When I was a child, my sisters and I played a board game called Chutes and Ladders. The board has one hundred numbered squares on it, ten rows of ten. The object of the game is to advance from square 1 to square 100—and whoever reaches square 100 first wins! To play, you spin a dial and whatever number it points to, you advance that many squares on the board. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it would be, if it weren’t for the chutes and ladders! That’s where the challenge comes in.
If your game piece lands on a square at the bottom of a ladder, you can advance to the top of the ladder to reach a higher-numbered square. The taller the ladder, the farther you advance in just one spin! That’s the fun part. The not-so-fun part is when you land on a square that has a chute (a slide) attached to it. When you land on a square at the top of a chute, you slide down the chute to a lower-numbered square. Then you have to start advancing all over again.
This game reminds me of our renewed-mind walk in the spiritual competition. Day by day as we hold the Word in mind and act accordingly, we advance on the different “squares” of life, enjoying God’s abundance and power. Some days we even land on squares that are challenging, but we “climb the ladder” to higher ground with our Word-centered thinking. Then there are times when a negative situation triggers a negative thought, and that thought triggers a chain of more negative thoughts, and before we know it we’ve slid down a chute to a lower level of thinking.
When I was twelve years old, I spent a couple of weeks feeling very sad because of this downward type of thinking. I overheard a group of my girlfriends talking about me, and I couldn’t figure out why they would leave me out of their conversation. Soon my train of thinking led me to conclude the worst: they had “unfriended” me! For days, for weeks I felt so sad. Then one of those girls invited me to her home. When I got there, I was a bit hesitant, until I opened the gate to her backyard and heard “Surprise! Happy birthday!” For weeks I had sat at the bottom of that “chute,” convinced I had no friends, when all along they were planning a party to honor me.
As sons of God, we are in a spiritual competition, and the god of this world, our adversary, is consistently orchestrating situations to challenge our thinking and thwart our progress. However, we don’t need to be set back by these situations, because God has clearly marked the path to victory.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
In every situation, we can submit ourselves to God by putting the logic of His Word into our logic. In doing so, we line up our reasoning with what is true, resisting the Devil; and as we resist the Devil, he will flee from us.
We will look at two examples in the Word of downward negative thinking and the impact of each. In the first example, we’ll see a stark contrast between two groups of people facing the same situation. One group submitted themselves to God and climbed the mental ladder to the higher ground of His Word, while the other succumbed to fear and slid down the chute to despair. In the second example, we’ll read one person’s account of recovering himself from a negative slope of thinking. Both examples, including a practical tip developed from these records, will teach us how to reroute this downward thinking process to the higher ground of God’s Word so that we can keep advancing spiritually.
First, we’ll look at an example in the Book of Numbers that involves twelve spies. Numbers 13 and 14 record Moses’ sending out Joshua and Caleb and ten others to spy out the land of Canaan and to give him a report regarding the land, the people, and their dwellings.
And Moses sent them [the twelve spies] to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain:
And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many;
And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds;
And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes.
Moses gave them instructions and admonished them to be “of good courage.” After forty days, they all returned and gave a factual report of what they saw. The land “floweth with milk and honey…,” they reported. “Nevertheless,” they continued, “the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great…”(Numbers 13:27 and 28). All twelve of these men saw the same thing, but verses 30 and 31 tell us that they concluded differently.
Numbers 13:30 and 31:
And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
But the men that went up with him [not including Joshua] said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
Joshua and Caleb were ready to advance into the Promised Land right then and there, but the ten other spies slid down the chute. Instead of submitting themselves to Moses’ admonition to be of good courage, they allowed their thoughts to travel downward very quickly. They started vividly describing their viewpoint of the giants in the land.
Verses 32 and 33:
And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.
And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
In the book Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, E. W. Bullinger notes the figure of speech meiosis, or “a be-littleing,” in the last part of verse 33: “and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” In this figure, “one thing is lowered in order to magnify and intensify something else by way of contrast.” Bullinger calls this the meiosis of unbelief. The ten spies lessened the size of their own stature in order to exaggerate the size of the enemy. This is exactly how the adversary tries to get us to lower our thinking. He tries to get us to think thoughts which belittle our ability and thus exaggerate his ability.
