Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
If you’ve been to a circus you might have seen elephants, these huge and yet gentle animals. They have so much power and strength, and yet in training them, as babies, they teach them in a rather strange way. Chains are placed around their neck and the other end is attached to a stake, driven into the ground. They pull and yank and strain and struggle, but the chain is too strong, the stake is too strong.
One day they give up, having learned that they cannot pull free, and from that day forward they can be ‘chained’ with a slender rope. When this enormous animal feels any resistance, though it has the strength to pull the whole circus tent over, it stops trying. Because it believes it cannot, it cannot. He’s been cautioned and conditioned to think he is too weak to break free, when in reality he could snap the chain when he gets older.
I see this as a parallel to many of us. We become conditioned to chains that keep us bound—our thoughts that cause trouble. Our destructive and harmful thoughts that can drag us down. Why do we beat ourselves up with negative thoughts that are not helpful?—like I’m an idiot, I’m hopeless”. It’s negative self-talk.
How do we typically react when things fall apart? More often than not, we feel ashamed and become self-critical: What’s wrong with me?, Why can’t I cope?, Why me? Perhaps we go on a mission to fix ourselves, adding insult to injury. Sometimes we go after others. Rather than giving ourselves a break, we seem to find the path of greatest resistance.
Deep-rooted destructive thoughts
It seems many of us have had these destructive thoughts since childhood. We’ve grown up with them and, despite our age, still find them a problem. Maybe when you were a child someone in authority said to you, You’ll never amount to anything. You’re too dumb. What a hurtful and terrible thing to say to a child. That thought can affect the rest of their life, and often does.
We often have internal issues that are difficult to process, and prefer to leave them alone. The Bible and psychologists say that our happiness and achievements are not altogether determined by our circumstances but by how we face the circumstances.
Let me share some destructive thoughts that are very common. This is what we say to ourselves:
- I’ll never be happy.
- God can’t love me.
- It doesn’t really matter.
- I am always a failure.
- It’s all my fault.
- I’m not very important.
- I am ugly and no good.
- No-one loves me.
- Will anyone care if I’m not around?
I think we need to bring God into the picture and say to properly establish our thoughts, It’s a great thing to commit our way to God. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Share your plans with the Lord and you will succeed”. That doesn’t mean you necessarily will be famous or wealthy—but it does mean your life will be balanced and you will be happy and satisfied. Focus on him and take your mind off the harmful thoughts.
Overcoming destructive thoughts
After all you are what you think. No-one else in the world tells you what to think. Thinking is the only part of your life that is completely up to you. You don’t get to choose when you were born, who your parents are, or what country you were born in, but you do get to choose what you think about those things.
Capturing those destructive thoughts is good, but freedom from even desiring to entertain the thought is even better. Jesus said in John 8:32, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”. When you know ultimate truth on a deep level, and train your mind to think on it, instead of the lie of the destructive thought, then something happens in the depths of your heart. God changes you to be in line with his truth. As he changes you on the inside, the thoughts and outward behaviour will come into line.
A good illustration of this might be beach balls sitting around on the surface of the pool like destructive thoughts, until someone tries to submerge them. But because they have air inside, when they are put underwater they constantly try to jet up to the surface. You can stand on a ball, or submerge it with your hands, but the minute you let go of it to get another ball under the water, the first one comes up again.
Guy Earle once wrote, “Your destination in life is determined by your choice of thought. Embrace the truth of God about yourself and experience life to the fullest”. Maybe we should join the Psalmist in his prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).