What do you think about? What thoughts roll around in your head? Imagine if someone invented a thought thermometer. You could put it in your ear, press a button, and your thoughts would register somewhere between the boiling point and absolute zero. Would your thoughts ever have a healthy temperature?
We know negative thinking can make us sick, but we still spend too much time debilitated by its infection. Fortunately, we know we are not alone. Jonah was a man whose thought temperature registered two lines short of the boiling point. Let’s start with his assignment from God in Jonah 1:1-2: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’
Go where? You can’t be serious
God wasn’t sending Jonah on a vacation to the Bahamas. Nineveh was the home of one of the Israelites’ archenemies, the Assyrians, who were known for their gruesome torture tactics. Telling Jonah to preach to the Assyrians is like God asking you to go and preach about Jesus to a terrorist group. Any volunteers? Jonah didn’t like the Assyrians, and he didn’t want to tell them to repent, because in his mind, they were bad people. Do you see Jonah’s thought temperature rising?
Jonah’s first step toward righteousness was to realize something was wrong with his thinking. The same applies to us. Whether these negative thoughts are about our looks or our spouses, our children or our friends, we must first recognize that our thoughts are not God’s.
If God’s thinking and your thinking do not line up, whose thinking needs to change? One reason we read the Bible is so God can reveal to us how He wants us to think. It’s not easy or immediate, but immersing ourselves in God’s Word will move us from our natural way of thinking to God’s way of thinking. Reading the Word becomes learning the Word, which leads to living God’s Word — and that is when we can see real changes in our thought temperature.
Jonah hopped on a boat to Tarshish. His cruise became very rocky when a violent storm threatened to tear the boat apart. (Things like this tend to happen when you're trying to run away from the Master of the Universe.) So Jonah, in an “aha” moment, said to his fellow crew members, “Sorry, guys, but I think this storm is raging because I’m trying to escape from God. If you want to throw me overboard, that may clear up the weather.” The crew didn’t hesitate to throw him off the boat.
Many times, God gives us a gentle push — or as in Jonah’s case, a big shove — to get us back on track. As soon as Jonah’s feet hit the waves, the sea grew calm. In most cases, a man overboard without a life vest would be as good as dead, but we all know that Jonah didn't die. God just needed to give Jonah some time to hear His voice. That’s why He sent the big fish to swallow Jonah up for three days and three nights. Jonah went from ship-bound to fish-bound, from running to thinking.
Time to change our minds
At this point, Jonah is becoming aware that his thoughts and God’s thoughts are not aligned. The temperature on his thought thermometer is creeping down. There is hope for Jonah’s condition, after all.
Sometimes we need to change our surroundings in order to change our thinking. We hope that when God wants to talk to us, He will employ more subtle tactics. Sometimes, all He wants is for us is to take a break from our preoccupation with the world. No e-mails. No phone. No TV. No Facebook. You must be intentional about separating yourself from distractions. Ask God to help you believe in His promises to you. Ask Him to adjust your thought temperature to be more like His.
Jonah found the truth sitting in the belly of the big fish. He had a lot of time to think, and gradually, his unhappiness with his Maker transformed into gratitude. Let’s hear what he had to say in Jonah 2:6-7: “To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”
In those three days, Jonah's thinking completely transformed. He went from running from God’s view to seeing God’s truth for his life. God will give us more opportunities to think rightly. So, God gave Jonah another opportunity to go and proclaim His message to the great city of Nineveh, and guess what? Jonah obeyed God and did what He asked him to do.
That’s one more quality to love about God — He gives us repeated chances to change. If we don’t get the heavenly text this time, He will resend. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should put off our changes, but it does mean He is gracious. Miraculously, after Jonah preached to the Assyrians, his archenemies believed God and repented. I wish I could say there was a “happily ever after” to this story, but the ending didn’t quite go that way. After dealing with the situation, Jonah slipped right back into his own negative thoughts, and his thought temperature spiked again.
Second chances and more
We must keep our focus on God to keep the negative thoughts from returning. Jonah has a few good days, full of praising God for saving him from a dire situation. But then he goes right back into the pit, back into the same negative thought patterns about the Assyrians. Does this sound familiar?
We have some victorious days, but then we start dwelling on the bad, and soon, our temperature is getting hotter. How do we stop the cycle? How do we get well?
Take your thought temperature on a regular basis. Notice especially the hot emotions — anger, anxiety, and jealousy. When you wake up in the middle of the night, do your thoughts churn so you can’t go back to sleep? Ask the Lord to renew your thoughts if they are not of Him.
Let God perform surgery and replace your thoughts with His thoughts. In Philippians 4:8, Paul encourages us: “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”