This summer my daughter, Carolyn, is volunteering as an intern with Satilla River Keeper, a non-profit organization in our area whose goal is “to protect, restore, and educate about the Satilla River, its tributaries, and watershed.” The vision for the organization, according to its website, www.satillariverkeeper.org, is to “support healthy fisheries, safe swimming, diverse wildlife populations, superb recreational opportunities, a stable water supply, and sustainable human economic activity throughout the basin.” As an Ecology and Field Biology major, this opportunity is a great fit for Carolyn, who has always been our ‘nature girl,’ choosing to be outside catching grasshoppers instead of inside playing with Barbies and choosing to go fishing instead of shopping.
In addition to the bi-monthly water quality testing that Carolyn is tasked with completing, the organization has also requested that she create a powerpoint presentation and social media post series on invasive aquatic plant species that are prevalent in the area. From reading her powerpoint presentation, I learned that an invasive plant is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem and causes or is likely to cause environmental harm. Examples of invasive aquatic plants in our area include common water hyacinth, alligator weed, elephant ears, and the species Hydrilla to name a few. Some of these plants are quite attractive, with glossy leaves and beautiful flowers. These plants are typically introduced by accident, entering the area on the ballast of incoming ships or boats, brought in as part of aquarium flora, or planted by unsuspecting gardeners who thought the plants would enhance their landscapes or waterscapes. While these species are often eye-catching, they don’t belong here, because they can outcompete the native species for habitat and may eliminate the native plants, causing harm to the whole ecosystem.
This got me thinking that thoughts can be invasive as well. Similarly to invasive plants, invasive thoughts are not compatible to a healthy thought-life and cause, or may be likely to cause, spiritual harm. These types of thoughts may creep in and, if we aren’t diligent, may take over, choking out thoughts that bring life and joy and peace.
For example, anxious thoughts, fears, or worries about the future, can disrupt our ecosystem of faith and steal our joy, making us forget that God has plans to bless us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). Doubts, which cause us to waver between faith and uncertainty, make us feel like ‘a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind’ and make us ‘unstable in all our ways’ (James 1:6). It is impossible to experience doubt and peace at the same time.
Thoughts springing from guilt, shame, or accusation about our past can cause us to forget that we are redeemed from our past through Christ’s work on the cross. The word tells us, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Is. 43:1). Again, in Isaiah, we are told by the LORD, “Come now, and let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be like wool.” (1:18). Clearly, thoughts of condemnation and shame are not from God. These are invasive thoughts, planted by “your adversary, the devil, (who) prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Thoughts of hate, covetousness, jealousy or comparison to our neighbor can restrict our ability to recognize our blessings from God and His goodness. Psalm 73:1-28 is a great example of how thoughts of envy can deceive us into thinking that everyone else, especially those not living godly lives, have it better than we do. Thankfully, the psalmist remembers to go into the sanctuary of God to recall God’s goodness to him, and to realize that God will not allow sinfulness to be ignored. Most importantly, we see in Psalm 73 that the author recognizes that God is continually with him and guides him into the blessings of His presence.
I asked Carolyn what someone is supposed to do if they come across an invasive aquatic plant species in their yard or area. She informed me that one could remove the plant themselves or, if it is a major infestation, contact the county extension office to report it. One of the biggest ways to eliminate invasive aquatic plants is prevention (remember the adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?). Rinse off boats, fishing equipment, and footwear before leaving the recreation area to prevent transporting species unknowingly. Avoid dumping unwanted aquarium plants into ditches, canals, rivers, streams, etc. Truly, many invasive species are simply ornamental plants that were accidentally introduced to a local ecosystem and got out of control.
Like invasive plants, these invasive thoughts, if not rooted out, can begin to establish themselves in our minds. We can imagine removing invasive thoughts in a similar way to removing invasive plants. The Bible is instructive in how to take care of your thoughts. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul the apostle reminds us that, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Additionally, Romans 12: 2 instructs us as follows: “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.”
So how do we actually take our thoughts captive and renew our minds, holding on to what is good and rooting out what is harmful? Through ACTION! Destroying arguments, taking thoughts captive, and renewing our mind demands activity on our parts. We cannot passively accept every thought that enters our minds. Instead, we must weigh them against the truth of God’s word and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Practically speaking, that means reading and studying the Bible and praying for wisdom, which is guaranteed to us when we ask for it (James 1:5). Additionally, we purposefully spend time in God’s presence, worshipping Him with songs, telling Him what we’re thankful for, and listening for His voice. We can be like David, who reminded himself of God’s goodness with a pep-talk! He penned both a lament and a hopeful message to himself in Psalm 42 that is instructive to us: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (v. 11). These are measures to remove harmful, invasive thoughts. Remember that the Holy Spirit is sent to you as a counselor, comforter, intercessor, and advocate, so if you feel unable to purge unhealthy thoughts on your own, He is there to go before you to the Father and work on your behalf as well. Praise God!
Finally, just as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure with regard to controlling invasive plants, the same is true with our thought lives. Being proactive with our thoughts can prevent destructive thought patterns from taking hold. Personally I like how the Amplified Bible translates Isaiah 26:3-4: “You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast [that is, committed and focused on You—in both inclination and character], Because he trusts and takes refuge in You [with hope and confident expectation]. Trust [confidently] in the Lord forever [He is your fortress, your shield, your banner], For the Lord God is an everlasting Rock [the Rock of Ages].” Keeping our focus on God makes a way for Him to keep us in His peace constantly.
Philippians 4:8 also gives some practical advice: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” You see, when you extinguish negative, unhealthy, unwholesome invasive thoughts, it is akin to removing harmful, invasive plants in our rivers and streams. Removing what is harmful restores our faith ecosystems. When you proactively dwell on positive, heavenly-minded thoughts, its similar to those seeking to renew and reinvigorate our natural aquatic habitats. Just like their work will restore health and life to the waterways, your patterns of healthy beliefs are strengthened in the truth and your habits and character are protected and changed for the better.