This is just the opposite of a believing mind-set. We magnify what God’s Word says no matter the adversity. We contrast the strength of God’s ability with the smallness of the adversary. That is what Joshua and Caleb did. Yet, the other ten spies succumbed to fear, and what’s worse, they influenced the children of Israel to travel down the chute with them. Their evil report caused so much fear that, as Numbers 14:1 says, “all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.” The congregation accepted the assessment of the ten spies, and they too allowed their thinking to slide until they resented ever being delivered out of Egypt.
And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
The children of Israel could have gone up at once, as Caleb said, and claimed the land God had promised them, but they “slid down the chute” of unbelief with the other ten spies. There was no proof that going up against giants in the Land of Promise would lead to their falling by the sword nor to their wives and children becoming a prey—especially if they submitted their thoughts to God’s promises and His faithfulness to them. The only foundation for their sensational conclusion was fear, which was caused by the evil report of the ten spies. God had worked many mighty miracles among them with Moses as their leader. Solely on the basis of what they had experienced thus far regarding God’s faithfulness toward them, they could have rerouted their thinking to higher ground.
Additionally, Joshua and Caleb tried to persuade the congregation to change their minds by telling them, “If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not” (Numbers 14:8 and 9). But the children of Israel would not listen, and consequently their progress was thwarted.
It wasn’t until forty years later that the children of Israel actually advanced into the Promised Land, and Joshua and Caleb were the only ones of their generation who were allowed in. You can read about that great victory in the first few chapters of Joshua, where you will note the champion mind-set of both the leadership and the people as they claimed what God had given them. This example shows a stark contrast between Word-centered champion thinking and downward negative thinking, and the impact of each. This certainly motivates us to want to learn more about how to avoid any negative type of mind-set and how to adjust it when it does occur.
Our next example will give us keys to adjusting our thinking to gain the higher ground of God’s strength and power. In Psalm 73, the Psalmist Asaph chronicles for us how he navigated his way to higher ground after succumbing to a chain of negative thoughts. By observing his thought process, we learn not only how this type of thinking begins but also how to reroute this downward thinking to the higher ground of God’s Word.
Psalms 73:1 starts off on a positive note, but notice how quickly his thoughts slide downward.
Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. [Why?]
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.
Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. [This is not fair!]
They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.
They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.
And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?
Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
Asaph initially proclaims, “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart,” then quickly loses ground by focusing on the prosperity of the wicked, which is very disturbing to him. He just cannot figure it out—why should the ungodly prosper in the world and increase in riches? Now look at what conclusion his train of thoughts leads him to.
Psalms 73:13 and 14:
Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
Verses 2-12 remind me of how quickly a chain of negative thoughts can begin rolling in our minds, landing us at the bottom of a chute (verse 13). How can one’s thinking begin with “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart,” and end with such a convincing conclusion as “Verily [Surely] I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency”? He slid down the chute and ended on a square of despair. What is he to do now?
If I say, I will speak thus [if I say out loud what I am thinking]; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.
His carnal thoughts are warring with his spiritual thoughts, and now he hits a major turning point. Put simply, he realizes that “to speak what I am thinking will offend God’s people.” If he publicly reveals what he is enviously thinking, he will offend an entire generation. Sometimes what’s worse than negative thinking is what comes out of one’s mouth as a result of it. We certainly saw that with the negative confession of the ten spies! Proverbs 30:32 tells us “…if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.”
Psalms 73:16 and 17:
When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;
Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.
When Asaph himself tried to understand all this, it was too great an effort for him. It was too painful, so he stopped and went to the Source of all true understanding. And when he went into the sanctuary of God, he began to understand God’s perspective regarding this despairing matter.
He begins submitting his thinking to the Word.
Surely thou didst set them [the wicked] in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.
As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
Knowing God’s Word on any matter in life helps us climb to higher ground.
