Taking Thoughts Captive
What the story of David and Goliath can teach us about winning battles of the mind.
Your mind is beautiful. In fact, Oswald Chambers called it “the greatest gift God has given you.” Long ago, a shepherd boy named David understood this was true, and that’s why no “uncircumcised Philistine” was going to mock, tempt, or discourage him.
The giant may have strutted and scoffed before King Saul’s troops and left them mentally beaten before the battle began. But Goliath’s taunts didn’t intimidate David in the slightest.
Does this sound like your thought life? Do you feel as if you’re up against an army of giants: you wrestle with and win against one stronghold, yet a new one takes its place? . . . you conquer an old hang-up only to find a bigger one looming in your mind, more twisted and torturous than the last? No wonder scientists say the brain looks like a pitted, cratered minefield. It is a battleground, indeed.
Yet in one of the Bible’s greatest accounts of combat, we see spiritual strategies to “tak[e] every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and come forth victorious. In fact, many theologians say David “represents” Christ in this glorious battle— winning the mental and mortal freedom for others that they could never secure on their own.
READ 1 Samuel 17:1-53
What we must first understand is that David didn’t fight unarmed. Like Christ, he came to the encounter anointed. And we do, too (1 John 2:27). This is the reason we don’t have to wage wars of the mind by ourselves, using the weapons of the world. We can let God fight our battles when we rightly understand who He is and who we are in Him (Col. 2:9-10).
This same insight prepared David for battle. Goliath ridiculed the Israelites, but the future king rebuked such mental tricks. He asked, “Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26 NLT). In this way, David made it clear that any mocking giant—any mental trap or hang-up—dishonors God. Instead of bowing to that thought, we call it what it is: Not true. Not holy. Not wise. Not helpful.
Stepping back to examine our “thought giants” cuts them down to
size. For example, we might be grappling with an old enemy like envy and become disheartened. Does it defy God? Absolutely. But rather than give in, we can replace that thought with His conquering truth and say, “I am God’s anointed child. I have no reason or time to be jealous.” Then, as David did, we give that enemy to Christ: “For the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:47).
David’s story teaches us that we shouldn’t play around with attacking thoughts. We can’t even afford to give them a toehold in our minds. Instead, we should face them bravely, using a volley of praise to God.
The apostle Paul gives us another alternative in Philippians 4:8: “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.” When we do, at first we’ll find our giants weakened, and then eventually dead and gone.
REFLECT + EXPLORE
Reflect on these insights from supporting scriptures. If you have time, explore the passages and journal your responses.
• In the battle for Jericho, Joshua relied on faith to destroy both his mortal and his mental enemies.
Read Joshua 6:1-5. Why do you think faith and obedience make us battle-ready for attacks against our minds?
• What if your faith is weak? The prophetess Deborah called for war against the ruthless Canaanite general Sisera but appointed Barak—a fearful, reluctant leader—to wage it.
Read Judges 4:4-16. Even if you’re only half sure you that are fit for mental battle, why should you go to war anyway?
• The wise king Jehoshaphat went into battle, led only by praise singers.
Read 2 Chronicles 20:20-24. Why does praising God dilute and defeat tricks against the mind?
• Gideon defeated hordes of Midianites with just 300 warriors, each one carrying only a trumpet and a clay jar containing a lighted torch.
Read Judges 7:16-21. Picture yourself as a clay vessel for God (Isaiah 64:8); what sources of light need to shine in your life in order for the Lord to drive away your mind’s worst torments?
Answer the following questions, journaling your thoughts if possible.
• What is God saying to you through your study today?
• What questions do you have about what you’ve learned? Ask the Lord to reveal greater truth through prayer and further study—and to help you pay attention to what He shows you in the coming days.
• Write a prayer of response to God.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory