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Counting Thoughts and Getting Off the Hamster Wheel

On a February drive spanning half-the-state of Oregon, God started to stir something up. I felt a new season approaching – a battle of sorts. I could feel the hints of it coming the way a pumpkin spice lover can sniff out the earliest hints of fall. A couple of girlfriends had started reading a new book together, invited me to join them, and I said yes before one of them even finished asking. I try to be one of those “just say yes” women when it comes to things like that. This new book sounded similar to another book I had been reading – one a dear friend released at the beginning of the year. The overall idea? Overcoming those toxic thoughts and beating the lies and generally walking in freedom. Who doesn’t need more of that, right?

I devoured the first nine chapters through my car speakers, pausing occasionally to slip the pacifier to the backseat. Rinnah and I were on our first girls’ trip – she had a weekend of undivided grandparent-attention at my parents’ house ahead of her. Me? I was en-route to teach at my first women’s conference in five years. I was stepping back into the ring, and God was whispering: it’s time to lace up the gloves.

The drive home was accompanied by my standard Pandora worship station (hello, Elevation Worship), but new melodies were popping up – battle cries dancing between liked-and-familiar songs.

This is the sound of dry bones rattlin’ came thundering at milepost 72.

This is how I fight my battles was repeated over and over at milepost 86. It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You.

I picked up my phone to voice-memo my girlfriends about it. The words tumbled out honest and raw and more vulnerable than I like to be. And, when I played it back? The message was muffled. Hard to hear. Difficult to understand. And I knew: I was entering into a battle over my words and one enemy, in particular, was about to put up a fight to stop them.

* * *

The next day, I read an unrelated business email and began to see a trend.

“Is your inner critic as harsh as my inner critic?” she asked. “You can’t do this. You aren’t good enough. Who do you think you are? Holy heck, my inner critic can be a devil to deal with when it’s acting up!”

I was doing some yoga later that morning, feeling a little bit like I was in spiritual boot-camp. With every holding-plank, I felt my spirit bulking up. Getting ready for war. Afterward, I picked up that book again that I began listening to in the car. “We have bought the lie that we are victims of our thoughts rather than warriors equipped to fight on the front lines of the greatest battle of our generation: the battle for our minds.”

The author based her words on 2 Corinthians 10:5 – part of a three-verse sentence. And I put the book down, opened my Bible up, and began to dig.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6)

Whew, I wrote in my prayer journal. Heavy.

As for the word definitions, “bringing into captivity” means to lead away captive. It’s a metaphor for capturing your mind, captivating it, bringing it under control, and it’s rooted in a similar Greek word that refers to a prisoner of war.

“Every” means what it says: each, every, any, and all – both individually and collectively.

And “thought?” It actually means purpose. It’s causing whoever is devising evil to desist from his purpose and submit himself to Christ. With that in mind, I was able to step outside of the anxiety that came with the suppression of words and think: do these thoughts fall in line with God’s purpose for me, right here, right now? Or are they trying to take God’s purpose for me out at the knees?

If it’s the latter? Slap a cease and desist on the narrative. Satan’s purpose is to distract you from God’s purpose. Your job is to say: “This does not line up with God’s purpose for my life,” and take those thoughts back to the obedience of Christ.

* * *

A few days later, I found myself in 2 Kings. I couldn’t shake the story of Elisha and the chariots and hunted it down to give it a gander. It turned out that Israel was at war with Syria. But God had been telling Elisha every plan the King of Syria would make (through the spiritual gift-of-knowledge that a prophet has about them). So he wasn’t surprised when the king sent a large army their way full of horses and chariots. But, just when the city looked to be surrounded, the mountains surrounding them were full of horses and chariots of fire.

Checkmate.

But here’s the take-those-thoughts-captive kicker tucked into the end of that story: Elisha prayed that God would blind the Syrian army and remove their power. And then he took them directly to the King of Israel and left them there, captive. And do you know what happened? The king dealt with them, and they never came back again. It’s a black and white representation of what God is telling us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 – to take these thoughts into captivity, to the obedience of Christ, so that they will never come back to bother you again.

* * *

A month has gone by since the 2 Kings piece of the narrative. But God wasn’t done with the conversation yet. Yesterday morning, I came to my afternoon table in the naptime stillness with my mind on a hamster wheel I couldn’t get off of. The big one’s tummy has thrown us a curveball lately (let’s be honest, it’s been throwing us curveballs since he was three months old). And this latest round? It started all the way back in December. With each new natural remedy we try, we take a step forward. And then his body is all “nah, just kidding,” taking us a few steps back. We are actively working to get him unstuck from the rut he’s been in for almost four months and, until we can, my mind is stuck on the hamster wheel. I keep digging and keep researching every day, trying to see if there’s something I’ve missed.

I had a real-life opportunity to flex my faith muscles and put all those “take every thought captive” anecdotes into action. God, I scribbled the words onto prayer-journal pages, it’s wild the pace that my brain is trying to find a fix for Jordan, searching for answers. I need You to take all this anxiety and worry and lack of control and place Your Spirit on me like one of those weighted blankets that replaces stressor-pressure with a pressure of calming peace. 

I was reading an unrelated book when the author mentioned the story of Jesus and those few loaves and fishes that fed thousands when five words struck a new chord in me:

bring it here to me

Jesus said it of the loaves and the fish there in Matthew 14:17. “Here,” with His holy hand reached out, waiting for his tired, hungry disciples to hand over what they didn’t know would be their miracle-making dinner ingredients. Bring it here to Me.

And then? He blessed and He broke and the multitude feasted.

I stopped right there in my reading, staring off to nowhere, the gears turning in my brain. I realize it now as I recount the story – He was answering my prayer, re-directing my attention, turning the gears on His Word and off of the hamster-wheel of anxiety.

God multiplied the good stuff – that’s what the multitude ate. They feasted on what was good. Isn’t that what God is doing here, with this? I wondered. Sure, their bread wasn’t moldy and their fish wasn’t bad. It was all perfectly good food for their small disciple-gathering after a long and intense day of ministry. Yes, He will take what little good that we have and multiply it. But also? When we bring Him the not-so-good and the anxiety and those nagging thoughts that just won’t quit? He breaks them. And He turns it all into a feast of words that your brain can sustain itself on. Good words. True words. Pure and lovely and praiseworthy words. The what-if words suddenly and miraculously replaced with the good-report kind of words.

Those are the kind of words that Paul says we need to think on in Philippians 4:8 – those are the things that Jesus doles out in droves. And, when He does? He wants you to count them. The Greek word that’s used there for “think” in Philippians 4:8 means to count, gather, number, and weigh. It’s taking an inventory – just like the disciples did in Matthew 14. They knew what they started with. And they knew that it fed four thousand people, with 12 baskets of food leftover because they took inventory.

Think on those words, Paul says. Count the good thoughts. But first, before you can do that? You need to bring all those other nagging ones to Him. And let God do the miraculous swap-out.

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