A number of years ago, we had a skunk problem at our house. Our home backs up to a field that (at that time) had a large population of the odoriferous creatures. Well, a number of them decided to take up residence under the deck in our back yard. We probably would have been willing to share our deck with them, except whenever they felt threatened or the mood hit them—they would utilize the defensive mechanism God placed within them, and they would assault us with their noxious, foul-smelling spray. They did this often enough that our house was beginning to take on the aroma of our uninvited guests.
One night, when Teri and I were coming home from an emergency hospital visit at two o’clock in the morning, we met and unintentionally cornered one of the little creatures on the back deck next to the door entering our house. He sprayed us both at point blank range. The clothes we were wearing, the Bible I was carrying, and my wife’s purse and all its contents ALL had to be disposed of because of the early-morning attack. For weeks, we continued to live unhappily with the skunks and with the smell they emanated. During that time, we tried to cope the best we could. We tried to minimize the effects with candles and air fresheners. Most of the time, we just tried to ignore it.
It is amazing what you can grow insensitive to over time. After enough time, you can forget the ugly order is even present… until a guest at your home inquires about the pungent smell. Though we began to grow used to it, our interactions with others reminded us that we still indeed had a problem. Our skunk problem negatively impacted the quality of our life and enjoyment level of those who chose to visit us. Coping with the problem wasn’t really getting us anywhere.
It was finally determined that the only way to get rid of the smell was to get rid of the skunks; no amount of management or coping was working. It wasn’t easy or pleasant, but I am happy to report that we did finally get rid of our woodland guests, and when we did the smell was gone, too. All that leads me to a simple principle: When you want to get rid of a problem you need to remove its source.
In similar fashion, sometimes there are nasty guests who take up residence, not in our homes but our hearts. Their presence has a way of fouling up and spoiling our lives and negatively impacting those who get too close to us. These inhabitants of our hearts can create quite a stink, and sometimes our best efforts at managing them fall short. I’m thinking of things like bitterness, anger, worry, anxiety, immoral habits, and wrong thinking. At any moment and under the right conditions, these things can flare up and make themselves known and diminish the quality of life of those nearby. Sometimes, we have had these things in our hearts for so long that we actually have grown accustomed to them, and for periods of time we forget they are there. But, let me assure you, other people still notice them and are often hurt by them.
So, if you ever get tired of living with the smell and consequences of the damage of these residents of your heart, the only way to get rid of their unpleasantness is to get rid of the thinking that invited them in the first place. Negative emotions, bad attitudes, and destructive feelings are all root causes of many of the harmful things that emanate from our lives. When they exert themselves, they negatively impact our actions and our spirit, and they can change our mood and make us very difficult to live with at times. They can cause us to lose our joy, diminish our energy, cease our prayers, and tempt us to do evil things. Though it may take time and be difficult to do, there is only one way to rid ourselves of these destructive habits and feelings, and that is to think biblically.
As a general rule, our habits, feelings, and negative emotions all flow out of our thought lives. The Bible tells us that as a man thinks, so is he. Romans 8:6 tells us that to be carnally minded leads to death, but to be spiritually minded leads to life and peace. This leads me to conclude a simple truth: our thinking always takes us somewhere. The Bible tells us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks … that from the heart flow the issues of life … as a man thinks, so is he.
All these truths teach us that our thinking can either defile us or bring blessing to us. Our thinking takes us somewhere, and we have the power to choose that destination. Let’s say someone I know says something hurtful to me, and I begin to process that negatively. I let it bother me and begin to think bad thoughts toward the individual who spoke them. This can lead me to a bad attitude, negativity, and poor choices. My thinking took me there. But, there is another option. Between every stimulus and every response, there exists a space. And in that space of time we have the power to choose our response and to direct our thinking. In that space of time, we can either choose blessing or defilement, a sweet response or a sour one, and the road that each one will take us down.
For those who know and love the Lord, we are told to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. To paraphrase this, we are told to govern our thinking and to rid ourselves of the kind of thoughts that would damage ourselves and others and to choose a kind of thinking that brings blessing and beauty.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things,” because our thinking takes us somewhere, it affects the quality of our lives and others’ lives, and invites spiritual blessing or defilement.