Understanding and Changing Harmful Thinking

Our thoughts have immense power.

What we think about and dwell on has an impact on our feelings. And then our feelings have an impact on our actions, which then produce consequences (good or bad) in our daily living.

Much of what we experience on a daily basis or how we regularly manage life can really be traced back to our minds – what we think, how we think, or what we allow to take up residence in our mental space.

For many people, problems arise from negative ways of thinking that are known as “Cognitive Distortions” – thought patterns and habits of our minds that aren’t true or healthy. These distorted thoughts (things that we convince ourselves are true, but really have no basis in reality) cause us mental and emotional disturbances, which then affect the ways we behave and the way we respond to life.

Here are some examples of some cognitive distortions that, if left unchecked, can affect our feelings and behaviors:

“I always fail at everything I try. I’m just a failure at life.”

“Every time I talk to my wife, we end up fighting. I’m just a terrible husband.”

“My friend hasn’t replied to my text. She must be mad at me. What could I have done?”

“My boss didn’t smile and say hello to me today. She must be unhappy with me.”

“I made a mistake and ruined everything for everyone. Everything is my fault.”

Do any of these sound familiar? We have all had trouble with distortions like these in the past. For some the thoughts are stronger and last longer. When that happens, they cause greater problems with feelings and actions. We fixate on these thoughts, allow them to become “true” to us, and then our feelings and actions are based off of them.

The point is this: our thoughts have the potential to negatively influence more than just what we spend time thinking about. What we choose to dwell on can have significant impact on our emotions, as well as our behaviors. And all of these things combined can have an effect on the way we go about our lives.

So, what do we need to do?

We need to gain control of our thoughts. We need to be able to understand the power that our thought patterns have on the rest of life. And we need to remember that a “simple negative thought” isn’t something harmless. It can create a wave of damage if we fail to tend to it properly.

Here are 3 things you can do to curb those thoughts, keep your emotions healthy, and make sure your life is being lived as normally as possible.

Call the thought what it is – a negative pattern (a “distortion”) that is wreaking havoc on your mood. Before you can label it, though, you have to determine what it is.

Think about the way you’ve been acting lately – temperamental? Negative? Moody? Unwilling to try new things? Apprehensive? Anti-social? Now, think about what feelings are driving those behaviors. Have you ben feeling irritable? Angry? Fearful? Anxious? Finally, try to determine what thought patterns have been leading you to feel that emotion. What stream of thought runs through your mind that disturbs your emotoins and then afects your actions? What are you dwelling on?

Are you constantly thinking about what could go wrong?

Do you think you are a failure because of some mistakes you’ve made?

Are you thinking that someone must be mad at you simply because they aren’t communicating with you?

You need to be able to identify the distortion beore you can do anything about it. Label that negative thought pattern that you’ve convinced yourself is true and then you can start to tackle it.

Once you have identified the distortion, you can attack it. Start dismantling it. Call it a lie. Increase your awareness that it’s probabaly not based on reality.

“My friend hasn’t been talking to me as much. There can be a number of reasons for that.”

“My boss didn’t greet me cheerfully. She might be having a bad day.”

“I made some mistakes. Failure is a natural part of life.”

Refute those thoughts and convince yourself, instead of things that are actually true. This is an important step, because you can label your negative thought patterns all day long but if you never shut them down they won’t go away.

When you’ve identified the harmful thoughts and have started refuting them with truth, you can then begin to change the habit. And the best way to get rid of bad habits is to replace them with a better one.

This is why people who are trying to quit smoking often chew lots of gum!

So, instead of allowing yourself to dwell on the thought patterns that are causing your trouble, counteract them by developing healthy thought patterns that will drown out those negative ones.

“I am not a failure. I make mistakes, like every human being.”

“I am not the source of everyone’s troubles.”

“People don’t think about me as much as I think they do.”

Let these healthy thoughts become like positive mantras that take up residence in your mind. When you do this, better habits are developed and the cognitive distortions are soon replaced.

For those who read the Bible, there is a good verse for this:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

God knows that our thoughts are powerful. And His recommendation is to dwell on things that are TRUE, things that are HONORABLE, things that are PURE. To “think on these things” means to meditate on them, to dwell on them, to give these things your attention and affection.

Living a thriving and abundant life involves way more than our behaviors and lifestyle. It starts within. Start with the mind, and everything else will begin to flow.

Letting Fear Prompt Greater Faith

In a time when real people are facing very real problems, it seems trivial and silly to write posts about faith and hope and your walk with Jesus.

