Six Steps to Better Thoughts, Feelings, And Actions

The wisest man in the world said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.

For example, if I think about all the things I failed to do today, I will get discouraged and possibly even angry. I will then drive home in a bad mood, and those thoughts and feelings will have a knock-on effect on how I interact with my wife and children.

If, on the other hand, I focus on what I actually managed to accomplish, if I look at the boxes I ticked today, and fade out everything else, then I go home cheerful, energized, and ready to play with my kids and chat to my wife.

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.

Dark and Dangerous
Now think of a more serious example. If a person thinks only on the bad things that have happened in his life, or on the bad things that could possibly happen in his life, and that becomes a long-term habit, he is going to end up very depressed, very anxious, and maybe even suicidal.

Although there are and have been many good things in his life, and there are good things ahead, yet looking on the dark side has become such a habit that he finds it really difficult to change what his mind fixes upon. People have told him to change and he’s told himself to change, but he feels stuck and sinking fast.

Skillful Advocate Needed
This man needs someone to come alongside and help him to see and focus on the good things in his past, present, and future, to reason  him to a more realistic and accurate picture of his life. As if in a court of law, he needs a trained and skillful advocate to bring exhibits and evidence before him, and to psersuade him to make revised judgments based upon the facts that are being presented to him.

Hopefully, as the evidence mounts and reason prevails, the mind gradually learns to think along different pathways, the old negative habit weakens and the new positive habit increases in strength until it becomes the new normal. As that happens, his emotional well-being improves, his energy returns, his relationships improve, and he becomes productive at work again.

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel, and what we do.

Traffic Jam Therapy
Let me return now to a simpler and less serious example in order to break this down further in a way that we can all relate to (well, the men at least).

Next time you’re sitting in a traffic jam and you start steaming and screaming, try to understand where these feelings and actions are coming from by asking yourself these questions.

Step 1. What are the facts? The facts are that I am in a two-mile back-up and the radio tells me it will take one hour to clear due to a breakdown in the fast lane several  miles ahead.

Step 2. What am I thinking about these facts? I’m thinking about the idiot who broke down in the fast lane. I’m thinking about all that I could have done with this hour.

Step 3. What am I feeling? I’m angry at the guy who broke down, I’m frustrated about the lost time, and I’m worried about what my friends will think about me for being late.

Step 4. Can I change the facts? No, there is no way out of the traffic jam.

Step 5. Can I change my thoughts about the facts? Yes, I can believe that this is God’s plan for this hour of my life. I can be grateful for time to stop and think and pray in the midst of a busy day. I can practice my breathing relaxation techniques. I can listen to a sermon on the radio. I can pray for my friends.

Step 6. What am I feeling now? Slowly I feel peace, tranquility, calm, and trust in God coursing through my heart and body.

We are what we think
In each of these examples, I’ve asked six questions in two groups of three. The first three – about facts, thoughts, feelings – help us identify our thoughts and recognize how they are impacting our emotions and behavior. The second three – also about facts, thoughts, feelings – help us challenge our thoughts, change them, and so change our feelings and actions. In summary:

  • How did I get into this mood? Facts, thoughts, feelings.
  • How do I get out of this mood? Facts, thoughts, feelings.

The Psalmist follows these steps when he found himself depressed and worried (e.g. Ps. 42, 73, 77).

These six steps are also at the core of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and help explain why it is so effective as part of a package of holistic care for suffering people.

Christians who have compassion for hurting and broken people would become even more effective in helping them if they would learn the basics of how to use this God-given tool. A couple of good books to get you started would be I’m not supposed to feel like this (a simple introduction written by three Christians), or Mind over Mood (not written by Christians but even simpler and very practical).

For more difficult issues and complicated problems, I’d recommend that pastors and counselors try to find out if there are any Christians who practice CBT in their area, or at least someone who will work with you (and not against you) as a Christian pastor and counselor. You will learn a lot from them and over time you will see them as a vital and valued part of your pastoral care team. All under the authority of God’s Word.

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.


Highly Educated, Highly Indebted: The Lives of Today’s 27-Year-Olds
In the spring of 2002, the government’s researchers began tracking a group of roughly 15,000 high school sophomores—most of whom would be roughly age 27 today. In 2012, the government’s researchers handed their subjects an enormous survey about their lives in the real world. Here, are some of the findings.

