The park was full. The sun was setting on the horizon. The heat was suffocating. Parents’ voices reached me through my open car windows. Children dressed in red shirts and tight striped pants warmed up with mitts and balls. I’ve loved baseball since I was a child.
While my heart delighted in the scene, a negative thought interrupted my reminiscing. Jonathan, my little son, was still unable to walk. He was almost two and could barely raise his head. Even though he’d made a lot of progress, he was clearly delayed in comparison with his peers. The prognosis was uncertain, and a black cloud hovered over my head as I thought, Jonathan will never be able to play baseball; he will never be able to run as these children do, nor feel the joy of getting to home base.
The knot in my throat was released only by the tears running down my cheeks. I looked into the sky and cried, “God, please have mercy on my son!”
Many have experienced these moments when negative thoughts cloud our days—or even whole periods of our lives. As a counselor and pastor’s wife, I have witnessed how such thoughts can destroy life.
Negative thoughts are often rooted in the past. They feed specifically on unhappy experiences we have lived through. For example: ▪ Worry: being overwhelmed with future circumstances I can’t control
▪ Inferiority: feelings of worthlessness, having no value, feeling rejected
▪ Self-pity: feeling sorry for myself over situations that cannot be changed Depression: feelings of hopelessness and despair
▪ Discouragement: emotionally giving up, not seeing a solution to my problems
▪ Bitterness: anger and resentment resulting from the pain others have caused
▪ Covetousness and greed: focusing on temporal things instead of accepting and being grateful for what I have
▪ Envy and jealousy: focusing on what I do not have, causing me to compare and complain
▪ Fear: anxiety and apprehension from overwhelming situations
▪ Lust: focusing on past failures, whether forgiven or not yet acknowledged before God
▪ Negative attitudes or thoughts: being emotionally locked with the pain others have caused me, leading to bitterness or feelings of rejection
▪ Selfishness: centering on my needs and rights to the exclusion of others1
It is vitally important to identify our thoughts, as they will determine our reactions toward others and ourselves. Thoughts create emotions, which in turn influence our behavior. Solomon described it this way: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7, KJV). Our mind is molded by our thoughts, and in time we become what we think.
What can we do when we are attacked by negative thoughts? Some practical ideas that have helped me:
▪ Focus on the positives: Start and end your day by thanking God for the blessings around you. This will help you get a head start. Remember what Paul said to the Philippians: “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:6-8, KJV).
▪ Guard your five senses: Try to keep the avenues of the soul surrounded by pure influences. What we listen to, watch, eat, touch, or smell can determine our thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Ellen White writes, “All who name the name of Christ need to watch and pray and guard the avenues of the soul, for Satan is at work to corrupt and destroy if the least advantage is given him.”2
▪ Discipline your mind to memorize the Word of God: Most soldiers at war carry a weapon to defend themselves from the enemy. As Christians, we are in a spiritual battle in a world ruled by evil. How important it is to carry “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17, KJV). Every time we are attacked with negative thought patterns, we can repeat aloud a corresponding promise. If you’re thinking, I feel abandoned, repeat aloud, “God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1, KJV).
▪ Keep a song in your heart: Music brings great blessings in the hardest moments. It becomes an instrument of the Holy Spirit to rekindle our faith in the darkest nights. Sometimes I have sung with tears in my eyes, and it was then that music was able to transform my fearful heart. Memorizing hymns can be a powerful weapon against the storms of life.
▪ Take care of your body: Tiredness or sickness can weaken the power of the mind, making us easy targets for Satan. Go to bed early, exercise, eat nutritiously, breathe fresh air, get out in the sun regularly—all of these strengthen the immune system and keep up our stamina. Remember Paul’s exhortation: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1, KJV).
▪ Ask for professional help when needed: Remember, if negative thoughts cause anxiety and prevent you from fulfilling your daily routine, it’s time to find professional help. If negative thoughts lead you to harm your body in any way, or if you find yourself thinking about death, wishing you were not alive, or even planning a way to end it all, seek help immediately. It’s not easy to come out of depression on your own. The good news is that, with the right help, depression has a 95 percent recovery rate.
Pray that Jesus will keep your thoughts from evil and that every day, by His grace, you will be able to say like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23, 24, KJV).
My son Jonathan is now five, and just the other day we played baseball together. Our laughter was so contagious that his sister Sophia started giggling with joy, which taught me another lesson: focus on the present, and leave the future up to God. Take one day at a time. Often, negative visions of the future don’t even come to pass, so spend your energy focusing on today’s blessings.
1 John Regier, Biblical Concepts Counseling Workbook (Colorado Springs, 1999), p. 112.
2 Ellen G. White, Adventist Home (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assoc., 1952), p. 402.