Ever swallowed a fly?
Inhaled a gnat?
Been bombarded by a whole family reunion of yellow jackets while mowing the lawn?
These insects swarm, pester, and sometimes sting. A lot like our thoughts. Those nagging, bothersome embarrassments that come like an unwanted case of shingles.
But most of us would not assume an inhaled gnat was now a part of who we are. Nor would we conclude, that a swallowed fly now constituted a vital aspect of our personality. And we’d never presume that being stung by a yellow jacket would indicate we were somehow or another, now “yellow-jackety.”
Obtrusive Marauders That Are Not Us
In all these instances, we recognize there are obtrusive marauders— forces from the outside that are acting on us, which are in no meaningful way a part of us.
Our pestering thoughts aren’t altogether different in effect from summer’s tiny swarming agitation crews. Unwanted indictments, unavoidable accusations, and inappropriate insinuations flood our minds like spam clogs our inbox.
Only it isn’t uncommon for us to receive these unsolicited thoughts like unanticipated collect calls from unknown area codes and then to imagine they are our fault, or worse, that they are us.
A sinister suspicion, a darkly lustful imagining, a hateful passing notion of vengeance…these sneak in like thieves, and we suddenly imagine that they are revealing determinative opinions about us.
Don’t Let Them Build Nests
Martin Luther once pithily suggested:
“You can’t stop birds from flying over head but you can keep them from building nests in your hair.”
Luther had distressing familiarity with a bevy of unwanted thoughts. His PhD in unbidden obtrusions would have compelled him to reassure modern folks that it’s a horrendous practice to give too much credence to whatever comes into one’s mind.
Of course, he, along with the Scriptures, believed we had a sinister enemy, a grim “Prince of Darkness.” (who seems to have made a shameless, destructive and dehumanizing appearance in Charlottesville this past weekend)
This enemy is a deceiver. “The Father of lies” who rather enjoys tricking us and wounding us with launches of his fiery darts. Those diseased thoughts he sends come with his interest in making sure we feel compelled to inspect, appraise, value and internalize all the takes up residence in our minds.
In that way we become entirely passive punching bags for our thoughts which force us, often unwittingly into assuming how we ought to act, feel, or be.
But in the same way that you would not cede authority to a swallowed gnat, nor to an ingested fly, you likewise don’t have an obligation to all the special interest groups of assailing thoughts that bully their way into your mind.
Jesus once urged we exercise care lest our spiritual arteries get clogged with God-amnesia, anxiety, and drunkenness (or a way to medicate that intolerable inward static we sometimes feel). This was, of course, his way of highlighting that “life comes from paying attention to Me and not merely to the long lines of rude thoughts pushing and shoving for your undivided attention.”
Dispel the Fog
The other day a wise friend shared that when tempting thoughts bulldoze his mind—those aggravating inevitabilities that come from who knows where and over whose arrival none of us seem to have any power—“I have just taken to speaking audibly the word, ‘Jesus.’ It dispels the fog of that thought that is seeking to cover me up.”
Of course wise spiritual practitioners throughout the ages have taken similar tacts to reorient themselves when they discover themselves trapped within a labyrinth of themselves. Thus the well-worn from use “Jesus Prayer”:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones famously noticed while traipsing through the Psalms that the pray-er in Psalm 42 actually seems to do a lot more talking to himself than listening to himself, thereby refusing to accept his own inner thoughts as the authoritative statement about his life. Lloyd-Jones instructs:
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”
When you have an Attention Deficit Disordered heart you sometimes have to lead it by the nose right back to the reality of God for whom you were made.
And when assailing thoughts come your way, you simply don’t have to listen to them. When they bang on your door, you don't have to open up to them, and should they bust into your living room, you don't have to offer them a drink!
Instead, you ignore them.
And you turn your attention to Christ.
You are one in whom Jesus has taken up residence.
Your enemy hates that. The world and its powers detest that. So there are going to be enemy attacks. You just don’t have to pay attention to them. They may be powerful, but you needn’t ascribe any authority to them.
Gk Chesterton once suggested, “If a rhinoceros were to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever.”
Though the power of an obtrusive thought be rhino-fierce and strong, we must rise and assure ourselves that it has “no authority” in us “whatever.”
In a 2003 movie called Luther, a young Martin Luther is distressed before his spiritual confessor, Johann Stuapitz.
Stuapitz, trying to help Luther steward himself, assures him, “Arguing with the devil never does any of us any good. He has had years of practice. He knows all the weak spots.”
And as a frightened, bewildered, and desperate Luther, hankering for the solace of the mercy of God engages him in conversation, Stuapitz dispenses a simple yet powerful antibiotic for the raging virus of nasty, condemning, and frightening thoughts:
“Bind yourself to Christ and you will know God's love. Say to Him, "I'm yours. Save me."
“I am yours. Save me.”
Give that a whirl the next time unwanted notions bully their way into your mind.
Offer yourself to Jesus who lives in you, will fight for you and wants to bear the fragrance of his life through yours.
Yield yourself to Him with confidence, and count on an answer each time you insist, “I am yours. Save me.”
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at email@example.com