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How to Replace Bad Thoughts and Pray More Effectively

Updated on January 29, 2018
MsDora profile image

MsDora, former teacher and Christian counselor presents practical Scriptural principles for joyful everyday living.

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?

Photo by Kalandrakas
Photo by Kalandrakas | Source

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.

The Instructions

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

"Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness" by Juan de Flandes (1460-1519)
"Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness" by Juan de Flandes (1460-1519) | Source

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."

Photo by Peter Griffin
Photo by Peter Griffin | Source

Not Helpful:

“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.

Helpful:

“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.

In Summary

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

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    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very good verse, Relawshe. When you take captive a thought, it means that you direct it where you want it to go. For example, if you fantasize about a woman, you don't have to dismiss her from your thoughts; instead, think about how God made her "fearfully and wonderfully" to be admired and respected by His other creature. You'll learn to maintain appropriate thoughts about her.

    • relawshe profile image

      Rachel L 

      5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Very great hub about a Christian's thought life and replacing bad thoughts with productive, good, penitent thoughts! It is very difficult for me sometimes to just stop thinking about something, especially if I've attached strong emotional feelings to it. And how many of times when I'm responding emotionally to something is it even necessary? A strong emotional reaction is probably not necessary nearly as often as I allow it to be.

      I like how you described specifically the idea of replacing a sexual urge or temptation with an appropriate thought, like about your spouse. I was reminded of when Joseph literally RAN out of the arms of Potipher's wife in order to escape sin while he could. He did not pause to pray right then and there for God to help him overcome it, and he did not explain his actions to Potipher's wife. Joseph just jumped up and fled; no apologies and no explanation, because he already knew the appropriate action to take and he knew that the only One he needed to explain things to was his Lord.

      I was also reminded of this verse about taking every thought captive through Christ:

      2 Corinthians 10:5

      "We 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."

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Deb, thanks for the information on Carman. I love his music, and I will pray for him. Wasn't aware. Thanks for your input.

    • profile image

      Deb Welch 

      5 years ago

      You made an important message here in this Hub. I learned to obtain a clean mind through Carman Licciardello, Evangelist Christian Entertainer of Carman Outreach World Ministries back in the early 90's. I am grateful to him - he is suffering with Myeloma Cancer and he needs prayer. Beautiful.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Insightful, true to your name, your contribution of that verse is very much appreciated. Thanks for your input!

    • Insightful Tiger profile image

      Insightful Tiger 

      5 years ago

      Such a great point about replacing bad thoughts with good. Just like it says in

      Romans 6:19 "As a fellow man, I say to you because of the weakness of your flesh, that as you presented your members to the servitude of defilement and of evil, so also now present your members to the servitude of righteousness and of holiness."

      What a treasure this hub is, thank you for sharing!

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Linda, thanks for the "Big" Thumb. Glad you liked these views on prayer. The conscious dialogue could be a challenge with all the distractions there are, but we have to persevere.

    • Linda Compton profile image

      Linda Compton 

      5 years ago from The Land of Enchantment

      Dear Ms. Dora,

      Thank you for a wonderfully thoughtful hub. The power of thanksgiving & gratitude is immense and we are admonished and inspired to give thanks in all things because doing so focuses our hearts and minds on the One from Whom all blessings flow.

      "...but prayer is more than words; it is a conscious dialogue with God." I LOVE this. So true and powerful. Not mindless repetition, but active, sincere dialogue! Big thumbs up!!! L.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Hi Jane, glad you found the article helpful. Being alert and being grateful when we pray will teach us how to live in an attitude of continual prayer. Thanks for commenting.

    • Jane51 profile image

      Jane51 

      5 years ago

      I found this hub very helpful and will be trying to put it into practise in my prayer life Thankyou MsDora

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Well said, Mackyi. I like your use of the word "simply." Prayer is not complicated at all. Thanks for your input.

    • mackyi profile image

      I.W. McFarlane 

      5 years ago from Philadelphia

      This is indeed a very deep hub MsDora. This is quite an interesting concept! Sometimes all we need to do is to simply enter into his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts, and just praise his name. Once we give him the agenda, we don't have to be constantly repeating it - just leave it alone and go about our business. The next time we can just praise him and thank him in advance for the victory we know he is going to provide us with.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Joan, thanks for your encouraging remark. Glad you find it practical.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Avneet, prayer can surely help us with our bad thoughts if we are alert and thankful. And you're right; it gives us courage and peace of mind. Thanks for your comment.

    • Joanmaynard profile image

      Joan 

      5 years ago from St Kitts

      Thanks MsDora. This reminds me of my article of The truth about Prayer. But you took it from a complete different angle. Surely something I can definitely put into practice, so that I can grow even closer to Christ.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Sid, thanks for your affirmation. I have come to realize the power of these two characteristics.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thank you, Ms. Dora. This is excellent practical advice. I think that awareness and gratitude are our two most powerful tools for allowing the Divine to heal our broken minds.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Rajan, thanks for underscoring the power of thanks. Our prayers would be effective if we made it a habit to pray with thanksgiving.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Rayne, thanks for taking the time to comment. appreciate you.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Denise, thanks for your input. Sure, the powerful mind engaging in powerful prayer can be very effective.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      There is much power in the human mind to change the condition of our thoughts, feelings, and desires. As we tap into the power of prayer, we can make progress over the enemy of our souls. Thank you for these wonderful observations of how this principle works.

    • profile image

      Rayne123 

      5 years ago

      Beautiful words thank you

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Anything done regularly over a period of time becomes second nature and we get to doing it as a habit without much thought to the action .So it is with prayer. As you rightly state, most of the times our prayers do not suppress our desires as that one important ingredient- thanks, is missing.

      To change the direction of our thoughts this is indeed very good advice.

      Voted up and useful.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Shofarcall, I know that you are a regular in the prayer chamber. Glad that you find my article useful. Thanks for your comment.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Manatita, thanks for your kind comments. The two keys are really the counsel of the apostle Paul. I believe in them too.

    • shofarcall profile image

      shofarcall 

      5 years ago

      Ms Dora,

      Very useful and thoughtful messages to process about each of our prayer lives. An alert mind and a thankful heart is sound advice to take into the prayer chamber.

      Thank you. God Bless voted useful, beautiful and up

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      5 years ago from london

      Wakefulness/watchfulness/vigilance/prudence and gratitude. I like those two keys that you have used for an extremely pertinent subject. Well done.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Torrilynn, thanks for your comment. I hope that the content is as meaningful as the layout. I appreciate you!

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 

      5 years ago

      Hi MsDora,

      really beautiful hub that you have here

      it was detailed and very organized

      Voted up

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      DDE, thanks for your continual support. I appreciate you.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      I agree with you, Eric. Thinking gratitude leaves no space for any other kind of thinking. Thanks.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      If the cup is filled with gratefulness where is the room for anything else?

      Your wonderful hub reminds us all very well -- thank you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautifully thought of, and such a meaningful Hub.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Billybuc, thanks for your input. Glad that the message has meaning for you, and hopefully for other readers.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Be thankful! Now there is a concept many people could benefit from. Love the message here my friend.

    • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Lifegate, you say it so well. Thanks for highlighting the power of the cross in our struggle to gain the victory over sin.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      5 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Hi MsDora,

      Absolutely there must be a replacement and thankfulness and praise are hard to beat. I'm thankful that you shared these thoughts. We have the ability to overcome anything through the cross.

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