It’s amazing how powerful negative thoughts can be if they hit you at just the right time.
Some Christians might call such thoughts “attacks of the devil,” and some of them may well be. Paul gives some credibility to this idea in a familiar passage in Ephesians Chapter 6 about the full armor of God. In context, he is talking about battling spiritual forces of evil. He uses the metaphor of a soldier starting off his day by putting on all the various pieces of armor he’ll need to protect himself from harm. After highlighting several of these, Paul writes: “In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Eph. 6:16, NLT)
These “fiery arrows” could very well be a picture that refers to the negative, accusing or fearful thoughts the devil telepathically tosses our way. I’m not saying that all negative thoughts come from the devil; I’m pretty sure we can think ourselves into all kinds of trouble without any help.
Whether they come from the devil, from our own mind, or from any number of outside influences the effect can be the same. A fire left unchecked tends to spread and, soon, consumes everything in its path. Anxious, negative thoughts that hit us in unguarded moments―that are then left unchecked―will soon rob us of joy peace. In time, they can become very destructive, forming a stronghold of anxiety and fear that walls us in and takes us captive (see the previous blog post “Tearing Down Imaginary Walls” for more on this).
Recently, I gave into some anxious thoughts, and the Lord helped me see it very quickly. After confessing it and asking for God’s help, the Holy Spirit showed me how this pattern of thoughts had unfolded in my mind. It was as if I was seeing the whole thing in an “instant replay” but in slow-motion. As I pondered this, I realize this sort of thing happens to me fairly often. When I don’t catch it quickly, these anxious thoughts become like a slippery slope spiraling downward to discouragement and, if left long enough, can lead to depression and fear.
Here’s the pattern (see if you can relate to this):
First, I am presented with a situation I don’t like; one that is uncertain where I don’t have any real control over the outcome. I begin to think about what this could mean or what could happen down the road. All of these “what-if” questions begin to stir. Then I begin to imagine that what could happen will happen.
At this point, my emotions and feelings kick into gear. I actually begin to “see it” in my mind and feel it in my emotions. Depending on what the situation is, I start to become either angry or give into fear. If things get this far, I will often begin to think about what action I must take to keep this from happening. Then…I start taking action.
Sadly, all this can occur in just a few moments. And none of it is based in reality; it’s all coming from thoughts going on inside my head. I’ve fallen down the slippery slope and don’t even know it. Here’s another important thing to consider: None of the thoughts or actions I take from this point are rooted or grounded in faith or love. So, they can’t possibly be inspired by God.
This is nothing more than the temptation to anxiety, a sin rooted in unbelief. It’s intention is to lead me into fear and bondage, and possibly some really destructive consequences that may occur from the mistakes and poor choices I make while under its influence.
The good news in this scenario is that I caught it this time, with God’s help. My “shield of faith” functioned properly extinguishing the fiery arrow before it had a chance to do any damage. Understanding the lesson Paul is using in Ephesians 6, it is clear he is advising us to put on the full armor of God every day (just like any soldier or police officer would do before heading out into dangerous territory).
To me, this imagery speaks of the need for a deliberate time set aside every morning to draw near to God and allow him to strengthen us and equip us to face the day ahead. How often do you take the time to put on this armor? Every day or every so often? I guess the answer also speaks to how much, or how little, we believe we are living in “dangerous territory.”
The Lord doesn’t want us walking around in fear, worried that at any moment we will fall down that slippery slope. There is perfect peace promised to those whose mind remains stayed on Him. I love what it says in Proverbs 1:33 “…Whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”
Lord, thank You that You have not left me alone, to face this day alone. You are here with me, willing to place on me every piece of armor I need, so that I can face this day in faith and enjoy Your perfect peace. Protect me from the evil one and even from my own thoughts when they lead me astray. Help me to catch in my shield every one of these anxious thoughts before they get too far and rob me of Your joy and peace. In Jesus name, Amen.
(NOTE: To read the other posts in this devotional feature of my blog, select “Perfect Peace – Hope for the Weary Soul” in the Category section.)