“Why are you so stu . . . ”
Even though my math tuition teacher failed to finish her sentence, the small class of six pupils knew what she was about to say (stupid) and whom she had aimed it at (me).
She had spent a good half an hour explaining an algebra equation. My fellow classmates had no trouble understanding her, but I still could not make any sense of it. Numbers boggle my mind and I’d rather spend my days writing or reading instead of solving big mathematical problems.
However, math was a compulsory subject, and so my parents had me attend tuition in hopes that it would help me pass my exams. Clearly, it didn’t help: I had tested my teacher’s patience to the limits and eventually, I did take home a dismal math mark despite the extra classes.
My family eventually moved to another country where I had the option of dropping maths if I wanted. But I can still remember the deep humiliation that washed over me that fateful night 16 years ago. Even today, every now and then, the words my former tuition teacher uttered would find their way back into my mind.
“Well, maybe because it’s true. You are stupid,” the little voice would begin. It doesn’t take a lot to trigger that thought—burning my dinner, not being able to drive a car after three lessons, or choosing an arts major when I should have probably done a science major (the fact I have zero interest in either the sciences or math is irrelevant).
I would try to shake off the thoughts, but they have an annoying habit of lingering longer than they should. These negative thoughts also have a bad habit of dropping in without any notice.
The good thing is, I have since learned that I have the power to choose my thoughts. These days, I am getting better at identifying if a particular thought is biblical or not.
If you’re finding yourself in a similar situation where unwanted thoughts drop in without your permission, these few pointers may help you.
1) Think Positive Thoughts
In the 2003 animated movie, Finding Nemo, Gill (the black-and-white striped fish that was trapped in an aquarium with the rest of his fish pals and was planning an escape) ordered the school of fish to “be as gross as possible. Think dirty thoughts. We’re gonna make this tank so filthy the dentist will have to clean it.”
In a cartoon setting, it’s easy to see how “dirty thoughts” can actually pollute a fish tank. But Gill’s words work in reality too—our “dirty thoughts” can affect our lives. If we entertain negative thoughts such as, “I can’t do this”, “I’m too dumb”, or “No one likes me”, we will eventually believe those thoughts to be true and it can be disastrous.
For example, if I were to beat myself up every time I burned my dinner and think I’m “stupid” for failing to serve up a decent meal, I’ll eventually give up learning how to do a proper dish and probably miss out on the joy that can come from creating delicious food.
The good news is that the Bible says we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and I believe this means we have been equipped to act and think like Him. Instead of sitting around entertaining our “dirty thoughts”, we are called to re-focus our thoughts on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8). For example, in the midst of suffering, trials, and tribulations, we can swap thoughts such as “I can’t do this” with God’s truth, such as “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
It’s only when we start filling our minds with God’s truths that we’ll be able to break away from the chains of negative thoughts.
2) Bring Every Thought Into Obedience
“You know, I sometimes feel like the village idiot. That one person who, you know, means well and tries to help everyone, but is just a little . . . simple,” I told my sister one evening. She looked at me in surprise and asked what made me entertain such a thought.
I explained that the thought had popped into my head when I was showering after swim practice. It was a particularly long Friday. I had a very busy day at work and I felt like I hadn’t done my best at swim practice. I had to ask my coach to repeat the sets to me twice and I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do after I had set off.
To top it off, a group of eight-year-olds were actually a lot faster than me. That’s when those words from my math tuition teacher crept into my mind, and I started believing that was the reason the kids had beaten me. I was too stupid to even swim properly.
I was held bondage to the lies that I was “stupid” and was therefore incompetent when it came to completing tasks set before me. To overcome the lies said to me, I had to first fight against any negative thoughts which came free-falling into my head.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5-7, we are told to “refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God: and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One)”.
I sometimes picture my negative thoughts as a wild beast running through my head, like a bull in a china shop, shattering my self-confidence and everything in between. Then I imagine myself rushing toward the bull like an animal officer would, with a tranquilizer in hand, in a bid to calm the bull and have it dragged to God because it’s not welcomed.
3) Spend Time with God
The Bible says we are not fighting against “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
This means we can’t fight these thoughts with our own strength. We need to spend time in prayer, asking God to equip us for battle. We need to put on the “full armour of God” which consists of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17).
When we gird ourselves with His armour, we can stand against the fiery arrows of negative thoughts fired at us by the devil.
Admittedly, I don’t spend as much time praying and being in fellowship with Him as much as I want to. And I only run to Him in times of trouble. But as we spend time with Him, we begin to discern His voice and learn if the thoughts that come floating into our heads are of His or mere rubbish. Just as Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Would God call me stupid, useless, good for nothing? No, He wouldn’t. God tells us He loves us because we are “precious and honoured in His sight” (Isaiah 43:4) and He has purchased us with “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
So therefore, the next time the sentence, “You’re pretty useless” or any form of negative thought comes drifting into your mind, you can tell it, “No, you’re not of God”.
Ultimately, we have the choice to choose our thoughts and the little thoughts we process and accept will affect our future. As a famous quote goes, “Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny”.