Our words have power. Proverbs 18:21 confirms this: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” And before we dive into taking thoughts captive and destroying strongholds, it’s important to acknowledge that Satan does not have the same power we do. His words don’t hold the same weight as ours, so he only gets power when we speak his words for him. He wants us to do his dirty work. So, he frequently attacks us through thoughts and thought patterns because it is human nature to believe and say whatever we think or feel, and we give power to whatever we speak.
The process of taking thoughts captive is taking every thought, holding it up against the Word of God, and if it doesn’t match up—refusing to say it out loud. Because when we speak out loud the thoughts that come from the enemy, we give him power here on earth; whereas, when we speak out loud the Word of God, we release the power of Heaven here on earth.
We are charged with taking every thought captive and deciding what we do or don’t want to release into the world, but the verse before says we also need to destroy strongholds. By definition, a stronghold is a fortress, or a place to hide. So, while speaking incorrectly empowers the enemy, thinking incorrectly gives him a place to hide. He sneaks in and bunkers down in our thought patterns, where he can start planting lies.
When I was trying to grasp this concept, God gave me a picture in my spirit of a yo-yo. Our minds are like the yo-yo, and our thought patterns—or strongholds—are the string we are attached to. When the enemy has a stronghold in our mind, it’s like we are constantly running toward God, trying to see and think from his perspective, but every time we get close, the enemy flings a lie in our direction. With just a flick of his wrist, all of a sudden we are spiraling back down again.
Let’s say I have two enemy strongholds—I think my marriage is broken and I view myself as unworthy. So the enemy has two different yo-yo’s, one in each hand.
In one of his hands is the way I view my marriage. Every time I start trying to see my marriage and my spouse the way that God does, he starts flicking his wrist and I find myself going up and down, up and down.
“If he cared about you, he would help out more.“
“He wouldn’t even notice if you never came back home again.“
“He probably wishes he had never married you.”
“He doesn’t even try to pursue you anymore.”
In the enemy’s other hand is the way I view myself, and when I try to see myself as righteous through Christ, he just flings a few more lies my way—
“You haven’t read your Bible in a week. What kind of Christian are you?“
“If you were really saved, you wouldn’t struggle with this.“
“God is frustrated with you right now. That’s why He feels so distant.“
“You keep losing your temper. How could He be pleased with you?”
Suddenly, I’m stuck in these cycles of thinking of my marriage and myself in a negative light. And sometimes I am able to take one of those thoughts captive and dodge one of his lies, but all the enemy has to do is fling another one my way and I still spiral back down again.
Because it’s not enough to just take my thoughts captive.
I also have to cut the string.
I have to completely destroy the thought pattern and tear down the stronghold. When I can do that, the lies he tries to plant in me no longer send me spiraling. In fact, they don’t impact me at all because I am not caught up in that string anymore. I can evict the enemy and all of his lies from my mind.
So, how are these strongholds created in the first place? Think of a situation that feels hopeless to you. It can be a relationship—with a spouse, or a parent, or a friend—or the way you view yourself, or even the current state of the country. We all probably have something we can bring to mind that feels overwhelmingly hopeless. And every single time we think of that relationship, or situation, or problem, we see it as unredeemable. Over and over again, we tell ourselves there is no way to fix it. That it’s too big, or too broken, or too far gone.
When we do that, we are saying, “God, this one’s bigger than you.” And that is how we create a stronghold of thinking where the enemy can hide. Because those thoughts are going to attract whatever is necessary to validate them. That’s how the enemy works. He infiltrates and hides in our thought patterns, and then he attracts the things that will legitimize those thoughts, and then he convinces us to start speaking them—and suddenly, because of the power of our tongue, we are bringing to fruition every lie we are believing.
Sometimes, we even give those thoughts virtuous names! We look at that feeling of worthlessness and self-condemnation, and we convince ourselves it’s the same as humility, and then we give it permission to remain in our heads and put down roots. We feel shame and guilt and we call it repentance. We feel doubt and we call it discernment. Those are all counterfeits of the real thing—they look similar, but they have no power. And those thought patterns create counterfeit Christians, who establish counterfeit Kingdoms, where everything looks nice and pretty and Godly, but there is no power.
So, if that’s how a stronghold is created, the next logical questions would be 1) How do we recognize strongholds of the enemy that already exist? and 2) How do we tear them down?