  • More than 84 percent of today’s 27-year-olds have some college education. Only a third have a bachelor’s degree.
  • Asians are far more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than blacks, Hispanics, or whites.
  • Of those sophomores who expected to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, only 34 percent did it.
  • About half of today’s 27-year-olds borrowed students loans.
  • Since Obama came into office, 40 percent have spent some time unemployed.
  • One in ten say they have already fulfilled their career goals.
  • They were more likely to be living with their parents than with roommates.
  •  28.2 percent were married in 2012 and 30.9 percent were living with a significant other. The majority of bachelor’s degree holders, however, reported they were still single.

Goldie Hawn: Troubles of Young Stars Like Justin Bieber Heartbreaking
“Mindfulness.” Mark that word, you’re going to hear a lot of it in coming years.

Speaking to the World Economic Forum in Davos, actress Goldie Hawn says world leaders are discovering how “mindfulness” helps with stress — but that she despairs at seeing young stars like Justin Bieber struggling to deal with fame.

She led a session on the power of neuroscience and mindfulness to “change the world.”

Hawn said when she started her foundation 12 years ago, mindfulness had been a “what is that” concept, but she was optimistic that was changing.

“It’s extraordinary that this Davos this year seems to be centered a lot around the brain, a lot around stress reduction, mindfulness, all of these areas,” she said.

They’re all coming out of the closet now, it’s like they’ve all been meditating — so many of them — for 20 years and so forth. So it’s beginning to happen — mindful leadership.”

Hawn explained how she believed a healthy mind could lead to healthy decision making.

“When the brain is silent, the executive function, which is this part of the brain that makes decisions can work much better. So when you get quiet you make better decisions, you’re also more rested — you’re not as reactive,” she said.

“So it’s actually great for the economy, great for our leadership and our thought leaders.”

Alone, Yet Not Alone
David Brooks believes that there is a yawning gap between the way many believers experience faith and the way that faith is presented to the world. It’s cause?

There is a strong vein of hostility against orthodox religious believers in America today, especially among the young. When secular or mostly secular people are asked by researchers to give their impression of the devoutly faithful, whether Jewish, Christian or other, the words that come up commonly include “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” “old-fashioned” and “out of touch.”

Sadly, the rest of the article is a real hodge-podge of meanderings, where Brooks basically argues that the less certain faith is, the more attractive it is. So, believers, if you want to make your faith more compelling, try to a believe a bit less!

The Disney Channel Debuts its First Ever Same Sex Couple
You probably don’t want to click on this. Just be aware of it and watch out for Good Luck Charlie.

ACLU Accuses Louisiana School of Religious Harassment
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a school board in Louisiana, alleging officials at one of its schools harassed a sixth-grader because of his Buddhist faith and that the district routinely pushes Christian beliefs.

Just listen to the cruel and heartless things this school does:

The lawsuit said Roark has “repeatedly taught students that the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is ‘impossible’ and that the Bible is ’100 percent true.’

Beyond that, according to the complaint, the school regularly incorporates official Christian prayer into class and school events and scrolls Bible verses on an electronic marquee in front of the school that greets students as they enter the building.

A Definition of Secular Fundamentalism
In the light of the ACLU action Rod Dreher quotes Erin Manning’s definition of secular fundamentalism. Make sure you click on over there for some devastatingly clear and incisive analysis. A quick summary:

–One’s religious beliefs are a sort of personal hobby, like following sports or taking part in amateur theater, with one major difference: following sports or partaking in theater are things the state is inclined to approve of, but religious beliefs are a somewhat undesirable quality for a good citizen.

–The good citizen should differentiate between religions which encourage good citizenship (such as those faiths which help hand out condoms to homeless prostitutes, say) and those which do not.

–It is a given that “bad” religions have never done any good. Christianity is foremost among the “bad” religions, but there are others–however, political correctness may require the secularist to pretend that those other religions aren’t really bad at times.

–Concepts like the separation of church and state mean, to a fundamentalist, that no church should ever be allowed to interfere in secular matters; however, it is necessary for the state to interfere in church matters all the time.

–The Bill of Rights must be understood in a secular fundamentalist construct. Not only must a teacher in a public school classroom not *teach* her religious beliefs, but her freedom of speech must be denied to her from the moment she sets foot on the school campus until the moment she leaves it.

