice (Philippians 4:4).” It is hard being down in the dumps when one is intentionally rejoicing over all the things that the Lord has done for them. There is an old hymn that we can take heart in: “Count Your Blessings” by Johnson Oatman, Jr. I am certain many of you know this old hymn of thanksgiving: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” It is easy to let one’s thoughts of fear run rampant and increase. However, it is hard to wallow in fear when one sings the old hymns of thanksgiving and praise. When you run into fearful times, it is good to recall the reality of the Lord God and sing hymns of faith and thanksgiving.
It is no wonder many today are caught up in anxiety and are disturbed. Many are filling their minds with ugly thoughts. When Rap music first became popular, I was at a gas station filling my car. Nearby was another car whose audio equipment was filling the air with some of the most vulgar and evil words have heard. Later I was talking about my experience with a black pastor friend. He summed it up succinctly as he identified it as demonic, of the devil. When people are filling their minds with demonic thoughts, it is no wonder they are out of control and get in serious trouble. When we do not take every thought captive, our thoughts will make us captive. We cannot have the peace of God when filling one’s mind with the lies of the evil one.
Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).” Instead of wallowing in anxiety, Paul tells us to pray with thanksgiving. For Paul, prayer is an antidote to anxiety. Our insufficiency is apparent when we are anxious. However, rather than trembling at our insufficiency, it is best to recognize and rely on the sufficiency of God. Turn your anxieties over to the Lord rather than giving into your fears. Turning one’s fears and concerns to the Lord sounds simplistic. However, as one daily honors the Lord in prayer, one will be able to have greater trust and reliance in him when things get difficult. You are not alone in the battle of the mind. The All-sufficient Lord is present with you even when your difficulties are beyond your strength.
How does one take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ Jesus? We process our thoughts through Paul’s evaluative concepts and dwell on those thoughts that pass the test. It is a process of discerning right from wrong and good from evil. It is an intentional evaluation process. We might call it holy critical thinking. Paul gives us a list of things to use to evaluate our thoughts. Note that his list is not exhaustive but is representative. In other words, there might be more evaluative words to dwell on than he gives in his representative list. Let’s look at a few of Paul’s evaluative concepts.
The first concept is truth. Ask yourself, am I dwelling on what is true? Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, “What is truth?” The odd thing is that truth personified was standing in front
of him in the person of Christ Jesus and he did not recognize it. We learn truth as we read Scripture and as we listen to Jesus’ teaching. The world’s concept of truth will not help us. The world enjoys the Big Lie, not truth. The Big Lie is (1) tell a lie, (2) make it big enough, (3) tell it often enough and (4) people will believe it. Much marketing is the promotion of lies. They want us to buy into their worldly version of right and wrong, good and evil. Evaluate your thoughts first by asking whether they are true or false. And only in Scripture will one gain the insights one needs to do this satisfactorily.
Paul then tells us to evaluate our thoughts on the basis of whether they are honorable or not. Ask yourself, am I dwelling on what is dignified, worthy of reverence and awe inspiring? Or are my thoughts dishonorable and undignified? In our culture, we don’t often deal with things that are worthy of reverence or honor. An online thesaurus lists forty-five synonyms of honorable. Evaluate your thoughts on whether they are honest, moral, ethical, righteous, right-minded, virtuous, and decent and the list continues.
Another way to evaluate one’s thoughts is asking if they are just. Is it right and fair, sinful or wicked? Is it deceiving? Obviously, if one of the actions of the evil one is deception, deceiving thoughts are not good, and we must take deceiving thoughts captive rather than letting them harm us.
Another evaluative concept is pure. Are your thoughts morally pure and undefiled? Since our thoughts lead to actions, one of the big issues is having impure sexual thoughts that lead one to doing things that are evil. It appears that every week we learn of people, usually men, in high places who have behaved in sexually immoral ways. In all the cases the actions were preceded by thoughts. It is important to guard one’s thoughts and challenge their purity. You might look at Paul’s other evaluative concepts in Philippians 4 to get a larger view of what he is presenting.
Paul then tells us to “think about such things” or to “meditate on these things.” When it comes to evaluating our thought life or taking our thoughts captive for Christ Jesus, it takes an intentional commitment. It won’t just happen. To become a man or woman of God means committing oneself to becoming a man or woman of God and filtering out unholy thoughts.
We live in a culture filled with anxiety and depression. There is a way of life that precludes fear. It happens as we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ Jesus. When we intentionally choose to do this, God gives us a promise. At first Paul’s statement might look like God will give us peace but he will give us more than peace. Paul writes: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).” God promises that his very presence will be with us. He will be with you in the easy times and he will be present with you when life is difficult. He will be with you when you are up and when you are down. It is because of God’s presence with us that we can “Rejoice in the Lord always” and live in his peace.
CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, USA RET, Preaching at Veterans Memorial Chapel