The Shema Prayer that every Jew recites everyday about loving your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength was amended by our Savior Lord by adding to love God with all your mind also. This addition mandated all believers to not let anything else dominate their thoughts also while controlling their desires. The temptation of the Garden of Eden was to make the first couple wise and ‘be like god’. The high magnitude of tempting information being pushed at us every day is to lure us away from God by ‘blinding us to the Gospel message’.
What tools are used by the devil? – Satan is termed as ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2) and air is the medium through which all communication waves travel as also the medium for transmission of most viruses. Before the final battle commences for establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, the seven angels pouring out ‘bowls of the wrath of God on earth’ and the seventh bowl will be poured into the air resulting in great noise, thundering and lightning and a mighty great earthquake like the one never seen before (Revelation 16:17-18). With this the devil’s control over the air is broken and final part of the battle will be started. All spoken word travels through the air on airwaves and the evil content on the internet or TV or films is evidence of the devil’s control. A new film director justifies slapping your wife as an expression of love and as part of freedom of love turning the Scripture command of loving your wife upside down.
We are continuously bombarded by thoughts and the great theologian, C. S. Lewis in his short book ‘Screwtape Letters’ reveals the modus operandi of a senior or teacher demon guiding a beginner demon about controlling a man through placing thoughts into his mind. A thought is a seed planted in our minds and we nurture it by dwelling on it to make it grow into a big tree threatening our peace resulting in some foolish acts. This placing of thoughts is continuous like a bird hovering over your head but we accept it when we let it settle down and make a nest. Talith, the Jewish prayer shawl, has tassels in the corner with a blue thread to remind them of ‘all the commandments of the LORD and do them, that you may obey them and not chase after the lusts of your hearts and eyes’ (Numbers 15:38-40). The prayer shawl is an instrument of taking thoughts captive by remembering the commandments and discarding evil thoughts, thus bringing greater focus in prayer life.
The alteration to the Shema prayer by the Lord Jesus confirms that the spirit of man is the one that knows and the mind which is our conscience, intuition and worship must be used to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Thought pattern is used to affect behavior pattern. In like manner music is also used to affect thoughts. Left part of brain works for logic, reasoning, analysis or ‘Academic activities’ while the right part deals with images, imagination and perception. While listening to music the reasoning power is shut off and the lyrics reach the right part unprocessed becoming part of our sub-conscience. Music promoting violence in society through lyrics about weapons used for subjugation of others and for mighty deeds, drugs and domination have changed the society into an intolerant one.
The command to bring all thoughts into captivity has Greek word ‘noema’ which is translated as ‘thought, purpose, design or feelings’. This word is derived from ‘noeo’ meaning ‘think, consider, comprehend’ involving application of mental effort for value judgement. Noema has suffix ‘ma’ which underlines the result of the thinking or personal verdict and the meaning therefore is not only about bringing thoughts but resultant conclusions also captive in submission to the Lord. It involves obliterating any evil effect of the thoughts in visible or invisible form in our lives.
Bringing thoughts under control – Apostle Paul, the warrior saint, declares that ‘the weapons we have are mighty to pull down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:4). But before we start using these weapons we must first recognize strongholdsthat constitute our old beliefs imbibed throughout life and a repeated abuse to a child ‘you are no good’ turn into a stronghold. These and other such inadvertently said words by others have formed our thought pattern since childhood but now through faith in the Son of God, I am a child of God (John 1:12). Nothing can be a greater blessing than this for me and this gives me a new identify and I must use it to knock down such strongholds. Second, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ is the next step and the devil and his group fall in this category. All arguments given by these must be discarded and cast down. Third, bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Lord Jesus and it is done through recognizing what is not your own thought or from God and violates the general thought pattern. We must immediately fight it out at the first stage itself and the moment such a thought comes challenge it with God’s Word and discard it.
It is not positive thinking but positive faith in the truthfulness of God’s Word. God’s Word to His Son on the Jordan River after His baptism was a recognition and pleasure of their relationship (Matthew 3:17). During Lord Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness the devil challenged this relationship by saying, ‘if You are the Son of God’ to then urge Him to attempt something to prove the veracity of that statement (Matthew 4:3 & 6). Lord Jesus ignored this line altogether in His reply making it totally irrelevant.
How to challenge thoughts – First, change the focus – Are we focusing on our goals or obstacles; on what is right or what is wrong for we find what we search for. Retain focus on what God has given already and thank Him for that rather than crying over unanswered prayers only. Two, take a good start for the day – Our early morning worship sets the course for the day and realize that media is for influencing us to miss this. We must focus on inherent goodness of people not only on evil and it is not necessary to know such news where evil is highlighted. Three, question the thought pattern – Are my thoughts true, helpful and necessary or not and are my thoughts helping or hindering my goals? Four, ‘Give thanks in everything; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The command is to give thanks ‘in everything’ not ‘for everything’ and even while suffering evil, focus your thoughts on things to thank God for . Five, where is the location of your control – Do not let outer things effect your thoughts and retain internal locus of control and with this with God’s grace I can change my situation. Joshua was promised by God that ‘nothing can stand against you for I am with you’ (Joshua 1:5-7) and in faith he could stop the sun and the moon for a while. I have the same promise from the Lord that ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’. The need is to be courageous and take control. Six, analyze the words used daily -What are the words we generally use for these affect our thought pattern. If we say we are going to the church only or just going to the church only then being late does not matter and we can miss the service also. However if we say we are going to the house of God to worship then it is better to be regular and in time. Remove just and only from your talk and see the difference. Seven, substitute not fight the thoughts –The more we fight or try to control our thoughts, the more we fail. We must replace evil thoughts with Scripture verses, God’s promises and what He has done in the past. The fight is between two patterns of thoughts, God will not do anything I have to do it versus put all your cares on Him for He cares for you. Finally, seek God’s help – Lord Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit will glorify Him and declare to the believers what is the Lord’s (John 14:14). In this spiritual battle He is the most powerful ally that we have, to tear down strongholds, those old thought patterns we have set up in our minds. I must surrender myself to His power and let Him work in Me.
