Our Mind Matters – It provides us with amazing super-powers. We have this marvellous capacity to remember the past, analyse the present and think ahead to imaginary futures. But sometimes our mental super-powers become kryptonite to our soul. Negative thought patterns can take control. A family member is late home and we imagine the worst. While on holidays, we read an email about a problem at work and it ruins the rest of our day. We browse social media and become fixated on a comment or innuendo and lose our peace.
According to studies in neuro-science and psychology, we chatter to ourselves in our minds at between 1000 and 4000 words a minute. That is over 10 times faster than we can speak. When people have been asked to record their everyday thoughts out loud, analysis shows that such inner chatter is mostly about ourselves, and it tends to have a negative slant. We often ruminate on losses of the past, or present problems or future risks. So how can we deal with such negative thinking and renew our minds?
The good news is that we can change our thoughts through conscious effort. Psychologists have identified a range of practices that can help us reduce the negative chatter in our minds and overcome, anxiety, guilt, fear and the sense of paralysis it can bring. Some of these practices have powerful parallels in ancient biblical practices of prayer. These include the practices of:
Confessing Our Faults and Failures
- Confession: (Confessing faults and failures)
- Profession (Professing faith in the hope God has given us)
The Apostle John tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The Greek word used here for confession is “homologia” which literally means “saying the same thing.” In confessing our faults, we effectively say the same thing that God says about our sins—we agree that we have disobeyed his law, compromised his values and not sought after his best for our life. Confession of sins is thus acknowledging that God’s word is right, his law is good, and we are all are sinners saved by his grace.
Jesus teaches us to practice such confession regularly by praying “Father forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Mt 6:12). In the Psalms, King David sets us a great example of confession when he prays “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). The writer to the Hebrews tells us that when we confess our sins the blood of Jesus “purges our conscience” to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14).
Because of its power to cleanse our conscience, confession is a first step to overcoming the negative chatter in our mind. When we acknowledge our sin before God and find forgiveness for our past faults and failures, the purging of our conscience acts powerfully to reduce negative thoughts about our past. However, sometimes we stay in that place of sin confession too long. We become weighed down by guilt and condemnation long after God has forgiven and forgotten our failures. That is where profession comes in.Professing our Hope in God.
Profession simply means making a good confession. In Hebrews 10:23 we are encouraged to “… hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Some translations say “hold unswervingly to the confession of our hope.” That is because the same Greek word “homologia” is used for profess in this passage as was used in 1 John 1:9 when it was translated confession. In Hebrews 10:23, however, we are being urged to make a good confession and say the same things about all the good things God says about us. Profession is thus acknowledging, agreeing and speaking out God’s promises. It is making a good confession of our faith and confidence in God. Here are some examples of how we can profess our hope in Christ:
Powering Up our Profession
- Good Confessions to Overcome Condemnation I am the righteousness of God in Christ. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I am saved by grace. My sins are washed away.
- Good Confessions to Overcome Anxiety: God has not given me the spirit of fear. There is no fear in love. I am more than a conqueror through him who loves me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Two further prayer practices, that are grounded in scripture and confirmed by modern psychology, can power up this practice of professing our hope in Christ in a dynamic way. These are:• Talking to Yourself.
Talking to yourself is not the first sign of madness. We do it all that time. You may even have said to yourself “Hey Andrew, Angela or Marlene get a grip.” This common practice of giving yourself an instruction or positive counsel has been shown by rigorous scientific testing to reduce the activity in our brains when we are under threat. It calms our emotions, and helps control our negative thinking. That is a rediscovery of an ancient practice we see in scripture. In the Psalms, one writer says to himself: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps 103:2).” In Psalm 42:5 the writer says: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” Then in the New Testament Paul exhorts us to “be filled with the spirit, speaking to yourselves with psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Eph 5:19). Speaking constructive counsel and a positive faith profession to ourselves in prayer is a powerful way of bringing our thoughts and feelings under the authority of God’s word.• Personalise God’s Word for Yourself.
Prayer should be a two way conversation with God. Yet many people find it hard to know if God is speaking to them. So why not embrace the promises in the Bible as God’s word to you personally. A great way of doing this is to insert your name in scripture as if God is speaking to you. Personalize the scripture. Here are some examples using Psalm 23. “Andrew, I am your shepherd, you lack nothing.” “Angeline I am leading you beside still water and green pastures.” “John, as you go through the shadows, my rod and my staff will comfort you.” “Joyce, surely goodness and mercy will follow you every day of your life.” Personalisation of scripture by name is a proven way of reducing anxious negative thinking. Furthermore it really is God speaking to us! God’s word was meant to be heard personally. Psalm 40:7 tells us that “In the volume of the book it is written of me!!! And that means you.Conclusion
Many of the battles in life begin in our minds and are carried out in our minds. If we are to live victoriously, fully alive in Christ, we have to find ways to bring our thoughts under God’s authority. Confession of our faults and failures in prayer begins that process, but it does not stop there. We also need to develop practices of professing God’s promises to ourselves. Experience, research and scripture clearly shows that making a good confession or profession of the hope we have in Christ is a powerful tool or weapon for renewing our minds and finding victory over negative and destructive thinking.… We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ 2 Cor 10:5Discussion Questions and Exercises1. Discussion topics and questions
a) Share about times when your inner negative chatter was out of control.
b) Why do you think confession of faults can be helpful in renewing our minds?
c) If you feel comfortable, share times when confession of faults and failures has particularly helped you renew your mind.
d) Share times when making a good positive confession has helped you overcome negative thinking.
e) Why do you think speaking to yourself and personalising scripture are such powerful ways of taking authority over our thoughts?
f) What other keys have you found to overcome negative self-talk?2. Group Activity
a) Share some of your favourite Bible verses with each other.
b) Take time to individually write these out as if God is speaking to you personally.
c) Share your personalised scriptures; and, if some are struggling with doing this, help each other out.
d) Exchange scriptures and have different people read out the personalised scriptures to the people who wrote them. Make sure you say their name as you are reading. This can be a particularly powerful way of personalising God’s word for each other