Life’s Most Important Battle
“A man of perverse heart does not prosper; he whose tongue is deceitful falls into trouble” – Proverbs 17:20
*Do you ever stop to think about what you’re thinking about? Try it. I believe you’ll find as I did that we tend to have a lot of distressing thoughts. It seems to be part of the human condition that regularly we’re, you know, minding our own business and all of a sudden some threatening or demoralizing thought pops into our consciousness.
Where does this stuff come from? Much of it from our environment. Somebody figured out that about 80% of the thoughts that intersect with our brain in a given day are negative. I don’t know how they measure that, but when you figure what we hear 24/7 on TV, look at on the Internet, YouTube or Facebook, etc., 80% negative sounds about right.
So, we live in an environment that regularly fuels our negativity bias. The good news is that we have a wonderful ability to choose the thoughts we’re going to focus on and respond to. The bad news is that choosing to respond to the good and reject the bad is a battle; I would suggest that it’s life’s most important battle. As Proverbs 17:20 points out, wrong thoughts can so twist and distort our motives and morals that we become compulsive liars who constantly fall into trouble. And that’s just one consequence of wrong thinking.
To win this battle it’s important that we understand the true nature of it. You remember those cartoons where some character has a little angel perched on one shoulder whispering into his ear good things to say and do? Of course perched on the other shoulder is a little devil whispering bad ideas into his ear. The idea here is that to always do the right thing we just have to reach up and flick the little devil off our shoulder. Wrong. This battle is far more sinister than that. The truth is the enemy isn’t on our shoulder. It’s within us.
One of the most influential authors and original thinkers of the 19 century, Charles Spurgeon, understood the nature of this struggle: “Beware of no man more than of yourself,” he said; “we carry our worst enemies within us.”
We’re constantly dialoguing with ourselves. Now some believe (I among them) that the devil is real, and that he has something to do with the negative bias of this dialogue. That said, it’s you and I who are our own worst critic. We frequently internalize thoughts like, “Keep your mouth shut; nobody wants to hear your opinion.” Or, “You’ll always be a failure.” Or, “If they just knew what you’re really like…” Etc. Here’s the bottom line: Unchecked, negative self-dialogue will keep us from becoming all that we could have been and will deprive those closest to us of the positive influence we could have had on them.
How do we change the nature of our self-talk? Since we’re always going to be dialoging with ourselves, how do we make the conversation positive? The thing I’ve found that works best is the ancient text of the scriptures.
Have you ever noticed how sports figures sometimes wear headphone as they walk through a hostile crowd to the dressing room before the game? Their headphones shut out the insults and the smut. The “headphones” God offers to block negative self-talk and change our perspective is the bible. The scriptures suggest to us, for example, things to thank God for and be glad about. They assure us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, and that, no matter how badly we blow it, with God we can always start over with a clean slate. The Bible reveals the infinite magnitude of our value and the boundless depth of God’s love for us. And there’s so much more!
You and I can’t control what thoughts elbow their way into our mind, but we can block out this unwanted stuff by choosing to focus instead on the good news the Bible offers.
*This essay is based on a presentation by Steven Furtick titled “Crash the Chatterbox”