How can you think about your walk with God when your world is turning upside down?

When you’ve lost your job and don’t know where your income will come from.

When your marriage is falling apart and your spouse has abandoned you.

When your loved ones are sick and lying in a hospital and the future seems so uncertain.

When your life is so full of fear and worry and panic and anxiety and everything right now is just hard, a question like, “How is your walk with God” doesn’t seem that important and it may be the last thing that you want to give thought to.

I get it. I understand how simple and pithy even this website and the messages I share can seem in light of the things many people are facing on a daily basis. The last thing I want to do is sugarcoat an experience with God and make it seem like we need to just ignore all those troubling thoughts and just try to be happy.

One message I never want to send is that walking with God means choosing not to pay attention to the bad things and just focusing on the good in life.

Because the reality is that sometimes life just sucks. Sometimes there’s just not much good at all. And in those moments, we need to understand that it’s okay to weep. It’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to lament. It’s okay to not be okay.

That’s part of an authentic faith.

A walk with God doesn’t mean we are cheery and positive all the time, or that things won’t go wrong, or that God just wants us to “have faith, my child” and not ever stress about things.

I think God hears our stressful cries and sees our struggles and watches our moments of exasperation and He sympathizes when we say in frustration that we just can’t deal with it anymore.

I’m reminded of the moment when Jesus was on the boat with his disciples, sleeping peacefully, minding his own business. A fierce storm blew in and the boat was being tossed around on the waves. His disciples were scared. They thought they were going to be knocked overboard or be capsized and meet their death in the violent water.

They had every reason to be scared, didn’t they? The waves were terrifying to them. To them, it seemed like their world was about to crash down. And in their fear, what did they do?

They ran to Jesus, woke Him up, and asked for His help.

The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Matthew 8:25 NLT

Jesus calmly arose, took note of the wind and the waves, and responded to their panicked request.

But consider what He said to them: “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?”

Jesus rebuked His followers for their fear, and He made it clear that the opposite of fear is faith. And faith is what needed to have prompted them to turn to Him. Not fear.

Fear causes us to look at our situation and say, “I’m scared. It’s falling apart. This is terrible. My world is crashing and I can’t handle this. I don’t know what to do.

But faith causes us to instead say, “I’m scared. It’s falling apart. Things are terrible right now. My world is crashing and I, myself, am unable to handle this. But God knows what to do.”

Do you see the difference? You see, I don’t think it was really the fear that Jesus was rebuking His disciples for. Fear is a natural human reaction. I think it was actually the fact that they had allowed fear to provoke them; that it was fear that had motivated them to run to Him, rather than faith.

It’s okay to be fearful, as long as our fear is responded to with faith. As long as we are able to say, “I am afraid. But I will turn to Jesus, because I have faith in Him.”

That doesn’t seem so pithy and trivial after all, does it?

God knows what people are going through right now. He knows what your current reality is. And He has a love for you in this situation that you may not even be able to fathom.

It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be frustrated or worried or to have a little bit of panic. But let those things prompt a new level of faith in God in your heart.

It’s that kind of faith that Jesus is going to respond to.

What is an authentic faith?

Speaker and author Rachel Held Evans used to say about the Bible, when she spoke or preached from the Scriptures, “On the days that I believe this, here is what this says to me.”

While to some a statement like that might seem a bit blasphemous or, at the very least, not very biblically solid, I have to admit that I actually like her sentiment. Not because I find myself in agreement with it or because I, like her, find myself struggling to believe God’s words, but because in her honest confession she was making something very clear:

Doubting is a normal part of the faith journey, and just because someone wonders about the truth of something, it doesn’t mean that they are any less authentic about their belief.

Authenticity is an important word. By definition it simply means to be genuine and real. It’s something that we want to be true about many of our experiences and many of the people that we encounter.

We want to know that the relationship that we are in is authentic – that there is honesty and genuineness in the love that is being professed.

We want to know that the products we are purchasing are authentic. No one wants to buy something fake or a cheap knock-off of an expensive brand.

We want to know that the food that we eat is authentic – that it’s not overly processed or fake.

We want our news to be authentic. “Fake news” is a hot topic these days and something that just about everyone can identify.

We want people in our lives to be genuine in their approach to us. Believing that someone is authentic makes us trust them, and we want trust to exist in the world around us.

But do we set the same standard for our own faith and our walk with God? Can we say that there is a sense of authenticity in how we interact with God, or in the Christian life that we present to the world?

