These and many other thoughts pass through our minds. Sometimes we are conscious of them, and at other times we aren’t. We have many negative thoughts every day. Such as when you are assigned a task at work that you don’t like, or if you get partnered up with someone you don’t like for a group project, or if you come across that one neighbor that rubs you the wrong way. There are certain thoughts that we can entertain in those situations that are not pleasing to the Lord.
Sometimes, our thoughts betray a lack of trust or love for God and other people. But often, these thoughts go undetected, and they affect us at a heart level without our knowledge.
Due to fear, our thoughts can be consumed by anxiety and worry about the future – whether all will be well and if everything will work out. Timothy Keller once said, “When we worry we are saying, ‘I know the way my life is supposed to go, and God’s not getting it right.’” How then can we begin to take hold of our anxious and worried thoughts? The Bible tells us we can take our thoughts captive with God’s help.
Why do we need to take every thought captive?
Proverbs 23:7 NKJV says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Scripture reminds us that what we think about is crucial to shaping who we are. Our thought life is crucial to our spiritual formation, as there is a battle being waged daily in our minds. Our thoughts either honor the Lord or the demonstrate a lack of love, trust and a complaining spirit.
If we desire to please God, we will want to cultivate a healthy thought life that reflects our love for him. After all, when Jesus was asked which commands in the Hebrew Scriptures were the most important, we read, “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37)
The term “taking every thought captive” comes from this passage: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
The apostle Paul was trying to safeguard the Christians in Corinth from the false teachers who were influencing them away from the truth. He was attempting to counteract their lies with the truth of God’s Word.
Sometimes, whether we realize it or not, we also get caught in arguments and pretensions that stand against the knowledge of God. These conflicts can be subtle or overt. They can also come from other people, or they can be part of an internal dialogue to which we’ve become accustomed. Either way, our thoughts ought to be examined and brought under the rule of Christ.
Some of our most persistent thoughts that resist the truth are our worries and anxieties. The truth is most of our worries do not come to pass. With those that do, we often find that God helps us meet the challenge head on. In any case, we can learn something valuable through the experience. Worry and anxiety rob you of opportunities, experiences, and joy. They add nothing while taking away from your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
When thoughts are left unexamined and allowed to run rampant in our minds, they can do untold damage. Just because you’re unaware of the thoughts that are passing through your head doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact.
Thoughts that denigrate your value, suggest God isn’t interested in you, tell you you’re alone and unlovable or a failure, or steep you in fear about the future – these all affect us, and they can color how we view God, the world, and our lives.
What does taking every thought captive look like?
Precisely how does one go about “taking every thought captive?” Here are four tips to help you take your thoughts captive.
Name It and Break It Down
Our thoughts can sometimes hide how insidious they are by being amorphous and unnamed. When you identify a certain thought and start to examine it, you may begin to see just how unhelpful it is.
For instance, when you receive a task that you don’t like, you may find yourself feeling angry or negative, with complaining thoughts about your boss or the task itself. When you identify that you’re complaining or grumbling, that gives you some control and capability of change.
Sometimes, our fears hold us in their grip, but when you stop and think about them, they don’t make much sense. Of course, irrational fears are still fears, and they have an effect on us regardless. But it’s a step in the right direction to expose the anxieties as exaggerations of reality.
As Paul wrote, we “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” (2 Cor. 10:5) Say you find yourself having negative thoughts about a coworker or neighbor. You may find yourself insulting them, perhaps questioning their worth to your team, and maybe you start insinuating that you are better than they are.
In this case you need to name the lack of love for your neighbor and own that you’re not honoring them as you should. We need help to accurately name and break down our thoughts.
Speak Truth Over It
The way we demolish untruthful and unhelpful lines of reasoning is by speaking truth over it, specifically by using God’s Word. We need to familiarize ourselves with what God’s Word says. If we’re feeling like the future is uncertain, and we’re tempted to worry about it, we should remember what the Lord says about himself:
…declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ – Isaiah 46:10
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139:16
When tempted to worry about our future, about how our needs will be met, Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:31-34:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
These words remind us of God’s unfailing care for us and how God holds our futures in his hands. They also remind us of the futility of worrying and tell us to seek the kingdom of God instead.
Choose to Step Forward
Worry and anxiety can dominate our thoughts and dictate our steps. Bravery and courage are not the absence of fear, but the willingness to keep going even though you’re afraid. Choose to walk in the truth of what the Lord says rather than remain in worry and anxiety.
Practice with Intentionality
The habits of our minds can be hard to overcome. We can get so settled into a particular way of thinking and being that we don’t question it. In fact, our brains are wired to strengthen these neural pathways. When you think along the same pathway, your brain doesn’t need to work as hard. But these pathways are not always good for us.
If you desire to take your thoughts captive, then you must introduce a level of intentionality into your life. You need to stop certain trains of thought in their tracks before they run away with themselves.
It may mean becoming acquainted with your triggers, having verses ready to apply to those situations, deliberately replacing accusations and fear with affirmation, or simply refusing to think certain thoughts. All this takes time and practice, but if you’re intentional about it, you will begin to make progress.
Lastly, it’s important to intentionally choose to keep in step with the Spirit, and to keep the Word of God uppermost in our minds. Galatians 5:16, 22-25 encourages us:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
When the Spirit reminds us of the truth, we should open to hear it, cherish it, and live by it.
Taking Anxiety and Worry Captive in Your Thoughts
Anxiety and worry can become settled patterns of thinking and being, and they will take some effort to undo. It is possible to get onto a new path, to think in new ways and begin embodying new practices that honor God and allow you to live a life of flourishing.
You can take this journey toward freedom with the help of a Christian counselor, who will help you discover how to take every thought captive by applying God’s Word. Your thought life matters to God, and he certainly does not want us to live lives dominated by worry and anxiety. If you need additional encouragement, don’t hesitate to reach out to a Christian counselor who can help you get your anxiety and worry under control.
“Feeling Down”, Courtesy of Molnar Balint, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Laying in the Leaves”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “More Love. Less Fear”, Courtesy of Bram, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yoga”, Courtesy of Bady qb, Unsplash.com, CC0 License