The story of the 12 spies in the Bible teaches us how negative thinking patterns can keep us from God’s promises. I imagine the 12 spies were kind, loving and deserving of good things.
But they missed out because they had no control over their thinking distortions. It would be such a shame for you and I to miss out on healing because we failed to discipline our minds.
As a Christian, the renewed mind brings our thoughts in line with God’s. The 12 spies in the Bible (well, 10 of them anyway) allowed their thinking to go unchecked.
Today I consider the different types of thinking distortions the 12 spies had (because we have those same distortions), how they hinder our healing and how we can renew our minds to the truth of the Bible.
I hope you gain something fresh and useful to support you in your healing journey.
We often allow our minds to run riot with no boundaries. Can you imagine parenting a child with no guidelines or boundaries?
THE RENEWED MIND
The renewed mind is a disciplined mind; a mind that elevates God’s thoughts above our own and a mind that chooses to meditate on Scripture throughout the day.
I love the story of the 12 Spies found in Numbers 13.
2 Spies Joshua and Caleb had a renewed mind and ended up leading the way into the Promised Land.
The remaining 10 spies engaged in undisciplined thoughts, or common thinking distortions and therefore missed out on receiving God’s promises.
We still have those same thinking distortions today.
I don’t know about you but I don’t want to miss out on God’s best for me, because I failed to take responsibility for my mental real estate.
COMMON THINKING DISTORTIONS
Thinking distortions begin in childhood.
We encounter stress, trauma or even perceive the environment in a threatening way so we adapt our thoughts to survive.
Those around us, especially our parents, influence our thinking too. The external world programs us the moment we’re born.
But now we’re adults, this thinking no longer serves us. But it can’t change unless we deliberately change it…and this takes time.
In polyvagal theory, we believe that story follows state. In other words, if your nervous system is in one of the survival states, your thinking will reflect this.
If we entertain a story, we will perpetuate the nervous system survival state and therefore reinforce symptoms.
When we work with the body to help regulate our nervous system state, we use bottom-up approaches.
THE TEN SPIES
I think the story of the 12 spies that spied out on the Promised Land is a good example of thinking distortions.
“So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” Num 13:32-33
There are so many thinking distortions that we can extract from this passage.
Let’s dive in:
COMMON THINKING DISTORTIONS
1. CATASTROPHISING / JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
This is when we blow things out of proportion or think of a worst-case scenario.
Those of the 12 spies who had taken God out of the equation had completely exaggerated how bad the situation was. They believed that they would die in the promised land.
They were forgetting who their God is, His success rate and what He had promised.
The spies filtered out all the good things and were in complete panic and defeat mode; overcome by fear. They could only see one scenario playing out.
I know I am guilty of thinking of worst-case scenarios. I often tell myself stories and imaginings and somehow I believe them. ‘What if…?’
‘what if I never get well?…what if this is as good as life gets?
The problem with this is that when we dwell on this, our nervous system receives the message that we are in danger.
This is particularly tough when you live with an illness that is ‘incurable’ or if you’ve already been ill for many years.
In essence, your thoughts are in line with reality. It can feel like the worst has already happened.
If your mind is renewed, however, your thoughts will match God’s Word, irrespective of reality, despite the length of time of your suffering.
As Christians, we seek God’s Spirit for peace and perspective in difficult situations if we want a renewed mind.
I ask myself a set of questions but working on soothing my nervous system would benefit me first.
It’s hard to challenge a thought when I’m in a fight / flight state because all thoughts seem true.
When we’re more regulated, we’re in a better position to challenge our thoughts.
So for me, listening to rain or sounds of the forest, spending time with a safe friend, deep breathing, orienting and other mind-body exercises soothe my system.
The Israelites focused on the negative aspects of the land and disregarded the positive.
It’s easy when I have a bad day, to think about the pain, how bad it is, the impact it causes and all the things I’m missing out on because of it.
I also filter out any memory of all the things God has already done in my life.
Either I fall into a pit of depression (dorsal shutdown in the nervous system), or the thoughts increase anxiety causing worry and fear. (fight/flight).
To reframe my thoughts and to regulate my nervous system.
An example of a mind-body exercise I use is ‘pendulation’, created by Peter Levine.
This is where I focus on symptoms, describe them, then pendulate to another part of my body and put my attention there, describing the positive sensation.
I repeat this several times.
This creates new neural pathways in my brain which will dampen down the severity of symptoms, and make them seem less intense.
