Every biblical counselor loves small booklets that can be used as tools for discipleship. One of my favorites is Changing Your Thought Patterns by George Sanchez (no longer in print). I always keep a supply of this little tool on hand. Here’s a brief excerpt that will give you a taste of its usefulness.
On the basis of Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (NASB), and other Scripture, we encourage people to saturate their hearts—their minds basically—with the Word of God. We believe that the more saturation takes place, the more people’s conduct and way of thinking are going to be affected. Again, this is a true concept. But to experience change, we must put into practice the truths with which we are saturating our minds.
Renewing the Mind
To begin to understand how this applies to the concept of changing our thought patterns, let’s examine one little phrase from Paul, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2, emphasis added). Every one of us must seek to answer the all-important and practical question, “How do I renew my mind?” Let’s use a hilltop as an illustration. When rain falls on a hill, the water drains off. How does it drain off? In rivulets. Initially, they are just small rivulets, but each time rain falls, the rivulets cut deeper and deeper. They can become deep chasms. Now let’s compare these rivulets with thought patterns in our minds. The longer we think along any given line, the stronger that thought pattern becomes. Every time we react in a certain way, we reinforce that thought pattern. This is how habits are formed.
If we want to get rid of rivulets on a hill, we could take a bulldozer and cover them up. We could also build a little dam where the rivulet begins so that the next time it rains the rivulets will change course. While we can’t cover up our thoughts with a mental bulldozer, we can build a dam in our minds when certain thoughts begin. We can refuse to think them. We can say, “I will not allow myself to think that.”
Redirecting Our Thought Patterns
Building a dam in the mind, however, is not enough. That is, saying “no” is not sufficient by itself. We also need to provide a new course for our thinking. We should not just suppress thoughts; we should redirect them. We should change negative thought patterns into positive thought patterns. We find a good illustration of this in Paul’s words: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28). How does a thief stop being a thief? Is it just by not stealing anymore? Not quite. Certainly that is part of it. That’s saying “no” to a negative, destructive habit. It’s building the “dam.” But it’s not enough. In order to change, the thief is told to get a job and earn money honestly. Then he is to give to others in need so that perhaps they won’t be tempted to steal. Now the process is complete. The negative habit has been dealt with by an act of the will which chooses to stop it. But the will must also choose to replace that with the corresponding constructive action in order that the change in thought patterns may be complete. And so it becomes clear that to change these thought patterns we must do two things.
First, we must build the dam; that is, refuse to allow wrong thoughts. Second, we must redirect the flow and develop a new way of thinking. Eventually the old patterns will fade. They may never disappear, but they will fade and will become less and less influential in controlling our thinking. We need to realize that this takes place by an act of the will, not by wishful thinking and not solely by devotional meditation and prayer. Meditation and prayer are necessary, but we must move beyond that to an act of the will.