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  • Paul Reich

Take Every Thought Captive (Part 1)

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

Discover four sources of your thoughts and learn how to protect your mind from any thought that is contrary to God’s and His purposes.

 

The Thinker by Rodin - Image by Image by 139904 from Pixabay

 

In July of 1984, a friend and I went on a three-day backpack trip through the Ram Mountain Range of the Canadian Rockies in southwest Alberta. Another friend dropped us off on the east side of the Ram Range at Onion Lake west of Ram River Falls. We planned to emerge on the Kootenay Plains west of the Ram Mountains three days later and had arranged for our wives to meet us at the parking lot of the trailhead to Siffleur Falls.


Our trek of nearly 40 kilometers (25 miles) followed the North Ram River through the pass near Mount William Booth and then down the west side of the Ram Range to the Kootenay Plains. Having planned one of our days to climb Mount William Booth, we set up camp near the source of the North Ram River at the throat of the pass. The scenery was spectacular throughout the trip, but especially from the top of Mount William Booth at a height of 2,728 meters (8,950 feet). Though much shorter than many other mountains in Alberta, we nonetheless had a breathtaking panoramic view of the region and spent some moments basking in our accomplishment and taking in the beauty all around us.


Every day was filled with scenic wonders including alpine flowers, crystal clear streams, forested trails, and a variety of wildlife that enhanced each step with sights, sounds and smells of Alberta’s great outdoors. One of my favorite experiences was watching a colony of hoary marmots that made their homes amidst the rocks near the top of the pass. Listening to their whistles and watching them scamper on the mountain greenery amidst rocky crags and crystal ponds left an imprint in my mind that remains even to this day.


Marmots - Image by Julius Silver from Pixabay


The trek ended with an easy walk across the Kootenay Plains, an impressive 100 meter (about 330 feet) suspension bridge over the North Saskatchewan River, and an easy ten minute walk to the parking lot. We were met warmly by our wives who arrived shortly before we did. My wife, Lynn, brought our first-born son, Benjamin, who was only thirteen months old at the time. Excited to see Daddy, he readily reached out his arms. Needless to say, the excitement was mutual and I hugged and held him while we exchanged pleasantries and put our backpacks in the van.


Impressed with the suspension bridge, we invited our wives to walk the ten minutes back to the bridge so they could see it. They agreed, so we headed back down the trail with me carrying our son. The wider trail on the Kootenay Plains allowed us to walk beside our wives and the hike to the bridge went quickly as we visited along the way. The point of the walk wasn’t just to see the bridge, but to experience it. We walked across the bridge, stopping about the three-quarter mark for a brief visit on the bridge before returning to the car. The North Saskatchewan was raging near the top of its riverbanks because of the melting snowcaps high in the Rockies due to the summer heat. It was a thrilling experience standing above a raging river, hearing the roar of its waters and seeing the powerful current rushing below through the grated bridge deck and the chain-link side rails.


Suspension Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River - Image from Play Outside Guide - https://www.playoutsideguide.com/2016/08/siffleur-falls-trail-david-thompson/


Then it happened. While we were standing there visiting and watching the raging waters, an utterly horrifying thought suddenly came to my mind, “Throw him in!” The words were so clear, it was as if a voice were speaking to me. I was completely caught by surprise at this rash thought and shaken by its clarity and force. I said nothing to those with me. Trembling inside, I tightened my hold on my son resisting this horrific thought as we visited another minute or two before walking back across the bridge on our way back to the car. Once we were safely on land and a distance from the river, I finally began relaxing, yet still emotionally unnerved by this experience.


On the ride home, I condemned myself for having such an evil thought. I loved my son. I would give my life for him. How could I even think such an evil thought about my own flesh and blood in whom I had great delight. Thankfully, the conversation in the van was engaging and by the time we returned home about two hours later, I had put the experience in the back of my mind, not thinking to share it with Lynn. Besides, I was so ashamed of having had such a revolting thought and so confused by the whole experience, I’m not sure I would have known how to share it at the time.


But that intrusive thought on the bridge wasn’t the end of the matter. That night and for the following two or three nights in a row, I had the same dreadful and disturbing nightmare. I dreamt that I had thrown my son into the raging river. Terrified at what I had done and amidst the screams of my wife along with those of my friend and his wife, I jumped into the river to save my son. In panicked desperation, I tried to find him in the muddied waters to rescue him, but not being a strong swimmer I wasn’t able to do so. I barely saved myself, crawling onto shore exhausted and utterly mortified at my actions. The overwhelming shame and guilt I felt was unbearable. In my dream, I fast forwarded to a life sentence in prison. Having lost my wife due to my actions, I spent my days with unbearable guilt and torment replaying in my mind what I done, haunted over taking my son’s life and destroying my wife.


On that July day in 1984, the water line on the blue bridge pier was not visible due to a high water level. The muddied waters were also overflowing low portions of the bank on both sides. Image from Play Outside Guide - https://www.playoutsideguide.com/2016/08/siffleur-falls-trail-david-thompson/


It was at this point in the dream each night that I woke up sweating profusely and literally shaking. Not able to return to sleep, I laid there deeply disturbed that I could even have such a thought toward my son and repeatedly condemned myself for such wickedness. I tossed and turned, wrestling with my thoughts and praying until eventually falling back to sleep. I honestly don’t recall when I shared this experience with Lynn or how aware she was of my torment at the time.