If being authentic means being genuine and real, then it’s important that we consider this idea in relation to the kind of people and Christians that we are or claim to be. Are we honest with God? Are we honest with our feelings about Him or His Word? Are we able to confess to Him our weaknesses, our doubts, our fears, our insecurities, and the things that we struggle to believe on some days?

Being authentic about our faith journey means that we are honest about the fact that we don’t have all the answers, we don’t always know if we are right, and we wrestle with questions and doubts sometimes. It means being able to say, “I don’t know exactly how to explain it all. I don’t even know if I have it all right. But I believe God and I am willing to move forward with Him.”

But being authentic doesn’t just mean being honest. It also means that our faith is genuine. It means that there is something about our faith in Jesus that trumps every doubt or uncertainty we ever have. It means that we take our walk with God seriously and we choose not to be “fake” with our faith.

Being fake can take on many different forms, and I’ve seem almost all of them in my lifetime. I’ve even been guilty of some of them.

Being fake with our faith looks like claiming to be a Christian but not really committing fully to Jesus.

Being fake looks like having a “Sunday only” relationship with God, and spending the rest of the week walking in our flesh or chasing things that aren’t of God.

It looks like “going to church” all of your life but never really experiencing or submitting to the actual teachings of Jesus.

Or self-identifying as a Christian while your heart, your attitudes, your thoughts, your political views, your opinions, and your choices demonstrate that your faith is just a religion and not an authentic devotion to Christ.

I have been guilty in so many ways over the years of failing to live out an authentic faith. I can’t even begin to tell you how inauthentic I was in my Christianity in the past. I have seen how weak and dead and dry faith can be when genuineness is lacking and I don’t ever want to return to that.

I want my faith and my walk with Jesus to be real. I want a faith that is based on honest confessions, on genuine love for Jesus, on the trust that I have in Him and the obedience that He calls me to.

This is what an authentic faith really is. And it’s what I long to see in the lives of God’s people all over this world. It’s time for authenticity and realness to take the place of the lazy, apathetic, faith that so many have clung to for so long.

It’s time for authenticity.

What Stories Do We Tell About God?

We hear a lot of stories throughout our day.

We hear good things that are happening in people’s lives. We hear about the struggles that people are having. We hear gossip or rumors or true stories of the things that people have done. (And we try hard not to spread those, right?)

Out of all the things that we hear, though, how many of them tell us about God?

How many stories do we hear about God’s work in a person’s life? About how God is saving someone or turning someone’s life around?

How many stories do we hear about the things that God is teaching someone or how God is comforting someone?

Do we hear any stories that tell us about the character and love and power of God?

I think that most of the time, when we hear about the work of God, it is limited to the things that we read in Scripture. We know that He did amazing things in Bible times. He helped people BACK THEN. He showed His power for THEM.

We believe that God is capable of doing things, and we’ve heard of the things that He’s done in the past.

King David once prayed to God in the midst of his own experiences with Him and said these words:

“Therefore you are great O LORD GOD. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”

2 Samuel 7:22

David’s ears had heard plenty of stories of God’s work all around Him. He had heard (and even personally experienced) stories of God defeating enemies, protecting His people, providing needed nourishment, leading His servants with wisdom and strength, and rescuing people from despair.

David had heard these stories almost all of his life. And hearing them became, for him, a reason to praise God and share those stories with those around him. Hearing these things about God produced an even greater assurance in David’s heart that there was no other God like his God and that his God was great.

So, what have YOU heard about God lately? Because the reality is that God is STILL doing amazing things in people’s lives. It may not involve the same type of things that King David was experiencing, but they are amazing nonetheless.

God is still saving people. God is still revealing truth to people. God is still turning people’s lives around. God is forgiving and providing and leading and helping and comforting and protecting and nourishing and blessing and teaching.

God is doing all of these things, even in our own lives. But maybe we just don’t talk much about it. Maybe it’s because we are failing to SEE it. Or maybe it’s because we are so quick to tell other stories about life, without putting them in the context of how God is using them to shape us.

We need to hear about what God is doing. Hearing these things produces praise. Not hearing them can lead us to focus too much on the struggles or too much on ourselves.

Turn the focus back to God. Pay attention to how He is showing Himself to be great in your life and in the world. Share those stories so that more praise can be given to His name. Share those stories so that people can know more about God and His wonderful work.

A Change of Heart: A Look at Saul’s Transformation

Saul was a simple guy whose main concern in life was helping his father to locate his missing donkeys.