The most intense battle for thought control was fought in the Gethsemane Park and the Son of God identified His one weak spot that needed to be managed, ‘the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:41). He had declared His weakness beforehand which was controlled through bringing body in subjection to His soul, the spirit and finally the Holy Spirit. He was very well aware of what awaited Him as per the prophesies, ‘His visage was marred more than any other man’ (Isaiah 52:13) where Hebrew word ‘mishchath’ means disfigurement of face and He was brutally assaulted at every stage of the trial. Satan was trying to place thoughts in His mind that after death is separation from God for no one had gone back to God till then. Lord Jesus’ battle is the ‘cup of God’s wrath’ causing separation like the sin of disobedience led to Adam and Eve being expelled from God’s presence. He dreaded the separation from 12 to 3 pm, the time of putting on Him of our sins and the time of evening sacrifices, from the time the darkness of our sins would engulf Him on the cross. His plea was, ‘do not turn Your face from Me, My Father’ and if possible remove this agony and then the cry to a just God ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ (Psalm 22:2). Once the darkness came over the earth, real worship of God started on the cross through singing of Psalms. And after a while it was ‘I thirst’ in consonance with My soul thirsts for You’ (Psalm 63:1). Lord Jesus had total control over His body and soul, His thoughts and desires to finally completion of the assigned task, It is finished’. And it was only then that He offered His sacrificial offering to the Father, ‘Father, into Your hands I surrender My Spirit’.
He did this and then made the promise to all believers, ‘He who overcomes will sit with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne’. The task was tough and His preparation started with deep knowledge and understanding of the Scripture from childhood days itself.
Knowledge, wisdom and thought control – God declared to His prophet, ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’ (Hoshea 4:6). Elihu also said, those who obey and serve God are saved but others die without knowledge and the hypocrites do not cry for help’ (Job 36:11-13). The first head of the Jerusalem Church also said, ‘be doers of the Word and not hearers only’ (James 1:22) and for this the first step is learning. Lord Jesus started learning Scriptures at a very young age and at 12 years of age discussed Scripture with scholars and teachers and ‘all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers’ (Luke 2:47). Defeating the devil through requires deep knowledge of the Word of God to nail his likes.
There are five stages of learning – knowledge, wisdom – both about knowing, third, conviction is about doing and character and skill are about being what we are. First, knowledge – The Pharisees and Sadducees were rebuked by the Lord ‘you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God’ despite the fact that they they were scholars (Mark 12:24). They definitely knew the facts but not the content and the intent. Second, Wisdom or perspective – This is about seeing everything from God’s view for knowledge is about what God does and wisdom is why He does that. Apostle Paul declared that as believers ‘we have the mind of Christ’ for the indwelling Holy Spirit reveals Him (1 Corinthians 2:16). Third, conviction – This is the third block on which the structure is raised and is about getting convinced and then be ready to defend it at all costs. Gideon’s conviction led him to challenge the mighty Midianite army and defeat them with just three hundred men. Job was convinced of God’s love and righteousness and could emphatically say, ‘though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. I will defend my own ways before Him’ (Job 13:15). In this we want to feel what God feels and to get into and the heart of God. We add God’s perspective to knowledge and then add to that, convictions that comes out of knowing His mind. Apostle Paul’s great conviction ‘nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God’ (Romans 8:39) and he lived this. Four, character development -Convictions develop habits and this then forms character for character of an individual is the sum of his/her disposition, thoughts, intentions, desires and actions. A. W. Tozer defines character as “the excellence of moral beings” while the fruits of the Holy Spirit are about character of Lord Jesus and our goal is to become more like Him. Finally the skill, By doing a thing again and again we become skillful in that and daily Bible reading, regular prayer and fasting, regular witnessing help us get skilled in God’s kingdom work.
‘If the ax is dull one requires more strength but wisdom/skill brings success’ (Ecclesiastes 10:10) and prayer alone will not bring success but skill developed through continuous living in obedience will. Repetitive use of what the Holy Spirit teaches us will develop our skills to face the evil thoughts that attack us from the devil. Lord Jesus said ‘I only do what My Father does’ for He never looked towards anyone else. Knowing His Mind and getting skilled in doing His will only can help us retain our focus on the Lord and not returning to look on the storms of evil thoughts. This is the fight to the finish for each one of us, either to walk on water or to drown and face eternal damnation.
God promised Joshua that ‘no man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you’ (Joshua 1:5). Joshua led his people to conquer the Promised Land and during the battle of Gibeon commanded even ‘the sun to stand still over Gibeon; and moon, in the valet of Aijalon’ (Joshua 10:12-13). The Savior Lord has rent the separating veil from top to bottom and assured us of being with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). We have to learn to live in His mighty presence always in His strength ‘overcome’ all that the devil hurls at us. Only this defines our excellence in the Lord!