This thoughts object lesson works perfectly as a Philippians 4:8 activity, Sunday School lesson on thoughts, or family devotional to help children make better choices in their thought lives.
Download the object lesson plan guide
I encourage you as the parent or family member to working through the first section (printable resources available below) to reflect on your own thoughts/emotional regulation skills prior to working through the object lesson (second section) with younger or older students. Suggestions are made in the lesson for keeping the talk age appropriate.
This Bible lesson on renewing the mind is a powerful way to make such an abstract concept a concrete example of taking our thoughts captive.
Why do I care?
No one taught me how toxic my mind was until I was an adult. I grew up feeling like a victim of the negativity in my mind. And it seemed there was always something or someone available to confirm that all of these negative thoughts I learned to believe were true.
When I was in my early twenties, suffering from depression, and going through a difficult time, I committed to memorizing Philippians 4.
Through this passage, the Holy Spirit began to unwind the poisonous barbs – the lies – I believed. But it wasn’t just about cleaning out the bad. I needed mindfulness training to recognize negative thinking and consciously replace wrong thoughts with God’s Truth.
When I became a mother, I knew that I didn’t want my young children to grow up believing lies and being entangled by their own intrusive thoughts. For years, I talked to them about controlling their own mind. Then, God placed this object lesson plan in my heart as a visual reminder to help children overcome strong feelings and thoughts.
What does the Bible say about our thoughts?
The words “thoughts” and “think” are used frequently in the Bible.
We are warned in Proverbs 23:7 that our thoughts change us:
“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”
It is clear that thoughts can become actions or inappropriate behavior. As a matter of fact, our thoughts are a key factor in leading us to sin against God:
“It’s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight,” he said. “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness.”
Even with these firm passages, the Bible has more to say about what we think.
Look for related words
To fully understand what the Bible says about our thought life, we have to know how the Bible refers to our brain and thoughts.
The word “brain” is never mentioned in the Bible and the word “head” is only used to refer to crowning and blessings or an authority figure (i.e. head of the household.)
So, we have to look beyond human anatomy and think metaphorically. After all, Jesus used stories and metaphors often to communicate important life lessons.
The mind and the heart
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the word “mind” appears in the King James version of the Bible 96 times.
The “heart” in the Bible is used to refer to the seat of a person’s life. It also encompasses the mind, soul, spirit, and emotions, which theologians believe are part of the mind. “Heart” in the King James version of the Bible is mentioned over 800 times.
Often the words ”heart” and “mind” are used in the same sentence. For instance, In 1 Chronicles 28: 9, the Bible says:
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts…”
The heart and mind are connected. Some scholars believe these words are used to add emphasis while having the same underlying message.
Thoughts are from the heart
But thoughts also appear to be related to the heart as seen in the previously mentioned verses, Proverbs 23:7 and Mark 7:20-22.
So, as you read and look for what the Bible says about thoughts, consider studying what the Bible says about the mind and heart as well.
What does the Bible say about the heart?
I am always troubled when someone gives advice saying, “Follow your heart because it will never lead you wrong.” This is completely false when you consider what the Bible says about the heart:
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?”
Following your heart will get you into big trouble if you are not seeking God through His Word and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Every thought must be compared to the truth in the Bible because our thoughts are not facts. Thoughts that do not come from God are opinions.
That is why our heart needs protection.
“Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.”
I also love this same verse, Proverbs 4:23, from the Common English Bible:
“More than anything you guard, protect your mind, for life flows from it.”
This verse screams to me, “Having a problem in life? Struggling with anxiety, depression, negativity? Check the focus of your heart. What have you been thinking about?”
Why is it important to control our thoughts?
With all of this in mind (pardon the pun,) why should we actively seek to control our thoughts and teach our children to do the same?
Because we are commanded to be conscious about the focus of our minds.
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Colossians 3:2 New King James Version
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”
But, how do we make our thoughts submit to Jesus?
We must be intentional.
If you find yourself thinking something negative, force yourself to stop and think on God’s truth about the situation. If you don’t know the truth, pray and ask God for help, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you.
“Change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.”
Our minds need the renewal we find through prayer and reading the Bible.
“Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].”
What should we think about?
The focus of our thoughts is very clearly given in Philippians 4:8:
“For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].”
If you feel yourself struggling in your thought life, put every thought through the filter given in this passage.
Are your thoughts:
- Good and right (The Living Bible)?
- Brings a good report (New King James Version)?
- Worthy of praise?
But this isn’t merely a suggestion. If you keep reading into Philippians 4:9, it is a command:
- “Think on these things.” Philippians 4:9 King James Version
- “Practice these things.” Philippians 4:9 English Standard Version
- “Dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:9 Holman Christian Standard Bible
Then, when we make the effort to submit our thoughts to God, what should we expect as a result?
