We all hear a cacophony of thoughts in our minds each day. They bounce through my mind as I fold clothes, unload the dishwasher, care for my kids, bake muffins, and cook supper. Sometimes I remind myself of a truth to remember. Other times I cast judgment on myself. I think through a phrase from a book I’m reading. I may even have a back-and-forth conversation with myself as I sort through the day’s events.
We know we’re supposed to sift through the words of the world around us to discern if they’re in line with Scripture. But what about the thoughts that rattle around in our own minds? Our thoughts are sometimes our own, but they’re often also the voices of our parents, teachers, friends, social media influencers, authors, and pastors. Do we ever take stock of the ideas swirling around our minds and hold them up to God’s Word? Or have we become so used to hearing them that we’ve attributed them to ourselves—or even to God himself?
Our Judgmental Thoughts
Take one of those harsh judgments you hurl at yourself when you sin. Perhaps you lost your patience with your child or spouse. You used a sarcastic tone or yelled something unkind. Afterward, you look at yourself with disgust and wonder how your holy God could ever love the likes of you. You think God must be so disappointed in you for falling short once again. You figure he probably loves your other Christian friends and mentors much more than you—they might be his beloved children, but you’re the problem child he has to put up with.
Yet is that truly the voice and heart of God? Is that how Jesus treated Peter, who denied him three times in his most lonely hour (John 18:15–27)? Is that how he treated Elijah, who ran away from his calling and wished himself dead (1 Kings 19)? And is that how he treated Naomi when she became angry and bitter about the lot that had fallen around her (book of Ruth)?
In each of these instances and more, we find God compassionately loving his people, forgiving their sins, and providing for their needs. He doesn’t dole out ruthless punishments. Rather, as their all-knowing Creator, he kindly shows them mercy in a way that meets them where they are. God is tender and merciful, full of steadfast love toward those who fear him—even when they sin (Ps. 103).
Our Self-Justifying Thoughts
Perhaps your thought life tends more toward self-justification. Instead of severely condemning yourself in these moments, you jump to justifying yourself in an attempt to shake off all those icky, guilty feelings. We blame our exhaustion or the actions of others or the unrelenting weather. While we should always consider external realities affecting our moods (and do something about them if we can), we can’t excuse our sinful actions. Neither does the sin of one person excuse our own sin.
Though Peter’s denial could easily be excused by the fear of death looming around him, Jesus calls Peter to turn from his denial and instead serve God through caring for his sheep (John 21:15–19). Though Moses could have blamed his striking of the rock in the desert on the never-ending complaints of the Israelites or even the heat of the sun, God held him accountable for his disobedience (Num. 20:1–13).
We must guard against both the temptations of self-hate and self-justification. Both miss the gospel, yet both can sound so true in the quietness of our minds. After a while, those thoughts we hear begin to sound like our own or even God’s. But it’s important to pause and ask yourself: Who am I really hearing? And are they right?
Discerning Our Thoughts
I have a lot of thoughts in my mind as I go throughout my day, and while I may not always have the ability to stop them from forming in my mind, I do have the ability to discern them.
God gave us a filter for assessing our thoughts in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We can ask ourselves questions like these as the thought resounds in our minds:
Is it true? Ask yourself: is this thought based in reality? Is it something we can actually know? If we’re worrying about a judgment a friend may be thinking toward us or a bad event happening in the future, we can’t actually know if it’s true, so this kind of thought may not be worth our time or energy.
Is it honorable? Does it honor our own story with sympathy and kindness, or is it harsh and shameful? Just as we show honor and compassion to others when they are struggling, we should show the same honor toward ourselves.
Is it just? Does it uphold God’s justice? Or am I justifying myself for sinning against another person made in the image of God? Am I viewing my fellow image-bearer as one deserving kindness and patience or as another aggravation in my life like the mosquitoes that torment me? We need to ask ourselves if we’re living as people saved by God, offering up our lives as sacrifices of praise, or if we're living for ourselves, ruling our own lives.
We can continue like this through the entire list, raising each thought we have against Philippians 4:8 and asking ourselves if it aligns with the characteristics Paul lays out. This is a call to discern every thought we allow in our minds and draw it into submission to God’s Word.
Our Thoughts are Opportunities
Just because a thought pops into our mind and feels true doesn’t mean that it is, and it doesn’t mean we need to dwell on it. It’s not a time to heap more judgment on our backs. No, it’s an opportunity to get curious and practice discernment with our own minds. It can be a time to look with sympathy at a part of us that was hurt by another. It’s a chance to learn how to extend compassion to a broken part of our minds.
Discerning our thoughts can also be a chance to consider if there is anyone in our lives we need forgiveness from due to our own self-justification. If there is, it’s an opportunity to seek restoration from both man and God. As we do, we trust in Christ’s forgiveness offered to us in the gospel and find ways to restore our relationship with the one we hurt—which also means being patient with the time they need to heal.
Through it all, it can help to train our thoughts toward eternity, where all that is crooked will be made straight, all maladies will be healed, and all tears will be dried forevermore.
Meet the Author
Lara d’Entremont is a wife and mom to three from Nova Scotia, Canada. Lara is a writer and learner at heart—always trying to find time to scribble down some words or read a book. Her desire in writing is to help women develop solid theology they can put into practice—in the mundane, the rugged terrain, and joyful moments. You can find more of her writing at laradentremont.com.