Managing our thinking
Managing Our Thinking
2 Corinthians 10:5 . . . we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Genesis chapter 12 records God telling Abram to leave Haran and set off for a land he would show him, and giving him the landmark blessing which ends in verse 3 with the words: “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Amongst the blessings subsequently provided for Gentiles, there are a number of occasions where particular individuals seem to have found God.
These include, for example, Rahab who assisted Joshua’s spies in Jericho (Josh 2:9–13); Ruth refusing to leave her widowed mother-in-law Naomi, and declaring “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16–18), and both the sailors and the Ninevites mentioned in Jonah chapters 1 and 3. But this morning I’d like us to take a look another of these occasions and we can find it 2 Kings 5:1-15 which I would like us to read together right now.
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” 8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I THOUGHT that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. 15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. . . . “
Now this is a brilliant passage of scripture that contains lots of very neat things.
• It shows how God can use ANYONE He chooses to do His will, for it says that God used the unbeliever Naaman to give the Syrian army the victories that He ordained.
• It provides a model of how encountering God transforms us as we see the angry and pride-filled Naaman become a humble and grateful believer after his touch from God.
• It shows what a pivotal role apparently insignificant folk like a young servant girl can play in God’s purposes as her simple testimony opens the door to healing for Naaman.
• It makes clear that wisdom, truth and understanding are sometimes hidden from the rich and famous but revealed to the lowly, because we see the King of Israel in a flat spin of panic on reading the King of Aram’s letter, whilst a poor, servant girl has the key to life-changing truth telling her mistress: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
• It demonstrates how having God in our heart can give us compassion for others even when we have been treated badly by them, as this young Israelite servant girl, acts out of genuine love and concern for her master’s welfare even though she had been taken prisoner by his Syrian army.
This morning though I want to leave all that to one side and focus primarily on just two words in verse 11 where Naaman, in an instant, exposes his heart as full of pride and self-importance. Indignant at his treatment by the prophet Elisha who does not apparently even deign to appear in person but just sends a message for him to take a dip in the miserable, dirty brown waters of the Jordan which are not a patch on the fresh, clear and beautiful rivers of Damascus. Deeply affronted Naaman snaps back: , “I THOUGHT that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.”
He was looking for something grand, something dramatic, something spectacular – something appropriate for one such as he, the commander of the mighty Syrian army. But notice the first two words of Naaman’s response. They are two words Naaman himself probably barely realised he was using. And, in reading the passage, if we didn’t highlight them, we would probably barely notice them either. But these two words were the axis on which Naaman’s life would turn. Naaman said: “I THOUGHT . . .”
“I thought”, said Naaman, and with that he turned his back on the solution to his problem. He turned his back on God’s provision for his life and he set off, propelled by his pride and anger towards his own death and destruction. Naaman’s thoughts, Naaman’s words, supplanted and replaced God’s word for his life and turned his path to the misery, distress, despair, degeneration and an inevitable death from leprosy.
So here’s the lesson today. Wrong thinking comes from our heads and our hearts and it leads to a wrong path in life. Right thinking, comes not from our heads and hearts; it comes from God and it leads to the blessings that only God can give.
This is the message of another of God’s prophets. Listen to Isaiah in Isaiah 55:6–9 6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man HIS THOUGHTS. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my THOUGHTS are not your THOUGHTS, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my THOUGHTS than your THOUGHTS.
Naaman said, “I THOUGHT” and he so nearly missed out on God’s blessing. We say, “I THOUGHT” and we too risk missing God’s best. Instead, we need to train ourselves to line up our lives with God’s thoughts. We need to trust what He says, and think what He thinks!
“But how do I know what God is thinking, what God is saying to me?”, you say. Look in His Word. Search in His Word. Chew over, meditate, and think about His Word – for God’s THOUGHTS are right there in the Word of God.
We can only set our thinking straight when we bring it in line with God’s Word. This is critical because what we believe is a result, a product, of what we think. If we think wrongly, we will believe wrongly, and if we believe wrongly we will be side-lined as Christians; we will be on the bench and off the field. It is that critical.
Only lining ourselves up with God’s Word will straighten out our thinking and keep our feet on the path of blessing and fruitfulness. We have to wean ourselves off a blinkered approach that takes us to the Word with our thinking, and our thoughts, and learn to allow God’s Word to come into its proper place in our lives. This way lies blessing. This way lies wisdom. This way lies revelation. This way lies truth.
The words of the fourth verse Charles Wesley’s amazing and incredibly stirring hymn “And can it be” go like this: (Don’t panic – I’m not going to sing!)
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
These are profound and very beautiful words, but the truth sadly for many of us is that though the chains have fallen off, though, in fact, the prison door is flung open, we have so often signally failed to rise, go forth and follow Him. In fact, we somehow try to follow Him whilst still ensconced within the prison walls because our wrong thinking continues to leave us prisoners, when God’s Word, God’s thoughts, have already set us free.
