How to Reverse Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Our home is a welcoming place to grandkids and granddogs alike. One day we were watching Bailey, our ten-year-old golden retriever granddog from the Waco division of Burchett Incorporated. She is a regal and beautiful girl who loves to swim. We took our Maggie and Bailey out to the pool to do just that. Maggie swims like she is competing for the final Olympic-team spot. She goes full bore to the end, jumps out, shakes off, and runs back to the start.

In contrast, Bailey swims to cool off and relax. She will go to the deep-end step and just hang out for minutes at a time. While she was standing there, we noticed Bailey’s epically failed attempt to accomplish a common canine task. She watched Maggie shake off water as she exited the pool. Bailey knew that she needed to do likewise, since this is covered in the dog manual. So she aggressively shook her body.

What she failed to take into account was that she was standing shoulder deep in water. The net effect of her efforts was exactly zero water removed. But that didn’t keep her from trying. Periodically she would shake with the same non-results. I smiled at Joni. No matter how often or how violently Bailey shook her body, nothing was going to change unless she changed her position.

I thought about Bailey’s failed attempts as I mused about how we as a community of believers need to change how we approach our desire to shake off the crippling effects of this culture on our faith walk. Like Bailey, we need to change our position.

I have said for years that America is one of the toughest places on the planet to be a transformational Christian. You combine material abundance with a constant diet of bad cultural messaging, and you have terrible soil for spiritual growth.

Advertising targets my worst instincts. My happiness is defined by possessions, power, appearance, and experiences. I am encouraged to chase the next thing that will make me happy. After many years of futile pursuit, I have learned this is just more stinkin’ thinkin’, an actual psychological term.

Stinking thinking is “a bad way of thinking, that makes you believe you will fail, that bad things will happen to you, or that you are not a very good person.” That pretty much describes my junior high experience.

We all fall victim to stinkin’ thinkin’, but it is particularly distressing for a follower of Christ. Christians feel an even bigger sense of failure. They think, “If I can muster up more faith, prayer, study, or general busyness for Jesus, I can overcome this malady, right?” Busyness and wrong thinking lead to tiredness and shame.

I have to admit that I am afflicted with some degree of stinkin’ thinkin’. We need only harken back one chapter to the story of the misplaced phone. After I couldn’t find the phone, all of my buttons were pushed. The voices started. “I am stupid. Disorganized.” I remember muttering, “What is wrong with me?” as we pulled away. Joni’s questions shamed me, although there was no hint of shame in her tone. This was not about her or a lost phone. There is a spiritual war happening with an enemy who delights in my doubt and shame. The culture contributes a tsunami of unbiblical images and words. How can I overcome this daunting challenge?

Paul has the perfect antidote to stinkin’ thinkin’ in his letter to the church at Philippi. The letter is written to encourage believers living in a culture that was often hostile to faith, not unlike the times we live in now.

Paul penned this uplifting missive of hope while he was suffering for his faith in a Roman prison. But Paul did not let his circumstances defeat him, and he did not want the Philippians to lose their joy because of opposition.

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Those are wonderful words for sure, but then Paul gets to the kicker in the next verse, pinpointing what can stand up against (or take down?) stinkin’ thinkin’.

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)

That is holy positive thinking! Write that reminder on a card. Make it the wallpaper on your device. Write it on the palm of your hand. Stick it on a mirror or the refrigerator. Do whatever you need to do, in order to have these words handy when you find your mind drifting toward stinkin’ thinkin’.

I love how The Message unpacks this even more:

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8, msg, emphasis added)

Today, consider how you will pivot from false accusations to truth. How you plan to switch your thoughts from negative to noble, from angry to gracious. How you can consider the best and not the worst. If you feel moved to do so, record the beautiful and throw out the ugly. Write down your praise.

This is one of the core themes for this journey. It is a hard process, but we have a pretty good support system and a 24-7 help line with no wait times. Today, be aware of your thoughts. Repeat Philippians 4:8 aloud every time your mental GPS suggests the low road.

I need to know when to say no. Busyness does not define my worth. Being a schedule martyr does not make me more righteous. Overscheduling keeps me from spending time with the One who gives His righteousness to me.

That was my struggle for forty years before I realized a simple truth. Dramatic change took place the moment I made that faith commitment to follow Jesus. Scripture tells me that when I decided to become a follower of Christ, the following things happened immediately:

I was given a new identity.

I became a new creation.

I received the gift of the righteousness of Christ.

I was changed completely when I put my trust in Christ as my only hope for salvation. I did not have to struggle with futile performance to change. I was changed that day. But it has taken me forty years to know Him better, never realizing I had been carrying around the key to that kind of relationship since day one.

Now I see a different picture. I see Jesus standing at my side and explaining that I am completely changed. I see Him telling me that my sins are forgiven and I can quit relitigating past mistakes. I see Him explaining to me that all of those things that used to be true about me are no longer true. I see Him repeating that, because I tend to nod my head without really believing it. Jesus explains to me that no matter what the accuser might say, those things that used to define me are dead and buried at the Cross. I see Jesus telling me that I have the Holy Spirit to comfort me and provide an unshakable source of strength.

I see Jesus looking deeply into my eyes and tenderly expressing (again) that it is my trust in God that pleases Him. No other works are required. My faith is what pleases Him according to God’s Word. Nothing else. I picture Jesus embracing me and saying, “Relax. Rest. Let Me love you and then, out of that rest and love, you can love others. Quit making it so complicated, Dave.”

I have a hard time putting my full weight on those truths. But I have learned that we can disabuse ourselves today of the notion that busyness is somehow related to godliness. I suggest a spring (or summer/fall/winter) cleaning of the calendar. Allow yourself time to spend with the most important people in your life. Schedule time with Jesus. Don’t allow guilt to monopolize every waking moment. Carve out time for friends, family, and yourself.

If Jesus could leave disappointed throngs behind for what was important, we should withdraw for recharging and time with God too. Write down where, when, and how you are going to find some time to relax with friends, family, and God. Be still, and know that God loves you and desires you. Your actions will naturally emerge from that loving relationship with Him. You don’t have to earn that love. It is yours.

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