- Philippians 4:4-8
- Bill Couch October 18, 2015
This morning we begin a series of messages entitled “Toxic”. I want to acknowledge Craig Groeschel, a pastor in Oklahoma, who inspired this series. The word “toxic” is defined as “something poisonous which can result in serious illness or death.” Toxic thoughts, influences and relationships are poisonous to our bodies and our souls. Today we will look at toxic thoughts. Next week we will examine toxic influences—our world is saturated with toxic influences which are so subtle we don’t realize how poisonous they are. Don’t miss next week. And then the last message will look at how do we handle toxic relationships—those individuals who choke life out of us.
In his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul addressed how our thoughts can be transformed:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:4-8
The youth in our student ministry were recently asked two questions: 1) What negative thoughts do you have about yourself? 2) Where do the negative thoughts come from? They responded anonymously and without seeing other responses. Those with the larger letters were mentioned most often. Let’s listen to the toxic thoughts that bombard our youth.
VIDEO- Students answer first two questions.
Have you had any toxic thoughts today?
- Have you made any “could-have”, “would-have”, “should-have” statements today?
- How many “if onlys” were part of your inner regrets today?
- How many times have you replayed in your head a hurtful conversation?
- How much energy have you wasted worrying about things that never happened?
- Have you claimed a disease as part of your personal identity? Do you ever say words like: “my arthritis”, “my diabetes”, “my heart problem”?
Toxic thoughts create anxiety and depression. Anxiety comes from dwelling on all the possible things that could go wrong in the future: “What if this or that happens? What will I do? What can I do to prevent it?” —control the future? Do you repeatedly rehearse any of these things in your mind: what if I lose my job, what if something happens to my child, what if I get a divorce, what if a loved one dies, what if I flunk this test, what if I don’t get admitted to the college I want to attend? On news last week a third grader was worried about not passing the state mandated academic readiness assessment. The tests are not until next spring, but some teachers are already passing on their anxiety about the tests to their students. Dwelling on the future produces anxiety. Of course we need to plan for the future. We need to consider some “what if’s” to be prepared for things that might happen. That is a normal part of life. But if dwell on those things excessively they raise our anxiety levels sometimes to the panic level. A certain level of anxiety is a positive motivator. Anxiety becomes toxic when we excessively worry about so many things.
Some people tend to dwell on the past. We need to look back and evaluate decisions and what happened in our lives. We need to learn from our mistakes so we can make better decisions. But if we get obsessed with wishing we had done things differently or imagining what our life would have been like if this or that had not happened. When we continuously focus on our mistakes, failures, and past circumstancesour minds become saturated with regret which can result in depression.
Dr. Caroline Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist. In a recent article she wrote:
“Up to 95% of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life. What we think about affects us physically and emotionally
The average person has over 30,000 thoughts a day. Through an uncontrolled thought life, we create the conditions for illness; we make ourselves sick! Research shows that fear, all on its own, triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones. Toxic waste generated by toxic thoughts contributes to developing the following illnesses: diabetes, cancer, asthma, skin problems and allergies to name just a few. Medical research increasingly points to the fact that consciously controlling your thought life is one of the best ways, if not the best way of detoxing your brain. It allows you to get rid of those toxic thoughts and emotions that can consume and control your mind.
Negative thoughts are going to enter our brain—some from within and some from without. We will talk more about outside influences next week. The negatives thoughts within us can be from hurts we experienced in childhood and never expressed. They can be negative messages that were spoken to us by parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, and friends. Negative thoughts become toxic when we passively accept them, hold them tightly and continuously recycle them. We don’t evaluate them. We just hang on to them and revisit them over and over and over. The result is anxiety, depression, despair, hopelessness and eventually the death of our soul. Even if we have developed a pattern of toxic thinking there is hope. God can resurrect our souls through the renewing of our minds. We need to detox our brain.
Change in your thinking is essential to detox the brain. Consciously controlling your thought life means not letting thoughts rampage through your mind. It means learning to engage interactively with every single thought that you have, and to analyze it before you decide either to accept or reject it.
