I have had the same study Bible since I was a young teen. I got it at the height of my youth group days, and even though I have other Bibles, it’s still my favorite one to pull out and read. It’s gigantic, the kind that all of the super godly girls had in high school, and it’s beat up and marked up, just the way the youth minister always said your Bible should be, if you’re serious about your faith. Sometimes I run across notes that I made in the margins when I was all of sixteen years old, and they make me laugh.
We were pretty hard core back in those days. We wanted to know God and understand His word. We wanted to really follow Him, even though we had no idea how to do that outside of going to church and not having sex. We were clueless, but we were sincere.
Just the other day, I was flipping through those well worn pages when I saw a question I had written to myself in the margin. In purple ink, carefully printed in big, bubbly high school girl lettering were these words: How’s your thought life, Mel?
I rolled my eyes.
It was so youth group culture. It was so early 90s Christian.
It was so convicting.
No doubt the term “thought life” belongs in some 4Him song someplace. I’m actually sort of embarrassed to even write it here, now that I am long past those days when we used to ask each other about our “quiet times” just to check up to make sure we were all doing one. I am far beyond the time of trying to turn Christianity into a simple formula of acting right and being good and being the poster child for Christians everywhere. I had to come to terms with my own bent toward sin. I am prone to wander, I’m selfish and corrupt, and only God’s goodness can ever make me seem otherwise.
I sat and stared at my own words written there, now twenty-something years further into my relationship with Jesus than the girl who wrote them. And then God’s word cut right to my soul. I followed the squiggly arrow from my nerdy question to 2 Corinthians 10:5. And there it was, in its painstakingly highlighted glory: …we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
When I was a sixth grader, I started having panic attacks. It was a terrible year at school, and I was a ball of anxiety. I only had maybe three or four, but they left quite an impression on me. Somehow in that year God gave me an incredible ability to control my thought processes when I started feeling a panic attack coming on. I learned how to talk myself out of having one. It was a true case of taking my thoughts captive, forcing them to go another direction that said, no I wasn’t going to die. I wasn’t having a heart attack. I wasn’t losing my ability to breathe. I was, in fact, perfectly fine. And, somehow, when I took those thoughts captive, I was fine. It’s the clearest example that God has ever given me of what it’s like to wrestle my thinking to the ground and force it to surrender.
Only a few years before I was gifted that pretty green study Bible for Christmas, God had taught me, in a powerful way, how to grapple with my own thinking and beat it down. Yet, here I was at sixteen, questioning thought patterns that dishonored God, challenging myself to take every thought captive. And, here I am again, at almost 40, certain that I have grown lazy in my thinking, allowing ungodly desires and ideas to take up residence in my own heart and mind. Like longing for approval and glory and honor. Like seeing situations through purely selfish eyes. Like being ungrateful and petty. Like feeling entitled. And much more that I would be too humiliated to even tell you about.
Our minds will destroy us if we aren’t careful. Our hearts will lead us astray every single time. But, we won’t fight against what we think is no big deal. I learned at eleven years old how to force myself to breathe when I was in a panic. But, somehow in Christianity we manage to be standing in a corner someplace gasping for air without even realizing that we need to cry out for help. If we aren’t actively working to take every thought captive, then we are surely being held as prisoners of our own lying hearts.
In Jesus, we have the power to think about what is right, noble, pure, and lovely. What are we dwelling on? What is occupying our minds? This is a call to holiness and obedience that goes far beyond what others see or will ever know. This isn’t for show. It’s for Christ. Take every thought captive.