How to Control Your Thoughts
“Those things…do” — Php_4:9
The Power of Our Thoughts
We are all familiar with the difference that is made by the thoughts that arise within our hearts. Often they cast a shadow on our universe. A man may waken in the morning singing and address himself cheerfully to duty, and then, suddenly, some unbidden thought may creep or flash into his mind—and in a moment the heavens become cloudy and the music of the morning vanishes and there is fret and bitterness within.
Things have not altered in the least. Everything is as it was an hour ago. The burden of the day has not grown heavier, nor has anybody ceased to love us. Yet all the world seems different, and the brightness has vanished from the sky under the tyranny of intruding thoughts.
No one can achieve serenity who does not practice the control of thought. You cannot build a lovely house out of dirty or discolored bricks. The power of our thoughts is so tremendous over health and happiness and character that to master them is moral victory.
A Moral Task
This mastery of our thoughts is difficult, but then everything beautiful is difficult. The kind of person I have no patience with is the person who wants everything made easy. When an artist paints a lovely picture, he does that by a process of selection. Certain features of the landscape he rejects; other aspects he welcomes and embraces. And if to do that even the man of genius has to scorn delights and live laborious days, how can we hope without the sternest discipline to paint beautiful pictures in the mind?
So is it with the musician when he plays for us some lovely piece of music. Years of training are behind the melody that seems to come rippling from his fingers. And if he has to practice through hard hours to produce such melody without, how can we hope, without an equal effort, to create a like melody within?
There are two moral tasks that seem to me supremely difficult and yet supremely necessary. One is the redemption of our time; the other is the mastery of our thoughts. Probably most of us, right on to the end, are haunted by a sense of failure in these matters. But the great thing is to keep on struggling.
We see, too, how difficult this task is when we compare it with mastery of speech. If it be hard to set a watch upon our lips, it is harder to set a watch upon our thoughts. All speech has social reactions, and social prudence is a great deterrent. If you speak your mind, you may lose your position, possibly you may lose your friend. But thought is hidden—it is shrouded—it moves in dark and impenetrable places; it has no apparent social reactions. A man may be thinking bitter thoughts of you, yet meet you with a smile upon his face. A typist may inwardly despise her boss, yet outwardly be a model of obedience. It is this secrecy, this surrounding darkness, that has led men to say that thought is free, and that makes the mastery of thought so difficult.
Think on These Things
Now, the fine thing in the New Testament is this, that while it never calls that easy which is difficult, it yet proclaims that the mastery of thought is within the power of everybody. Think, for instance, of the Beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Whenever our Lord says that anything is blessed, He wants us to understand that it is possible. Yet no man can have purity of heart, as distinguished from purity of conduct, who is not able to grapple with his thoughts. Again by our thoughts we shall be judged—that is always implied in the New Testament. Christ came and is going to come again, “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
But I refuse to believe that men are to be judged by anything that lies beyond their power—to credit that would make the judge immoral. Then does not the great apostle say, “If there be any virtue…think on these things?” It would be mockery to command us to think if the controlling of our thoughts were quite beyond us. It may be difficult, as fine things always are, but the clear voice of the Word of God proclaims that it is within the capacity of all.
If, then, someone were to ask me how is a man to practice this great discipline, remembering the experience of the saints, I think I should answer in some such way as this: You must summon up the resources of your will. You must resist beginnings. You must remember the most hideous of sins is to debauch the mind.
You must fill your being so full of higher interests that when the devil comes and clamors for admission, he will find there is not a chair for him to sit on. Above all, you must endeavor daily to walk in a closer fellowship with Christ. It is always easier to have lovely thoughts when walking with the Altogether Lovely One.