Oh, to be in the mind of a toddler! I remember when Brady, our youngest son, was 18 months old and enjoying some time playing outside. At that stage of life, a child wants to have fun, no matter what the cost.
On this particular day, Brady played outside in our backyard while Allison and I were on the back porch. It got quiet for a long time, which is always dangerous for parents, right? Parents crave a few quiet moments, but when our kids are actually silent, we think they are probably up to something! It turns out he was. Brady came up, and we noticed red spots all over his legs. After investigating what happened, Brady showed us the fire ant hill he had been playing on. I guess he was desperate to play with friends, and these devilish little creatures became his playmates that day. Brady endured more than 50 fire ant bites in the name of fun. Just as Brady was physically playing with a hill of ants that day, I wonder how many of us mentally willingly play on anthills?
In the book What Most Parents Aren’t Telling You, the number one thing parents most want for their kids is mental health.[i] While there is some debate in the medical field, many experts believe that much of mental health stems from the brain. Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize laureate and professor of brain science at Columbia University, says, “All mental processes are brain processes, and therefore all disorders of mental functioning are biological diseases. The brain is the organ of the mind. Where else could mental illness be if not in the brain.” [ii]
I wonder if parents are so worried about their children’s mental health because they are also concerned about their own mental health. I pose this because I know how easy it is for me to project my biggest fears onto my children.
So, what’s happening in your brain? What’s going on in your mental health? As we look at the research, it’s easy to see why mental health, anxiety, and worry are skyrocketing in today’s world. According to the National Science Foundation, the average person has between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts every single day! Of those thoughts, 80% are negative, and 95% are repetitive thoughts[iii]. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists describe those negative thoughts as ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts).
Our thoughts are a collection of broken records that we replay over and over and over again. And, if that were the end, it’d be depressing. But it’s not the end. You can not only change your mind, and you can change your life.
The key to a changed life is a changed mind.
No, this isn’t some Oprah, New-Age, name it and claim it kind of philosophy I’m pointing you to. Instead, it’s the opportunity to think new thoughts. And it’s pretty scientific and also quite biblical. I love it when science and the Bible line up. I agree with DawnChere Wilkerson, who says, “Real science is just the discovery of God’s wisdom.” [iv]
Science tells us that our brains feature neuroplasticity. Essentially, while it is natural for our brains to go down a particular pathway, our brains can change, adapt, and create new pathways. This research proves it is possible to change our thoughts. But, it requires some work. And as our thoughts can change, this can lead to a changed or transformed life. Romans 12:2a says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
But how do we renew our minds to be more like Christ? The apostle Paul gives us the 3-step masterclass in Philippians 4:6-9. As we look closely at those Bible verses, we see a 3-step process emerge to help us change our minds.
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.
- Remove the ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts)
First, Paul says we don’t have to hang onto our negative thoughts or anxiety. Not every idea that comes into your head is worthwhile. Not every thought that comes into your head is true. The devil is known as the father of lies. That is his native tongue. And so, while his strategy is simple, his approaches are dynamic.
I don’t think his initial first step is to make you believe that God isn’t authentic or that the Bible isn’t true. Eventually, he will want to take you there. Still, he usually starts by forcing you to look at your outside set of circumstances and wanting to bring doubt into your minds.
But, you don’t have to fixate on every thought. Instead, you can give over every negative thought to God. We do this through prayer, by having a conversation with God. Because God desires to be in a relationship with you, you can test every thought. He’ll never get tired of listening to you and spending time with you. And, even more, He understands what you are going through. Remember that Jesus walked this planet and endured every temptation known to humanity. He can sympathize with whatever situation you are going through. So, every negative thought we can give to Jesus. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
Paul then moves to the second step in the masterclass.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
- Replace with positive thoughts
It’s not enough to just remove negative thoughts. If you don’t fill your mind with positive thoughts, left to your natural state, you’ll find more negative stuff to fill it.
We have to think godly thoughts intentionally. The apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” What are those things above? He gives a pretty great list right here. He urges us to think true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy thoughts.
What a great exercise! Anytime you experience a negative thought, take it through this list.
What is true about this thought? You might recognize, by the way, with this first question, that there is nothing true about this thought, and it is a lie. So at that point, you can let go of that thought completely.
Then, keep going through that filter.
What is noble? The Greek word here is “venerable” and implies tremendous respect, primarily because of age. So, think about that. It’s time-tested and proven. Is your thought noble? Is it time-tested and proven?
Keep going through the list: what is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy?
What will end up happening is you will end up flipping a lot of the negative thoughts into positive, truthful statements that can become declarations. Here are a few examples:
- I’m not attractive to I’m grateful that I’m healthy, have eyes to see, ears to hear, and lungs that give me breath.
- I’ll never make it to I can take one step forward today.
- I can’t beat this addiction to God has put His power inside of me. If God is for me, who can be against me?
- Nobody knows me to God knows my name, has written my name in the book of life and orchestrates all things for my good.
Let’s return for the final step in the masterclass:
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.
- Repeat the practice
Paul says, “Put it into practice.” This process is not a one-time event. The world is coming at all of us very fast, which is why we must learn this process and repeat it multiple times a day. Again, if we think between 12000 to 60000 thoughts daily, there are ample opportunities to renew our minds.
Paul says that at the end of this process, we get the opposite of anxiety: we will have God’s peace. And God’s peace will transcend human understanding. I love the word transcend. It means to go above, beyond, or surpass. So, no matter what comes at us from this world, God’s peace prevails when we put this process into practice. It wins the day. God’s peace is what the world, you, and I need more of.
When you practice these three steps, not only will you destroy anxiety and be filled with peace from above, but you will also represent God’s peace in a world that desperately needs it.
Watch the sermon video to see how the apostle Paul, who wrote this masterclass for us, did this in his life. Check out the sermon here.
Challenge for the Day:
Today, we are going to put into practice the 3-step process that Paul lays out:
- Remove: What are the negative thoughts that you are feeling today? List them out and pray that God would remove them.
- Replace: Think positive thoughts. List one thing that you think about for each of the words Paul gives us in Philippians 4:8:
- Repeat: After completing this exercise once, attempt to do this exercise every time a negative thought triggers you.
[i] What Parents Most Want, Page 25. Kindle.