‘Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ’ Paul said. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
But I wonder; isn’t it often our thoughts that take us captive?
They can have us locked in the secret hideaway of our own minds, where we linger far too long, churning over the things we wish we’d said or done, the fears of what may or may not yet unfold, and the fairytale fantasies we create there.
Oh the tales my car could tell; tales of journeys spent carefully crafting witty comebacks and winning arguments that will never be heard beyond the windscreen, but that took a surprising amount of time, and no small amount of gesticulating to bring into being.
And then there are the nights; how is it that in the day I can sing songs about my trust in God and his great plans for me, and then in the middle of the night I appoint myself troubleshooter extraordinaire? I even fool myself and say that I’m ‘just making plans’, ‘being sensible’, and I’ll convince myself that I’m wise for such marvellous breadth of thought and forward planning.
I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote those words. In fact, I’m pretty sure his instruction to take every thought captive was the complete opposite of all this.
Consider thoughts as sheep on a hillside. For the most part, they’re fine just roaming around; they come and go, frolic about a bit, and are pretty harmless. But every now and then some rogue sheep will need closer inspection. And when this happens, you really need to get a firm grip – dig your fingers into the wool and your heels into the ground – otherwise the sheep will run off with you and have you trailing through the mud awkwardly. Once you’ve finished inspecting your sheep, and the medication/eartag/spray paint has been administered, you release it and watch it go.
The trouble with some of us and our thoughts, is that we grab hold of them, do our inspection and maintenance, but then fail to release them again. We hold tight and allow our thoughts to run away with us, and before we know it, the captor becomes the captive.
Overthinking is not part of God’s plan for you and me. And we get some fabulous pointers in the Bible about how the right kind of thinking should look:
‘And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ Philippians 4:8
It’s a great checklist when a thought comes your way. Before it turns on you and pins you down (or runs off with you!), ask yourself, in the sight of God and with an eye on the holy scriptures:
Is it true?
Is it honourable?
Is it right?
Is it pure?
Is it lovely?
Is it admirable?
If it isn’t, we need to recognise what’s happening, release the thought, and stop the whirring of our minds by fixing them on excellent and praiseworthy distractions.
Our brains are so intricately designed, that this process will benefit us in more ways than we can imagine. Not only will we sleep better, feel more positive and have more time on our hands to do the things God has called us to, but if I understand this correctly, our brains will actually develop new pathways, new neurons. Yep, they will develop new ways of responding to life – they’ll will grow and make us more resilient to being taken captive by our thoughts in the future!
We’re fearfully and wonderfully made! And God is not in the habit of including verses in the Bible which sound pithy but are actually impossible to do. So when he calls us to take every thought captive – he has already equipped us to be able to do it – both in the body and in the spirit.
I’m not saying any of this is easy. If you’re an overthinker, your brain has most likely spent many years cultivating the art of rabbit-hole thinking when you weren’t even looking, and is by now, really good at it. As with anything, change takes practice and discipline.
But our thought life is as important as the life we live for all to see, and it will come under attack just as easily. Paul knew this only too well.
Fortunately, even on those journeys in the car, and in the darkest night, we are never alone. The one who came to set the captives free is with us, and gives us divine power to draw on, in our quest to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.