Proverbs 4:23 “Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life.” (Or certain death)
How can we change our thinking so that we can detox our brain? Let me suggest a way to deal with toxic thoughts that is the opposite of passively accepting, holding them tightly and continuously recycling; instead recognize, release, replace. To recognize our thoughts means to think about what we think about. Evaluate a thought when it comes. Is this a negative thought? Is this a lie? Call it by name: lust, envy, worry, anxiety, a message that I’m worthless or hopeless or unworthy. Recognize it—give it a name. Pay attention to the emotions this thought is stirring in you. Emotions are messengers. Does this thought make you feel anxious or filled with regret or shame? Release it. Let it go. Cast it out of your mind. Visualize putting it on a lily pad and let it float down stream and out into the ocean. Let it go. But if you just let it go it will circle back unless you replace it. Replace the lie with a positive truth. Claim a promise of scripture. It is important to evaluate our thoughts in light of scriptural principles. Is this thought a lie of Satan? Then what is the truth of God that I want to fill my mind?
Paul essentially gave us a process of filling our minds with truth in our scripture passage this morning.
V4 “Rejoice in the Lord always”
V6 “Do not be anxious. With thanksgiving make your requests known to God”
V7 “The peace of God will guard your heart and mind.”
V8 Focus on these things: “whatever is pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy”
Rejoice in the Lord always: He is with us. We are never alone. Give thanks—gratitude is a key to detoxifying our mind. In whatever circumstances we are in, look for something for which you can be thankful. After you rejoice and give thanks the peace comes.
Forgive and release the past—whatever you did or whatever was done to you. Release control of the future. Replace worry with trust. “Cast all your anxiety on him.” Place your future in God’s hands and leave it there. He is the only who is in the future right now.
This will take some practice, especially if you have spent years amplifying the negative messages in your mind. The goal is to detoxify our brain of all the stuff that we have stored there and allowed to putrefy. Instead we focus on developing the mind of Christ—a mind filled with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
I want to read you a letter that a person wrote who began to recognize the negative messages she was grabbing that resulted in depression. She began to recognize the lies, release them and replace them with truth. The letter she wrote was addressed “Dear Depression, I have a plan. I have other thoughts with which to replace you. Where you fed my tissue and cells and immune system with toxic messages of self-hatred, now self-acceptance ripples and shines. Where you dropped heavy stones in my heart or put the elephant on my chest, I now have the gentle presence of God as I surrender. Where you told me I was worthless and unlovable and that all was hopeless, I have recovery and 12 Steps and fellowship. Where you told me there was hatred and dysfunction, there are miracles and reconciliation. Where I once had only you, dear depression, I now have Hope. And so to you, loyal depression, I bid farewell. Rest in peace.” This letter was written by actress Ashley Judd and recorded in her autobiography, All That Is Bitter and Sweet.
“Recognize, release and replace” is a way to detoxify your mind. I’m not saying that you won’t worry or you won’t feel anxious sometimes. I’m saying that anxiety and worry need no longer control your life. To jump start this process you need to be intentional to think about what you think about. A good starting place is to do a short, six minute meditation daily:
2 minutes just breathe—focus on your breath; it is a way to get you in the present moment and away from the past or the future
2 minutes scan your body—what are you feeling, sensing right now
2 minutes what am I thinking, what is going on in my mind—observe: am I focusing on the past with regret? Am I worrying about what might happen in the future? Recognize any negative thought, release it and then replace it with a truth from God.
At the beginning of this message we heard from several of our students about their negative thoughts and where they came from. Now let’s listen to their answers to the third question: How do you stop the negative thoughts?
Video: Students share How to stop negative thoughts
We all struggle with toxic thoughts. What will you do to stop them?
I want to close by reading a devotional from the book Jesus Calling in which Sarah Young writes a message based upon scripture which she believes Jesus would speak to us today:
In order to hear My voice, you must release all your worries into My care. Entrust to Me everything that concerns you. This clears the way for you to seek My Face unhindered. Let Me free you from fear that is hiding deep inside you. Sit quietly in My Presence, allowing My Light to soak into you and drive out any darkness lodged within you.
Accept each day just as it comes to you, remembering that I am sovereign over your life. Rejoice in this day that I have made, trusting that I am abundantly present in it. Instead of regretting or resenting the way things are, thank Me in all circumstances. Trust Me and don’t be fearful; thank Me and rest in My sovereignty.