When David pondered God’s all-encompassing knowledge he said, “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off” (Psa 139:2). Later he invited God to “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” (v23, 24). With David we can say, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (v6). We know little about what might be passing through the mind of another, even someone close to us; and also how others might have no idea what we might be thinking about; but someone, our God and Creator, does know. In fact He is very interested in our hearts and our minds, so much so that He says, “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer 17:10). How necessary this is for righteous judgment, but also how scary to know that there is not a thought that traverses our mind without God knowing!

This means that we have to rein in our thoughts, purify them so that what our Father finds will be pleasing. And why? Because our thoughts define us: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7). A man (or woman) is essentially his thoughts, for what a man believes, he will become. That’s why we are exhorted, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov 4:23). Notice how the mind, the thoughts, and the heart are almost interchangeable terms in Scripture.

Challenging questions

In view of the above, what is ‘home base’ for your mind, or to put it as another brother once did, “What do you think about when you can think about anything you want to think about?” (R Lloyd). Our Lord said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:21). Our minds naturally turn to what we love, are interested in, and treasure, and we face a huge problem from which we cannot escape if we are to overcome – so we must vet the trash. There is a constant generation of thoughts in our minds; all sorts, often unwanted, unbidden and unhelpful, and even during the most sacred hour of our week. In fact, we have to get to know ourselves to turn the searchlight of introspection upon our own minds, rather than on others. We are often much better at the latter, or think we are! It’s a tragic fact that sometimes brethren pass through life without ever learning the truth about themselves, despite being surrounded by influences that could have enlightened them. The fact is that we find it hard to be honest with ourselves and to recognise unpleasant truths about ourselves, and so we might even resist the advice of others who may want to help.

We need to be constantly thinking about how we are thinking! As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been exhorted, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). He was submissive to his Father’s will, taking upon himself the “form [status] of a servant,” when as the Son of God he could have been otherwise (v7, 8). Later we shall suggest ways which can assist us to this end.

An unpleasant truth

The Bible’s portrait of the human mind is not pretty: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jer 17:9); “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5); “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders …” (Mark 7:21–23). We know that the ways of unenlightened men, the ‘world’, are governed by the three lusts: of the flesh, the eyes, and pride of life and that the world will pass away, but that “he that doeth the will of God”, revealed in His Word, “abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15–17; Isa 40:8).

The challenge then is, how can we obey the greatest commandment to “love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut 6:5), when we are saddled with the wicked and perverse human mind?

The battle within

Before answering this question it is important to recognise what we might call ‘our internal struggle’. We have all been called by God to be heirs of eternal life and His Kingdom. A new way of thinking has been introduced into our hearts as a result of this enlightenment, and thereafter we have to grow into the moral likeness revealed in our Lord. But it is not easy to crucify “the old man”, the thoughts and ways on which our past life was fashioned. As a consequence we are aware of an internal struggle: there is a will to do what is right, but it is competing with another will to obey “the flesh”, with its “affections and lusts”. As disciples we are painfully aware of this conflict, and it is good that we are, for if we are not, then it is highly likely that we have lost the battle and flesh has prevailed.

In that notable disclosure of his battle within, the Apostle Paul, the greatest disciple of our Lord, says, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom 7:18–23). He thanked God that he could be delivered from that “wretched” state “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v24–25).

In the Word of God others have given expression to this ‘battle within’, for example Asaph in Psalm 73 and of course, wherever saints have fallen there is evidence of the battle within being lost to sin. We, too, can empathise with Paul as we strive to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

Victory through the conqueror, Jesus Christ

We can rejoice in Jesus Christ because in him our sins have been forgiven, and if we should fall again, can still be forgiven if we confess them. Not only do we have redemption in our Lord, but in his teachings he has drawn attention to the importance of our thinking: he has taught us that lustful thoughts are the equivalent of adultery, that angry thoughts are the precursor of hostile actions and murder. In the Sermon on the Mount he takes matters from the circumference to the centre: words and deeds are founded on our thoughts, so if we are going to overcome we must deal with our thoughts.

So what can we do to combat the defiling influences that we confront in this evil and adulterous generation? Before addressing this question, let us think about the challenges facing us in our godless and unenlightened world. Our mind-space is constantly being invaded, our attention demanded by the aggressive multifarious media, and we are likely to be ‘taken over’ and overwhelmed if we are not awake and alert. Advertising, the TV screen, sport, glossy magazines, iPhones, iPads, computers, text messages, computer games; are all conspiring against “the new man” in Christ whom we are striving to develop.

All this has serious implications for us and our children. Take, for example, PlayStations on which children get used to rapid and exciting changes; they can easily be absorbed in, and conditioned by, this form of entertainment. The spin-off is that they are bored with anything less, such as listening to talks, the daily readings etc. On these they find it hard to focus. How can our thoughts be attuned to the Word of God, let alone meditate in His Word day and night (Psa 1:2), when faced with such distractions? How long does it take to refocus our thoughts on spiritual things after being distracted?

What we can do?

Besides doing our ‘daily readings’ (with family preferably, if we still have children in the home), we can pray and seek our heavenly Father’s blessing and guidance. We must develop a close personal relationship with our Lord and his Father. Enoch “walked with God” – “he pleased God” – and this must mean that he talked with God because that is what people do when they walk together – for two cannot “walk together, except they be agreed” (Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5; Amos 3:3).

Also, we need good company: the companionship and fellowship of our brothers and sisters and not of worldly ‘friends’. If we support and ‘get behind’ our ecclesial activities this will help remove the temptation to become engaged in things that have no profit. Also we must not go to bad places, and that can include the Internet, which insidiously can destroy the ‘mind of the Spirit’ we are striving to develop.

In Ephesians 6 the Apostle Paul describes the spiritual warrior and “the whole armour of God”. He gives to each item a spiritual equivalent, so that we might “be able to withstand in the evil day” (v13). We will all have to face “the evil day” in the course of our lives and we need to be prepared. In his description Paul tells us we have the need for truth, righteousness, the preparation of the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”; and finally he mentions prayer (v14–18). Do we consciously give attention to these things?

Aware of the need to put on “the whole armour of God,” we must conquer “the flesh”. It is a spiritual battle in which we are engaged: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood”. We are striving to be more like our Lord, to think like him and to act like him. In the realm of what we think about, Paul exhorts, “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 4:8).

Let us keep on thinking about how we are thinking.