Next Asaph reflects back on his envious thinking and then begins to reroute his focus from what he can’t control to what he can control.
Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
He’s constructing a mental ladder to higher ground.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
Now comes his final conclusion on the matter.
But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.
Remember back in verses 15 and 16 when he expressed how painful it was for him to even consider opening his mouth to speak what he was thinking? Now, having revised his story, he is ready to declare all God’s works. Isn’t that great! I just love that God had Asaph so honestly share his heart and life with us by writing this psalm.
Asaph got distracted with what he was observing in the world, and he allowed this to disturb him so much that he slid down a chute to despair. His chain of negative thoughts was so convincing to him that it led him to conclude, “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain….” To him, there was basically no point in trying to walk honestly before God when the wicked were being allowed to prosper.
But once he identified his downward thinking and before he opened his mouth and expressed his negative thoughts, he stopped. He visited the sanctuary of God, and he rehearsed what God’s Word said on the matter. He constructed a ladder of Word-centered thoughts and climbed to victory—“square 100” in the situation. “I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.” SCORE!
What I love about this psalm is how Asaph chronicled his negative chain of thoughts, and then told us how he rewrote the story his mind was telling him into the true reality of God’s Word. It’s such an honest account, and I’m very thankful God had him write it down for our learning. This is a striking lesson for us in how to reroute negative thinking, especially thinking that keeps replaying in our minds.
Thoughts like those Asaph chronicled in verses 2-13 can tend to roll around in our minds so much that we can’t quite put our finger on how to change them. If this ever happens to you, try this: take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Then write down the chain of negative thoughts on the left side of the page. This may not come easily to you because we generally don’t like to bring our negative thoughts out into full view. But dismantling this type of thinking requires exposing it for what it is. Stopping long enough to write down the words that those thoughts represent makes them tangible, and then you can contrast them with something else that is written—the Word of Truth.
On the right side of your piece of paper, begin writing down the words of God’s Word to counter those negatives. Get specific. Doing this will give you clear evidence that these negatives are contrary to God’s Word, and their illogic will become plain by the clear, sound logic of His Word. In this way, you rewrite the story that has been slip-sliding you down a chute to despair. If you need help with this, you can ask a trusted brother or sister in Christ to assist you. Finally, cut the sheet of paper in half and throw away the negative side.
Keep the right side of your piece of paper, and reread it any time you start to slip. Even if you slip all the way down the mental chute, just stop, put your hand over your mouth, and read your revised story. Submit your thinking to the Word of Truth and climb up the ladder to those victorious thoughts. Run them through your mind. Put your trust in God, then open your mouth and declare His wonderful works!
II Corinthians instructs us to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
II Corinthians 10:5:
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
Have you ever tried to stop yourself from sliding down a slide after you’ve gotten about halfway down? It’s not that easy to stop yourself once you’ve gained momentum down the slide. It’s a lot easier to stop yourself before you get too far. Sometimes our thinking is like that—negative thinking especially. Once a flow of negative thoughts gets going, it can pick up momentum very quickly if we don’t stop it. That’s why the admonition of II Corinthians 10:5 is so important to heed: “… bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” As soon as we can identify that our thoughts are slipping, we need to stop and reroute them. We want to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, beginning with that first one. If we can change that first downward thought to a godly one, we can stop the flow of negatives and elevate our thinking.
Joshua and Caleb submitted themselves to God via His Word, and Asaph did the same. They each chose to magnify the truth of God’s Word over the circumstances surrounding them. All three of them put their trust in God so they could declare His works. We can do the same. We all face situations in our lives that can challenge our thinking and start us down the chute of despair; but we can always stop, reroute our thinking, and climb the ladder to higher ground, securing passage to God’s abundance and power. How wonderful it is to submit ourselves to God—to draw near to Him and put our trust in Him via His Word—so that we too may declare all His works!
This is a reprint from the January/February 2014 issue of The Way Magazine.
Copyright© 2014 by The Way International. All rights reserved.
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