We recognize them by their hopelessness—by the way they make it seem like there is no way out, or no way to make things better. Hopelessness is a trap for a believer, because we don’t serve a God of hopelessness. Romans 15:13 says He is the God of hope.
I was listening to an online sermon a while back, and something the pastor said stuck with me: “There is no problem we can face that God is not ready to release a redemptive solution for.” I love this and reflect on it often, because God is not only aware of whatever problem I am facing, He already has a solution for it. And the solution isn’t going to create any more destruction, or chaos—it’s going to bring redemption.
Hopeless thinking patterns are a stronghold because they don’t allow room for a redemptive solution.
So, how do we tear down the enemy’s strongholds in our minds? The only way to remove the lies—and the thought patterns—is to replace them with a revelation of His redemptive truth.
Imagine a tall glass vase filled with ping pong balls. The vase represents a stronghold, and the balls represent all of the thoughts that make up that stronghold. Written on each of the ping pong balls is a lie the enemy (or sometimes a friend, or spouse, or family member) has thrown at you. There are some up at the top—surface level lies—and then there are some at the bottom that are deep-rooted lies. Maybe something you’ve believed from childhood, or something that you picked up after a traumatic event.
In your hands, you have a pitcher of water, which represents God’s truth. As you pour the water into the vase—as you start to meditate on God’s Word and experience new revelations—the balls start rising up and falling out of the vase. The surface level lies come out first, and some Christians stop there. But to destroy the stronghold, you have to keep filling your mind up with His truth. Keep asking for revelations of who He is, and what He did for you, and how He sees you—until every last lie spills out the top of the vase and all that’s left is a vase full of clear, pure water.
This is why it’s so important for Christians to constantly spend time in His Word. We don’t read and memorize Scripture in order to check off some “good Christian” checklist; rather, we need to know Scripture so that we can fight against the lies of the enemy with the truth of God. That is how we tear down the enemy’s stronghold: We replace it with a stronghold of God’s Word.
And once we have that new stronghold, where God’s Word can hide in our thought patterns, the lies can’t get in anymore. They can’t get roots and sink down deep. Instead, those ping pong balls just float harmlessly on top of the water where we can flick them back off. And it’s important that we continue to maintain that new stronghold—flicking off lies and pouring in truth—so that we don’t allow any room in our minds for a new one to creep in. Taking thoughts captive is a continuous process for the believer. It’s like tending to a garden: We continue to water our fruit and pluck out any weeds by spending more and more time in His Word.
So, think of your mind and heart like a fortress that you are guarding, and think of each one of your thoughts like a soldier. Every time a soldier comes up to the gate, you are going to stop it and say, “What is it that you’re coming to tell me?” If what that soldier is saying agrees with the Word of God, invite him in. Tell him to kick up his feet and stay a while.
But if what that soldier says does not perfectly align with the Word, you need to lock him in the room with the Holy Spirit. Because when you do that, the soldier is going to switch sides. He’s going to change his allegiance and start working for the other side. So, you have to take him hostage until he starts reflecting the mind of Christ. Then, you can release him back out into the world.
That’s what it means to repent. To change your mind. To transform your thoughts. You take each one of them captive and hold them up against God’s Word. If that thought is hopeless—if it is not redemptive—then you refuse to say it out loud, and instead cast it down at the feet of Jesus. Tell Him what you are feeling and what you are thinking until what you are feeling and thinking reflects His heart.
Practically, we do this through prayer. When we have a thought that feels hopeless, that is supposed to be an indicator. It is okay to feel sorrow, or guilt, or grief, or pain, but we aren’t supposed to hold onto those things. Instead, think of them like the engine light turning on in your car. It’s a warning that something is not as it should be. And instead of letting it turn into a stronghold, we have to take it to God in prayer.
Because prayer is supposed to be an exchange. That’s why Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
We are not supposed to leave our prayer time with the same emotions we had going into it. Instead, we are supposed to come to His throne with our hopelessness— and leave with His peace, and rest, and redemptive solution, ready to release it into the world.
This is such an important thing to learn how to do if we want to walk in the fullness of freedom that Jesus died to give us. Because we have to learn how to pull down strongholds in our own minds and hearts before we can face them out in the world. Once we recognize the lies of the enemy in our own thoughts and thought patterns, then we start to recognize them in other people and we learn how to pray for or speak revelations of truth. But we have to win the internal battle before we can fight the external one.