During this experience, I was on the faculty at Living Faith Bible College. The college started under the ministry of Living Faith Evangelistic Association (LFEA) in the fall of 1971. LFEA was formed in the late 1960’s to support the evangelism ministry of Pastor Cliff Stalwick. In addition to Pastor Stalwick’s full-time evangelistic travels, he and the board also ran family Bible camps at various rented locations during the summer months. Out of his travels and these camps, interest grew to see a permanent camp location as well as a Bible College that combined solid Bible teaching with an emphasis on the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit.


Early in 1971, LFEA acquired a 78-acre dude ranch nestled in the Clearwater River valley south of Rocky Mountain House amidst the foothills of the majestic Canadian Rockies. Boasting only a two-story coffee shop and ten small cabins at the time, they erected a large tent and started their first family Bible camp on the new property that summer. In the fall they launched their first college year with 11 students.


Over the years, the college grew, and the ministry expanded to include a local church, a Christian school, regular outreach and missions, a variety of camps and retreats, and frequent rental of the growing facilities to families, churches, and other Christian organizations. We had taken our backpack trip during a down week between two summer family camps in July. Providentially, God had a special message for me on the first night of the second camp that started the following weekend.


The Clearwater College Campus - Photo by Russell Thornberry


That night, our camp speaker spoke about thoughts, the devil’s ability to impose ungodly thoughts, and our need to cast down unwelcome thoughts, taking every thought captive, making them obedient to Christ. As I listened to the message, I realized that this plaguing evil thought that had intruded itself into my mind and the recurring nightmares I was having were spiritual attacks. That evening after the service, I took authority over that evil murderous thought in the name of Jesus, renouncing the lie that I would want to hurt my son, and affirming the truth that I loved my son. I cast down the lies, condemnation, shame, and terror that tormented me through the nightmares. I asked God to cleanse my mind and help me fill these places with His truth, peace, and love. That night, I slept like a baby, peacefully without incident, and never again had that nightmare.


Though I don’t recall the many details of the camp message that summer in 1984, its truths have been worked time and again into my heart over the years as I’ve continued to grow in my awareness of spiritual warfare and the need to guard my mind. I’m sure that some of the insights from that message are interspersed in my thoughts below, along with insights I have gleaned from the Scriptures as well as other messages and books over the past 37 years.


SOURCES OF THOUGHTS

The reason we need to vigilantly guard our minds and take every thought captive, making them obedient to Christ, is because every thought that enters our mind is not from Him, nor do they all reflect His character and His truth. Many thoughts that enter our minds can be destructive to our lives, if left unchecked. There are at least four different sources of our thoughts.


1. God


God can put thoughts in our minds. In the Bible, God gave dreams to individuals, showed visions to other, moved some to prophesy, and inspired men to write Scripture. Believers can hear His voice and be guided by His Spirit. God can illumine our understanding and several of the spiritual gifts function to communicate thoughts from God – including words of knowledge and wisdom, prophecy, and tongues and interpretation.


The main way God speaks to us is through His written word, but we can also experience the leading, conviction, and comfort of His Holy Spirit; joy in His presence, and a peace that passes understanding guarding our hearts and minds. All of these are very tangible experiences that can deeply impact our minds and our emotions.


2. Satan


Satan can put thoughts in our minds. Satan “incited David to count Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:11). He “put in the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray [Jesus]” (John 13:2). And he “filled” the hearts of Ananias and Saphira “to lie to the Holy Spirit” and the apostles (Acts 5). In each case, these individuals were not destined to carry out what the devil put into their minds. They had responsibility to reject these ideas and do what was right. Sinful thoughts that are unchecked can lead us to sinful actions as demonstrated by each of these examples.


As Satan used the fruit of the tree and lies to appeal to Eve and as he showed the kingdoms of this world and gave false promises to tempt Jesus, he often uses the things of this world and empty promises to appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life in us as well. He is the god of the fallen worldly system and his demonic forces seek to permeate every aspect of society, fashioning them after his character and soliciting people to carry out his purposes. In fact, people can unknowingly be promoting the devil’s purposes and doing his bidding like Peter who rebuked Jesus after He foretold His death.


Matthew 16:22–23 (NASB95)

22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”

23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”


Only moments earlier Peter had spoken truth revealed to him by the Father (Matthew 16:16-19). Now, in his good intentions to protect Jesus, he was unaware that he was being a mouthpiece for Satan by trying to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling God’s very purpose for sending Him – to die for our sins. Jesus discerned that Peter’s words of concern were contrary to God’s will and were from the enemy because Peter’s mind was not on God’s purposes. This is not saying that Peter was possessed by the devil, only that his thoughts were not in alignment with God’s interests. Rather, Peter’s words flowed from human interests, which in this case were a stumbling block to keep Jesus from the very act that would defeat the devil and deliver mankind from his rule. How often are people unwittingly a mouthpiece for the devil (James 3:6)?


