Don’t think about elephants!

Don’t think about elephants!

How good are you at resisting the anxious thoughts that enter your mind? Most of us can find all kinds of things to worry about. It might be our family members, our sin, our finances, any number of things. And this general underlying anxiety is fed when we scroll through the news or social media. What can we do about these things that are making us unhappy, especially when we know that this kind of anxious thinking doesn’t accomplish anything?

There is more to the answer than saying, “don’t be anxious”. That doesn’t work; we then become anxious about whether we are doing a good job of not being anxious!

Let me prove it to you. I want you to not think about elephants. Whatever you do, I don’t want the thought of an elephant to enter your mind. Don’t think about their size or their ears or their trunks.

How are you going? What are you thinking about right now? I think I can guess!

Paul knew that telling the Philippians not to be anxious would not work. It is not enough to tell someone to not be anxious; you need to direct them to something more productive. The famous passage in Philippians 4 has two basic instructions for what we can do to deal with anxiety:

  1. We should pray about what is making us anxious (Phil 4:6). This is not unique advice from Paul; Jesus himself says the same thing in Matthew 6. If we believe that the Lord is at hand, that we trust in the One who loves us and can do anything, we should bring whatever is bothering us before Him. That is far more productive than just worrying about something. It is not a guarantee that God will do what we ask, but it means that we don’t need to think it is all up to us to fix a situation.
  1. We should fill our minds with things worth thinking about (Phil 4:8). When you feel yourself becoming worried and overcome with anxious thoughts, just telling yourself not to think of these things is not enough. You may as well try not to think about elephants! Instead, actively fill your mind with things worth thinking about. That might be prompted by reading God’s word, enjoying God’s creation, or just counting your blessings.

We trust in a God who hears our prayers. Let’s use this great privilege often.