Take Every Thought Captive

Part 5 of the series:

When Faith Doesn’t Work

by Don Enevoldsen

As you recall in the last parts of the series, we concluded that the secret to overcoming dysfunctional behavior seems to be wrapped up with the idea of taking every thought captive. We enumerated several common approaches that don’t work, such as deliverance and will power. So how do we do it? I wish there was a simple formula. This series would have been finished a long time ago.

While there is no formula, we can find some key elements in a pattern of growth. We might summarize it as three easy steps (except they’re not really that easy, and they’re more guiding principles than steps):

1. Identify

2. Interrogate

3. Change

1. Identify

Identify the thought that really is the problem. As you recall, I am using the word “thought” in the sense we find in Proverbs 23:7, the thought that a man thinks in his heart that defines how he is, that is, the core belief that drives behavior. This is more difficult than many think. Human beings are very adept at lying to themselves. The first thought we latch onto as the problem is nearly always a decoy or a smokescreen. But to get to the real problem, we have to go through those thoughts to get to the deeper ones.

As an example, consider a behavior such as never showing up on time. Many in our society have this problem. You know who you are, the people who are always late and who drive everyone else crazy because they have to sit and wait for you. For a significant part of my life, this described me. I was never very late, just five minutes. Consistently. Every time.

(Of course, I realize that sometimes things do happen. I live in Los Angeles, land of the eternal “I was tied up in traffic” excuse. And it’s frequently justified. A friend in Malibu recently took two and a half hours to cover a distance that usually only takes ten minutes. The main road was closed and traffic was diverted onto a street restricted to one lane by construction. It was a mess. Sometimes that happens, but if it happens every single time, there’s a problem.)

The first inclination in dealing with the problem of being late is to justify the problem. I began by crediting myself with a desire for greater efficiency. I always wanted to get as much done as possible before leaving for an appointment. So I calculated the minimum time required to get there and waited until the last possible moment to leave. Unfortunately, my calculations never included the time it took to remember where I left my notebook or my keys, or some other little thing that needed to be done, and I invariably ended up five minutes late. And even more telling, the extra “work” that I did right up until the last possible second was often little more than watching Good Morning America.

The solution? Plan better. Think things through in detail ahead of time. Then provide an appropriate cushion. Figure the time and add five minutes. That should get me there right on time.

Because I left five minutes early, though, I always felt that I had enough time to take care of something else. Stop for coffee. Run into the store. Something. And I still ended up five minutes late.

The second inclination in dealing with the problem of being late is to look at self-discipline. The thought that needs to be taken captive is the belief that I don’t have to be all that organized. More self-discipline will solve everything. Take captive those procrastination thoughts.

I didn’t understand at first that I had the wrong thought as a captive. Like many others, I believed I could change my thinking by imposing a regimen. First, I bought a Day-Timer. I got a nice one—expensive leather binder, engraved name plate.

Second, I read books on time management. I learned to prioritize, organize and schedule. I attended seminars on the subject.

Now I was set. I diligently wrote every appointment into my calendar in great detail. Unfortunately, I never looked at the entry again after I wrote it. I relied on memory. And I was always five minutes late.

2. Interrogate

None of that helped. But that was because I had captured the wrong thought. And I didn’t make use of the thought I had captured in a way that got me to the root of the problem. I realized that I needed to ask a couple of key questions. In a comment on Part 4 of this series, Mark Bristow expressed this idea so well that I won’t try to improve on it. I’ll just quote him:

“It’s not about setting a snare for the wild thought that is crossing your garden. It is about arresting a criminal and interrogating it. The thoughts that bring us low or hold us back are actually criminal elements against the mind of Christ. It is not enough (in my opinion) to just scream at them to shoo them away, but rather to intelligently question them using the truth of Christ as the standard of reference.”

The thought, “lack of self-discipline,” needed to be interrogated. So far, I had only asked, “What are you?” thinking that if I could understand it, I could force it to change. In fact, what I needed to ask was, “Where did you come from?” and “Why are you here?”

Those questions had several potential answers, but to overcome the problem, I needed to know. The “lack of self-discipline” thought could lead me closer to the actual core belief at the root of the problem if I interrogated it properly.

