Ever try not thinking a particular thought? The harder you try, the likelier you are to think it. I appreciate the way one woman deals with her propensity to think in negative ways:
“My negative thoughts are like impatient toddlers jumping up and down and screaming, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ Jesus and I take the negative ‘toddler thoughts’ and send them to time-out so we can focus on the good thoughts. Sometimes they don’t obey. They get up out of the chair and once again scream for attention. Then Jesus and I take those thoughts back to the time-out chair, but this time we tie them up!” 1
Though no analogy is perfect (I am sure, for instance, that she isn’t advocating tying children to time-out chairs), we can extend the comparison in helpful ways. For instance, whenever our “toddler thoughts” scream for attention, we can simply distract them or redirect them, calling to mind specific instances of God’s faithfulness and his promises, and thanking him for gifts we have already received. Distraction works because if we fill our minds with positive thoughts, there is no room for negative ones.
Of course, I am not advocating that we ignore every negative thought. Sometimes we need to pay attention to them so we can solve problems. But most of us know the difference between problem solving and merely rehearsing doubts, complaints, and negativity, which only corrode our faith and rob us of the peace God promises.
- Linda Dillow, Calm My Anxious Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 32–33.
Have you ever watched a boxer dancing around the ring, throwing punches at no one in particular? He’s using a training technique called shadowboxing—sparring with an imaginary opponent. Now imagine that same boxer, but with a bizarre twist. While he’s in the ring alone, his head thrusts backward again and again, as though someone were punching him in the face. But there’s no one else around. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
As strange as that scenario seems, it’s an image of what can happen to us when we start sparring with imaginary ills. Our anxiety turns us into human punching bags, battered by thoughts not about what is, but about what might be. I might never get married. I might lose my job. My husband might leave me. My child might not graduate. My plane might crash. The economy might collapse. My mother might die. I might not have enough money to retire.
There are plenty of places in Scripture that tell us not to be anxious but to place our trust in God, who alone is our peace. One example is 1 Peter 5:7, which gives us a clear directive:
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
The next time you feel anxiety rising inside you like mercury in a thermometer, let it be the signal that you need to spend some time with God. Have a conversation with him. Tell him you want to focus on him rather than on all the what-ifs that assail you. Begin by praising and thanking him. Then lift up the people and situations that are troubling you. As you pray, imagine that God is in the room, which, of course, he is. Rest in his presence. If you make a habit of spending time with God daily, you will find that your anxiety will gradually be displaced by God’s peace.
Hailing from a town called Freedom, Pennsylvania, it’s perhaps no coincidence that Linda Banks is concerned about a lack of freedom elsewhere in the world. On a visit to Pune, India, where her daughter and son-in-law are serving as missionaries, she met sixteen young girls who had been rescued from local brothels. As a result of her encounter with the Home of Hope, where the girls are living, Linda began praying and educating herself about human trafficking, asking God what she could do to help. The answer came in the form of an organization she founded, called the Praying Aunties Network.
The idea behind Praying Aunties is to connect one “auntie” with one girl. The auntie receives updates on the girl in order to know how to pray for her. She also meets monthly with other praying aunties in her area.
Linda’s group of sixteen women prays for the sixteen girls and the staff members of the Home of Hope in Pune. Because of the problems associated with prostitution, it is not uncommon for rescued girls to return to their former lives. But this has not been the case in Pune, where all sixteen girls have accepted Christ and none have returned to their old way of life.
If you are serious about becoming a person at peace, remember that God gives peace for a purpose. It’s tempting to think that one person can’t make much difference in a world that is filled with conflict. But Linda Banks and her praying friends have already made a world of difference to the young women they’re praying for.
Why not ask God today whether you should join Linda’s network (connecting with them on Facebook is a great way to start) or another similar organization, making an impact one life at a time? Don’t let the sun go down on this day without sincerely asking God to show you how you can spread his peace in the world around you.
Author Lois Tverberg recounts an entertaining story of an inveterate gossip who had decided to mend his ways. Regretting the damage he’d done, the man approached the village rabbi, asking what he should do to make things right.
As the story goes, the rabbi simply told him to go home and fetch a pillow. When the man returned, the rabbi commanded him to slit the pillow open and then scatter its feathers to the wind.
As the feathers blew every which way, over housetops and through fields, the rabbi turned to the man and said, “Now, go gather all the feathers again and put them back in the pillow.”
“But that’s impossible,” the man objected.
“In the same way,” the rabbi said, “it’s impossible to repair all the damage that your words have done.”1
The problem with words is that they tumble out of our mouths so effortlessly, often before we’ve had a chance to consider them. But reckless words can wreck the peace, spreading like a contagion from person to person. If you have been guilty of passing on a juicy bit of gossip, don’t despair. There is still time to change. True, you can’t pick up all the “feathers” you’ve already scattered, but you can keep the rest of them right where they belong—inside the pillow.
Today, ask God to change your heart so you are no longer eager to listen to or spread gossip. Then show your resolve by saying something positive about people you’ve criticized in the past. Then ask God to keep your lips pure in the future by helping you cultivate the habit of thinking before you speak.
Father, forgive me for passing on gossip or speaking in ways that hurt the reputations of others. Give me the wisdom to know when to speak and when to keep quiet.
- Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 97.