Over the years, I’ve heard the story told of a railway worker who became trapped as he was working in a refrigerated boxcar, an enclosed railroad car used to carry freight.
It’s said one of his colleagues – who didn’t know the other gentleman was in the car working away – shut the door as he walked past. Seeing it was open, the colleague rolled it shut and latched it, thus locking it from the outside.
The man in the refrigerated boxcar had many years of experience in the industry and worked on them all the time, so he knew what being stuck in there potentially meant.
It likely meant he was there until at least the next day when his fellow workmen returned to unlock the car in order to load it for shipment. He also knew that in all likelihood he would freeze to death before then. Either because of the fact this particular car was refrigerated and had a refrigeration unit blowing cold air into it, or simply because the outside air temperature would drop sharply overnight.
To no avail, the worker kicked at the door, yelling out to try and get the attention of anyone who might still be near the car. Attempts to find an escape route also failed – he tried to get up to the car’s ceiling, tampering with the refrigeration unit with a tool and leaving scratch marks as he tried to either shut it off or find a way out. He could do neither – the unit was running and the door was locked.
In frustration and exhaustion, he eventually dropped to the floor of the car.
Figuring he didn’t have long left, he began using the tool he had with him to scratch some thoughts on the floor of the railway car. Over the next few hours, as the night progressed, he wrote things like “It’s getting so cold…”, and “…my hands are turning numb – they’re so cold.”
Later on in the evening, he wrote, “…if I could just go to sleep…”, a step known to be the last thing a person does before they freeze to death. One phrase also read “…these may well be my last words…” – with the writing then trailing off.
The following day, several railway workers returned to the rail yard – opening up the railroad cars to inspect them for loading. When they rolled back the door of the particular car the man was in, they found him on the floor – he had died.
The authorities were called, and – because of the strange circumstances surrounding the event – an autopsy was performed.
While that autopsy showed physical signs which indicated he’d frozen to death, it was a finding that left the man’s rail yard colleagues perplexed.
Subsequent investigations of the cart he’d been in showed the refrigeration unit on top of that boxcar was broken and only the fan was blowing air. It was not sub zero air being pumped into that car, only the outside air simply being circulated. Therefore, he did not suffocate.
It was also ascertained that the temperature outside that night never dropped below 12 degrees celsius – so he did not freeze to death.
Being unable to pinpoint any external factors as to a reason for the man’s death subsequently led investigators to ask a remarkable question.
“Did he actually talk himself to death?”
Have you ever had anyone in your life say something similar to you? “I’m sick to death of…”, or “I’m worried to death about…”
The official ruling in our story was that it was ‘likely’ he died because of a combination of what he talked himself into that night – what he’d been dwelling on in his mind – and fear, as was evident by the nature of the writings and scratches he’d etched into the boxcar’s floor and walls.
Thought provoking isn’t it?
Whenever I hear this story, I’m reminded that God’s Word, the Bible, is full of injunctions and exhortations regarding just how important it is that we are good stewards of what goes on in our minds – our thoughts and then what is ultimately expressed through our words as a result.
The apostle Paul tells us, as the NIV puts it in 2 Corinthians 10:5, to “… take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ…”
James tells us the tongue, though a ‘small part’ of the body, has the power to influence the direction of one’s life – and that “… no human being can tame the tongue…” James 3:8 (NIV).
“…take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” – James 3:4-5 (NIV).
Proverbs also contains several reminders throughout its pages.
As the NIV puts it, “…above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it…” (chapter four, verse 23) and “… the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit…” (chapter 18, verse 21).
The New King James Version (NKJV) tells us in chapter 23 verse seven of the same book, “..for as he thinks in his heart, so is he…”
Wow. The tongue it seems, though small, would appear to carry some ‘weight’ in our lives wouldn’t it?
I suppose that by now, as I pray about writing these encouragements in each issue, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that in many cases the analogies, examples, stories and scriptures I read in preparation – and often the very thing the Lord lays on my heart to share – more often than not end up being an area into which He is also calling me higher personally.
I say that because sometimes, in all honesty, what I think of myself sometimes doesn’t match what God thinks of me. By this I mean that sometimes not every thought I have is yet “…obedient to Christ…”
Would you say that’s true for you at times too?
