How Can I Replace Intrusive Thoughts with Godly Ones?

by John Beeson

Intrusive thoughts come unbidden into our minds in a variety of ways. They can be innocuous: “Stack those books on your desk” to disturbing: “You are going to die soon.” Intrusive thoughts are repetitive and distracting. They can make us feel alone, embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful. They can include troubling images often triggered by stress and anxiety and therefore almost always cause us to feel overwhelmed and more anxious.


Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome and hard to control. I can remember having intrusive thoughts from the time I was a child. When we drove, I often felt the compulsion to press one foot down on the floor between the telephone poles (and yes, I also hopped over the cracks in the sidewalk). At other times, when walking alone, I remember the persistent thought, “He’s watching you.” I would search the bushes and trees for the one my mind told me was watching me.


As an adult, my intrusive thoughts tend to sound more like negative self-talk. My inner critic rears its ugly head and talks back at me. “Who do you think you are?” “You idiot.” “You’re going to fail again.” “You’re such a fraud.”


For years, these corners of my mind laid safely tucked away. As a child, I didn’t think of these thoughts as having any spiritual ramifications. As an adult, I had the backward mentality that these negative reels were actually my spiritual ally. I thought of them as a spiritual ally because I felt like they protected me from pride.


This is a lie. Consider any of those negative self-talk lines above. Does God say any of those about me or you? Certainly not. To speak over ourselves what God does not speak over us is to lie. It is to speak with the tongue of the Accuser.


Intrusive thoughts are not your ally. And you can work to exchange destructive intrusive thoughts for convicting and empowering God-talk.


What do I mean by God-talk? By God-talk, I mean a conversation with God that reflects who God says you are as reflected in scripture.


How can you put this into action? Here are two practical invitations:


Breath prayers: many wise Christians have encouraged the use of breath prayers. I find that breath prayers are a particular blessing for those who struggle with OCD tendencies (which have been connected to the frequency and severity of intrusive thoughts). A breath prayer is a simple prayer to God offered on the inhale and exhale. Slowly inhale with the first part of the text, and exhale with the next. Try these breath prayers:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Ps. 23:1)

Our Father, who art in heaven. (Mt. 6:9)

Hallowed by thy name. (Mt. 6:9)

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. (Mt. 6:10)

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. (Ps. 56:3)

Lord, have mercy. (Ps. 123:3)

Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (Lk 18:13)

My help comes from the Lord. (Ps. 121:2)

Here I am. (Is. 6:8)

Not my will, but yours (Lk. 22:42)

Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev. 22:20)



Declarations: As we stand in the authority of Jesus Christ, we are emboldened to declare over ourselves the identities of who the Lord proclaims that we are in Him. These are powerful and truthful for a child of God. I’m trying to incorporate these truths in my morning and evening prayers with God. In addition to addressing God by who he is (there are many wonderful lists out there that remind us of the names of God in scripture), I also include who God says I am in return. I like tying the two together. For instance, “Holy God, good morning, thank you for making me a saint.” Or, “Loving Father, I am in awe that you adopted me as your son.” The appendix of our book Trading Faces has an extensive list of truths about who God says we are. Here is a sample we can speak over ourselves:

Wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14)

Beloved (Jer. 31:3)

Citizen (Phil. 3:20)

Crucified (Rom. 6:6)

Disciple (Jn 13:35)

Friend (Jn 15:15)

Minister (2 Cor. 3:5-6)

New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17)

Bride (Rev. 21:2)

Holy Nation (1 Pet. 2:9)

Light (Matt. 5:14)

Salt (Matt. 5:13)

Ambassador (2 Cor. 5:20)

Priest (1 Pet. 2:9)

Servant (1 Cor. 4:1)


Our words matter. The words we speak about ourselves matter. Don’t give the Enemy control over your speech for, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” (2 Cor 10:5). Affirm what is true about who you are in Christ. Proclaim God’s identities over yourself. You don’t have to be controlled by impulses or negative thoughts: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2).


“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

You may also like

Update Required Flash plugin