Summary: This sermon is about how to deal with tempting thoughts!

Jenny struggled with depressing thoughts. Most of the time she knew she had a really good life. Good job. Roof over head. Great boyfriend. But she had these occasional piercing thoughts that of doubt and depression.

John was a great guy. Everybody at work loved him. Great wife, wonderful children. He was headed to the top. But throughout the day he struggled with temptations. He could be going along fine, and suddenly thoughts about women, other than his wife, we tempting him.

Marie thought she had her problem under control. She attended church, was active in Sunday School, seemed to be walking strong and sure enough she was shopping and suddenly the temptation had resurfaced. Temptations to shoplift, to take something that wasn’t hers. Thoughts, like bullets shooting through her mind.

Bill had been clean and sober for nearly ten years. He was still going to AA, but even wondered sometimes now if he really still needed to go. He had rebuilt his life, married a new wife and started over again. He always avoided alcohol, bars and anything that tempted him. Then he went on a business trip and the hotel desk clerk asked him during check in “do you want a key to the mini bar?”. There wasn’t an immediate “no” – his mind was racing – tempting thoughts, a little voice screaming “go ahead, what can it hurt?”

In the coming weeks, I really feel lead to deal with what I will call “life issues”. This week’s life question being, “How do I deal with tempting or bad thoughts?” I came across a web discussion board; actually not so much discussion as certain “staff bloggers” from various denominations post on various issues and list how their background deals with the issue. The site itself is called “Internet Monk” but the discussion I came across was called “Liturgical Gangstas” as was about “spiritual warfare”. At its center, these thoughts that bombard the mind are spiritual warfare. A United Methodist perspective was provided by Rev. Matthew Johnson (NFI), though I do not know who that is. He states clearly our problem:

“I don’t know that there is a theme or a practice of spiritual warfare in my tradition. We Methodists tend to be dispassionate when it comes to spiritual warfare. We do have some charismatic people and groups within our denomination, but my experience as a cradle Methodist is that the general attitude toward spiritual warfare can be summed up this way: “Meh”.

In my experience, United Methodists rarely talk about spiritual warfare and even fewer practice the more popularized versions of spiritual warfare. There is very, very little literature about spiritual warfare in our denomination both currently and historically.”1 (Internet Monk, Johnson, Rev. William., “Liturgical Gangstas 16: Spiritual Warfare”)

We can fight, that which we don’t know about, or that for which we are obviously ill prepared. That means we not only have to know Jesus, but we must also learn and grow by studying his message.

When we think about the mind, and our tempting thoughts, it is no wonder that Ephesians 6:10-20 gets to the heart of spiritual warfare, and tells us (vs. 13) “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” and (vss.16-17) “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It is no wonder that we should have to protect ourselves with shield of faith, and helmet of salvation because the flaming darts of the evil one are trying to bombard us.

That passage begins (vs. 10) “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” (A friend of mine used to sing that in a song). In another scripture we are told (James 4:7) “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

So the question is “How do I deal with tempting or bad thoughts?” How do we go out in to the world and live this everyday in Jesus Christ? We have already been given some clues: Submit yourselves to God; walk in his ways; stand firm by putting on the full armor of God”. But what do you do when the thoughts are bombarding you? When sin is lurking at the door and its desire is to consume you?

Our text today instructs us “we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.”

This text tells us not only how to deal with those tempting thoughts, but it tells us our problem. If we are to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ, you I know we not only don’t do that, but we are perhaps ill prepared. Philippians 4 gives us some instruction on what to think about. You might recall the passage is about praying, and specifically instructs (vs. 6) us to “be anxious for nothing”. Don’t let thoughts of anxiousness, or worry, or fear penetrate, but rather “pray” about it, letting the God who can give you a (vs. 7) “peace that surpasses all understanding” do His work. But then it doesn’t leave it there, in (vss. 8-9) we are instructed “ 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, 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. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

So taking the thoughts captive and obedient are to seize that negative thought and replace it by pondering on the things that are pure and noble and admirable. Literally you seize the negative thought and say if need be “In Jesus name I have no right to think that”.

In a book I read once (I think it might have either been Every Man’s Battle, or Wild at Heart) they describe a (my illustration) situation in which two colleagues, a male and female worked side by side on many projects. Both were married (to other people) and often their projects had them working past normal business hours. Perhaps, he, or she were unhappy at home, and maybe even had been fighting with their spouses. During one of the late night sessions she says to him, “You’re so much fun to work with”. Probably, she meant just that: “you’re fun to work with!”. But inappropriate tempting thoughts begin to enter in:

- She likes me

- She’s fun to be with

- She never complains (well you’re not married)

He compliments her back. One night he offers to take her to dinner after working late. You know where this is heading. But let’s go back to that first thought – “she likes me” or “mmm, I like her”. It is in that moment that you must take your thought captive to Jesus Christ!

- I have no right to think that, in Jesus Name!

- That is not my spouse!

- I have no right to think about drugs or addiction

- No right to think evil of that person

- No right to think about suicide, or depressing thoughts, or something about your body (like you’re too fat, and you don’t even weigh 80lbs sopping wet).

These are lies, and they are from the devil and he is the “great deceiver”. So you resist the devil and he will flee from you.

1. Take the thought captive – For analogy, I want to borrow this illustration. In Wild at Heart, John Eldridge is largely speaking about a guys heart being untamed and wild. But an illustration he uses is about the wild stallion. When free ranging he is left to the ways of the wild. A young philly comes along and he pursues her. And then another, and another. But then one day he is roped and lead to a corral. The cowboy breaks him and he becomes “tamed’ (if you will). For the sake of argument, I want to draw this analogy to marriage. (which I know doesn’t happen with horses, but humor me). He is now in the corral and a philly walks by on the outside of the fence. The temptation is to whinny, and prance around, and strut your stuff. But as John Eldridge points out, you are no longer free ranging. The analogy is certainly to be made un-captured heart, or free will, but then you find yourself with tamed heart, captured by Christ. But the old ways, the ways of the world are walking by on the outside of the fence. And you must take that thought captive.

2. Pray through it!

3. Quote Scriptures! – Jesus did

4. Rebuke the devil – and he will flee from you.

5. Stay grounded – with Christian friends who will tell you the truth!