How to Replace Bad Thoughts and Pray More Effectively
If we are trying to get rid of certain bad thoughts, praying about them over and over is the wrong thing to do. The more we pray about them, the more they thrive because repetition etches them on our minds. No matter how intense the prayer, they will resurface over and over unless we replace them.
Perfect prayer posture, but what's going in the mind?
Not many people take the time to replace bad thoughts. Rather than replace them, we put our efforts into:
- pushing them aside, or pushing them back;
- ignoring them after we convince ourselves that we cannot prevent them;
- praying them away hoping they will die a sure death.
Instead of mentioning the bad thoughts over and over in our prayer for God to take them away, we do better to ask that He instills the good thoughts that we know would benefit us.
This is not attempt to put words in the pray-er’s mouth; just an attempt to help us pray meaningfully. There are two prayer instructions which can help us prevent our bad thoughts from thriving in our prayers.
Devote yourselves to prayer with
(1) an alert mind and
(2) a thankful heart.
- Colossians 4: 2 NLT
(1) Be Alert
We hear much about continual prayer, and little about alert, intent prayer. The Greek word grēgoreō translated in this verse as “alert” is also translated “watchful,” “awake,” and “vigilant.”
At times, none of the above words seriously describe our state of mind when we pray. It may be prayer time by our schedule and we mumble through the usual words. Or we may remember our need to rid ourselves of some bad thoughts, and we mention them with little or no conscious effort. In such a state of stupor, prayers do more harm than good.
Jesus, the Model of Alertness
How Jesus Dealt with A Bad Thought
Jesus in the wilderness after his forty-day fast (Matthew 4) was the model of alertness.
While in the attitude of prayer, he was tempted to satisfy his appetite by working a miracle to break his fast. Bad thought, since yielding to the temptation would jeopardize His life’s mission.
He immediately replaced the thought of physical hunger by focusing on life-giving, spiritual bread. He thought it and said it, quoting from the Scriptures.
“No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Matthew 4: 4).
It was not enough to tell the tempter, "Be gone" with his idea of making bread. He established the new thought of having the bread of life which comes from God.
How Eve Dealt with A Similar Thought
Thousands of years earlier, the same tempter brought a similar temptation to Eve in the Garden of Eden to indulge in forbidden food (Genesis 3). She was less than alert repeating senselessly what she had heard her husband say--that God said they should not eat from the tree. Her mind was open to the serpent's idea, so she did not see the necessity of replacing the serpent's bad thought.
Prayer is more than words; it is the expression of what we truly believe and desire. It is helpful to speak in our prayers the situations which correspond with our beliefs; not the thoughts that oppose them.
Soon after Eve repeated God’s command not to touch the fruit, she did just that--proof that she had mindlessly repeated what she should not do, without thinking of the right thing to do. Her response to the temptation should have been something about obeying God.
In an alert state, we would do what Jesus did—process the thought and replace it immediately, without repeating it or weighing the consequences. Be alert enough to speak the replacing thought.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. - Philippians 4:6 NLT
(2) Be Thankful
Here, we focus on giving thanks. Prayer . . . with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6) is a principle which many Christians overlook, especially in the prayer for victory over bad thoughts. An expression of thanks changes the perspective and provides a whole new scenic view for the thoughts. Here is how it works.
A married man finds himself close to an attractive woman with all the physical features which bring his sexual urges to the surface. He is tempted and begins to fantasize about a sexual tryst with her. He has been taught that prayer is the key to overcoming temptation; unfortunately, like most men in a similar situation, he might pray a prayer which increases instead of decreases his struggle.
See prayer examples below:
Pray with thanksgiving for the wisdom to do the right thing."
“Lord help me overcome my fleshly desires” and continuing with a list of the fleshly desires that bombard his mind may solidify those desires (unintentionally). Instead, having processed what he is up against, he needs to pray a prayer which replaces those thoughts.
“Lord, thank You for Your beautiful design called woman. Thank You especially for the woman You gave me to be my wife. Thanks for my ability to respond appropriately to her appealing figure . . ." and so on. He has recognized the temptation, but instead of dwelling on it, he begins to replace the thought of temptation “with thanksgiving” about his beautiful wife.
A single man or woman tempted by an image of the opposite sex can thank God for healthy sexual urges, and for the ability to control them and reserve them for expression with the right person at the right time. Giving thanks changes the focus from the possible weakness to the possible strength of the individual, made possible by his or her dependence on God.
Prayer with awareness and thanksgiving works.
For example, a woman is depressed about negative results from her medical tests. Here's how she demonstrates alertness and thankfulness:
She thanks God for His promises to heal, instead of focusing on the misery of ill-health.
She finds those promises and affirm them in her prayers.
She thanks God for guiding her toward the appropriate adjustments she needs to make.
Giving thanks in her prayers will help her focus on the possibility of healing. It will also remind her of previous instances when she gave thanks because her prayers were answered.
There is really no better way to say it, Don’t worry about anything [[including the struggle to maintain pure thoughts]. . . Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6).
© 2013 Dora Weithers