Have you ever had an encounter with fire ants? I was mowing the yard in my first summer in Columbia, S.C. when suddenly I felt a burning sensation in my leg. I looked down and my sneaker and sock were covered with fire ants. I ran to the faucet and washed them off and my leg was covered with red bumps. Fire ants are an invasive species that sting their pray from the abdomen and inject a toxic alkaloid venom called Solenopsin, that creates a sensation similar to what one feels when burned by fire, thus the name fire ants.
An even greater threat that we face is what Daniel Amen refers to as Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. ANTs are cynical, destructive, and discouraging thoughts that we experience. Here is brief look at some of the common ANTs that you may have encountered:
Fortune telling – Fortune telling means that you predict the worst possible outcome to a situation even without a rational explanation.
Mind reading – You believe you know what another person is thinking even though they have not told you. This can be especially problematic because you attribute motives to the other person’s actions.
Generalization – In this scenario you are coming to a general conclusion based on a single event. Such thoughts often include the words “always” and “never”.
Selective abstraction – This occurs when your thoughts only see the bad in a situation and you ignore any of the good aspects that might happen.
Personalization – Personalization occurs when innocuous events are taken to have personal meaning, often with a deleterious connotation.
Shame – Brene Brown differentiates between shame and guilt as she writes, “I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
Blame – When you blame something or someone else for the problems in your life, you become a victim of circumstances. This is a major cause of relational problems since people blame the other person and take little personal responsibility.
All or nothing – This type of thinking tends to take extremes with no middle ground. This type of dichotomous reasoning causes you to view situations as black or white.
Catastrophising – This type of thinking overestimates the chances of disaster and results in an expectation of something unbearable or intolerable that will happen.
Which ANTs do you find are most troublesome in your life? The Apostle Paul gives us helpful advice is dealing with ANTs,
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Where do the speculations come from? There are three primary sources: the world, our own sinful fleshly thoughts, and the devil. When you understand where the negative thoughts come from then you can defend against them.
Our minds are bombarded every day by the values of the world. The world system however, is antithetical to the values of God,
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)
That is why we must fill our minds with God’s truth so we will not be conformed to the world,
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
We also must deal with the weaknesses of our flesh. Paul gives us helpful advice again,
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)
What a great promise! As you walk by the Spirit, He will counteract the downward pull of your fleshly desires. Finally, you must be aware of the attacks of the devil.
so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11)
You are to be armed with the full armor of God so that you may with stand against the attacks of the devil (see Ephesians 6:10-18).
ANTs are pervasive and you will encounter them, but you do not need to allow them to rob you of your joy. As you become aware of the ANTs in your life, the following strategy may help you gain victory in your thought life,
1. You must become aware of your thoughts and learn to recognize the ANTs in your life. Your feelings are often a result of your thoughts. You must realize that if what you’re thinking is not true, then what you’re feeling is not accurate.
2. How does your current thinking compare with Scriptural truth?
3. Respond by putting off the old way of thinking and choose to believe the truth of God’s word.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Associate Pastor – Discipleship. The Church at LifePark
Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University
Follow me on twitter: rickhiggins5