(read time: approx. 6 minutes)
One of the greatest battlegrounds that Christians face is the mind. Struggling with thoughts can often sway emotions and dictate the quality of our day. Difficult thoughts are stirred up the most when people hurt or misunderstand us. It is during these times that our minds begin to race and our emotions start to flare. The feeling can be quite overwhelming and its power to captivate us is frequently very strong. While in this sea of turmoil it can be nearly impossible to stop ourselves from thinking evil thoughts about others. Nevertheless, there is a way out of this cycle which can liberate our minds and free our emotions. The key to victory in this battle is love.
When we have proper love for others our thoughts cease to control our emotions. Instead of getting angry when we remember the wrong that another has done toward us we can be full of compassion. From this place despising turns into a spirit of prayer and frustration becomes patience. Peace wells up and produces wisdom to not react, but to respond properly toward those who hurt us. It is by this love that Jesus and Steven prayed for God to have mercy on those who murdered them (Luke 23:34, Acts 7:60).
One of the greatest indicators that we don't have true love in our hearts for someone is when we have negative emotions concerning them. Nevertheless, our lack of love often remains hidden and can go unnoticed until we begin to think about that person's faults. As our meditations dwell on their poor choices and the offenses they have committed, it can frequently arouse and spur our hearts toward anger and disgust. In an attempt to stop the avalanche of evil emotions toward this type of person, we may try to take our negative thoughts captive so as not to meditate on the evil that they have done. However, we need not take thoughts captive to get rid of them, but rather, to make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). The root of our problem is not the consideration of such a person's faults, but rather the measure of our compassion for this individual.
It is a hopeless battle to attempt to remove thoughts from our minds about others' sins when such thoughts are regularly being provoked by our environment. When we dwell with those who sin, we will think about the things that they do and it is fruitless to try avoid such considerations. By the time we stop thinking about another's faults they will likely do something else to rekindle our thoughts. If such thoughts are stirring up anger within our hearts we must deal with the root of that anger. The anger is not produced because someone sinned nor because we can't stop thinking about their sin. The real reason we get angry is because we don't really love them. In 1 Peter 4:8 we read, "Above all keep your love for one another fervent, because love covers a multitude of sins." Love is a covering that hides others' sins from our natural minds, but it is also a light that properly reveals sin so that we can bear with the failings of the weak. As a result, by walking in love we can identify other's faults and deal with them according to the Spirit.
Since the real problem we face is our lack of love for others we must learn to acquire this love. One of the greatest hurtles we must cross in acquiring love is bitterness. In other words, we often struggle to love others because we don't really want to love them. Our lack of desire to love can be spurred on by several things: we don't believe they deserve to be loved, we don't think they can be trusted with our love, and we're not convinced that our loving them will be productive. Until these blockages are removed, we will struggle to find love for others.
When seeking to remove the blockages from our lives we must consider how God has loved us. While we were sinners and deserved to go to hell God saved us by a demonstration of His love (Romans 5:8). He didn't wait for us to be conformed to His image before showing us love, but rather, transformed us into His image by loving us (1 John 4:19). In this way, God made Himself vulnerable to be hated, hurt, and despised by us who were incapable of reciprocating the same degree of His pure love. Nevertheless, because of His willingness to freely love us, our lives will never be the same. As a result, we must follow God's example with ourselves and agree that being willing to be hurt by loving others who don't deserve it is the most productive work of our lives.
Have you been angry or frustrated while wrestling with thoughts about others faults? If so don't merely try to avoid the thoughts, but deal with the root of your problem: you're not loving the person with whom you're troubled. Look at God's example of how much He has loved you and believe that it will be wonderful for you to love the individual who has offended you. Your bitterness can be turned to sweetness and your frustration can be changed to patience. If you will only love others your negative thoughts will not only be taken captive, but they will also be made obedient to Christ as they are transformed into fervent prayers for God's mercy. There is no longer any need to strive with your thoughts. When you fix your heart on loving others, your thinking will naturally be revolutionized!
Questions to Ponder...
Do I struggle with negative thoughts about others...why?
What is hindering me from freely loving others?
How has God been my example of how to love others?