Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not— John 14:27
as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your
hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Whenever events surface that cause us anxiety, they are an invitation from God to healing. They are similar to the warning lights on the dashboards of our cars. They let us know that something is wrong and needs to be remedied.
After I came to Christ as a young man, every light lit up on my dashboard on most days. Because of Jesus, I did have hope, but I was severely lacking in the peace category. I would read passages and wonder why I didn’t have what Jesus promised to give me. After all, I really believed. I was one of those folks who was all in for Jesus.
Why was my spiritual health dashboard light continuously on — and flashing so bright? Hindsight provides the answer: the Lord was inviting me to be healed.
Diving into Scripture
At some point along the way I was challenged to begin memorizing Scripture. I noticed that every time I opened up the Bible and sought to bring a passage of Scripture into memory, I encountered a tiny taste of peace. Because of my continued emotional and spiritual suffering, I decided to study suffering in the New Testament. As each word inspired by the Holy Spirit entered my mind, my hope increased, and a pattern began to emerge.
This pattern was the constant promise of peace, and in the Holy Spirit-inspired writings of St. Paul, a constant reference to the mind. There were a handful of passages that haunted me, such as Jesus’ promise in John 14:27.
The first one to hit me was from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)
I looked up the word transformed and discovered that in the Greek it is the same word we use to describe the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly — metamorphosis. This said to me that my mind could be healed and changed from something that tormented me to something that was beautiful and free. Even so, I had no inkling as to how this could be true in practical terms.
But as God is oft found to do, the seed that He planted soon began to nurture and grow.
The next Holy Spirit-breathed passage that hit me began to shed more light on my quest as I read and studied in earnest. In St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, he said:
For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3–5)
So, there is a war. It was clear in the Gospels. It was clear in my life at that moment. There was and is a war, and that war is between Satan and God’s people. In this passage, St. Paul reveals that we have weapons at our disposal and that they carry the power of God to destroy “strongholds.”
I explored these ideas diligently. I discovered that the Greek word used for strongholds is also used in Scripture to describe fortresses and military centers of strength occupied or controlled by the enemy of our souls or by the temporal enemies of God’s people. So, there are “strongholds” that need to be destroyed, and we have power at our disposal to destroy them — God’s power. What are these strongholds?
The strongholds are arguments and proud obstacles to the knowledge of God. It seemed to me that this was a description of a war in the mind. I knew that war well. The way to win the war was to avail myself of the power of God to destroy the lies that the enemy had sown into my mind. Our central strategy, by the power of God, is to take every thought captive — to make them obedient to Christ. But what does that mean?
Well, we have thoughts that are obedient to Christ and those that are disobedient or opposed to Him. Thoughts that are obedient to Christ must be thoughts that are true, and thoughts that are disobedient to Christ must be those that are false or chaotic, that cause anxiety, fear, and disruption of mind and heart.
Taking Thoughts Captive
Things began to make sense. I decided to experiment with this idea of taking thoughts captive. Because of my upbringing, I had many lies in my head about who I was and what my worth was. One of the more painful moments of my childhood was overhearing my mother talking about me. She said something no child should ever have to hear, and it ripped into my heart. She said, “He is a piece of ______.” Mind you, I was somewhere around seven years old and a compliant though very sickly child.
Why would she say this about me? I was crushed. Now, as an adult, I remembered this pain — the lie. Put into more palatable language, the poisonous lie my mother so cruelly injected into my heart was that I was worse than worthless. Unfortunately, this lie was surrounded by a fortress of hundreds more just like it. Those lies nearly destroyed me. Now I had hope that they could be defeated.
The “how” wasn’t complicated. I remembered that every time Jesus was tempted by Satan in the fourth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, He responded with Scripture. Why couldn’t I do the same or something similar? The pattern was simple. The devil offered a temptation — a lie — and Jesus responded with the truth.
Resist the Devil and Draw Close to God
The next step was fueled by a passage in the Letter of St. James when he said, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7–8). I thought, OK, I think I get the submit myself to God part. How do I resist the devil and draw near to God?
So, in concert with the truth and lie exercise, I wrote a simple prayer that went something like this: “In Jesus name, I reject the lie that I am worthless.” This was the resisting the devil part. “In Jesus name, I embrace the truth that You love me, Lord — that You called me into existence for an eternal relationship of love with you. Lord, please heal me and help me escape these lies that lead me to despair. Please take control of my heart and mind.” This, of course, was the drawing near to God part.
Over the following months and years, I used that method over and over again to fight against the lies that moved me to anxiety, frustration, and despair, and peace continued to grow in my heart. By God’s grace I had experienced great victories with these powerful tools, but He was not finished. His equipping me for the battle continued.
Rejoice in the Lord
I read another powerful passage that haunted me. The Holy Spirit through Saint Paul in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Philippians said this:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. . . . The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4, 6–7)
I remember reading this passage for the first time. The thing that stuck out to me was that St. Paul said that we should have no anxiety about anything. Is this really possible?
The Holy Spirit reminded me of a passage in the Acts of the Apostles that I had also marveled over: “And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:40–42). They were beaten, imprisoned, robbed of their rights, and threatened, yet they “rejoiced.”
It seemed to me that if I believed the Scriptures and the experience of these men, if I really could take every thought captive, I would be so resilient that nothing in life, not even the worst of circumstances, could rob me of joy and peace!
This passage from Philippians contains another powerful weapon in the battle for peace: prayer. The Holy Spirit here tells us to pray and offer our requests and thanksgiving to God so that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Jesus. This was a bit troubling to me because as it is written, one can expect to just pray and peace would then always and easily come. I certainly didn’t experience this at the outset. Even so, He did work this miracle in me — one molecule of my mind and heart at a time, one thought captive at a time, one lie redeemed and replaced by the truth at a time.
Hold to the Truth
We continue to draw from the wisdom of the Holy Spirit out of St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians,
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8–9)
We have another weapon in our arsenal: how and where we focus our minds can impact the experienced presence of God with us, and related to that effort, our peace! There is a word in this passage that can easily be overlooked: think. This word can be translated “consider” or “ponder.” Another translation is “dwell.” The very first passage in the Bible I had memorized was “I have hidden Thy word in my heart that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalm 119:11, KJV). (All the first verses I memorized were in the King James Version). This idea of hiding in my heart the good things and dwelling on the good things seemed to be connected.
It was clear to me that I needed to begin to change the way I lived — what I consumed or allowed into my mind and before my eyes. Later I tossed my television. This was one of the best decisions of my life. My peace continued to increase.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Dan Burke’s latest book, Spiritual Warfare and the Discernment of Spirits. It is available from your local bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
You can learn more about Dan Burke and his latest book on the CE Podcast next week. Find us and subscribe wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts.