For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 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. (1 Cor. 10: 3-5)
The Remembrance Day that stands out in my mind dates back more than 30 years. My father had taken part in the Cenotaph service in the parade of veterans. Dad served overseas for five years in the Carlton/York Regiment, seeing action in Italy, North Africa, and Germany. As a signaller, he was often sent ahead of the main force on a reconnaissance team to locate enemy lines and radio back.
As a child, I noticed that Dad’s hands always seemed to shake. I asked Mum why, and she said he’d been that way since he returned from the war, suffering from shell shock. That’s how I learned my father was a veteran.
Dad rarely talked about the war. But one Nov. 11 when I was grown and married, he visited and talked as he never had before. He seemed to be relieving his experiences and not just remembering them. Finally, he spoke about being on a reconnaissance in Italy along with one of his comrades. Dad spotted some movement, and told his buddy they had better take cover, which Dad did. But his friend wanted to get a better look, and stood up. He immediately took a bullet to the arm.
Then my father looked at us and said, “You know, I saw men suffer terrible wounds you’d think they would never survive, but they did. But he just took a shot to the arm, and he died. Then Dad started to cry, the only time I ever saw him weep.
Why is it that in the battle of life, some sustain terrible wounds and survive, while others get a flesh wound and give up? What makes some able to heal and fight on, and others resigned to the futility of trying?
We can all be prisoners of war in the spiritual battle that Satan wages every day against God and His children. Satan has strongholds designed to keep us captive, and these are in our minds. They’re ideas and patterns of thinking that can hold us prisoner, and no one is immune.
That’s why the Apostle Paul stressed the need to be aware of our thoughts and their impact. He knew that if we don’t take our thoughts captive, they will take us captive. The thoughts and attitudes that come naturally to us are worldly, and can imprison us as we focus on ourselves, our desires, our needs, our hurts. Scripture says God’s thoughts are not like our thoughts; they are higher than our thoughts. Only as we focus on God and His will for us are our minds set free. In his letter to the Romans, Paul urged: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Renewing our minds means getting rid of old patterns of wrong thinking. A major source of wrong thinking is fear. Beginning in childhood, most of us develop insecurities that make us sensitive to the opinions of others. All of us are shaped to some degree by the feedback we received as children, and some become dependent on the approval of others. Many of our thought patterns have been with us so long that they go unquestioned and unexamined. We may not even be aware where some of them originated. But because we’ve taken ownership of them, we see them as unassailable. In fact, most of our thoughts and attitudes have come from the world, and they impede us from moving ahead spiritually.
Only when we make our thoughts obedient to Christ can we carry on the fight as Christian soldiers, winning battles, gaining ground, and knowing victory and its fruit, peace. If we stay captive to our worldly thoughts, Satan is able to keep us chained as prisoners of war.
Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, which means “Place of the Skull.” On the spiritual battleground, we too must be crucified in the place of the skull – our minds. We need to nail wrong ideas to the cross if we’re to truly take our place as children of God.
Prison inmates have a name for wrong thought patterns. They call it “stinking thinking.” Those who are successfully rehabilitated realize that stinking thinking landed them in prison, and if they want to get out and stay out, they have to change that thinking.
We can remember the steps to taking our thoughts captive as the three Rs. The first is Recognition. Before we can break strongholds of wrong thinking, we have to recognize that we have strongholds. We can’t be released from prison if we don’t know we’re there.
A stronghold is a house made of thoughts. Common strongholds are fear, unforgiveness, pride, cynicism (usually a defence against disappointment), greed, depression, lust, unbelief, and judgmentalism. But because these are our thoughts, our attitudes and our perceptions, we tend to justify and defend them with the same intensity as we justify and defend ourselves. For this reason, the first stronghold we need to break is usually pride.
Recognizing what’s wrong with some of our thoughts means we have to measure our thinking against the standards God has set. We have to know Jesus and His Word. We can’t be obedient to Someone we don’t know.
God’s Holy Spirit enables us to become more and more like Jesus. Before the world was created, God’s purpose was to conform us to the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:29) If this purpose is to be fulfilled, we must learn to line up our thoughts and attitudes with the thoughts and attitudes of Jesus. We must learn to recognize stinking thinking, capture it, and crucify it. We must not only believe in Jesus, we must believe like Jesus.
This is tough stuff. Facing the truth usually is. Not dealing with our strongholds is like taking a long walk with a broken leg. We may be able to inch along, but the journey will be unnecessarily hard and painful.
Once we break the stronghold of pride, it’s time to tackle unbelief – the thought pattern that tells us it’s impossible to be like Jesus. This brand of stinking thinking makes it easier for us to compromise our convictions and excuse our sin. It assures us that because we can’t be perfect, it’s useless to try to change.
This brings us to the second R: Repentance. Repentance is much more than sorrow; in fact, the essence of repentance is change. Paul speaks about the sorrow that leads to repentance in 2 Cor. 7: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” I can be truly sorry about something, but unless that sorrow leads me to change what brought it about, there is no real repentance. I’m doomed to feel that sorrow over and over, unless I’m willing to change.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You and I will never be perfect this side of heaven, but in Jesus, we are also new creations. God has supplied us with weapons with the power to demolish strongholds – everything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. We have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God – if we will use it. We have the full armor of God – if we will put it on. The Holy Spirit can renew our minds – if we will allow Him. We won’t be perfect, but because Jesus has covered us with His righteousness, we can be victorious. When thoughts of failure and futility creep in, we can recognize them, repent of them, and take them captive.
Then we’re ready for the third R : Replacement. Once we have a grip on our wrong thoughts, we can replace them with thoughts that conform to Christ. We can replace thoughts of failure and futility with thoughts of faith. The world tells us to have faith in ourselves, but we are called to have faith in God. God is not a failure, nor are His plans and purposes for us futile. When we choose to give in or give up because we’re too weak, we’re really giving up on God. We’re denying that God has given us divine weapons. We’re forgetting that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Replacement means not waging war as the world does – by finding someone to hate, someone to blame, by getting out or getting even. Replacement means putting aside our human weapons and taking hold of God’s power tools. It means ditching our pride and acquiring true humility. It means rediscovering a passion for Jesus instead of allowing our love for Him to grow cold.
Are you a prisoner of war? Do you want to stay in chains, or are you ready to take up the weapons of faith and fight to win? If you are, then pass your thoughts through God’s radar screen. Do they square up with what you know of Jesus and His Word? Learn to recognize wrong thoughts, repent of them – which means changing them – and then replace them with thoughts that conform to Christ.
In the spiritual battles I face every day, I don’t want to die of a flesh wound. I will have setbacks, but at the end of the day, I want to remember that I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
My father died on Remembrance Day 33 years ago. While he survived the war, without question it shortened his life. My heavenly Father – and yours – is very much alive. He will give us victory and a blessed peace when we trust in Him. Thanks be to God.