“You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.”
When you train your mind to think on God’s truth, you can expect peace.
FOR KIDS: Controlling your thoughts object lesson
The purpose of this object lesson is to help our children realize they can use self-regulation skills to control what they think with God’s help. And, the more they think about good things, the better they will feel about the situations around them.
A video is embedded. If you cannot view the video, please visit my Youtube channel for the Controlling Your Thought Object Lesson Video.
This object lesson is not intended to treat mental illness or be a replacement for therapy. If you think your child might be depressed, please seek medical attention immediately.
- A clear, glass cylinder
- Water in a pitcher or measuring cup with spout
- White rocks
- Ping pong balls
- Black spray paint
- A rimmed casserole dish or baking pan (to capture the overflow)
- An empty box (like a tissue box)
- A marker (to write on the box)
- A long spoon or dowel (for stirring, if needed)
- A day or two prior to the lesson, use the spray paint to paint the ping pong balls black. Allow them to dry completely.
- On the empty box, write the words “thoughts jail.”
- Test the lesson. Place rocks and ping pong balls into the cylinder and test to see how much water you will need to force the ping pong balls to overflow the cylinder.
- To set up for the lesson, place the cylinder in the middle of the casserole dish. Place the rocks in one bowl and the ping pong balls in another. Hide the “thoughts jail” box under the table or turn it so the words are not seen by the children.
What does the Bible say about our thoughts?
Ask your children: “What are you thinking about right now?”
Allow the children to list different things like specific situations, whether or not they want a snack, if they think this will be boring, they are having a wonderful day, or they would rather be playing a video game.
After giving a little time for discussion, say:
“Our minds can think about a lot of different things. Let’s pretend this cylinder is our mind. These rocks are good thoughts. The ping pong balls are bad thoughts.”
Begin listing different thoughts. As you state different thoughts, put either a rock (for good thoughts) or a ping pong ball (for bad thoughts) into the cylinder.
If you need ideas for thoughts to mention to young kids, consider these or brainstorm your own in the spaces provided on the printable:
- “What a pretty flower! I love that color.” (rock)
- “I love my mom/dad. I want them to be with me forever.” (rock)
- “I like to come to church to see my friends.” (rock)
- “He makes me so mad! I want to scream.” (ping pong ball)
- “I love ice cream.” (rock)
- “I’m so afraid of the dark. Maybe a monster is in my closet!” (ping pong ball)
If you are working with older children or teens, here are some ideas or brainstorm your own in the spaces provided on the printable:
- “I studied hard and got an A!” (rock)
- “Pizza!” (rock)
- “Why am I so ugly?” (ping pong ball)
- “Today is going to be awesome.” (rock)
- “S/He looked at me. I wonder if s/he likes me?” (rock)
- “S/He would never like me. I’m so dumb/stupid/etc.” (ping pong ball)
- “I can’t wait to go to _________________. It’s my favorite place.” (rock)
- “Ugh. That person is so stupid.” (ping pong ball)
The list of thoughts can include personal experiences, difficult feelings, body image, temper tantrums, or other child struggles. Or, as an alternative, another great way is to weave a list of thoughts into a social story.
The most important part of listing thoughts is to aim for the emotional intelligence of the younger students in the room.
If you run out of specific thoughts to mention, say:
“Our minds think all kinds of good thoughts [place several rocks into the cylinder] and bad thoughts [place several ping pong balls into the cylinder.]”
When the cylinder is ALMOST full, ask the children:
“But do you know the Bible says we can control what we think about?”
Read Colossians 3:2 from the Bible:
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Explain that the word “set” means to “think about” or “focus on.”
Emphasize that the Bible says we are to focus our minds on good things.
Ask: “Why do you think it’s important to keep our thoughts set on what is good?”
Give the children some time to answer and then say:
“The Bible says that our thoughts can lead us to sin, or do bad things, against God.”
Read Mark 7:21:
“It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come…”
If you are speaking with older children or teens, you might want to include the rest of the passage as it states specific sins but be prepared to explain what these sins are.
“It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness.”
Say: “We need to pick what we think about carefully and the Bible actually gives us a list of things to think about.”
Read Philippians 4:8:
“…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Hold a ping pong ball in your hand.
Say: “So when we realize we are thinking about something, we need to do some deep breathing and ask ourselves, ‘Is this something good? Pure? Lovely? according to God’s truth?’ And if it isn’t, we need to capture that thought and put it in jail.”
Turn the “thoughts jail” box to face the children. Put the ping pong ball into the “thoughts jail” box.