In moments when this is the case, I’ve learned this certainly has flow on effects too.
I’d suggest that, in my experience, if a thought I have isn’t obedient to Christ, that leaves me open to react, at times, to certain circumstances in ways the Lord wouldn’t want me to, doesn’t it?
In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul tells us, “…for, who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (NIV).
Maybe I could even go as far as saying sometimes the way I react to circumstances or unexpected situations shows whether or not I have actually submitted – or handed over – that particular situation to the Lord.
In other words – as I may have said before – we can’t afford to have any thoughts in our minds about ourselves which God doesn’t have about us.
I do probably have a propensity to worry at times if I’m honest, but in my life I’m learning to ask myself a question in those moments. And it’s this.
“…if a reaction of fear, worry or anxiety crops up, that’s not how Jesus would have us respond, is it?”
Is it the same for you too, at times? Do those types of responses sometimes surface?
My simple encouragement via this piece is something I have to remind myself of too. And it also comes with a question – “…what environment and atmosphere are we creating in and around our lives through our thoughts and words and through what we allow our minds to dwell on?”
I always need to keep a short account with the Lord and ensure I am cultivating a thought life in which Jesus is at the centre of everything – and worry is not. Thus taking captive any thoughts which are not of Him. It’s worth asking, “…is this how Jesus would react in this situation?” This allows me to ascertain whether I’m allowing what I once heard called ‘stinking thinking’ – thoughts that are not of Him – to shape my approach to things.
As the Lord continues to teach me in this area, I’m learning too that when He helps us isolate areas that He then asks us to surrender – including thinking we are to let go of – something to consider is this. What, in turn, is my response? Do I bring those thoughts captive under Christ, or do I hold onto them, thinking I know better?
Winston Churchill once said, “Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”
That holds some truth, doesn’t it? While walking through the learning process isn’t always easy, I pray that when God asks us to lay down – or submit or take captive – areas of our life, we would do so without reluctance.
That includes our minds, thoughts and how we ‘talk’ to ourselves.
Speaking of Winston Churchill, data in a recent study suggests the average person has about 6200 thoughts a day. It’s said that up to 80 percent of those – or just under 5000 of those thoughts – are negative. And, as many as 95 percent – nearly 5900 – are repetitive thoughts.
By general agreement, there’s around 200,000 words in the English language in common use. Most people use about 5000 of these words in normal conversation. Winston Churchill, renowned for his quick wit and intellect, evidently used something like 15,000 words in his personal arsenal.
That’s a lot of words and thoughts isn’t it? It makes sense that Paul urges us to submit our thoughts to Christ! But here’s something to note too – not all of those 6200 thoughts we have should in fact stay on our minds, or be things we dwell on. And as Christians, the study’s proportions need not – actually should not – be our proportions.
Scripture clearly tells us, “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.” – Romans 12:2 (NIV).
So, as we’ve reflected on these things, what type of thoughts should we be dwelling, or meditating on, then? And how do we go about cultivating the Christ-centered thought life we’ve talked about?
Well, God’s Word is clear on the type of thoughts we should allow to fill our minds.
“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.” – Philippians 4:8 (NIV).
The resulting outflow of such a Christ-centered thought life is subsequent Christ-centered actions and words as our mouths begin to “…speak what the heart is full of…” (Matthew 12:34, NIV).
In closing, what better place to rest on than the words of Jesus Himself.
If you’re like me, and at times your default response can be one of worry and uncertainty, then here is a reminder that as followers of Jesus, He personally told us He’s given us something with which we can combat that.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27 (NIV).
In and through all seasons of life, He remains in control.
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 (NIV).
So then, what are we allowing our minds to dwell on? And are we – as encouraged in scripture – bringing those musings into submission under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Or, are we holding onto things we should be releasing to Him? If it matters to you, it matters to Him. Why? Because of His great love for us. And, as far as our part goes, casting our worries, cares and burdens onto Jesus means placing them in His hands, and then purposing in our hearts to leave them there.
It’s the safest place of all to put them, don’t you think?
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About the author
Jeremy Smith is editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.
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