• If we think wrongly about who we are in Christ we will miss out on the abundant life that this great salvation has provided for us.
• If we think wrongly about what Christ has done for us we will drive ourselves to distraction trying through our own works to win the worthiness we already have in Him.
• If we think wrongly about our authority in Christ we will languish in a dungeon of failure and self-condemnation.
• If we think wrongly about God’s call on our lives we will deprive those we should be serving and ministering to of the blessing God intends for them through us.
• If we think wrongly about our covenant position in Christ we’ll forfeit the power and blessing that the gospel provides for us in such abundance.
• If we think wrongly about God’s kingdom or the body of Christ our walk, our ministry, and our vision will be gravely impaired and diminished.
So why are so many of us living in less than God’s best? It’s because we are not thinking God’s thoughts. Instead, we are following our own thoughts to the point where they have us in a vicious strangle hold that prevents us from enjoying the blessing and freedom of all that God has for us. In fact, God’s Word makes it clear that our thoughts can become not just strangle holds but STRONGHOLDS! 2 Corinthians 10:4–5 says 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish STRONGHOLDS. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
This powerful passage refers to arguments and pretensions, key out workings of our thoughts, and it calls them “strongholds”. And what is a stronghold? It is a STRONG HOLD. It is something that prevents us from doing what we really want to do, from doing what we really need to do, and it’s our thoughts, that are the chief culprit.
How do we deal with these strongholds? Well because they are spiritual strongholds we need to use spiritual weapons to destroy them and the key weapon Ephesians 6:17 tells us is: 17 . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
How do we demolish the strongholds of wrong thinking in our lives? We use the Word of God. We bring our thinking into line with God’s thinking; our words into line with God’s Word. We learn to say what God says, so that step by step we begin to think what God thinks. This surely is what Paul is saying when he commands in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
So there must come a time, if we are to really break free from the prison our thoughts have left us in, that we respond with a deliberate decision to use the Word of God against the strongholds of wrong thinking in our lives and start to line ourselves up with God’s Word.
We need to respond in just the same way that Jesus did when after his baptism by his cousin John he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Each time the devil suggested a wrong or a warped way to think about his situation Jesus responded in exactly the same way. He expressed God’s thoughts using God’s words. He said: “It is written”, “It is written”, “It is written”, “It is written”. And we are called to do just the same and this requires us to understand, really understand, that GOD’S WORD is GOD’S Word. There is simply nothing on earth that carries the AUTHORITY of God’s Word and nothing on earth we should give more credence to.
But if we resign ourselves to giving up, and settle for accepting our own wrong thoughts in place of God’s good thoughts, we are effectively taking ourselves out of the game and opting for that place on the bench. But if we will rise in faith and choose to line our thoughts up with God’s thoughts we put ourselves in THE very place where God can use us to fulfil his purposes.
But let’s finish with this THOUGHT. And I know categorically that this is a God thought, and it’s a thought that God feels is important enough to be recorded on at least four occasions in His Word. This is also a thought that any of us who struggle with feelings of inferiority need especially to take to heart.
1. Speaking of God, Ephesians 6:9 says:“ . . . there is no favoritism with him.”
2. In Colossians 3:25 declares: “ . . . there is no favoritism”
3. In Acts 10:34 Peter says: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” , and,
4. in Romans 2:11 Paul says: “For God does not show favoritism.”
Do you sense then that God might be trying to make a point here? Is He trying to tell us something?
Perhaps, it is that God actually does not have ANY favourites! Granted, we are not all the same. We are not all called to lead thousands to Christ. We are not all called to fulfil places in the limelight of international ministry. But ALL of us, whether a servant girl, a mighty General or a prophet of God, ALL of us, are called. So if right thinking is the route to blessing and fruitfulness for the one, it must surely also be the route to blessing and fruitfulness for EVERYONE, because otherwise it’s hard to see how God can declare that He has no favourites!
Isaiah 55:10-11 makes clear the blessing that comes from lining ourselves up with God’s words, with making ourselves think God’s thoughts: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will NOT return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Lining our thoughts up with God’s thoughts; lining our words up with God’s words; makes us channels for His Word to bring about His purposes and His will! That has to be a blessed place to be, in our Christian walk. That has to be THE most significant place we can put ourselves in as we seek to live and serve as God’s people.
Remember our lesson today? Wrong thinking comes from our heads and our hearts and it leads to a wrong path in life. Right thinking, comes not from our heads and hearts; it comes from God and it leads to the blessings that only God can give.
This is the road to fruitfulness. This is the path to blessing and fulfilment for each and every one of us – whoever we are. So, let’s you and I determine here and now that we will refuse to settle for anything less than God’s very best. Let’s make it our goal EVERY day to take Paul’s radical advice to heart, as he urges in 2 Corinthians 10:5, let us learn to “. . . take captive every thought to MAKE it obedient to Christ.”