–Finally, no state institution, entity, or enterprise can be tainted by any suspicion that it ever approves of any religion at all. The secular fundamentalist insists that the only proper attitude to have toward religion is disapproval.

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How To Avoid a Cult of Personality
This applies at all levels, not just to the “big names.”

Do you have a sense of urgency?
John Kotter believes the “single biggest error people make when they try to change” is the failure to “create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction.”

Peeking Into the Womb
A Christian response to ultrasound technology.

Shepherding the Whole Flock
Brian Croft with practical advice for ensuring that pastors are shepherding the whole flock.

Church Planting in a Trailer Park
What a great idea! May God bless this pastor’s ministry.

Student Leadership University
Dan Darling introduces a ministry that equips students with the rules and tools of leadership and a biblical world-view that will allow them to live out God’s calling in an ever-changing society.

Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy From The Devil?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer to follow. But why am I even asking the question?

In my friend Bob Kellemen’s thoughtful and largely helpful response to my post about going to the doctor to discuss depression meds, he said that his most serious disagreement with me was about my recommendation of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

If that surprised me, then I was even more surprised that Bob read my piece as recommending CBT as a comprehensive therapy to the exclusion of other means. A fair reading of what I wrote would recognize that I was clearly recommending CBT as only one part of a holistic approach that included the body, the mind, the soul, Christian friendship, pastoral counsel, Bible reading, prayer, and worship and fellowship in a local church.

However, it looks like Bob would object even to that – using CBT as any part of a package of comprehensive compassionate care. He sees it as non-Christian at best, anti-Christian at worst, and therefore to be shunned.

Are we talking about the same thing?
I must admit, this really baffles me and makes me wonder if we’re talking about the same thing. CBT’s basic point is that what we think affects what we feel and do. Therefore if we can change what we think, we can change how we feel and what we do.

It’s not exactly revolutionary. It’s actually one of the ways way the Bible describes and portrays how we work as well (Psalm 42; 73, 77; Proverbs 23:7; Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:8-9). If CBT is guilty of anything, it’s of unwittingly plagiarizing the Bible’s insights! But I’m just thankful that God has allowed and enabled even unbelievers to discover some insights into how He made us, and to devise ways of re-training our thoughts so that we are re-made into His image. They misuse it badly at times, of course, but I just wish more Christians would be as thoughtful and skillful in using these insights as unbelievers often are.

Firing and wiring
The behind-the-scenes science of it is that we create electrical and chemical pathways in our brains with our thoughts. As we think our way down these pathways, we strengthen the brain connections. As somebody put it, “cells that fire together, wire together.” The more we travel these mental paths, the faster and easier these paths become, so that eventually our thoughts and resultant action feels automatic. Think of learning to ride your bike.

But what happens if we think the wrong thoughts often enough? That’s right, we end up creating bad pathways that become our default thinking patterns, damaging the way we feel and our daily behavior. Not good! And not easy to get out of these deep and repetitive ruts.

If our thoughts are fixated on spiritual matters like God, sin, and guilt, paralyzing and debilitating us, then usually scriptural truth can transform us over time by renewing our minds.

But what if our thought habits are on everyday matters like being obsessed with cleaning door handles, or irrational fears about our health, or phobias about open spaces? What if we’ve got into any number of negative thought patterns about our children, our ability to cope, our work situation, etc? That’s where CBT can be so helpful. (Yes, with Scripture, prayer, fellowship, etc. too).

Stop it!
Any number of people can tell you, “Stop thinking that!” You can order yourself, “Stop thinking that!” You can try to memorize Scripture even. But the thought pattern is so deep, so habitual that you need extra help (e.g. CBT) to challenge it and change it.

Few people can eradicate irrational anxiety by reading Romans. Instead, we need help to figure out, “Why am I thinking, feeling, and acting like this?” And then we need the tools to challenge the lies and imbalance in these thoughts until we change the way we think, feel, and do.

There’s nothing spooky or even complicated about it. I’ve seen many depressed and anxious people crack deeply ingrained and damaging thought patterns just using this CBT book, I’m not supposed to feel like this (written by three Christians). Where I know there is a motivated Christian friend in the depressed person’s life, I usually recommend that they sit down every day or so with this book and work their way through the exercises. It’s usually not long before they start seeing a change in their thinking, and then their feeling and acting too.

Tomorrow, I’ll give an example of how CBT works in an individual case, and in the meantime have a look at this video.

Is CBT of the devil? The devil can misuse it, for sure. But I view CBT as a gift of God to suffering humanity. If more Christians would open their minds to learn from it and practice it skillfully, there would be far less depressed Christians running to ungodly counsel, and there would be far less depressed Christians continuing in their suffering.


What Macklemore Got Wrong and Right
Denny Burk comments on the abomination that happened at the Grammy Awards:

So here’s the question for everyone watching the Grammys and wondering what God really thinks about all of this spectacle. Are you going to believe in the God of the Bible and His way of salvation? Or are you going to trust yourself to the god of “same love.” The god of “same love” says no repentance and no savior is required. That god approves you just the way you are. The God of the Bible says you need repentance and salvation. That God will save you just the way you are. And He will take you to Himself and remake you into the image of His own dear son (Rom. 8:29). But you must repent, and you must believe.

In the wake of the Grammys, the big question is not what you thought of Macklemore. The big question is which God you will believe in. The false god of “same love,” or the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ? Which one will you choose?

10 Facts About Infidelity
A few rather predictable “facts” – infidelity gene, evolutionary biology, blah de blah. But a few real shockers too:

  • Approximately 93.1% of women and 91.8% of men marry by age 49.
  • 20 to 40% of heterosexual American married men and 20 to 25% of heterosexual American married women will also have an extramarital affair during their lifetime.
  • One thing is clear: infidelity is a worldwide phenomenon that occurs with remarkable regularity, despite near universal disapproval of this behavior.
  • Mate poaching is a pronounced trend. 60% of men and 53% of women admitted to “mate poaching,” trying to woo an individual away from a committed relationship to begin a relationship with them instead.
  • Among individuals engaging in infidelity in one study, 56% of men and 34% of women rated their marriage as “happy” or “very happy.”

A few facts we won’t hear or read about of course – like it’s a sin. Like the destruction of families. Like STD’s. Not exactly TED talk material that, is it?

Religious Difference, Not Ideology, Will Fuel This Century’s Battles
Who said that? Sounds like Osama’s replacement, doesn’t it. Wrong. It’s Tony Blair, ex Prime Minister of Great Britain. And he even names Islam, well, a perversion of Islam, as the main culprit. Though, of course, he rushes to add “there are also many examples the world over where Muslims are the victims of religiously motivated violence from those of other religious faiths.”

But this is still a rare moment of honesty and (relatively) plain speaking from an influential world leader. If the atheists were wrong in the past about “Religion is the cause of all wars,” looks like they’ll be right for the next while.

Mr Blair continues to believe that more education, democracy, and tolerance will win the day. In God’s good providence, these means may serve to restrain some of the evil some of the time. But there’s only one effective way to end the wars of false religion, and it’s the true religion of Jesus Christ, spread with with the spiritual weapons of prayer, preaching, witnessing, and love.

Eastern Europe’s Christian Reawakening
Definition of “Christian” here is too broad for me, but still, there’s some encouraging news in this article.

While many academics speak of Europe as a uniform secularized continent, two decades after the collapse of Communism it is more accurate, if still too simple, to speak of two Europes: a West that has largely abandoned its religious roots, and an East that is rediscovering its heritage.

Let’s hope and pray that they continue beyond medieval roots and get all the way back to the pure roots of New Testament Christianity.

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A Golden Age in Christian Publishing
I totally agree. I especially agree with Tim’s words about the excellent people who work in the big publishers. I’ve met and worked with some real gems.

Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness?
“While we think self-deprecation causes us to be more relatable and empathetic to non-Christians, it’s ultimately communicating a sense of disappointment, disillusionment, and discontentment. It thrives on negativity and kills our sense of hope.”

Credo’s new online magazine is on the vital topic of justification. And it’s free!

Conversations with Young People Leaving Church
Most common explanation is not godless college but pragmatic parents: “My parents say they love God and maybe they do, but it just seems to me that if Christianity were true it would produce better people.”

The Facts About 20 Controversial Issues in Obamacare
Assuming that the truth is the best weapon against the excesses of Obamacare Chris Bogosh provides 20 facts about the more controversial issues in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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