Making Jesus Lord of Our Emotions

Pull quote:

“Our emotional obsessions become idols diverting mind and strength from God’s service.”

Emotions are valuable. They are part of the way God created us. But we should control our emotions, not be ruled by them.

The gospel promises redemption for our emotional life as for other parts of our lives. Christ’s teaching, though the help of his Spirit, can give us self-control and inner peace.

Runaway emotions ruin lives.

Bitterness, anger, fear, anxiety and guilt rob us of the peace God intended for us to have. They destroy friendships, marriages, churches. We become afraid to face life. Worn out by inner conflict, we have little strength to work and serve. Unresolved emotions can even destroy our health. We may walk an endless treadmill searching for relief from guilt and acceptance with God. Our emotional obsessions become idols diverting mind and strength from God’s service.

God doesn’t want us to remain slaves to our emotions.

Destructive emotions are to be replaced by the fruit of God’s Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control–Galatians 5:22,23. Christ promised us his peace – John 14:27. Our destructive emotions are not from God – 2 Timothy 1:7. There are principles from scripture and wisdom from God that will help us rule our emotions.

You Can bring your emotions under Christ’s control:

Quiet your soul. This is not always easy, but scripture says we can learn to do it with God’s help – Psalm 131:2; Ephesians 4:26,27; 2 Timothy 1:7. (A tip to parents: early discipline helps a child learn emotional control.) If destructive feelings keep breaking out from long habit, keep dealing with them until slowly new habits develop. Don’t deny or “stuff” the emotion–just control it and process it in the ways God teaches so that it doesn’t pile up inside you and cause trouble later.

Hand over emotional burdens to God – 1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6,7. This is a life-changing art. Emotional thoughts such as guilt, fear, lust and resentment like to go around and around in our minds. That is how they grow strong enough to control us. Long-time patterns are hard to change. But it can be done with practice. If you have handed something over to God, every time it tries to return you must give it back again until gradually a new pattern is formed. Make a covenant with God that each time the thought returns, you will instantly give it back without spending time in struggle or guilt.
In this connection, here are a couple of encouraging truths. 1) If it seems too hard to change, remember that our character is the sum of our habits, and our habits are the sum of our repeated choices. As we decide more and more often to entrust our burdens to God and deal with our emotions according to his directions, we will store up less and less poison and we will have growing inner peace. 2) We will succeed more in dealing with destructive emotional thoughts if we do so when they first appear, and are small and manageable.

You can choose how you react. In a fallen world, there will always be people and situations which provoke us. I cannot always change people but I can change my reaction to them. If I always react automatically, then other people and situations are controlling my life. I can decide to keep changing my reactions until new habits develop. The scriptural principle of “death to self,” of laying down one’s rights like Jesus did, is important here – Galatians 2:20; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 16:24,25. We have to lose life to find it. This one principle is the secret to solving many emotional problems.

Discover and drain pools of stored-up negative emotion within yourself. If you are full of old anger and bitterness from previous experiences, it is easy to get angry about anything. If you are full of fears, everything is fearful. If full of old, unresolved guilt, you feel unreasonably guilty about all sorts of things. Negative emotions are pooled and stored because they are not resolved in God’s ways revealed in scripture.

Resentment is resolved by confrontation, discussion, forgiveness (which is a decision, not a feeling), cleansing, and leaving vengeance to God. Fear is resolved by deciding to trust God’s promises, remembering his past help, the light of reason, and repeatedly handing fears over to God. Guilt is healed by confession, repentance, restitution, deciding to trust the promises of forgiveness, and by seeing your life used by God.

Examine your life and find the roots. Why are certain emotions so strong? When did they begin? Destructive emotions may be partly rooted in heredity, in traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse, divorce, tragedy, hardship, or in current struggles. If pain has been held inside from past wounds, these may need to be reopened and the emotions processed and laid to rest in the way God teaches. Check your lifestyle and habits. Emotional trouble can arise from feeding on the wrong things mentally, bad choice of friends, poor nutrition, food allergies, side effects of medication, too little rest, poor stress management, overcommitment, glandular or chemical imbalance, cyclic stress, and certain life situations and transitions.

If necessary, get counsel from someone you trust. Confession, prayer, working through problems, becoming voluntarily accountable to someone, joining a spiritual support group–all of these can help. Some emotional problems are of a kind that require medical help or counsel from a qualified therapist. Be sure you choose a therapist with a Biblical value system. While it is good to avoid depending on medication as far as possible, temporary medication may be God’s way of helping you until you can become stable and grow spiritually. If your condition is one of those that requires medicine indefinitely, you should feel no more guilt over that than a diabetic would feel over taking insulin.

Build yourself up spiritually. The ultimate answers to many of our emotional struggles are spiritual. Clear up past wrongs. Find God’s cleansing for your sins and accept his discipline. Adopt the basic spiritual disciplines of a strong Christian life including regular Bible study and prayer and church attendance. Clear up as far as possible any relationship problems between you and others. Get into systematic study by taking a Bible course or joining a small group. Spend time in fellowship with Christian people who build you up. Look for ways to get out of yourself by serving others. Pray for God to give you the Holy Spirit and his fruit – Luke 11:13; Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:22,23.

The road to emotional healing is not easy but the struggle is well worth it. You may save yourself and others. You must want healing enough to persevere in the daily decisions that lead to change, and you must learn to rest in God’s promises and entrust yourself to God. The redemption promised in the gospel definitely includes emotional wholeness.

—B. Shelburne.