Consider using the following statement:
“Our unwanted thoughts need to be locked away and a good way to do that is to think about God’ truth instead.”
If you have a little bit of extra space in the cylinder, you can ask the children to share some Bible verses or promises God has made. With each Scripture or promise, pick up a rock and place the rock into the cylinder.
Ask the children to take a close look at the cylinder.
Say: “But there is already a lot of bad stuff in there. Does this make me a bad person? No, because there is a big difference between thinking about something and doing such things.”
Note: Children need to understand that difficult situations and strong emotions happen to all of us. Sometimes, we all do the wrong thing. This is exactly why we need the forgiveness Jesus offers us through salvation.
Say: “But I have good news! We can get those bad thoughts out because Jesus helps us renew our minds.”
Read one or both of the following verses.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
“…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
Ask: “How can we be renewed in our minds and become more like God?”
Allow the children to brainstorm. Their answers might include different self-control strategies (physical exercise, coping strategies, positive attitudes, etc.)
But, bring the conversation to focus on the spiritual ways we can renew our minds (read the Bible, pray, memorize Scripture, go to church, talk to someone who knows the Bible well, etc.)
Pick up the water and explain that as we spend time with God by reading the Bible, memorizing His word, listening to Christian music, going to church, looking at nature while thinking about God, and all these wonderful things, God is pouring His living water into our minds and washing out all the bad things.
Pour the water into the cylinder and keep pouring the water until the ping pong bowls overflow the cylinder and the rocks settle to the bottom.
If some of the ping pong balls get stuck under rocks, give the cylinder a small stir with the dowel to help them escape. You can say, “2 Peter 3:1 tells us that God’s Word stirs up pure minds.”
Ask: “What is the result of a pure mind that is focused on thinking about the good things God has for us?”
Read Isaiah 26:3:
“You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.”
Affirm to the children that God promises to give us peace when we focus on and place our trust in Him. God is always available, helping us think in positive ways throughout our daily routines.
Frequently asked questions when teaching children about the controlling their thoughts
As you have worked through this object lesson, you might still have some questions.
How can I know the difference between good thoughts and bad thoughts?
The best way to know good versus bad thoughts is to reference Philippians 4:8.
This video by In the Gap Kids includes hand motions as a useful tool for Bible memorization.
In a simple form, any bad thought is negative, fearful, unhappy, or critical. These thoughts can be about others or ourselves.
An easy way to make this object lesson more relatable to younger children, play a game of red light, green light. Instead of calling out the light colors (red, green,) call out good and bad thoughts.
How can I know God’s truth or what the Bible says about what I am thinking?
A great place to start knowing what the Bible says about any topic is, of course, the Bible.
For older kids, teach them the new skill, using a concordance (in the back of the Bible) to look up words and topics to find the related verses.
Another powerful tool for finding verses that apply to emotions is the Shut Up, Devil! app (available for iOS and Android.)
Where do thoughts come from?
Be honest as you answer this question because even scientists struggle to answer this.
Thoughts come from real life, everything we have experienced and tucked away from the moment we were born.
Everything we see and hear gets saved somewhere in our minds. This is why it is so important to be careful what we watch or listen to at any given time.
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More Scriptures about the heart and mind connection:
- Job 9:4
- Joshua 23:14
- Proverbs 22:17
- Ecclesiastes 8:16
- Luke 5:22
- Mark 2:6, 8
- Daniel 2:29
- Luke 2:19
- Luke 9:47
- Isaiah 6:10
- Deuteronomy 4:39
- Leviticus 19:17
- Exodus 4: 14, 20
Other object lessons on thoughts:
- Train Your Thoughts Object Lesson at Claire Smith
- Eyes on Christ Object Lesson at Ministry to Children
- Overcoming Toxic Thoughts (Students) at Pursuing God
- Renewing Your Mind Object Lesson at Free Bible Lessons
Helpful books about mindset and thoughts:
- Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind by Joyce Meyer (Amazon) – Please note that I do not agree with 100% of this book but it was extremely helpful to me as I learned how to take my thoughts captive and submit them to Jesus. There is also a version of Battlefield of the Mind for teens and children.
- Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health by Dr Caroline Leaf (Amazon) – Dr. Leaf is a Believer in Jesus Christ as well as a scientist. She brings science and creation together to help us understand how God wired our brains.
- The Christian Meditation Journal by Rhonda Jones (Amazon) – Daily prompts help you stop and consider negative thought patterns and focus more on God.
More object lessons:
- Taming the Tongue (The Power of Words Object Lesson)
- Object Lesson: How to Explain God is Real
- Peer Pressure Object Lesson for Kids
- Teaching Children About Diligence
come from real life, everything we have experienced and tucked away from the moment we were born.
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