3 Biblical Ways to Stop Intrusive and Unwanted Thoughts

Colossians 3:2

Here are 3 reasons God allows intrusive and unwanted thoughts.

1. To Cause You to Deal with Your Fears that Are Causing the Intrusive Thoughts

The term “intrusive thoughts” is actually a psychological term that refers to unwanted thoughts which cause emotional distress and discomfort. It would be a mistake to assume that you could completely stop all intrusive thoughts. Rather, a more realistic goal is to learn how to deal with them quickly and to learn how to not let them progress further and take over your mind in ways that you actually can stop.

One of the reasons people get unwanted thoughts is because they manifest from hidden fears within us. I believe God allows these thoughts to happen in us as a way of pointing out the deeper fears within in us that God wants to help us overcome.

For example, if you fear what other people think of you, you might get lots of intrusive thoughts about making a fool of yourself or doing something inappropriate in public which would make people look down on you. If you are afraid of death, you could get lots of intrusive and violent thoughts about dying. If you have fears regarding your sexuality, you may experience lots of unwanted sexual thoughts that disturb you. But again, many times these thoughts occur because our deepest fears are manifesting them in our minds.

So one way to stop these thoughts when they come up is by asking yourself, “What is the fear behind these thoughts?” When you can rationally identify the fear that these thoughts are manifesting from, you can then stop the thoughts by addressing your fears.

This is so important because we focus on what we fear. Little children don’t pay attention to the dangers around them because they don’t know they should have a healthy fear of speeding cars, sharp objects, or strange people. Adults are more aware of their surroundings because we have a healthy fear of danger.

Likewise, one of the reasons the Bible tells us to fear God the most is because we should focus on God the most. Since we focus on what we fear, the only way we will focus on God more than other things is if we have a healthy respect for his authority. For as Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

2. God Allows Intrusive Thoughts to Train You to Ignore Temptation and Focus on Truth Instead

As I said in the beginning, the goal should not be to completely stop all unwanted thoughts because sometimes that is something that is out of our control. Sometimes unwanted thoughts just pop into our heads out of nowhere.

However, what we do after we have these thoughts is in our control. It’s a lot like temptation compared to actually sinning. The Bible does not command us to not be tempted. Being tempted is often outside of our control sometimes. However, we do have the choice to resist that temptation. Temptation can pop up at any point but we never have to give into it. The choice to sin is ours alone.

Likewise, when we have unwanted thoughts, we sometimes make a mistake by focusing too much on these thoughts which only enhances their negative effects on us. If we start feeling bad for having crazy thoughts, it’s a lot like feeling bad for being exposed to a temptation. Certainly we should avoid temptation when we can, and we should avoid thinking about bad things when we can. But sometimes temptation just comes into our life just as an unwanted thought can come into our minds.

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So to dwell too much on those thoughts that you did not actively invite into your mind can actually make things worse sometimes. Just like temptations that we need to simply ignore and keep moving past so we do not give into actually sinning, sometimes the path to overcoming unwanted thoughts is to ignore them and focus on the good things God is calling you to do right then.

In fact, if we don’t learn to ignore and just move on quickly rather than praying for hours and hours every time we have an unwanted thought, we can actually be giving into an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. An OCD cycle is when you obsessively have a thought or a desire, and then you feel like you have to compulsively perform a ritual to stop that unwanted thought or desire. For example, if you have an unwanted sexual thought, if you then feel the need to confess this thought 10 times, pray, and quote a Scripture each time you have this thought, you could end up performing this ritual 50 times a day.

While I’m not saying it is wrong to pray and quote Scripture to overcome unwanted thoughts, you have to be careful you are not creating an OCD cycle in your life. Sometimes God will lead you to just ignore that unwanted thought and move on because again, being exposed to bad things is not a sin, but we can sin when we give in and dwell on those unwanted thoughts. The more you ignore them and less you respond with the compulsive behavior, oftentimes the less you will experience the obsessive triggers to begin with.

Notice what James 4:7 states, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” When you feel tempted by the devil, the Bible does not say you have to recite a 15-minute prayer each time. Sometimes you just need to ignore him (i.e. “resist”) and then he will just go away when you submit to God. The same is true with unwanted thoughts. Sometimes the more you focus on them the more power you give them.

Again, of course we should recite Scripture and pray about overcoming temptation, sins, and unwanted thoughts. But there is a balance here. Sometimes the path to overcoming evil is to stand and fight it and sometimes the path to overcome evil is to completely avoid it and ignore it. For as Colossians 3:2 states, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

3. God Allows Unwanted Thoughts to Help You Let Go of Perfection and Love People Right Where You Are At

So much more could be said about this important topic of overcoming unwanted and intrusive thoughts. I think one of the most important factors to consider, however, is the connection between unwanted thoughts and are desire for perfection.

When we want everything to be perfect, our minds are consumed with the fear, “What if ______ happens?” Sometimes our desire for perfection can be so strong, we spend the majority of our lives thinking about living rather than actually living and interacting with other people.

When you let go of the false dream that everything can be perfect, you will free yourself to experience real life – the good and the bad. Eventually you just have to accept that life will always be messy. Certain things will always be out of your control. Somethings will work out the way you want and somethings will go terribly wrong – and there’s really nothing you can do about it much of the time.

However, when you fully accept this and deal with this harsh reality, it can actually set you free. You will then begin to loosen your grip on life. You will stop trying so hard to make everything fit into your little boxes and you will just let them be what they are. And most importantly, when you realize much of life is out of your control, this will actually empower you to love other people much better as well.

But when we are fixated on everything going perfect, oftentimes our minds will be consumed with all kinds of intrusive and unwanted worries. Rather than spending so much emotional energy and thoughts on imagining what someone might do, when you just choose to love them and then allow them to react however they want, all of a sudden your mind can relax and many of the unwanted thoughts just stop.

Sometimes we just have to simplify everything and just do what Jesus said in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”