In the trenches of my battle with anxiety, there were days I laid on the couch and mused over my many worries and anxieties. I filled my pillow with tears as I reviewed the many anxious thoughts I had accumulated. Some days I was brought to a stand-still in my work and household chores because my anxious thoughts were so overwhelming.
On some of those days, I didn’t want to fight the thoughts anymore. I was tired of fighting and wanted to succumb to the fearful thoughts. It was easier that way. It was easier to slip into those thoughts than try to overcome them. They were also familiar, like the old stained t-shirt that we know needs to go in the garbage but refuse to toss out.
But God has a higher calling for us. He doesn’t want us to remain in those depressing, anxious thoughts. He calls us to lift our thoughts to higher things. “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” (Philippians 4:8 ESV).
This is the fourth article in the Restoring Peace from Anxiety series. This week we are discussing how to guard our thoughts from anxiety with Philippians 4:8.
Why Guard Our Thoughts
When battling anxiety or depression, some people will try positive thinking. That is not what Philippians 4:8 is calling us to do. Positive thinking is about replacing our negative thoughts with any positive thought (which is quite subjective) so that we can feel better and be happy. But Philippians 4:8 isn’t about how we feel—it’s about obedience.
As believers, we are called to, “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV).
As a Christian, you are to, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Anxious thoughts are not obedient to Philippians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 10:5, or Colossians 3:1-4. You don’t know if your anxious, “What ifs” are true. Your fears that distrust God are against the knowledge of God as revealed in Scripture. Your worries about what others think of you are earthly. Our anxious thoughts disobey God.
Often times, in the midst of my anxiety, I don’t feel like thinking on things above. I want to remain in my anxious thoughts because it’s so much easier than battling them. But God calls me to think on something higher. Whether or not we feel like it, we need to choose to guard our thoughts with the things of Philippians 4:8. Sometimes it doesn’t make us feel better right away, but it is obedient to God.
Taking Every Thought Captive
As believers, we should commit to taking every thought captive. We capture each one to examine it and see if it lines up with Scripture. Consider Philippians 4:8 your new “thought filter” or magnify glass through which you analyze each thought. If a thought can’t pass through, it isn’t to be dwelled on.
What does Philippians 4:8 call us to dwell on? That which is…
True: That which is honest, real, correct, and truthful. The opposite of falsehood and lies. What determines truth? God’s Word, as the only inerrant and perfect Word.
Honourable: Something that is respected, dignified, or high in morality. Believers and church leaders are called to live lives that are honourable (1 Timothy 3:8, 11; Titus 2:2). “Paul is saying, Get your mind off of low and base things. Get your mind out of the gutter. Get your attention off frivolous things. Focus on the honourable.”¹
Right: That which is just, righteous, upright, and faultless. Obedient to God’s law or approved by him. The standard of what is right is determined by God, as the only truly righteous One.
Pure: Sacred, chaste, innocent, clean, and untainted by sin. That which is not mixed with the evil and wickedness of this world.
Lovely: Something that is acceptable, pleasing, or amiable.
Of good repute: Something well spoken of. John MacArthur describes it as, “That which is highly regarded or thought well of. It refers to what is generally consider reputable in the world, such as kindness, courtesy, and respect for others.”²
Excellent: Moral excellence or virtue, purity, and modesty.
Worthy of praise: To be commendable or approved—something to be praised.
Though we like to try and sometimes believe that we are capable of multitasking mentally, we are actually incapable of thinking on two things at once. This is the beauty of replacing our anxious thoughts with the thought list of Philippians 4:8; if you are thinking on that which is true, honourable, right, and pure, you can’t think on worrisome what ifs.
Sometimes keeping a thought journal or an index card with this verse on it with us for accountability is necessary for a time. If this helps you be obedient to Christ, then do it.
A Final Encouragement
I know what it’s like to not even have the desire to battle these thoughts. I know the exhaustion from the daily mind battle to put on godly thinking. And I want to encourage you to persevere. Find peace from your anxiety in setting your mind on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Do this not for yourself, but for God, because he commands you to set your thoughts on things above, not on things of this earth. Take every thought captive not for your own well-being, but because you love the God who loved you first.
Steve Lawson, Philippians For You, God’s Word For You (Good Book Company, 2017), Kindle, 200.
John MacArthur, Dr., The MacArthur Bible Commentary(Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1725.
Have you downloaded the free workbook for this series yet? Click the picture below to receive your free workbook with reflection questions, memory verses, and homework to help you apply this series to your own life.