He was young, handsome, strong, and almost completely carefree. And he had no idea that in just a short while, his life would take him on a totally different path.

Samuel the prophet had received a word from the Lord that a king would be anointed for the people of Israel; a new role for the nation and one that they had been stubbornly requesting.

And, upon their request and God’s decision to let them have what they thought they needed, the Lord told Samuel to prepare to find the one whom He would choose and to anoint and equip him for his new task – to rule over Israel as their first king and to govern the nation and lead them into battle.

One day, as Saul was out looking for those missing donkeys, he and his friend heard that a prophet was in a nearby town and they decided to stop by to see if that prophet could give them some indication about their futures. It was like a modern-day quest to discover one’s purpose in life. Maybe Saul was tired of chasing down loose livestock. Maybe he felt like he was destined for more, but just needed a bit of clarity.

Whatever the reason, he made the journey up a hill to find this prophet (who happened to be Samuel), while the prophet was coming down the hill to carry on his business. When their two paths crossed, the Lord spoke to Samuel and told him, “This is the man who I have chosen. This is Israel’s new king!”

And through the course of a conversation about God’s calling, Saul got the answer he was looking for. He quickly discovered his divine purpose in life and it was something entirely different than he ever could have imagined.

Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said, “Has not the LORD anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the LORD has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.”

God was choosing Saul to be Israel’s king, and in this role, Saul would need to not only discover what it meant to lead God’s people, he would also need a new set of desires, ambitions, and passions. No longer could he simply concern himself with his dad’s donkeys or his own way of life. Something would need to be awakened within Saul that would compel him to follow God’s calling wholeheartedly.

After this conversation with Samuel, upon hearing the words from the prophet and understanding his calling, upon being anointed with oil and feeling the special appointment by God, something changed within Saul’s heart. And it wasn’t just a change in his own mind toward things. The Bible indicates that the Spirit of God came over him and created this new direction that Saul would need in order to fully pursue God’s special task for him.

The Scriptures use this language, in 1 Samuel 10:9 “When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart.”

It would be easy for us to turn this verse into a sermon about transformation and new creation; for us to tie it to the work that God does in making people new when they trust Jesus as their Savior. That kind of transformation definitely takes place. When a person becomes a Christian, God transforms them from the inside. His Spirit fills a person and makes them brand new – a new heart with new desires and a new sense of direction and purpose in life, one that involves chasing after Jesus wholeheartedly.

We can easily bring Saul’s story here into that theme. But I think that is missing the point and misreading what actually took place within Saul on that day.

The phrase, “God gave him another heart” doesn’t really mean that God gave him a new nature and a spiritually renewed heart. What it really means is that God gave Saul a new ambition and a new sense of responsibility. Suddenly, this young, brash, carefree man became someone who was ready to accept his moral responsibility to rule over Israel.

He went from simply enjoying his life and helping his father to actually having a desire to lead as God commanded. He suddenly found himself with a genuine desire to be king and to take care of all the responsibilities associated with that role. That sense of responsibility was NEW. It wasn’t something that he had ever planned on having nor something he had ever had before. God gave Saul a new desire and a new direction.

When has that happened with you? Have you ever discovered a new desire or ambition for something that you never thought you would have? Maybe it came out of nowhere or was completely out of your norm or expectations.

Recently I started a graduate degree program to become a licensed counselor. Up until recently it was not something that I wanted to pursue. I wasn’t interested in the process or the vocation. But last fall, something changed in me. It was like God awakened a new desire within me and, through that desire, led me to pursue something that I had not expected to pursue even a year before.

We hear stories about missionaries on the field all around the world who will say that one day, it was like God stirred something up in them and gave them an unexpected desire to leave everything behind and go do ministry in a foreign country. To them, it wasn’t something that they had ever really considered before or had a heart to pursue. But suddenly a new desire was born and it was like God’s spirit came over them and gave them a new direction and a new sense of responsibility.

What are some ways that God has done this in your own heart? Think about some times when God gave you a new “heart” and a desire to pursue something that you had never really considered or wanted to do before.

Saul walked away from Samuel with a resolute desire and genuine interest in his new calling. He was ready to step up and answer the call. God changed his heart by making him a man who was now authentically interested in governing over a people and leading them into battle. In this sense, with a new purpose and a new direction, Saul was a new man.

How is God making you new by redirecting your desires and ambitions? Let’s take the time today to ask the Lord to show us OUR callings by directing our desires and giving us a sense of purpose for His work.