Can We Really Pray Bad Thoughts Away?
If we are trying to get rid of bad thoughts, mentioning them over and over in our prayers is the wrong thing to do. The more we focus on them, even while praying about them, the more they thrive because repetition etches them on our minds. It is more helpful to replace them.
Rather than replace bad thoughts, many people put effort into:
- pushing them aside;
- ignoring them;
- praying them away.
Instead of telling God about them over and over, we do better to ask His help in instilling 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. In such a state of stupor, prayers do more harm than good if we repeat the bad thoughts mindlessly.
Jesus, the Model of Alertness
How Jesus Dealt with Bad Thoughts
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. Eventually she succumbed to the bad thought she repeated, and ate from the tree. An alert prayer would have mentioned obedience to God.
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. Jesus showed us how. Process the thought, replace it immediately without repeating it or weighing the consequences. Be alert enough to speak the replacing thought.
(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.
How to Respond with Thanksgiving
“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 in preparation for her healing.
Giving thanks helps us focus on the solution we have fixed in our minds, not on the problem from which we want to rid ourselves. 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).
- Twelve Quotes on Prayer and Its Effect on Well-Being
Read these opinions of scientists and conclusions of scientific data that confirm brain changes as a result of prayer. Prayer produces changes in thoughts and emotions and improves overall well-being.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Dora Weithers