All of us want to be happy—we do. Augustine, our African church father and perhaps the most influential theologian in history, wrote almost 1,600 years ago, “Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy.” There is little argument here; we want to get happy and stay happy.
We have a complicated relationship with happiness; some of us may even feel guilty or selfish, even having the thought of wanting to be happy. But that guilt is not getting the life for you that God desires.
Believe it or not, God wants us to be happy. God cares about our happiness, and he has gone to great lengths to prove it. Do you know of a devoted, earthly father who does not desire his children’s happiness? Of course not! God is described as the ultimate loving and devoted Father, and as such, our happiness is a concern of His.
He does not want us to be happy at the expense of our integrity or morality, but He also knows that immoral and ill things will not make us happy in the end.
So here is what we know…
You want to be happy.
God wants you to be happy.
God, Himself is a happy God.
God designed us to be happy! He delights when we delight. He rejoices over us with singing, according to Zephaniah 3:17, which means He created us in His image to rejoice and sing, as well!
How, then, do we find happiness? It seems so elusive. How we find happiness is quite clear, the Scriptures have no shortage of promises.
The Psalmist’s words tell us, “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!” (Psalm 144:15, NKJV). And, “Happy are the people whose strength is in you” (Psalm 84:5, CSB).
But to experience this happiness and hang tight to it, we need to find freedom from some things that keep us captive in unhappy places. Above all things, freedom will be found in a new script. If we are going to be happy, we have to corral our negative thoughts and write a new mental script by which we operate.
Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the Enneagram, but it is an ancient tool used to describe nine personality profiles in a reasonably complex but very understandable way—once you get into it.
What is fascinating about the Enneagram and pertinent to our topic is that it helps you see how the various wounds you have suffered over your life have helped to shape who you are and who you thought you needed to be to navigate your world.
My top two Enneagram numbers are Four and Eight, and if you know anything about the Enneagram, you know that those two numbers are almost diametrically opposed in expression. The Four is Original Person—artistic, sensitive, melancholic. The Eight is called the Powerful Person—strong, decisive, challenging.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because over the last couple of years—specifically through the lockdown—I have slowly realized that I am more Four than Eight, but throughout my adult life—particularly in pastoral ministry—every time I have allowed myself to live and lead and love out of that artistic and sensitive place, something injurious happened.
So I began to think things like, I have to protect this part of myself. And If they—(whoever “they” were at the time) see me as weak or sensitive, then they will take advantage of me. And I have to keep all of this sensitivity inside because people only respond to strength.
Eventually, the thoughts became unconscious ways of being; in other words, I ultimately did not have to think and then act on those thoughts; my powerful person—the Eight in me—took the reins, guarding the most sensitive side of me at all times, and keeping my Four “safe” from the world, but also unseen.
It messed me up because for almost 15 years, an entire part of me—what seems to be the primary part of me—was suffocated, and slowly I became the thoughts I was thinking. I have been less of myself for years—up until the end of 2020, really—because of the thoughts I have been thinking, and perhaps you can be honest enough and vulnerable enough to admit the same—we become the thoughts we think.
In her book, Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, Dr. Caroline Leaf writes: “Your mind is the most powerful thing in the universe after God.”
So powerful, in fact, that how we think affects our own spirit, soul and body and how we think also affects the people around us.
Science and Scripture both confirm how the results of our decisions pass through the sperm and ova to the following four generations, profoundly affecting their choices and lifestyles. It is called the science of epigenetics.
The Scriptures often speak about the power of the mind and our thoughts. I think it’s easy to gloss over this and overlook the connection between thoughts and transformation. Maybe it’s too “self-help-ish,” and cheap self-help books have turned us off.
Science connected the mind with transformation years ago. Our minds are powerful, and our thoughts shape who we are and will become.
In my case, I thought powerful, not sensitive, was what I needed to be to function in my role and this world. I thought that if anyone ever saw what was underneath, I would not be safe in my own skin. I thought many things, and eventually, those thoughts began to shape who I was and the world around me.
