Controlling my thoughts. Oh, how I’ve struggled through the years. Then God took me by the hand and taught me the importance of taking every thought captive. Honestly, I didn’t believe I could do it. But I learned that in His strength, it was possible.
But it wasn’t easy.
As a brand-new missionary, I basked in the glow of living out my dream of ministering overseas in Russia. I knew many faithful people were praying for me. Praying the prayer, “God bless and protect the missionaries.”
Suddenly that glow shattered when two colleagues, a husband and wife, were murdered. Brutally and cruelly. I’ll never forget the face of the young man who came to tell us that these precious servants had been found dead in their apartment.
My gut reaction was immediate. “God if this is what you sent me here for, I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t come here to die!” And instantly, shame shattered my heart. I was appalled at my thoughts.
Goodness gracious, I had devoured missionary biographies as a youth. I’d forgotten that many of those stories spoke of hardship. Lottie Moon starved to death. William Carey’s two wives both died in India, with his first wife suffering a complete mental breakdown. Jim Elliot died at the hands of the people he went to reach. Somehow, I’d skimmed over the stories of suffering and focused on the excitement. The excitement of how people’s lives were changed as they came into a relationship with Jesus.
The truth was I didn’t want to learn about the struggles.
God had another plan.
Within a few weeks, my family moved into the apartment where our colleagues had been murdered. And God taught me a lesson about taking every thought captive.
We moved into the furnished apartment. We walked the floors and sat on the furniture of our martyred colleagues. After we moved in, the local Russian police visited and said they couldn’t protect us if we insisted on living there. But God gave our family an overwhelming peace about living in this apartment. We knew He put us in this home for a reason.
Most of the time, I didn’t dwell on the murders.
Every night, I would sit down on my side of the bed and stare at the carpet under my feet. You see, I knew that spot was where the body of the murdered wife was discovered.
I’d lie down, and horrific images would flood my mind. Different scenarios of how this missionary woman struggled and fought her attacker replayed over and over in my thoughts. In my imagination, I felt her pain. Sleep evaded me. Sometimes I could barely breathe.
At the same time, my 9-year old daughter also struggled with her own fears. Learning a new language and culture, riding public transportation, missing America, all those things had already impacted my daughter’s life.
As I searched for a way to help my daughter, God brought Philippians 4:8 to my mind.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (NIV)
My daughter and I began following the suggestions in this verse. Whenever frightening thoughts filled our minds, we would turn our focus to truth, the truth of God’s Word. To lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy things. Most importantly, our hearts turned to God, our light in a dark world.
Finally, I once again slept peacefully. Scenes of violence no longer occupied my dreams. With God’s help, I controlled my thoughts and dwelt on heavenly things.
Several months later, while stripping off wallpaper in my son’s bedroom, I noticed tiny pink splatters on the wallpaper. I realized; it was blood. The blood of the murdered husband.
I know that contentment comes from a shift in attitude, not a change of circumstances. Oh, how I ached to change this circumstances. Yes, I would have preferred to live in a lovely, new apartment without bloodstains. But instead, God allowed me to walk where martyrs had walked. He used a painful circumstance to teach me a lesson about contentment and taking my thoughts captive.
Oh, the blessings God sent our way.
Out of that blood-stained apartment, many students came to know a Savior who shed His blood for their salvation.
And I learned the truth of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Even taking every thought captive.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robin Covington, robinleecovington.com, is a former IMB missionary and wife of Alaska Baptist Convention executive director Randy Covington.)