Question: "How can I stop having negative thoughts? How can I overcome negative thinking?"
Answer: Chronic negative thinking, depression, anxiety, and similar disorders are on the rise all over the world. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the U.S. are affected, which is nearly 20 percent of the population. Of that number, many are professing Christians.
Fear seems to be a root cause of many of these problems. It’s no wonder people are fearful in a world where it appears nothing is reliable. It can be quite disturbing for a person to realize almost everything in life is ultimately out of his control—from the weather to his bank account balance. All the things people rely on for their security will sooner or later fail them. But the Christian who confesses the sovereignty of an Almighty God who works all things for his good (Romans 8:28) has the antidote to negative thinking.
When a Christian’s thinking is primarily negative, anxious, or doubtful, it’s a sign of a serious lack of faith. The author of Hebrews states, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), and, according to Proverbs 29:25, fear is a trap but trust in the Lord keeps a man safe. Jesus, when boating with His disciples during a terrible storm, asked them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26). Those who struggle with negative thinking should do the same thing they would do with any other sin—confess it (agree with God that negative thinking is wrong because it reveals a lack of trust) and make every effort to change the behavior.
Prayer is a key part of overcoming negativity. Jesus taught that prayer should include praise to the Father and a focus on His holiness (Matthew 6:9; see also Psalm 95:2). As we pray “with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6), we focus on the blessings we have received and leave no room for negative thoughts. The Holy Spirit will be faithful to help the repentant believer overcome negative thinking (Matthew 7:7–11).
Daily Bible reading, particularly studies which focus on the promises of God, are of great help in overcoming negative thinking. It’s helpful to remember that, no matter how dismal the present circumstances, Christians have been promised God’s love and victory in Christ (Romans 8:37–39; 2 Corinthians 2:14).
The Scriptures are bursting with admonitions from God to His people to overcome fear and doubt—over 350 commands to “fear not.” As a matter of fact, the one verbal encouragement Jesus gives more than any other is a call to fearless living (e.g., Matthew 6:25; 9:2; 10:28; 10:31).
The struggle against negative thinking is a battle for the mind. The apostle Paul tells believers what to think about: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Besides defining what thoughts should fill our minds, this text implicitly teaches that we can control what we think about. When a negative thought comes, the thinker who has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) has the ability to push it out of the mind and replace it with godly thoughts. This takes practice, but with persistence, it gets easier. Christians must think about what they’re thinking about and not allow their minds to have free reign. In our spiritual warfare, we’ve been given the helmet of salvation—spiritual armor for the mind.
As long as Christians live in a fearful, stressful world, negative thoughts will come. We have the option of either stamping out those thoughts or nurturing them. The good news is, negative thoughts can be replaced with positive ones, and the more that godly substitution takes place, the more peace and joy we can experience.
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