Our thoughts are important. The can tell us we are the strike out king, or the greatest pitcher in the world. What we believe about ourselves, the world around us and the character of God not only shapes our faith but in many ways determines how we live, what we will strive and what we will become. In Proverbs 4:23 it says. Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life (CEV) and Proverbs 23:7 says, for as he thinks in his heart, so is he. (NKJV) That little boy thought in his mind that he was the greatest pitcher in the world, and for that moment – he was. And my guess is that in the days he kept working hard. So our thoughts and beliefs are important. They form our hearts and give direction to our lives. Jesus affirms this idea several times in his Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon Jesus says that while our actions and how we treat others is important, what really matters is how we think and what we believe.
Look at Matthew 5:21-22 and 27-28. So while the actions of adultery and murder clearly matter to God, they are wrong, Jesus is telling us that just as important are the thoughts that lead to those actions. When our thoughts and beliefs are based on God’s truth and are in line with God’s word and will then our lives are healthy and we are able to experience the fullness of life God wants for us – we are the greatest pitchers and hitters in the world, but when our thoughts and beliefs are based on lies and half-truths – when they are toxic – there is simply no way we can experience the peace, love, joy and life God wants for us.
Too many of us are being robbed of the joy and beauty of life because of toxic thoughts and beliefs. When we think that we will never amount to anything, it robs of us energy and passion to dream big dreams and reach for those goals. When we think that our lives are so messed up and we have sinned so many times that God can’t possibly love or forgive us it robs us of the peace and the joy that comes with salvation. When we ask ourselves daily, is this all there is to life, it limits our vision and without vision the Bible says, we die. So we need to identify the toxic thoughts that poison our lives and find ways to overcome them.
Let’s first ask where many of these thoughts come from in the first place. Many of the toxic beliefs we have about ourselves have been formed because of toxic words and relationships that have been part of our lives. If all we heard growing up was that we would never amount to anything, then that belief shapes our life. If we are daily surrounded by chronic complainers and constant critics then in time we begin to believe the worst about others and harsh judgment shapes our understanding of God and the world instead of seeing hope and possibility. Since toxic words and relationships can bring about toxic beliefs about ourselves, we need to make sure we know how to build good fences and limit the toxic words and messages we allow into our lives. Words and relationships really do matter because they shape and form our hearts and minds and as we heard from Proverbs, life comes from the thoughts of our hearts and minds.
So that’s where these toxic beliefs often come from, but once they have found a home within us we have to own up to them and begin to deal honestly with them. The first thing we need to do is name them. What are the toxic thoughts and beliefs that shape our lives? What are the poisonous messages and lies about ourselves, God and how we view the world that hold us back from experiencing more of what God wants for us? To help us identify these toxic beliefs, Craig Groeschell has identified four types of toxic thoughts: Pessimism – Anxiety – Bitterness – Criticism
Pessimism is really just being negative about everything we see in us, around us and in our future. This kind of negative thinking about ourselves leads us to believe that we simply don’t have what it takes to make something good of our lives. These thoughts tell us constantly that our life is bad and it’s never going to get any better. If this kind of thinking persists, we slowly begin to see the world this way. We begin to believe that our jobs will never get any better, our marriage and family is doomed to fail and our county will just continue to just get worse. With the kind of economic and political problems we see today, this kind of negative thinking is everywhere and it can easily poison our hearts.
Pessimism often leads to anxiety, which brings with it worry and fear. For example, if the economy never gets better, what is going to happen to us? What will happen to our families? Will we be able to keep our homes? Will our jobs be there next month? Will we have food on the table? Will we be able to put gas in the car? These are personal and economic anxieties we face, but there are also spiritual ones we struggle with and the one I hear most often is this: how can God truly love or forgive me after all I have done? And if God doesn’t forgive me then what hope do I have of a good life here or an eternal life to come? Anxiety and fear chokes out anything good or positive that God would want to bring into our lives and can physically, emotionally and spiritually destroy us.
Bitterness can also take root in our thoughts and cause us to become dissatisfied with everything. We start asking ourselves, is this all there is? I thought I would have more, be more, have done more by this point in my life. Bitterness often causes us to begin to look out at what others have and become jealous and envious which not only destroys relationships including our relationship with God. When we are bitter and dissatisfied there is no room for thanksgiving or praise. This is what the Israelites experienced as they travelled in the wilderness. They thought they would have had so much more after God delivered them from being slaves in Egypt and when they didn’t get things right away, they became bitter and angry toward God instead of being grateful for the freedom and life God had given them.
Another category of poisonous thoughts that can take over quickly is criticism. We talked about this last week in others, but a critical spirit in our hearts and minds us to make quick judgments about others that are often not true and the more critical we become the angrier we become and the angrier we become the more isolated we feel from others and from God. So as you can see, toxic thoughts are everywhere and we struggle with them every day and it is important to identify and name them so we can begin to overcome them.
While we all struggle with these thoughts on a daily basis, we do not have to allow them to shape our lives. In fact we need to take action against them. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 it says take every thought captive to obey Christ. Once we identify and name a toxic thought we need to take hold of it so that it doesn’t poison everything else within us and then we need to work to overcome it. The antidote to these toxic thoughts is the word of God. Every toxic thought and lie that leads to pessimism, anxiety, bitterness or criticism can be overcome by the truth and the life giving power of God’s word. Here’s how it works.
Let’s take a negative or pessimistic thought that many of us might struggle with. I don’t have what it takes to make it life. Many people struggle with this kind of low self esteem and if we allow it remain as part of the foundation of our lives, it will keep us from all that God wants for us because we simply won’t try. So we name it as a toxic thought and belief, call it out as a lie and use the word of God can overcome it. Look at Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. If we allow this truth of God to fill our minds and hearts we will find ourselves not feeling defeated and hopeless, but filled with courage and power to step out and become who we want to be and who God created us to be. With this truth we can become the greatest pitcher in the world, or the greatest hitter or teacher or mother or scientist in the world.
