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Stress: Taking Every Thought Captive

Helen Thorne | April 6th 2021

I can’t do this anymore …

No-one cares …

It’s all so out of control …

There is no hope …

If you’re anything like me, such thoughts have crossed your mind in recent months. Whether you’ve been working relentlessly on the front line or on furlough and bored; whether you’ve been juggling the multi-faceted pressures of a home with many people or enduring the relentless silence, where it’s just you alone; whether you’ve been protected from the worst losses of recent times or have known the horrors of personal grief, unemployment, homelessness and more - the pandemic has left most of us reeling, anxious in many ways. Since the start of 2020, the Christian walk has felt increasingly like a limp. 

Many of our circumstances hurt and cause us significant stress. It’s right that we lament. It’s good and proper that we take our burdens and our pain to the Lord and, like David in Psalm 86, tell him how weak we are feeling and how much we need his help. The Christian is not called to stoicism. We don’t need to pretend we’re OK. 

"...There’s a choice to be made in every believer’s heart: feed the lies or fight the lies. The path we take will have a profound impact on our stress and spiritual lives."

But let’s not be unaware, such circumstances also encourage us to doubt. They nudge us to believe things about God and his world that simply aren’t true and that takes us into dangerous ground. At the end of a day alone, the lie “no-one loves me” can easily take hold. In the middle of family chaos, the suspicion that “I’m unequipped” begins to loom large. As yet another dearly hoped-for event bites the dust, we can almost hear the words “the world is spiralling out of control” being whispered in our ear. 

Such doubts should not surprise, the pandemic has brought a tsunami of pain that is bound to impact our gaze. We can treat each other with compassion as we struggle with our anxious thoughts – seeing straight when brought low is so very hard to do. But the thoughts of being unsafe, unequipped and unloved aren’t true. They aren’t helpful. And, if we let them hold sway, they’ll only ever propel us towards disappointment, rebellion or despair. 

So, what are we to do? In the face of those thoughts, there’s a choice to be made in every believer’s heart: feed the lies or fight the lies. The path we take will have a profound impact on our stress and spiritual lives.

What Feeding the Lies Looks Like

Option A is the easiest by far. A difficult thing happens and we feel a fleeting sense of despair. Another tough thing appears and we allow it to bolster our suspicion that life is bleak. With every subsequent moment of suffering our opinion that there is no hope gets stronger. Until, one day, we wake up and discover hope is completely out of view. We practise interpreting hard things as hopeless things. And, in the end, we become what we have been training to be: someone who can see nothing good in the months ahead. Our taught theology may survive – we might still be able to articulate something of God’s goodness that we once read in a book – but we don’t live it, we don’t love it, because we’ve spent too long practising staring into the dark.

What Fighting the Lies Looks Like

Option B is a far harder call. It involves noticing the lies as they begin to form. It means living out Paul’s call to 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 (2 Corinthians 10:5). To grab hold of our, often instinctual, anxious interpretations and to measure them by the plumbline of Scripture and to see where they are leading us astray. This is no mere positive thinking – the Bible never calls us to positive affirmations each day – but rather to see where our thoughts have departed from God’s sure and certain word and to dive deep into the abundant evidence God provides that, as his children, we are safe, loved, equipped and more. 

Battles are never easy. There can be complicating factors along the way. But, in the Christian life, we are never called to fight alone. The Spirit of God has promised to be at work in our hearts and to keep changing us until we are perfectly like Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when our only access to them is phone, video call or a quick walk, are there to spur us on (Hebrews 10:24).

We can listen to each other’s words and when we hear one another articulating things that are leading us to fear, despair, bitterness, insecurity or sin we can (gently) nudge each other to come back to the One who brings life and light. We can dig deep into passages like Ephesians 1 that articulate God’s identity and ours with such clarity. We can look at the narratives of Genesis, Exodus and Ruth and see God’s unending provision and care. And, when exhausted, we can keep doing so in bite-sized yet beautiful ways – drip-feeding droplets of truth into each other’s parched lives. 

And, as we take thoughts captive, little by little we will find wonderful growth begins to appear. Confidence, trust, perseverance, obedience, hope – even joy. That’s real help when stress and anxiety overwhelm. And, as this pandemic progresses, isn’t that the sort of spiritual fruit we’d like to bear?

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne is Director of Training and Resources at Biblical Counselling UK and an experienced counsellor. She formerly worked with London City Mission and has written Purity is Possible, Walking with Domestic Abuse Suffers and 5 Things to Pray for Your City. She attends Dundonald Church in Raynes Park, London.

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