But we do not have to be captive to our thoughts; we have the power to change our thinking and therefore change our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.
Dr. Leaf says again in her book, Switch On Your Brain: “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic thinking patterns and replace them with healthy thoughts.”
Here is the bottom line: You need a new script, if you want to be happy and stay happy. You need a new mental script that guides and directs how you navigate self, others and this world. It would be best if you rewired your brain with a new script. Your old script of “I can’t” or “they won’t” or “if they” or “what if” has to be cast out, and a new one written. You have to consciously direct your thinking to wire out toxic thinking patterns and wire in healthy thoughts.
Thankfully Scripture and science agree—you can rewire your brain. God has given you His power to have power over your mind. You do not have to be bound by toxic thoughts and debilitating beliefs, and there are three steps you need to take to rewire your brain for peak happiness.
The words of Solomon, often referred to as the wisest man to ever live, confirm those of Dr. Leaf on the power of our thinking. He wrote thousands of years ago in Proverbs 23:7, “As someone thinks within himself, so he is.”
Think about those words; no pun intended. Our thoughts shape who we are and how we behave. There is a saying that words form worlds. I do not disagree with that sentiment, but it seems even more truthful to say our thoughts shape our world. Even the words we speak that may “shape worlds” began as a … thought. As you think you are, you will be.
If you think you can’t, you won’t.
If you think this is the end, it will be.
If you think things will never get any better, they won’t.
The good news is that we are not victims of biology or circumstances. If you’ve chosen to believe otherwise, this verse sounds like nonsense. But again, science is proving what Scripture already declared. The brain is plastic, hence the term neuroplasticity. It can be changed moment by moment by how we actively direct our thinking.
Add to this that research says that every single morning you wake up, new baby nerve cells have been made while you were sleeping. They are now at your disposal to be used for either tearing down toxic thoughts and rebuilding healthy thoughts or reinforcing the toxic thoughts you have already been thinking.
Dr. Leaf writes one more time: “When you think, you build thoughts, and these become physical substances in your brain.” Again, please take a moment to think about her words. Your thoughts become matter in your brain, which then influences how you move. “As one thinks, so one is,” Solomon wrote thousands of years ago, and it seems science has proven him correct.
Our thoughts shape our world, and we have the power to shape our thoughts. Good thinking equals healthy thoughts, which equals good choices, reinforcing good thinking. Toxic thinking equals toxic thoughts, which equals poor choices, reinforcing toxic thinking. So how do we teach ourselves to think good thoughts instead of toxic ones?
We can choose the thoughts we think. You are not subject to the thoughts running through your mind.
That may sound a little self-help-ish for my theological purists, but I assure you that it is not. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth centuries ago, “…and we take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Capture your thoughts. Change your life. The ability to quiet your mind, focus your attention and capture your thoughts is an incredible and powerful ability that God has placed within you.
A few years ago, I prepared to speak at a large and well-known conference. Before I was set to go up, I started sweating profusely… uncontrollably. In over a decade of preaching, nothing like that had ever happened to me.
I was sweaty, and I was frozen. I could not control my breathing, and the thoughts running through my mind were, You are going to bomb. They won’t receive you. You are no expert. You are about to tick off another group of your white siblings. On and on!
Then like a flash, I heard a small voice, the Spirit, echo the words of Paul. “Take captive every thought.”
The more I observed what I was thinking and questioned it, the quieter the negative thoughts became. I gathered myself and remembered Who called me to this and why. I stopped sweating, my breathing slowed and I stood to do what I had gone to do.
Dr. Leaf writes one more time: “When you objectively observe your own thinking with the view to capturing rogue thoughts, you in effect direct your attention to stop the negative impact and rewire healthy new circuits into your brain.”
