Our thought life is a tricky thing. It can dictate so much in steering our emotions and actions, yet, I find myself justifying my wrong thinking often; after all, they’re only thoughts.
But are they?
In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul talks about “taking every thought captive to obey Christ”, within context he’s referring to arguments made by philosophers with whom he engaged regularly, essentially saying he was submitting their thoughts to Christ, and thereby destroying their validity by comparing them to God’s word. Since our thoughts are essentially our inner philosopher, and our wrong thought-life is generally adopted from some past or present philosopher, it isn’t much of a leap to hold ourselves to a similar standard, in which case whenever our thought life strays from what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, it must again be held against the light of truth, and if found wanting, replaced by what God has said.
When our thoughts stray from truth, which they often do, they need correction, and our minds need to be re-captivated by God’s word.
There are of course the more obvious wrongful thoughts, lust, envy, hatred; but I find myself resting in a more easily justified–but no less insidious–mode of thinking; it creeps up on me in moments of exhaustion, frustration, and sorrow. It repeats within my mind like an incessant cawing crow:
I just need…
And as I fill in the end of the sentence, I find myself justifying all manner of behavior:
I just need more sleep..then I would have the energy to engage meaningfully with my kids; but since I didn’t get sleep last night, it’s fine that I’m mindlessly scrolling through my phone instead of pouring into and instructing my children.
I just need my kids to obey…then I would be be kind and patient; but because they aren’t obeying it’s fine that I snap at them.
I just need to know where God is taking us next…then I can trust him, but because I don’t know, it’s fine that I occupy myself with anxious thoughts and fear our next move or decision.
The list is endless and we can fill the sentence with anything:
I just need more money; a better job, or a more meaningful job; more things; a vacation; to be single again, or to be married; to have a break from my kids, or to have kids.
We can fill our mind with these reiterations with just about any desire, even good desires (sleep is a very good thing), and as a result of repeating these phrases in our minds unchecked we find ourselves believing them and acting on them in sinful ways.
When I allow myself to ruminate over thoughts of I just need… I excuse my anger, discontent, laziness, doubts about God, and anxiety as though it is not really me that is sinning, but some version of myself that isn’t complete or capable without some unattained need. The reality is, I am who I am when I am tired, hurt, depleted, or challenged by my children. Those are the moments my heart is revealed. Those are the times when I don’t just need… some extraneous thing, but rather when I need Christ and his intercession, when I need the Holy Spirit’s conviction and teaching to extricate those idols I justify by saying I need them in order to do what is right. I can almost hear God telling me, “see this anger erupting from you? this laziness? this doubt? they aren’t circumstantial, they come from your heart, and you need to let me change you.”
I am resisting that change anytime I utter but I just need… unless I conclude that phrase with God’s help.
When I allow God’s conviction to rest in my heart in those moments, instead of justifying them, I remember that despite my exhaustion, sadness, and limitations, the commands of God are unchanged, and I am responsible to follow them as one who has been brought out of darkness and into light. I have already been given all I need to obey, I have been given Christ’s perfection, sacrifice, and intercession.
I am still to love and serve, walking in faith, and finding my contentment in Christ. More sleep won’t make me obedient, more money won’t give me faith, ideal life circumstances won’t help me love. Only Christ can accomplish that.
It’s a beautiful, albeit painful, work that he does in our hearts; like a skilled gardner he tears out the weeds of our idols and pet sins, leaving behind freshly turned soil that allows his word to root deeply and flourish in works that are grace-filled, loving, and faithful.
I just need to let him do it.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.