Let’s look at the spiritual anxiety we mentioned earlier: God can never forgive me for all that I have done. My guess is that many of us have felt this way at times, you may be feeling this way today, and if we allow this toxic thought to take hold in our lives, then we will be anxious about our relationship with God and we will never experience the fullness of life and the joy of salvation. But here’s the thing, the belief that God can’t or won’t forgive us is a lie. God longs to forgive us. God’s desire is to forgive us and there is nothing that can keep God from loving us and forgiving us if we turn to him and the Bible is full of these kinds of words of truth and assurance.
Look at Romans 8:31-39. If God is for us, then who can be against us? There is nothing that can keep God’s love from us. There is no sin so strong that it can keep God’s love away from us. There is no list of sins so long that it can keep God away. Nothing can keep God from us. Look at Psalm 139:11-12. There is no darkness that is so dark that it will keep the light of God’s love and grace away. Think about Jesus and the times he forgave people. He not only forgave a woman caught in adultery but he treated her with kindness and respect. When a paralyzed man was brought to Jesus with the desire just to walk again, Jesus not only healed him physically but forgave his sins as well. Jesus longed to forgive people and God’s desire is to forgive us. In John 3:17 it says that God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn us but to save us or to forgive us. God’s desire is to forgive so if we are experiencing some spiritual anxiety about God’s desire and ability to forgive us, we can overcome those toxic thoughts with these words of God.
Bitterness can be overcome by the word of God. If the thought that keeps us down is the question, is this all there is for me? Then we need to capture that thought – offer it to God and ask Him to speak in a way to overcome this lie because God has more for us than we can possibly imagine. Look at what God said through the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 29:11. So this is not all there is, God has more for our lives and we can find these plans if we are willing to search for them and trust God. Look atEphesians 3:20-21. God can do more in us than we can possibly imagine. If we are feeling dissatisfied then we need to turn to God’s word and find the truth which is that no matter where we are in life – God has more for us if we are willing to trust in Him.
We can also overcome critical thoughts with the truth of God’s word. In James 2:13 it says mercy triumphs over judgment. The way to overcome a critical spirit is to remember God’s mercy and love toward us and others. Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? In that story the younger son goes off and squanders his share of the inheritance while the older son stayed home and faithfully helped his father. When the younger brother returns, his father throws a party to welcome him home and while we love that part of the story because we often see ourselves as that wayward young son, think about how the older son felt. I’m sure he was feeling pretty critical about his father and his brother. How come Dad is doing all this for him when he treated Dad so poorly. I don’t get a party? I don’t even get a thank you. I can only imagine the critical spirit the older brother must have been experiencing. But do you know what happens next?
We often miss this in the story, but the father goes out and talks to the older brother and by going out to him he is showing him mercy. The father is not holding that critical and judgmental spirit against him, he offers him grace and love. That father is God and God offers us mercy when we are critical and that mercy helps us extend mercy to those we are critical towards and that begins to disarm our anger and change our thoughts. So again, the word of God can help us overcome the toxic thoughts and beliefs that poison our lives.
So the best way to get rid of toxic thoughts is to identify and name them, hold them captive and replace them with the truth of God. Now we can live our lives doing this every time a negative thought enters our mind, but there is another way to approach this. Think about your lawn. If you want to have a healthy lawn without any weeds you can go out and capture every weed that you see and pull it out by the roots, but the better way to get keep all the weeds out is to grow really good and strong grass. If you feed and fertilize the grass you have, in time its root system will grow so thick that there will not be any room for weeds to take root. The same is true with our hearts.
The best way to get rid of toxic thoughts and beliefs long term is to constantly fill our hearts and minds with the positive, healthy, life giving words of God and this is exactly what God tells us to do. Look at Philippians 4:8-9. If we fill our hearts and minds with God’s truth which is true, noble, right, pure and lovely – then toxic thoughts will have no room to take root and grow. As long as God’s truth is filling our hearts and lives – there is simply no room for toxic lies to enter in.
So what we think and believe is important because it is from these thoughts that our life flows. If we want to experience the fullness of life God has for us, then it needs to flow from a healthy heart and mind filled with God’s truth. This week let’s begin to come clean by filling every part of our heart and mind with all that is right and true and lovely from God’s word and when the weeds pop up and those toxic thoughts enter our minds, let’s capturing them and replacing them with God’s truth. We can take these thoughts captive and we can replace them with the power of God’s word and when we do, who knows maybe we do become the greatest pitcher in the world.
Soul Detox – Toxic Beliefs
1. Identify the toxic thoughts and beliefs that shape your thinking and therefore give direction to your life? What category would you place them in?
• Pessimism – negative thoughts
• Anxiety – worry and fearful thoughts
• Bitterness – dissatisfied and discontented thoughts
• Criticism – critical thoughts about others and God
2. Can you identify the toxic words or relationships that have led to this way of thinking? Is there something you can do to limit the words or build good fences in these relationships?
3. What specific scriptures can you find to help overcome the lies of these toxic thoughts? Here are the ones discussed in the sermon:
I don’t have what it takes and nothing will ever get better. Philippians 4:13
God can’t possibly love or forgive me after all I have done. Romans 8:31-39, Psalm 139:11-12
Is this all there is in life? Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 30:20-21
Look at how unjust and unfair everyone else is. James 2:13
4. Share the words of God’s truth that you find with others. This way we are able to help one another overcome the toxic lies that try to shape our beliefs.
Email the toxic thoughts you struggle with and the word of God which you have found to help overcome these thoughts to the church so we can compile a resource for others. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org