Friends, you will never understand how freely negative thoughts run in your mind until you try to corral them. But my thoughts don’t hold ultimate power over my life. Neither do yours.
Right now, I know many of you are plagued by crippling thoughts, ones that impact every facet of your life, and I want you to know self-defeating narratives do not have to write your story. You can take your thoughts captive.
Breaking the pattern requires consistency and tenacity. It requires weeks, maybe months, of repeatedly showing up and catching the same thoughts. We’re not conditioned for this because our instant gratification culture is wired to have everything five minutes ago.
Capturing thoughts also requires reflection and contemplation. Your thoughts will enslave you as long as you navigate life on autopilot. Without intentional blocks of time for prayer, meditation and silence, you cannot capture them.
I fear many of us are stuck in destructive thought patterns because we’ve accepted the lie that we’re too busy to slow down and do the work. No matter who you are, you can capture your thoughts. You can change your life. Not overnight, but over time.
Research tells us that five to 16 minutes a day of focused, meditative capturing of thoughts shifts frontal brain states that are more likely to engage the world. It also showed that those same five to 16 minutes increased the chances of happiness. Once again, science and Scripture agree. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Maybe you start by identifying just one negative thought and placing that before God and who He says you are. When we direct our attention to capturing thoughts, we provide a target for our mental faculties and give our brains a chance to change.
You can choose the thoughts you think. You can capture your negative thoughts. But with what do you replace negative thinking? Positive thoughts! Think life-giving thoughts.
Toxic thoughts take life. Positive thoughts give life.
You may not know this, but Breanna (my wife) and I both have an auto-immune diagnosis. Her diagnosis is M.S., and my diagnosis is Rheumatoid Arthritis. I recently read an article from the Mayo Clinic written for folks with chronic illnesses. The article was about techniques that might improve my quality of life.
Do you know what the first technique was? Positive thinking. The instructors told stories and introduced the latest findings on the brain, describing it as… you guessed it, neuro-plasticity. The brain is malleable, in essence. It can change, as you heard earlier. The catalyst for this change? Identifying negative thought patterns and replacing them with positive ones.
Eerily similar to Paul’s words, yes?
Of course, I am not just talking pie-in-the-sky drivel that you can pull from some insta-quote or meme. I am talking about thick, rich, deep, life-giving thoughts. We turn again to Paul, who wrote to the church in Philippi, “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.”
In other words, after capturing negative thoughts, fill your mind with thoughts that inspire a true view of God, self and others. Fill your mind with thoughts that inspire joy, beauty, peace and wonder.
Fill your minds with thoughts that remind you that you are who God says you are: You were created in the image of God, full of love and grace. What might happen if you started believing it?
What is so powerful about this verse is that your thoughts are connected to your peace. Read verse nine in Philippians four when you get a moment, and you will see what I mean. What you choose to see determines your reality. You have the power to change your reality by shifting your focus.
In his book, Happy: Why More or Less Everything Is Absolutely Fine, Darren Brown writes, “We are, each of us, a product of the stories we tell ourselves.” I have no idea if Mr. Brown is a Christian, but I know Scripture bears out what he is saying—we are a product of our thoughts, the story we tell ourselves and our script.
So what is your current script? What is the story you are telling yourself and thereby living? What negative thoughts govern the way you live your life? What thoughts are keeping you from being happy?
Whatever your script, whatever your thoughts, whatever story you are telling yourself, you do not have to stay in it. Today can be the day you begin to think new thoughts, life-giving thoughts, write a new script, redirect the trajectory of your life and be happy. That’s why this moment and message matter for you!
But you have to act … now! You can change your life by changing your thoughts. I know it sounds like something from an infomercial, but I hope I have made the case biblically and scientifically.
How? Because if you are in Christ Jesus, you have His power and the Holy Spirit to enable you to appropriate His Word and act on it. So, if the Scriptures say that you are what you think, and you can capture every thought and think on life-giving things, then God has given you everything you need to be able to do just that!
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