My Destructive Thinking
2 Corinthians 10:5 …Take every thought captive to obey Christ.
I must admit, I have destructive thoughts. In the privacy of my own mind, I have impulsive, angry, lustful, prideful and hurtful thoughts. This requires no effort. These impulses just naturally pop into my head. Though I can learn to arrest such ideas, they are never going to be gone completely. As long as I am in this flesh, I am going to be influenced by its defects.
This can be maddening. I once had a young man ask me when he was going to stop struggling with impulsive thoughts of sex. I am afraid I choked a little with laughter, as I knew the futility of the question. Impulsive thoughts of sex will cease when sex stops being pleasurable. As donuts are always going to taste good, I am always going to be tempted when I see one. Becoming a Christian does not make my appetites magically disappear.
This would not be such a problem of course, if my destructive thoughts never led to destructive behavior. My thoughts matter though. All of my destructive behavior began with an impulsive thought in which I indulged.
I was told once by a well-meaning Christian that lustful fantasies were a reasonable alternative to adultery as it appeased lust and prevented adultery. Whether or not you object to lustful thoughts or adultery, you know this to be ridiculous. If you continually practice eating donuts in your mind, when you meet with a real-life donut, you are not suddenly going to learn self-control. You are going to act as you have practiced in your mind.
If I want to change my behavior, I must change my thinking and I must make my feet follow. What do I do then, with these impulsive, persistent thoughts? Paul, in today’s passage, told me exactly what I am to do with such thoughts. He said I must learn to interrogate every thought, running it through the filter of Christ, ruthlessly assassinating any thought I do not want. With every thought, I must learn to ask, Does this push me more towards God or self? Not all thoughts are obviously sinful. I can be obsessed and distracted by career, kids, appearance or exercise. A thought may not be inherently harmful to me until I allow it to turn me from God. That is the ultimate test of a thought. Does this push me towards or away from God?
This is a discipline that will take a lifetime. We will be frustrated that some thoughts never die. God allows us to continually need him so that we may continually pursue him. Though engaging in destructive fantasy injures me, the opposite is true as well. If I can learn to take every toxic thought and use it as motivation to turn me towards God, I can actually use my defective thoughts for good. I can use my continued need to continually turn me to God.
I do not have to be a monk to do this. I can apply this verse today without rearranging my schedule at all. I always have some thought running in the background of my mind. I can, if I am willing, discipline myself to apply this verse to my thought life without ever abandoning my daily responsibilities. This is, in fact, how I learn to live in continual relationship with God. As my destructive thoughts never seem to take a break, I can learn to continually use them to turn my mind to God.