1Co 10:13 – No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. NIV
Temptation of sin of the mind. This is what we are dealing with in anxiety disorders, and in any sin. Sin starts out as a thought, whether it is a lustful thought, a proud thought, or a cowardly thought. Jesus said in Matthew 5:28
“…but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” NAS
An action is not required to be sin. Sin begins much earlier.
What happens is that there is generally some sort of incidence, a trigger, that might cause someone to go down the path of mental sin. For example, a man might see a woman with a tight blouse on (this is a hint for women—DRESS MODESTLY!). Now, we might hope that women would be kind enough to not display their front porch for every man to ogle, but regrettably that happens too often.
Now, the man can avert his eyes, dwell on the holy, change his thoughts somehow. He can direct his thoughts to what he has to do that day, to whom the Mets should hire to win the pennant, or what he had for breakfast. However, if he allows that trigger of that poorly dressed woman to dwell in his thoughts, he will find himself falling into mental fantasy. He might never proposition her, but he has had her in his thoughts.
Now, those of us who are more prone to cowardice than lust have different triggers and different reactions. However, we are still in sin. That man sinned out of the biological drive to procreate. We sin out of the biological drive to protect ourselves. Both are fundamental drives, but ones that we can control.
For example, we might see the news where someone had a heart attack at a restaurant. That is a trigger. Then we dwell on fear. We start thinking “What if that happened to me? What if I had a heart attack?”. What was not a danger before is “dangerous” now. We might even avoid the restaurant in our cowardice. We have taken a bit of information and allowed our brains to dwell on the fearful. We have disobeyed the Lord’s admonition in Philippians 1:4-7
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” ASV
We are not rejoicing; we are recoiling in fear. We are not being gentle in our spirit; we are being cowardly in our spirit. We are being anxious instead of praying to the Lord. We are not turning to His wisdom, but relying on our own.
It is difficult to not allow our thoughts to go down those paths, just like it is difficult for a man not to think lustful thoughts when a woman flashes her body at him. The Lord tells us how to keep our minds out of the temptation of sin. Remember, He said that He will never give us beyond what we can bear! AND He will also provide a way out of temptation. For mental temptation, He tells us to do this:
8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9 The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
He has provided spiritual and mental helps and escapes for mental temptation. The spiritual escape is the prayer of thanksgiving and supplication where He promises to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.
Then He also gives us mental helps where He tells us what we are to think about. We are to think about those things that are honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and praiseworthy.
The truth is this: If we obey Him, if we react to any fear trigger with prayer and thanksgiving, then turn our thoughts to the good and the holy and the beautiful, then we will not struggle with mental sin. We simply will not. We do not have to be fearful; the Lord did not create us to be. We do not have to think bad thoughts; He gave us the control of our own brains. He even told us how to control our brains. We just have to DO it.
Many times I have felt, and have been told by others with mental sin, “But I cannot control my thoughts! This is how I am! They just pop in!”. I felt the very same way. I felt punished for something that I thought I had no control over. However, I was wrong. I did have control over my thoughtlife, and you do as well. If you are a sentient being, if you have the ability to read this, you have the ability to control your thoughtlife.
Let’s give it a try: Close your eyes and think of a toothbrush. If you were able to picture a toothbrush in your head, you are able to regulate your own thoughts. You chose what your mind was thinking at that time. You summoned a thought, you directed your brain.
Right now we are in bad mental habits, much like a smoker who is in the habit of lighting up a cigarette. The more we exercise our mental muscles, instead of letting them slide into junky thoughts, the more healthy they will be. The more we think about praiseworthy things, the more of a habit our minds will be to think of those. The more we think about frightening things, the more of a habit our minds will be in to think of frightening things.
Make no mistake, these anxiety disorders are a factor of sin. The Lord gave you the ability to keep from entering into sin. Just because you see a trigger, that does not mean that you have to succumb to sin! For example, many men can walk by a woman wearing a tight shirt, but have trained themselves to instantly switch their thoughts to purity. They are as red blooded as the next man, but they have, through constant practice in obeying the Lord’s wisdom, trained their brains not to follow the path of lust. They keep their minds away from sexuality until they are with their wives (the proper place for sexuality).
In the same manner, many people might read the article about someone who has a heart attack in a restaurant. No one wants to have a heart attack in a restaurant. No one wants to suffer. However, most of the people who read that article will not allow their brains to wander into sin. They are not in the habit of allowing triggers to make them think fearful thoughts. It isn’t that they do not care about dying, it isn’t that they are really looking forward to having a heart attack in a restaurant–it’s that they do not allow fear to overtake their rational thought.
Sometimes our reaction to our thoughts is so strong that we wrongly believe that we cannot control our thoughts. But that is not true. What we are feeling are the physical sensations of fear that are caused because we have allowed our thoughts to go too far. We can’t keep our glands from releasing adrenaline and other “fight or flight” hormones if we are afraid, but we can keep our minds from getting to the point of fear where the brain triggers the release of those hormones. We can stop the frightening thoughts before they are strong enough to cause the release of hormones.
Now, what if you find yourself in the midst of a fearful thought? Repent and redirect. Repent of the mental laziness, and then redirect your thoughts to what the Lord would have you think about. You might still have a pounding heart, but those hormones that your body released will be spent soon and your heart will go back to normal. Again, don’t confuse strong physical sensations with your ability to have mental control—you are a human with a conscious mind, not a beast driven only by instinct.
Take heart! You do have control! You might find this page upsetting because it might convict you, as it did me, that this mess we are in is our own doing. However, look past the “Oh NO! It can’t be! I try so hard!” and get to the “Wait a minute! If I caused this out of my sin, even though I didn’t realize I was sinning, then that means that I can be free of this forever when I obey the Lord!”. Yes! The Lord is showing you a sin you did not realize you had (for we ALL have sins that we don’t realize we have), in order for you to repent and be brought into healing! Praise God! This is a time of praise and relief, not of rebellion and consternation. The Lord has provided you with the wisdom you need and forgiveness in Jesus for past sins.