At the end of each day, I write down 3 things that occurred in the day that I’m grateful for.
This helps me ensure my mind sees the good things that God is doing so I’m not so overly focused on what I perceive Him not to be doing.
Feeling the gratitude in my body makes this both a top-down and a bottom-up approach.
Shoulding can come from superiority.
There’s nothing worse than being on the end of someone else’s ‘should-ings’. I stopped a friendship once with someone who looked at me through the lens of all the things I was doing that was wrong.
You should be happy….you should have more faith….you should stop grieving…
I felt crushed, condemned and hopeless.
The problem is, most of us ‘should’ ourselves! I call it our internal pharisee, our inner critic, who causes us to have thoughts and beliefs such as
I’m not good enough…I’m not successful…I don’t deserve good things…
If you’re listening to the internal pharisee you will feel so bad about yourself in everything. I believe the majority of the 12 spies were listening to their internal pharisee
This voice is not your truth or even God’s truth; it’s the voice of the external world. God invites us through His Word to seek a renewed mind and align our hearts with His truth.
We need to make God’s voice stronger.
Meditating on verses that speak of the love and grace of God.
A mind renewed by God’s Word, helps us to integrate the love of God into our hearts so we think and walk from that place.
We practise self-compassion and learn to love all parts of ourselves. The more we do this, the less self-condemnation we experience.
Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.
Wow, loving yourself is part of the greatest commandment.
I am learning what gives me joy and I do more of it. A good exercise I do is to write love letters to different parts of my body, especially those parts in pain.
An activity I do with clients is called ‘what would you say to a friend?’. Often we abuse ourselves when we listen to the critical spirit.
These exercises are top-down approaches.
We would never be so hard on those around us. See GOD SEES YOU AS WORTHY. 7 STEPS TO GROW SELF-WORTH
Personalisation is when we take on board the responsibility for something that isn’t ours to take.
Have you ever blamed yourself for something? Or felt bad about yourself for someone else’s behaviour?
Recently I sent someone a message because I hadn’t seen them in church for several months and I didn’t really know them well enough to call them.
She never responded.
My instant response was ‘why?…does she think I’m pestering her?…have I offended her or overstepped some kind of boundary?…perhaps they think I’m not worth speaking to?
Of course, the reality is, I will never know why she didn’t want to acknowledge or respond to me. But even if any of the above thoughts are true, it’s not my burden to take.
Blaming the self is self-accusation and puts stress on the nervous system.
People-pleasers over-apologise, read between the lines and over-explain. They are coping strategies that keep us safe.
If I take the blame for something, then I won’t get judged, accused or into trouble in some way.
‘No one will hate me if I hate myself first’ is basically what is happening here.
Or, ‘I feel guilty, so I’ll admit my mistake, then I’ll feel soothed’. I’d say it’s linked with inferiority and shame.
In the past, I often apologised for things I said ‘just in case’ the other person took it the wrong way.
Of course the opposite is also true. Some people never take responsibility, everything is always the fault of others. These people can’t say sorry.
Regarding offence, one verse that springs to mind is
Also do not take to heart everything people say, Lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known That even you have cursed others.
Likewise, if we’re feeling bad about ourselves because of something we may or may not have done
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.” 1 John 3:21
When we feel guilty or accuse ourselves, we won’t approach God with the freedom that is ours.
We also won’t believe Him for healing. If we can’t believe God for forgiveness, it’s unlikely we’d believe Him for anything else.
I guess it’s also humbling when we realise that our ego is placing us in the middle of a situation. Oftentimes, it has nothing to do with us.
5. ALL OR NOTHING THINKING
The 12 spies had black-and-white thinking. They saw the size of the giants and concluded that there was no way they would survive. They formed an absolute judgment.
Do you see your illness as a giant?
All-or-nothing thinking causes us to think from one extreme to the other with nothing in between.
For example ‘I have a chronic illness, therefore no one will marry me.’
‘I can’t go out in the sun because of my health condition, therefore I will never be able to go on holiday again’.
‘If I never get well, then I’ll always be unhappy…’
Life isn’t black and white, even for those who are perfectly healthy. I think when I first became unwell I made all sorts of conclusions based on my limitations.
How about you? How many of you have put your life on hold until you receive your healing The thinking is absolute with no room for manoeuvre.
