6 Steps to Stop Negative Thinking


The mind is powerful.  In a very real way, it controls both our present reality and our destiny.  It kind of freaks me out even to write that, because some days?  I am not the one in control.

I had a day like that this weekend.  Negative thoughts dominated my mind, and I couldn’t seem to get rid of them.

I’m not new to this; I know some tips and tricks.

I took it to God.  But quick “help me!” prayers weren’t penetrating the fog.

I turned on worship music & sang along.  It didn’t help.

I read from the Word, but Scripture skittered away no sooner than it was read.

I practiced gratitude, and wrote down a few things I was thankful for in my journal.

But my mind stayed focused, like a pounding drum, on everything that was going wrong.

Hopeless.

Worthless.

Pointless.

I KNEW it wasn’t as bad as my mind was telling me.

I WANTED to focus on the good.

But I couldn’t seem to silence the accusations.

Ever had that happen?

The Bible speaks of renewing our minds, something I badly wanted and needed on that Sunday afternoon:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:2)

Transformation comes by the renewal of our minds.

The author, Paul, writes it like he believes it’s entirely possible.  He thinks we can know the good, acceptable, perfect will of God simply by renewing our minds.

How discouraging when it doesn’t seem that simple!

While the tips I wrote about above are often enough to move me past my funk, there are times I need to go deeper to really stop the negative cycle.  When you need more than a quick tip to move away from the temptation to spiral down – when you need more than a band-aid, but actual surgery, here’s where I go.

1. Spiritual attacks

If you’ve already dealt with the issue or temptation that’s cropping up, ignoring or dismissing the thought is often very practical.  These are for those thoughts that come from outside of you – attempts by the enemy to derail or distract you from God’s purpose for you.  Elsewhere in the Bible, Paul has some pretty strong warfare language he uses to talk about this battlefield of the mind:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We 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. (1 Corinthians 10:3-5, emphasis mine.)

When thoughts are direct attacks, the Bible is clear: stand firm on what you know to be true.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  (Ephesians 6:13)

In some cases, however, the attacks aren’t coming from without – they’re coming from within.  Then, there’s a whole different way of dealing with the issue.

2. Lies I tell myself

This time around, the lies weren’t just coming at me, but were coming out of me – it was affecting me because I actually believed them.  Now is not the time to stand firm – now is the time to run like crazy!  Psalm 37:27 says to flee from evil and do good.  That’s what we’re talking about in this case.

The Bible calls this sanctification – like washing your hands when they’re dirty.  It’s a way of noticing we’ve got issues and going to God to clean us up.  It requires repentance – a turning away from the old patterns.  It’s an odd truth: I always associate repentance with deliberate sin, and trust me, those negative thoughts weren’t my idea!  But repentance isn’t just turning away from intentional disobedience – it’s replacing anything ungodly with God’s best for us.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self,created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

 

It was time to get rid of the old ways.

It was time for a new “attitude of the mind.”

3. Holding Space

The thing is, once a lie has taken root, it can’t easily be discarded.  It’s going to take some intentionality, probably some heartache and a whole lot of rehabilitation.  Isn’t it wonderful we serve a God in the business of healing?

I needed to hold space for these lies.  None of them came “out of the blue.”  All of them had a beginning, and reinforcement along the way.

I wrote out the words that had been haunting me.  It hurt.

I asked myself: what truth does this hold?

I’d love to say they were all garbage, but the best lies have a kernel of truth.  I felt like a failure because my project had failed.  The truth was, the project really did fail.  But that wasn’t the whole truth.

4. Seeking perspective

Lies will perpetuate unless we deliberately speak truth into them.  It’s like that monster in the closet, you’re never sure it’s really gone away unless light is shining directly in it.  Take a look at the lies – even the kernels of truth – and look for the whole story.  The bigger picture.  A true perspective.

In my case, the whole truth was that while my project had failed, it wasn’t a complete failure.  I had learned plenty from the work I had done.  So I had to go back and restart a few things – this wasn’t the end of the world.  This time around would be faster now that I knew the process.  

The whole truth was that this project wasn’t tied up in my identity.  Only 2 people knew I was working on it.  It’s a pretty safe place to fail, to be honest.  Even if it was a bigger deal, my identity can’t be built on my own success or failure.  My identity is built on Christ.

5. Speaking God’s truth

Finally, to ask God for HIS truth in this situation.  He’s pretty clear.

My worth is not found in the success or failures of projects – it’s found in Him.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:6-7)

My purpose was not to “win” the world’s way – it’s to glorify God.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

6. Moving forward

I had to go through my list (17 lies!!  17!!) one by one to deal with each in this way before I could receive the freedom in my own mind.  Once I had renewed my mind, the negative thoughts no longer had a hold on me.

Some of these lies are dealt with.  They’re gone.  When the thought arises, it’s almost laughable how juvenile it sounds.  I go back to fix one of my mistakes and I hear that voice say, Your project failed.  You are a failure.  I almost roll my eyes, and can say right back to that voice, This project is not my identity.  I’m a beloved child of God.  I only fail if I don’t get up again.  

Other lies have a lot more collected “evidence” and take longer to address.  I continue to struggle with believing God isn’t a distant watcher, but rather an active fighter in my story.  I daily have to remind myself of that truth, and I continue to feel vulnerable when those lies hit.  But I’m beginning to recognize it as a lie and call it out when it tries to take up residence in my life.

I’m renewing my mind.

And guess what?  Paul’s right.  When those lies don’t live in me, there’s room for God’s truth – his good, pleasing and perfect will for me.

Thanks, Paul.

One Little Thing:

What lies are you hearing?  Deal with one of them today!

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