Larry finds himself back at the liquor store even though it is destroying his career and relationships. Mary just committed to another volunteer position in spite of her exhaustion and difficult financial situation. Jason clicks on the pornography site while his wife quietly sobs into her pillow. Janet grabs another pastry while her sugar level and weight continue to careen out of control. Perhaps here is where you could write your own sentence. What negative behavior continues to plague you? What consequences continue to build?
We have made commitments, joined accountability groups, gone through recovery programs and yet find ourselves wallowing in our behavior, in despair, losing faith. The admonition “just stop it” or “choose life” (which is my mantra) seem powerless and the truth is that they are. The power of the will does not lie in the choices that we make but in the causes behind those choices. The will never acts or chooses independent of our thoughts and feelings. Proverbs 23:7 says “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Paul said that we are transformed by “renewing our minds” (Romans 12:2). Changing behavior is largely dependent on changing our thoughts.
The world we live in is evil, opposes God and truth and perpetuates the lies of the enemy. This “world” (and not the physical planet) is what John had in mind when he said “don’t love the world or the things in the world” (I John 2:15). The images, ideals and thought processes of the “world” are perverted by sin and self, they constitute crooked thinking. How will we ever straighten out behavior when that is driven by crooked thinking?
Dallas Willard says “As we first turned away from God in our thoughts, so it is in our thoughts that the first movements toward the renovation of the heart occur. Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change” (Renovation of the Heart). Certain ideas, beliefs, perceptions and thought processes have built a worldview in our minds from which we operate. Our behavior flows out of that worldview (refer back to Proverbs 23:7). So where do we begin?
Begin with your thoughts and beliefs about God. Satan’s first attack on the human mind was to cause doubt about the character and love of God. In his conversation with Eve in the garden, he implied that God was holding out on them, keeping them from the ‘best’. His strategy has not changed. Causing us to doubt God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s grace continue to be at the top of his agenda. A. W. Tozer in his classic work The Knowledge of the Holy states his belief that, “…there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect… thoughts about God.”
Meditate on the love, goodness and grace of God. Use not only the Scriptures that teach these truths but also use your own experiences and the experiences of others with God’s love, goodness and grace. Rehearse verbally these experiences. Focus on the power of the cross and how it epitomizes these qualities of God. When we become convinced that God is good, God loves us and God’s grace covers all sin, it will transform our mind and impact our behavior.
Equally as important are the thoughts and beliefs about our own identity. As long as we believe the voices in our head that label us worthless, unlovable and a failure, we will continue to strive to prove these things are not true or we will self medicate the pain of their reality. Our minds have plenty of evidence to support these claims. Our own failures and the negative messages from our past circumstances and relationships sometimes literally scream these lies. Henry Nouwen says, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’” (Life of the Beloved). If your thoughts about yourself as a Christ-follower leave you feeling anything less than a fully accepted, beloved child of the Father, you stand in need of a renewal of your mind.
Meditate on Ephesians 1:3-14. Focus on how God through the apostle Paul identifies us as chosen, accepted, forgiven, adopted, etc., Look in the mirror and verbally proclaim, “I am a beloved son of God.” This is true because God is good, gracious and loving. Learn to identify the negative thoughts about self that play in your mind just below the surface and take those thoughts captive, making them obedient to the truth (II Corinthians 10:5). We might just find that the truth, sets us free (John 8:32), free from the compulsions, addictions and flesh patterns that keep us in bondage.