This article was published in Spread the Fire magazine in January 2000.
Thoughts are foundational to your life. On them you build the emotions, words, actions and reactions that affect your relationships and accomplishments. When the enemy controls your thoughts, he controls your behaviour and messes up your life. Learn to discern the content and source of your thoughts and you will be free to love others and yourself the way God does unconditionally. Where do you begin?
You can love others unconditionally only if you have allowed God’s love to transform you.
The prerequisite for learning to discern the source of your thoughts is knowing that God loves you. You can love others unconditionally only if you have allowed God’s love to transform you. Then you can forgive those who have hurt you, repent for hurt you have caused others, and bring reconciliation and unity, instead of accusation, to the Body of Christ. Only when you are really secure in God’s love and His transforming grace, can you work through all of life’s hurts, difficulties and fears and come out loving Him and others.
You say you’ve heard that before. A number of years ago, I too thought I understood God’s love. Leonard Evans, the pastor of Islington Evangel Centre, Toronto, at that time, was captivated by the message of God’s love. Whenever he spoke, he talked about God’s love. Some of my friends heard him, and were inspired. They told me, “We found something really good – the love of God!” To my surprise, I bristled. “What about God’s judgment,” I asked, fearing they were out of balance. “What about God’s truth and His righteousness?”
In the early ’80s Jack Winter, now in Pasadena, California, ministered the Father’s love to me. I was greatly impacted yet deep inside I just couldn’t reconcile justice and mercy. I gained insight as I studied Mark Virkler’s teaching manual called, “Counselled By God.” By my 30th birthday as a Christian I finally realized how very nice God is and how much He loves me. Now when I teach and minister, I challenge people to consider that God’s love is foundational to our lives as believers.
GOD IS A GOOD GOD
The first thing you need to realize deep in your heart, not just your mind, is that our God is good. Jesus, who has the same nature as God the Father, told His disciples when He left them, that He would send another, the Holy Spirit, who would be in nature exactly like Himself a comforter, one who is very loving and compassionate. Since Pentecost this wonderful Holy Spirit has served believers and guided them into truth that sets them free.
The Holy Spirit also builds. He agrees with the Father and the Son to do you good, build you up, lift you up, and encourage you like a faithful friend and servant. He is always at your side. The Bible uses the Greek word “paraclete” to describe the Holy Spirit; in classical Greek culture, a paraclete was a personal slave to the son of a nobleman. Like the slave, the Holy Spirit always makes Himself available to serve, teach and assist. He wants to draw you into a relationship with the Father and the Son, and reveal to you how much God the Father loves you.
“Oh yeah?” I can hear someone say. “I know what fathers are like. Mine lied to me, beat me, abused me, was never there for me, abandoned me…” Many have had this harsh experience, but God didn’t intend for you to be raised in a negative, destructive environment. Instead he wanted your earthly father to mirror His very nature, to desire the very best for you, and to love you unconditionally. God’s plan was warped because people sinned, yet He is clearly not responsible for the sins of mankind. But through the Cross He can free you from the destructiveness of poor parenting.
THE DEVIL IS A BAD DEVIL
The second thing you must understand is that the devil is evil. Masterfully, down through the centuries, he has slandered and misrepresented the Father’s nature. He painted a picture of God as a mean cop in the sky waiting for an opportunity to judge and destroy us. But Satan is the father of lies (Jn 8:44), a master of deception (1 Cor 11:14), and a thief who steals, kills and destroys (Jn 10:10).
God is good. Satan is bad. It’s very basic.
Make no mistake about Satan’s intent. He intends to misrepresent God to us, and us to the Lord and to others so that our communications are stymied. While God radiates His love to us, the enemy distorts, confuses, and clouds our reception. As you can see, the battle is in our minds. Satan’s lies twist our minds with negative thoughts that seep into our spirits, oppressing, depressing and controlling us, telling us we can’t rely on God’s love.
THE BATTLE FOR YOUR MIND
Satan, “the accuser of the brethren,” slanders you before God and before others; he lies, wanting you to think that God is angry at you and is the accuser. Ultimately, he even wants you to accuse God of not loving you. As Ted Haggard says in his book, Primary Purpose, accusation always results when we try to find out who is right or wrong in any disagreement. Satan tries to escape any blame for his actions.
Abide in God so that His words and thoughts can abide in you.
A couple I spoke to once told me of their friends’ little girl who had been killed by a drunk driver. Then they said, “How can you talk about God’s love when He allows terrible things to happen in the world?” This couple blamed God for something the enemy did. God didn’t force that driver to drink and cause the accident. God gave people free will, and with it they can choose to sin if they want to. We need to be set free from twisted thinking that blames God for the work of the enemy, for our own sin, and for those of others.
God is good. Satan is bad. It’s very basic. Good things come from God, and bad things come from the enemy (Jms 1:13-17). Positive thoughts that lead to life come from God, and negative thoughts that lead to death and destruction come from the enemy. Knowing then that God is good and the devil is bad, gives us a gauge against which to measure the myriad of thoughts that bombard us continually.
It shocked me when I discovered that I, along with everyone else, was thinking negative thoughts 80 to 90 percent of the time. Meanwhile God was sending faith building, positive thoughts of love, kindness, goodness, and blessing my way through His Holy Spirit, but I wasn’t letting them through.
Why then, do we permit so many of our thoughts to be controlled by the enemy? Because we don’t know how to discern their source.
When a thought comes your way, hold on to it for a moment. Remembering that Satan is always negative and the Holy Spirit is always positive, ask the thought, “Are you positive or are you negative? Do you lead to life, or destruction?”
God has provided an escape into his love.
As you work to get a handle on your thinking, realize that you can’t do it yourself. Say, “Lord, come and do it through me.” Ask the Holy Spirit every day for the rest of your life to nudge you when you’re starting to think negatively about yourself, others and life. Take thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5) and evaluate them. Think on things that are pure, lovely, and just (Phil 4:8). Make a list of God’s blessings in your life. Demolish every argument and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:4). Abide in God so that His words and thoughts can abide in you.
STRONGHOLDS OF THE MIND
Some negative thinking takes a deeper work to reverse. Our primary relationships are instrumental in shaping us and locking us into patterns of negative thinking called “strongholds.” If someone on the other side of town didn’t like you when you were a child, it may not have bothered you. But if someone as close as your father often told you that you were fat, ugly or stupid and would never amount to anything, that might have bruised and wounded you deeply. Because an adult who has power and seems to know everything has said it, you believed it and began to see yourself as a failure. You were imprisoned.
But God has provided an escape into his love. He asks you to forgive just as He has forgiven you.
Forgiveness breaks down strongholds and allows the love of God in. Therefore, give that father, mother, or any significant others a gift they don’t deserve. Give them your forgiveness. Repent for the judgmental thoughts you have held against them, and even forgive God if you have been angry at Him. Repent for blaming Him for the work of the enemy or for the sins of others.
As you forgive and repent, the Holy Spirit heals the most horrendous wounds in your heart and life. You will begin to think differently about those who hurt you. Your negative thoughts regarding them and the situation will vanish. You will see them the way God sees them. You will even begin to bless them in your thoughts, and love them unconditionally. Can you now see why God’s love is foundational to the Christian life?
The kingdom of God, in a nutshell, is “stuff in and stuff out.” God wants you to receive Him as your loving Father and let Him remove all the hurts, fears, suspicions, deception, sin and lies from your life. He wants to fill you with unconditional love, joy, peace, revelation, assurance, blessing and power. Learn to discern the accuser from the comforter and choose to spend your time enjoying the thoughts that God the Father is sending your way in abundance (Is 55:9-11).
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