2006-07-31 - Summer Questions
2006 #10 ~ Doubt Thoughts
Isaiah 55:8, 9, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are My ways higher than your ways."
Today's question: "On occasion, why (when) listening to a sermon or especially when in prayer, sinful and vile thoughts intrude into my worshipping. These thoughts question my spirituality, my dedication to God, and even God's very existence. Why do these unwanted thoughts come to me during my precious worship time? Is this normal?"
I am not sure why these unwanted thoughts assail you during times that should be precious and seasons of encouragement to you. I don't think it is normal, because I know of very few who have experienced this. I have read of some saints who were assaulted in their thought life. I am aware that this happens, but I don't think that this is the common experience of most Christians. I would like to touch on the subject of doubting thoughts that are common to many believers, and then I hope to give you a couple of ideas to help you begin the process of overcoming this hindrance to true fellowship with the Lord.
It is not uncommon to have thoughts that question our beliefs. In fact, this can be healthy. It is normal for us to wonder if the grace of God could really extend to us personally. It is not unhealthy to reflect upon the fact that there are many other "ways" to God out there, and confirm our firm believe that when Jesus said, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me," (John 14:6) He meant it.
These things are not wrong in themselves, or matters we should be overly concerned about. They should not dominate our thoughts. They should not be frequent struggles. However, introspection can be a good thing. We need to come to terms with these struggles, and move past them, to resting upon God's promises of sustaining grace, forgiveness, and holiness in Christ.
The issue of vile thoughts could mean many things. 2 Corinthians 10:5 talks about taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and this should be our goal. But even in Scripture, the Psalmist asks God to search him and try his thoughts. "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts," Psalm 139:23.
Certainly vile thoughts in worship or prayer would be a real hindrance to full participation of heart, soul, and body in the experience. I don't think that, as you write, this is normal. But I also feel strongly that they can be changed and overcome. I think you have to reflect personally why these thoughts and distractions come upon you. If there is someone you really trust, you might tell them your struggles, and ask that they would pray with you regularly regarding this issue, and for you in their private prayers. For the most part, I would keep these struggles "close to the vest," and not spread around that this is a personal struggle for you.
There are a couple of steps that I think you can take that might be of use to you in dealing with this. First I would put some small portions of Scripture to memory, that are of an encouraging nature. There are various Psalms that are great for meditation. Psalm 100 is short and worth the time it takes to memorize. 1 Peter 1:6-10 might be a passage to meditate (or memorize) on when these thoughts come upon you. You don't have to have a passage memorized to pull it out, even if it is in the middle of a sermon (people will think you are paying really close attention and checking out something that was said in God's Word). You can open your Bible and meditate on a passage until the thoughts are past, and you have moved onto dwelling on something else. You can pull out Scripture and meditate on it at any time, but having a passage memorized means you can meditate on it, even when a Bible is not handy or prudent to pull out within the circumstance you are in.
Another thing you might try could be to open a hymnal, if you have one at home, and sing a hymn. If you are alone, you can sing outloud, and no one will be the wiser for it. You can even sing out of key, like me. If you don't have a hymnal, you can put on a worship tape or CD or some other form of music, and seek to focus and concentrate on something that is familiar, but also more uplifting. The key is to draw your attention away from the thoughts that are assaulting you, and to learn to focus on things that encourage you and stimulate a spiritual mindset. Over time, if you can train yourself to do this it may become natural and automatic that when unwelcome thoughts enter into your mind, you, even subconsciously, divert those thoughts to that which is more healthy and beneficial to you.
I want to thank you for your question, and I hope some of the ideas that I have given you are helpful. I encourage you to press on and seek the Lord's assistance in gaining freedom from this unwelcome nuisance in your spiritual walk.
Soli Deo Gloria,