Many phones have added a feature somewhat recently that I have found both intriguing and convicting: Screen Time.
At a glance, you can see how much time you have spent on your phone on a given day or week (and on which apps you have spent your time). It even allows you to set various limits on your screen time or dictate how much time you are allowed to be on a particular app. My wife has taken full advantage of this feature, setting limits to certain apps and increasing the discipline of her phone use (I have yet to reach that level of sanctification myself). And I hope we can all agree—a smartphone can either be an incredible tool used for good, or a Hebrews 12:1 weight that so easily entangles.
The same applies to our minds and what we are thinking; our minds can dwell on that which is good or evil. This is quite important—as Proverbs 23:7 puts it, “for as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Thoughts dictate actions. They are the fuel propelling the engine.
Did you know that the Lord gave us our own Screen Time app, something that indicates what we have spent our time thinking about? If you want to know what you have been dwelling on, look no further than what you have been spending your time doing. And the mind differs from a phone in this profound way—you can never turn it off.
Myself as the Example
Full disclosure: one of my sin struggles is anger. If you ask my parents or siblings, it has been a struggle of mine since basically the womb. While it may have been a source of entertainment for two older brothers (cue the story where they told my sister to hold me down while they attempted to cut my hair with scissors…), it is something I need the grace of Christ for daily and it is an internal battle that requires continual diligence.
This fight is either offensive, defensive, or lost altogether. Let me show you what this looks like in my life:
Offensive: I am aware of the fight and using Scripture to actively dwell on that which I ought to.
Defensive: This typically takes two forms:
- I catch myself thinking in an entitled manner (“I deserve to be treated with respect”, “I must be obeyed”, “nobody listens to me”) and must combat those thoughts with specific Scripture. History has shown that if these thoughts continue for me, anger is right around the corner.
- I am short with my family (or any other manifestation of anger), proving I am having entitled thoughts. Though I am losing ground in the battle, I still fight my pride with the Word of God.
Lost: Honestly, it typically looks like this: I’m angry, I’m well aware of my thoughts of entitlement, I know what the Lord has to say about it, but I just don’t care. I have convinced myself that I am justified in my anger and my flesh has won the battle. Eventually, the Spirit convicts me and leads me to repentance. Back to square one.
Our Work, His Work
Quick caveat before we move on…as I mentioned in passing, the grace of Christ is necessary in all of this. Philippians 2:12-13 calls you to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” While the fight is very real and I will be held accountable for the result, God is the one at work in me.
Now let’s talk Screen Time. How does Scripture call us to take an inventory of our thoughts, and what are we do dwell on?
Let’s say someone walks up to you and says, “I’m going to take you captive”—would that be an easy thing for them to do? Would you not put up the fight of your life to avoid captivity?
Well, thoughts are the same way. They love their freedom as much as the next gun-toting American and will be more than a little reluctant to give themselves up. That’s why the Bible speaks rather strongly on the matter:
…we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience… (2 Corinthians 10:5-6 ).
The word used for “taking captive” is αἰχμαλωτίζω (aik-malow-tizow), and it has military connotations (“to cause someone to become a prisoner of war,” or to “gain control of”, BDAG, p. 31). The word used for “punish” is not much kinder. But the strong language is very deliberate—it’s kill or be killed in the battle of the mind.
The reader of this strong language will generally fall into two camps: 1) those who couldn’t agree more with how powerfully it’s worded (you know the fight all too well), and 2) those who find it a bit excessive. If you fall into the second category, there is no possible way you are actively engaged in the battle for your mind. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at your Screen Time…
A Quick Aside
My wife, along with being a woman of strong conviction (I mean, look at her phone habits for Pete’s sake), is also a gifted discipler. She knows the Word of God well and is not shy about applying it (2 Timothy 3:16-17). While she did not disclose who this gal was (let’s call her Jill, for both our sakes), she was working with someone struggling to fight the battle of the mind.
She had Jill set an alarm on her phone to go off every 10 minutes. When the alarm went off, it would remind Jill, “what am I thinking about right now, and what have I been thinking about for the past 10 minutes?” Talk about Screen Time accountability… Eventually, Jill built a habit to engage in the fight. She woke up on the battlefield and began abducting some thoughts.
Back to It
So let’s say you, like Jill, have successfully wrestled a thought to the ground. What then? After all, you’re not a dog chasing a car; how do you know what thoughts to encourage and what thoughts to punish?
Once you have a solid grip on this thought, God’s Word, in its beautiful cohesion, gives us a line of questioning to see if we are dealing with friend or foe:
…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).
It could not be simpler: “think about these things.”
Take that thought and ask, “Is what I am thinking true?” If the answer is “yes,” move on to the next question. Is it honorable? Just? Pure? Lovely? Commendable? Excellent? Worthy of praise?
If it can answer to the positive through the intense interrogation, that thought is to be encouraged.
But if the answer is “no” to any of the criteria, the solution is punishment. Christian friend, where is punishment enacted? The same place all your other wicked thoughts, words, and deeds have gone—to the cross. Confess to your merciful Savior regarding this thought, repent (for me, that could look like, “Lord, please forgive me for believing the lie (notice, my entitled thoughts fail at the first criteria) that I deserve to be obeyed because of who I am—You alone are worthy of utmost obedience—please forgive me”), and set your mind on that to which our Creator calls you. And you might have guessed it, He told us what that is in His Word…
Always Playing Offense
Why did Jesus never succumb to temptation? I kind of gave it away in the heading: He was always playing offense. Jesus continually had His mind set in a manner that Scripture calls us to:
Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:2-3).
Why was He untouchable in the wilderness when Satan was tempting Him? He was dwelling on the Word of God (Deuteronomy, apparently). Why was He not drawn away by sinful lusts, like the woman at the well or the disciples that accompanied Him? He was thinking about the will of His Father (John 4:34). Why was mockery and torture met with mercy and forgiveness in His final hours? He was dwelling on the plan of salvation that was mapped out before the foundation of the world (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22, Ephesians 1:4).
When was the last time you checked your Screen Time? Maybe you have gotten lazy in the fight and rarely take any thoughts captive (let alone taking every thought captive). You may need to take proactive measures like our friend Jill and set 10-minute reminders for yourself. Much like the function of Screen Time, you may need to take some of those thoughts and limit the amount of time you think about a given thing. There will also be a lot of apps (I mean, thoughts) you will need to delete altogether if they do not make the cut (Philippians 4:8).
But above all else, “set your mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2-4).