Everyone does this sometimes. We play back a conversation in our minds. Word by word. What did she mean by that? Did I say the right thing? Second guessing the other person. Feeling guilt. Thinking and thinking and thinking. For example:
- You have a lovely conversation with a friend, and later, she calls you and apologizes for saying something in an offensive way. You’re surprised! You had an edifying conversation—you thought. And now your friend has gone back over it in her mind and found something she thinks she needs to apologize for.
- A person in your church overthinks what goes on at church—every conversation and reaction. She's not been attending regularly. Maybe if she could stop thinking, she could come back to church faithfully.
- A friend calls you and tells you she’s sorry; she’s been thinking this ugly thing and that ugly thing about you. She actually tells you the nasty things she thought! You are horrified and hurt. You forgive her, but the rest of the day those nasty thoughts are in your mind. How could your friend think such things about you?
- You see two people together and an alarm bell sounds in your mind. It looks like something going on. You think maybe . . . . You dismiss it as probably not. Maybe you were making things up.
What does the Bible have to say about our thoughts?
First, it gives us a totally new way to think: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, 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 (Philippians 4:8). Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil (1 Corinthians 13:5). His thought life indicates what kind of person he is. For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7a).
God wants us to walk in the light by living with confessed, forgiven sins. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9). Notice, we confess our sins to Jesus, and we ask for cleansing. We want to be able to have undisturbed fellowship with other believers.
I heard a sermon years ago that was so helpful to me. It was about “thought sins,” those nasty things we dream up in our heads about another person. How do we handle them? Confess “thought sins” immediately and directly to God in prayer. You do no good sharing your nasty thoughts with other people. It isn’t kind. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted . . . . (Ephesians 4:32) Ask God to forgive you for thinking negatively, repent (change your thought direction), and move on.
Confront private sins privately. If someone has hurt you personally, get it straightened out privately between the two of you. (Notice the person who is hurt goes to the offender.) Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother (Matthew 18:15).
Public sins should be handled publicly. These would include crimes and any offenses committed in public. They also include the situation (above) if the believer who has offended you did not react in the right way and would not reconcile. You take one or two witnesses to this person to try to get it straightened out. If that doesn’t work, it’s taken before the church. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:16-17). Of course, any crime is for the government—not the church—to deal with.
As for fantasizing—building up scenarios about other people in our minds—it isn’t healthy. There are several reasons that dreaming up ideas about others isn’t good:
- You don’t have all the facts. You’re only making up your scenario on the basis of scant impressions. Almost always, you’re wrong. It rarely works to put together a whole puzzle with only half the pieces.
- What you thought is what you thought. It’s not necessarily the right thought.
- It’s usually none of your business. Are you fantasizing about someone else’s motives? Not your business. Others are accountable to God. Are you fantasizing about someone’s poor judgment? Again, that’s his problem, not yours—unless it leads to an offence against you. (Then, use Matthew 18:15, above.) Are you fantasizing about a possible relationship? Again, it’s the other person's business. God isn’t pleased with busybodies. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies (2 Thessalonians 3:11). And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not (1 Timothy 5:13).
- Give others the benefit of the doubt. Wouldn’t you like to be treated that way? And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise (Luke 6:31).
If you’re naturally an over-thinker and analyzer, make sure you’re thinking about the things God wants us to think about. Meditate on Scripture. Use your thinking time in a positive way. (Have you ever considered writing for God’s glory? Teaching the Bible? Sharing observations about God’s Word?) Don’t give in to the temptation to be critical—about others or yourself. Don’t become excessively introspective. Look for ways to serve God and others. It’s quite okay to be a thinker! Just make sure your thoughts are disciplined to please the Lord.
Let this be our prayer:
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart,
be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD,
my strength, and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).