From his experience in a lifetime of ministry, Dr. Neil Anderson, the author of The Bondage Breaker and Victory Over the Darkness, believes that only 15% of evangelical Christians “are consistently living a Spirit-filled life and bearing fruit. The other 85 percent are struggling along fruitlessly at one of at least three levels of spiritual conflict,” experiencing various degrees of attack and defeat in their lives stemming from the devil’s war on their minds. [1]


3. Our Five Senses


Thoughts also come through our five senses, primarily through the two higher senses of hearing and seeing, but it is not uncommon for a smell, a flavor, or a touch to also trigger a memory or a thought. To control our thoughts, we need to guard the gateways to our minds. Remember, Satan appealed to Adam and Eve through their eyes and their ears. We saw this in my previous post on John Bunyan’s analogous book, The Holy War, as Diabolus gained access to the city of Mansoul through the eye gate and the ear gate.


Protecting the gateways to our minds includes monitoring the intake of our five senses, especially what we see and hear. It is essential that we screen our screen time, actively filtering what we watch on media devices such as a TV, computer, tablet, or phone. We also need to use care in the music and audio media we listen to. The books, magazines, and other print media we view or read can also influence our thoughts and require self-censoring. We do well to heed the poetic warning of Alexander Pope.

Sin is a monster of such awful mien, that to be hated needs but to be seen but seen to oft, familiar of face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace. Alexander Pope [2]

Worldly friends are often a source of ungodly counsel and temptation. Those who are vulnerable to peer pressure will need to draw boundaries with friends that are a bad influence, restricting or even cutting off contact to eliminate their tempting influences. Those who struggle with substance addictions may need to avoid certain smells, sounds, or tastes that can trigger unwelcome thoughts.


One of the greatest influences on our minds is education. All forms of immorality and antichristian ideologies are being openly taught in most secular institutions of learning from pre-school through university. Many clubs and organizations have also embraced the new cultural norms. Even public libraries permit reading times that plant seeds of ungodly thinking into the minds of our children and grandchildren. Christian parents must use wisdom in who they allow to influence the minds of their children and Christian young adults must use wisdom in choosing a college or university to further their education. Again, to used the wise words of Alexander Pope.

‘Tis education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined. Alexander Pope

4. Memories and Imagination


The fourth source of thoughts is from within the mind itself. Our minds are amazing. They are both a storehouse of memories and a laboratory for inventive imagination. Both the capacities of memory and imagination can be used for good or for evil. Good memories allow us to recall and re-experience the people we love, memorable events, moments of achievement, lessons learned, and many other pleasant or beneficial experiences. Likewise, the good use of man’s imagination has resulted in countless benefits through inventions, art, music, story, architecture, technological advancement, and much more.


Yet, if we are not careful, both these capacities can become a stumbling block and can be used for evil. Traumatic or painful experiences can leave haunting memories and the devil can use these memories to re-traumatize, to enslave, and to debilitate. Past sinful activities or lustful images can be replayed, and the devil can use these memories to tempt or condemn. The imagination can run riot, inventing all forms of wickedness and picturing evils one has never before seen. The devil can use these vile imaginations to instigate all forms of evil in individuals, families, and society through sinful behavior, abusive structures, and the immoral use of technology.


Unhealed memories can wield power over the present. To break their influence, those suffering from haunting memories may need emotional healing. The Holy Spirit can heal the pain of haunting memories and break their power to dominate and control one’s life. This doesn’t mean the memory is erased. Rather much like a healed physical wound may leave a scar that can be seen, yet is no longer painful, a healed memory will remain, but no longer carries pain or debilitates a person’s life. Healed memories are not forgotten, but they no longer have power over the present (this may be a message for a future post).


Closing


God has given us responsibility over the domain of our minds. We are each responsible to monitor and protect our minds from any thought that is contrary to God’s thoughts and purposes for our lives. In this post, my purpose was simply to demonstrate the need to be attentive to this task and to introduce four primary sources for our thoughts. In my next post, I will share a process that I have found helpful in taking my thoughts captive. I will give you some keys to recognizing God’s voice, the voice of the enemy, and the various other voices that seek to find a place in our minds. We will also look at helpful steps in identifying the lies of the enemy, renouncing them and replacing them with God’s truth.


Reminder: Due to other writing and ministry priorities, I'm only posting once each month for June, July, and August. This is June's post. See you in July.


Recommendation: Over the summer, I recommend that you read some of the 20+ posts that you may have missed during the past five to six months. You may also wish to reread some of the posts, look up the Bible references, and use them for personal or group study.




REFERENCES

[1] Neil T. Anderson. The Bondage Breaker: Overcoming Negative Thoughts, Irrational Feelings, and Habitual Sins (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1990), 61-62.

[2] I’ve quoted a commonly found modern rendering of Alexander Pope’s famous words. The original, below, is from Pope’s lengthy poem, Essay on Man, Epistle II, that insightfully describes the nature of sinful man. Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace. For the full poem see https://poets.org/poem/essay-man-epistle-ii

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