So for me, I am an advocate of feeling the pain, the grief and the disappointment. There’s no point burying your head in the ground and pretending something doesn’t bother you.
And at the same time, I invite God in.
This has been a long journey for me, but I’m gradually getting much better at recognising those small wins, those little glimmers and allowing them to give me joy.
The wilderness season is an invitation for you and me to let go of what we want in favour of what God says we need. There is so much peace in this.
It’s an opportunity for humility to rise up. We are not entitled – to the husband, the children, the health, or the career…..
A renewed mind is happy in the grey – happy in the life we didn’t ask for with all it’s limitations, even when we feel we’re surrounded by the life we can’t be a part of.
6. EMOTIONAL REASONING
This is when we assume our thoughts are facts because of the way we feel.
10 of the 12 spies were feeling threatened. They had fear. As a consequence, they came up with conclusions and predicted the future from that place.
This is emotional reasoning.
I remember when I was first unwell, I just wanted to die. To me life was over, I couldn’t think of anything worse.
When something bad happens, our nervous system is impacted and we go into survival. I’m talking of fight/flight, dorsal, freeze and fawn.
During survival. the rational brain tends to shut down, leaving our emotions in control and accepting our thoughts as truth.
Once we understand this, we know not to take our thoughts too seriously.
Changing our state, or at least becoming a little more regulated, will help us if our thoughts are way too emotional. Working at a nervous system level would come before a mind can be renewed, in my opinion.
These are bottom-up approaches.
How many times do those with chronic illness underestimate small achievements, like taking a shower or doing some housework? (Because society doesn’t rate them).
With God, there are no small achievements, gifts or breakthroughs. We often hide our emotions to please others and feel safe. (We learn this as children).
God gave the 12 spies promises but they minimised His power, grace and promises. All they could see was doom and gloom.
Are you so overwhelmed with the size of your problem, that you’ve minimised the magnitude of the God in you?
In my gratitude diary, I record those small wins and achievements which probably don’t mean much to others.
From compliments, encouragement and love from others to achievements in breaking patterns in my thinking or behaviour.
I try to check my emotions and nervous system regularly with the intention of never suppressing or discounting my feelings.
The biggest challenge for me here, is to recognise the authority and power of being God’s child, especially when it comes to the healing journey.
How about you?
You are significant, all parts and it’s ok to give permission to celebrate all wins.
10 of the 12 spies labelled themselves as grasshoppers. They were devaluing themselves and their abilities.
Have you labelled yourself as sick, weak or inferior because you have a chronic illness? Perhaps you see yourself as a failure or as someone unsuccessful.
These are all labels and the danger is that they contradict who we are in Christ.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Labels can limit us from experiencing true freedom in Christ. Our perception of ourselves can be mistaken for our true identity.
I think we label ourselves and others unconsciously all the time. “shy…bossy…selfish…boring…lazy…”
We’re meant to be living in the here and now. So if I’m harbouring a label towards myself or someone else, I’m allowing the past to interfere with my present.
God also warns about conforming to the pattern of this world’s thinking, which is what labels do.
I can see how this keeps us safe. We will avoid the person who is bossy, or we may over-compensate if we think we’re too quiet.
Basically, we’re saying that either we or the other person aren’t good enough. This is what perfectionists do which is definitely linked with a survival response.
God wants us to see ourselves and others through the lens of Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
This definitely takes practice in taking those thoughts captive when you know they’re anything less than honouring.
John Bevere believes that we’re not seeing God’s fullness in our lives when we fail to honour others.
Russell Evans from Planetshakers writes in his book ‘The Honour Key’, writes ‘Every miracle, every breakthrough…….happened when people honored what he carried…..or honored who He was’
We cannot underestimate the power of honour, not just towards God, but towards ourselves and others.
Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll provide a step-by-step guide to taking thoughts captive.
The enemy’s ultimate goal is to keep us trapped in areas where we lack knowledge. It’s crucial that we remain vigilant and informed to prevent this from happening.
Imagine your future with no toxic thinking patterns.
In my experience, taking thoughts captive, and seeking a renewed mind is far more than incorporating scriptures into our lives. Nearly all of the 12 spies missed out on the Promised Land because they allowed their thinking to run the show
For me, involving exercises to help shift stored stress and trauma supports this. It also takes lots of self-awareness to identify those areas that unconsciously dominate.
Which thinking distortions resonated with you?
For part 2 of this post on developing a renewed mind, see my next post.
I hope this helps you today.