Several answers were plausible. For example, a potential reason was that I didn’t really want to be around the person with whom I had an appointment, but I couldn’t be honest enough to say, “No. I don’t want to get together with you.” So I unconsciously expressed my reticence by delaying my arrival. Painful as it was, when I honestly examined myself, I had to admit that this might be part of the problem, at least a portion of the time.

Another possibility was that I felt a need to gain a certain amount of power over people and I demonstrated that by forcing them to wait. The pastor of the church where I worked often told us that he purposely delayed or neglected returning phone calls as a means of establishing power over people. If they had to wait, they would know that he was in charge. The fact that he was so coldly calculating in the employment of disrespectful and manipulative actions was a little disconcerting, but he was the boss, and it took a while to really be convinced that what passed for success in his ministry was nothing more than tyranny in disguise. That answer didn’t really fit my personality, but I added it to the list for consideration nevertheless.

There are probably as many answers to these questions as there are people. The one that most stuck with me came as a result of someone else’s therapy. I had a friend who was so late so often that it created serious problems in his marriage and his career. It got so bad that he saw a psychologist who suggested he had a problem with self-value. He unconsciously felt a need to seek validation of his worth. And one way was to make himself more important than other people by making them wait for him. It was a way of saying that his time was more important than the other person’s time.

Perhaps the reason I was always five minutes late was because deep down, I didn’t really believe I was important, and that extra five minutes helped boost my confidence.

The solution? Positive confession and speaking Bible verses of affirmation. Thirty minutes every morning, looking in the mirror and telling myself, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.”

And it helped. I quickly went from being five minutes late everywhere to being three and a half minutes late everywhere. Progress.

But I was still late. Not to worry, though. Progress meant I must be on the right track. If a half hour of positive confession could shave ninety seconds off that five minutes, then an hour and twenty minutes of confession should gain a full five minutes. (That’s five minutes divided by a minute and a half, which is three and a third, multiplied by thirty minutes. Simple math calculation that only took me thirty-seven minutes. If I figured it wrong, please don’t tell me. I’d rather think I achieved something useful by getting the right answer.) All that was needed was a little more effort.

Of course, the futility of committing 100 minutes a day to save 5 should be obvious. External solutions to internal problems never do more than give the appearance of success and wear you out. Discipline, no matter how good it is, doesn’t change core beliefs.

I forgot to keep asking the right questions: “Where” and “Why,” not “How.” Recognizing a poor sense of self-worth was a step in the right direction, but I still wasn’t at the core belief. The next question needed to be, “Why do you have poor self-worth? Where did that thought come from?”

Eventually you will reach a point where you ask, “Where did you come from?” and the thought will answer, “I’m your core belief.” That’s the place that you can affect real change.

3. Change

I said earlier that this could mean a lot of work. The core belief that creates dysfunctional and destructive behavior is usually hidden under layers and layers of misinformation, lies and misconceptions. To find it requires taking a thought captive and interrogating it, usually to find a lead to a deeper thought, which leads to another. It’s not unlike taking down a drug cartel. You start with a junkie on the street. You question the junkie to find his supplier. The supplier leads you to a dealer, who leads you to a smuggler, and so on. The issue can be confused by the fact that there may be more than one source. I gave three possible reasons I was always late. Two of them applied to me. If I just dealt with one, I would still have another causing me trouble.

If you want real change, you have to keep digging until you get to the source. Don’t just capture the thought. Turn a spotlight on it and start asking questions. “Where did you come from?” “Why are you here?”

The answers are likely to be painful. They will require that we admit to ourselves and to others that the very foundation of our lives has been flawed. We have believed wrong and been wrong. No one likes to go through the agony of uncovering flaws. Coping behavior is designed to cover up the problems, not change them. That’s why we acted that way for so many years. Hence brutal honesty is an absolute requirement. Coping behavior will help you survive, but it won’t create change. This is the real reason behind the biblical command to confess our weaknesses to one another (James 5:16). Acknowledging them puts you in a position to change them.

Once you finally get to the source, you have to deal with it. How do I gain greater self-worth? But that is our next topic.

Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

Take Every Thought Captive
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