by Pastor Don Clowers
The twenty-first century is tough to navigate. Economic downturns, turbulent markets, division, war, and uprisings are running ram-pant. Wherever you live and whatever your ministry, you no doubt sense the increasing pressure.
As pastors and leaders, we face the same battles as everyone else. Yet when personal issues demand our attention, the responsibilities of ministry remain. Thank God we are not at the mercy of life’s pressures and changing environments! Obstacles may spring up all around us, but if we clear away the barriers inside us, the ones outside must fall. God’s people are not doomed to spiral into worry, grief, or despair—not even in the worst of times.
I don’t say that casually. I realize God’s people have known some very rough times. The apostle Paul knew them well. Persecuted and under threat of death, he might have become despondent. Yet, standing before King Agrippa, Paul was one cool customer. Unflustered, He said, “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused…” (Acts 26:2 NKJV, emphasis added).
Paul “thought himself happy”? Really?
Really. Paul maintained a solid grasp on what he preached: “…Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure…lovely…of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8 NKJV).
Paul’s thinking outmatched any pressures he faced. Our thinking can do the same.
Control or Be Controlled
More than anything else, our thoughts control our outcomes. That’s a loaded statement; it begs a loaded question: When your board or your boss calls you into a meeting, or the phone rings at an odd hour, what is your first thought? Does your stomach get tied in knots, or do you get ex-cited, confident that something good is about to happen?
How have past experiences programmed your present thinking? How might your subconscious mind be controlling your responses, without you even realizing it?
Years ago, my wife and four children were home while I traveled out of town for a ministry engagement. I remember the moment when the phone rang in my ho-tel room. It was my wife calling to say that our daughter Tammy had been hit by a car, and was near death.
Immediately, I went to prayer for Tammy’s healing, and booked flights home. The trip took hours. I felt helpless and besieged by “what ifs.” When I arrived at the hospital, Tammy’s condition was worse than I had imagined. Her doctors offered little hope. By God’s grace, my wife and I prayed in faith for Tammy’s full recovery. It took many months; it was a struggle; but Tammy was restored!
Still, the experience scarred my subconscious. After resuming ministry travel, I realized I had a brand-new issue: Whenever the phone rang in my hotel room, fear would envelope me. My chest would tighten and I would recoil, afraid that bad news was coming.
My subconscious mind had stored the pain of the past trauma so that a ringing phone triggered powerful negative emotions. When I realized what was happening, I knew I had two options: I could take control or be controlled!
With God’s help, I chose the former. Over time I learned to choose my thoughts, as Philippians 4:8 instructs. I reminded myself that good news came by telephone, too. Whenever the phone rang, I spoke to it, saying, “God has not given [me] a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7 NKJV). Taking conscious control of my thoughts freed me from the fear of a ringing phone!
Construct Your Foundation
Our fallen world is built on the negative. Unless we consciously resist, we naturally follow and fall into the bondage of negative thinking. And how costly it is! Imagine how much of my thought life and vitality were wasted be-fore I overcame the fear of bad news.
Are you being cheated by negative thinking? There is a better way: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2 NLT, emphasis added).
You can resist the negative system of this world by simply choosing good thoughts from God’s word. When lack surfaces, declare: “My God shall supply all [my] need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19 NKJV). When sickness threatens, stand firm in His finished work: “…The chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole” (Isa. 53:5 AMP).
Negativity and fear will try to en-trap you again…and again. Just redirect your thoughts by meditating on His Word and on the amazing things He has already done.
Create a memory bank of good news that you can draw upon in tough times. When circumstances, and even people, “prophesy” danger ahead, pluck a few treasures from your memory bank. Let them speak to your troubled soul and your circumstances—and watch situations change as your perspective does.
You cannot control what the economy does, who leaves your church, or what people think; but you can control what you think. It is no small thing, either, because your life is literally built on your thoughts.
Create Your Inner Environment
How we respond to difficult situations has a lot to do with our sense of identity. When we truly believe we are the righteousness of God, the criticism of others cannot crush us. When we see our strengths and weaknesses in the larger context of His grace and power, worries over education, giftedness, appearance, or financial status fall away. This inner environment of confidence in Him is empowering and allows His ability to work through us!
Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “…He made Christ…to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and through Him we might become [endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness]” (AMP, emphasis added).
It is not about what you have, but whose you are. Your identity as a child of the King is settled. Negative feelings needn’t control you. You can take responsibility for them and move on. When the urge to blame others or to justify your actions arises, remind yourself that you are secure, and righteous, in Him.
Carve the Answer from the Problem
When things go haywire, our impulse is to complain. Although carping might release some “steam”; it also obscures the answer God wants to reveal in the midst of the “mess.”
Paul and Silas understood this. Arrested, stripped, beaten with rods, and imprisoned with their feet in stocks, they might have complained—and loudly. Yet they knew better; they knew their answer was in the cell with them: it was the freedom to focus on the mighty One they served. “At midnight [they] were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Suddenly there was a great earthquake…the foundations…were shaken…the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed” (Acts 16:25-26 NKJV).
Not only were Paul and Silas set free, but they ministered to the jailer and his household, who received salvation! Paul and Silas were not imprisoned by their circumstances because they recognized what was possible in the midst of their trouble.
What’s inside you can transform what’s around you. Just get in agreement with God’s mind-set. Let His focus be yours. Admit when you’re in pain, then let it go. Grieve your losses, but don’t park there. Turn your cares over to Him. Make Him your refuge. Allow His thoughts to change your mind, and His way of thinking will release divine direction. Know whose voice you are following. Pray always. Forgive easily.
Yes! You can think yourself happy.
Don Clowers is Senior Pastor of Grace Church USA in Carrollton, Texas. He also serves as an inter-national evangelist, author, and conference speaker.