If the only power our thoughts have over us is the power we give them, then we need to empower positive thinking and disempower negative thinking.
But how do we do that?
The Apostle Paul tells us,
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8, NLT)
To “fix” has a variety of meanings in the English language:
- To repair
- To put in order
- To put permanently in place
- To determine or settle definitely
- To focus on
I love this translation for this reason. I want you to think of your thoughts as something that needs to be repaired, put in order, permanently set in place, settled, and focused.
I have broken thoughts – thoughts that are lies, dirty, and flat-out wrong – that need to be fixed.
I have disordered thoughts – thoughts that are confusing, illogical, and downright stupid – that need to be fixed.
I have fleeting thoughts – thoughts (good and bad) that come and go with the circumstance or situation – that need to be fixed.
I have unsettled thoughts – thoughts that are worried, anxious, and fearful – that need to be fixed.
I have unfocused thoughts – thoughts that are shallow, unintentional, and unplanned – that need to be fixed.
So, the first thing I need to ask myself when I have a thought is:
Is this thought…
So many of my thoughts are lies – lies about myself, lies about God, lies about others, lies about past conversations and the implications, etc. And the more I think them, the more I believe them.
The best way to test whether a thought is true or not is with Scripture. What does God’s Word say about me? About God? About others? Of course, you have to read, study, and meditate on God’s Word to know the answer to these questions. It will be difficult to change the way you think if you don’t know what God thinks of you.
The best way to get into the Bible is to let the Bible get into you. The best way to do this isn’t through reading large chunks of Scripture everyday (there’s a place for that) or studying Scripture every night (there’s a place for that, too). But, by meditating on a word, phrase, or verse every morning.
Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. (Colossians 3:2)
Honorable means noble, upright, dignified. I like to think of it as classy. When someone somewhat unexpectedly takes the moral high-ground in a situation, we say, “That was a classy move.” When someone gives a speech that honors, respects, and encourages others, we say, “That was a classy speech.” Honorable words and noble actions stem from dignified thoughts.
So, ask yourself: If others could see and hear my thoughts, would they say, “That’s a classy thought!?” If not, what would make it classy? Think about that instead.
This isn’t just about right and wrong. The biblical word here is “just” – as in justice. Justice is about fairness. How often are your thoughts unfair to others, yourself, or God? We make assumptions, draw conclusions, and convict others of “crimes” without ever having a conversation (No, the one in your head doesn’t count).
So, ask yourself: Is this thought I’m having fair? Does it do justice to the person or the situation? Am I being fair to myself? What would make it right?
I’m a guy. Guys mostly think of purity in terms of sexual purity – the seemingly constant struggle in our minds with lustful thoughts. That certainly can be a large aspect of it, but it’s not all of it. “Pure” means uncontaminated, unblemished, or whole. Any thought that has a hint of untruth, dishonor, injustice, envy, or hate is an impure thought. If I have a thought that isn’t God-full, it’s awful. I want my thoughts to be whole and holy without blemish or defect.
We all know something beautiful when we see it – a sunset over the ocean, a rainbow after a storm, a cup of coffee in the morning. But do you know a beautiful thought when you think it? It’s about value and worth, isn’t it? We consider something beautiful when we value it. We find worth in someone we consider lovely. Lovely thoughts desire God’s best for ourselves and others. Ugly thoughts desire failure, revenge, or retribution. Lovely thoughts build up. Ugly thoughts tear down.
Have you ever shocked yourself with an ugly thought? I have. Sometimes I have thoughts where I’m like, “Where did that come from? That was just ugly!” Train yourself to say, “Whoa! That was an ugly thought!” whenever you think thoughts that devalue people’s worth – whether your own or someone else’s.
Is this thought something that I would be proud to say out loud? If it’s not worth saying, it’s probably not worth thinking.
AT&T has a hilarious series of commercials right now proclaiming: “Just ok is not ok.” You don’t want a “just ok” translator or tax professional. And you definitely don’t want a “just ok” surgeon. Therefore, I guess, we shouldn’t settle for “just ok” cell phone service either.
I can’t vouch for AT&T’s wireless network, but I would argue that we often settle for “just ok” thinking. Many of my thoughts could be put in the category of “meh,” “ho hum,” or “sheesh!” It’s rather ironic that I desire excellence in all I do; yet, I’m often ok with “just ok” thinking. We can’t do excellent things without excellent thinking. Sheesh!
The other day I exclaimed to a friend after he shared a great idea: “I like the way you think!” We often laud good thinking as the source of a good idea, as we should. But ideas are not the only praiseworthy thoughts. I bet we’d all be challenged to think better thoughts if we encouraged one another by saying: “Wow! What great thoughts you have!” (Ok, now practice it without the sarcasm).
Give it a name
In her seminal research book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck contrasts the differences between a “closed” mindset and an “open” mindset. A closed mindset is “fixed” (as in, set firmly in place). It believes that your personal qualities (intelligence, character, personality, etc.) are set in stone. They can’t be changed. Therefore, closed mindset people “stick to what they know” because failure will expose the limit of their qualities.
Conversely, an open mindset sees failure as an opportunity to learn. Open mindset people are constantly challenging themselves in order to grow in their personal qualities. They see attitude, not genetics, as the determining factor of their abilities.
At the end or her work, Dr. Dweck encourages the reader to call out closed mindset thinking in ourselves by giving it a name, like “Negative Nancy” or “Bummer Bob.” The name can be anything you choose, but the point is to identify closed mindset thinking by giving it an undesirable name.
We may do the same with our “just ok” and downright sinful thoughts. When a lying thought enters our mind, we can identify it by saying (in our head), “That’s ‘Liar Larry’ thinking.” When an impure thought manifests itself, we might call it out by saying, “That’s ‘Lustful Luna’ thinking.” You can have one name for any unbiblical thought and call it whatever you want. But I want to encourage you to take it one step further and say, “…But that’s not the way I think.”
If we can develop this discipline, our minds can be fixed (in an open, growth sort of way).
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing: Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.