What do you do when you feel depressed, angry, irritable, guilty, afraid, anxious, furious, confused, stressed, troubled, restless, etc.? Because God created us with the capacity to feel, He desires glory in all that we do feel. Redemption in Christ includes the redemption of our feelings! The fruit of the Holy Spirit includes a change in feelings – love, joy, and peace (Gal 5:22-24). This indicates that our feelings are produced, not merely experienced. Godly feelings are a result of the Holy Spirit being in control of what we think and do. Rom 8:6 says a mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Gal 6:8-10 makes it clear that if we sow to please the Spirit, we will reap the fruit of the Spirit. This gives us hope for feeling better if we lack love, joy, and peace in our life!
There is a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is the basis of diagnosis such as Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or Bipolar Disorders and many more. Bad feelings are a common symptom of most disorders. Most diagnoses are made based on behavioral, thought and emotional patterns. If the negative behaviors, thoughts and emotions profoundly impact a person’s life and relationships in negative ways, a clinical diagnosis is made. But what if the Holy Spirit produced the fruit of the feelings of Christ in those who are suffering from such disorders? Would this change the status of their condition from clinical to just problematic, or maybe even complete resolution? For example, if a depressed patient experiences the fruit of the Spirit’s joy, would their depression so improve that they could no longer be labeled with a depressive disorder? They may still be prone to depression, but not controlled by it. If this is true, could we say the same thing for other disorders? If the anxious woman experienced the Spirit’s fruit of peace, the ADD teen the Spirit’s fruit of self-control, or the Bipolar person the Spirit’s fruit of love, joy, peace as well as self-control, what impact would this fruit have on their diagnosis and life?
In Christ, we are in the process of becoming more and more like Christ from the inside-out. This includes our feelings. But such fruit is the product of our becoming more like Christ in four areas. Christ-like feelings follow Christ-like behaviors, thoughts, desires, and beliefs.
Feelings Follow Behaviors (i.e. actions and lifestyle patterns)
Cain was depressed and angry. God counseled Cain how to change his feelings, “Do well, and your countenance will be lifted up” (Gen 5:6-7). If we do what God calls us to do consistently, God promises that we will “reap what we sow” (Gal 6:8-10). This means that no matter how bad you and I may feel today, if we discover what God is calling us to do and do it consistently, our feelings will eventually experience positive change. This positive change in feelings will often be a result of a positive change in our situation, for we make a bad situation or feeling worse when we respond poorly. But the most significant reason our feelings will experience a positive change is that our relationship with God improves when we choose to do right in suffering. Rom 8:28,29 makes is clear that eventually all things that happen to those who love God will turn out for good, either in us or through us. We must persevere in doing good to see the good that is promised. If we are going to find the strength to continue doing what is right when we feel bad, we must change the thoughts, perspectives, and meditations of our heart.
Feelings Follow Thoughts (i.e. meditations)
If a person’s heart is full of fearful thoughts and perspectives, what will he feel? In contrast, if his heart is full of peaceful thoughts, what will he feel? Feelings do follow thoughts not just actions. A man came to counseling after having been a pilot dropping bombs during the first Iraq war. Five years later, he was still waking up with terrors, feeling the weight of shame, believing his bombs had killed innocent people by the thousands. Sleep loss has escalated, and his thinking became more and more distorted and bizarre. He was diagnosed with PTSD. We first discussed the relationship of his thoughts to his feelings to help him see his need to change his meditation. Rom 8:6 says that the mind focused on the Spirit is life and peace. This truth (found in the assignment “The Relationship of Thoughts to Feelings”) motivated him to work hard on changing his thinking and perspective, no matter how bad he felt.
Eventually, his feelings changed by meditating on the sovereignty of God (Lam 3:37-38) as it related with his role as an agent of the government (Rom 13:1-4) in the Iraq war. Each time he was tempted to guilt himself over the bombs he dropped (which produced a controlling anxiety) he would take his guilt and anxiety captive to the truth of God. He had studied and memorized passages like Rom 13:1-4 which states that the government exists as a minister of God to avenge and punish evil. In light of this he would pray, “Father, I may feel guilty of murder but based on Romans 13:1-4, I was obedient to your call as an agent of the US government; therefore you do not hold me guilty for wrong doing. You are the Judge, not me.” He had also studied and memorized passages like Lam 3:37-38 which states that God is in charge of all that occurs, as well as passages like Deut 29:29 that states we are to follow what God reveals, not what is secret or unknown to us. In light of these truths he would pray, “Father, I may feel anxious about the potential of killing innocent people, but the truth is, there is little evidence of this, and the truth is, I was following what You had revealed as my role. The truth is that You are ultimately in control of life and death, not me, not anyone else. I trust your sovereignty and the Word in this situation, not my perspective and feelings.” As our thoughts and perspective begin to reflect God’s thoughts and perspectives, we will experience feelings that glorify God and will become more like Christ.
Feelings Follow Desires (i.e. motives and affections)
If you were given something you intensely desire, like a $5,000 bonus or an engagement ring, you would feel intense joy. On the other hand, if you lost something you intensely desire, like the $5,000 bonus you anticipated, or a close relationship now gone from your life, you would feel intense sadness, anger, maybe even anxiety. This is because feelings follow desires.
Each Christmas growing up, my brother and I would always get one “big” present. I remember the grand feeling of disappointment that came over me when I was 14 years old and opened my “big” present. It was a study Bible, a very nice one. My “other” desires dictated my disappointed feelings. Fast forward 15 years. My wife and extended family pitched in to get me an expensive computer bible software program I truly desired. After opening the present, I looked at them and said with grande elation, “No way! You all should not have spent so much on me!” How can the same person receiving such similar gifts respond with such opposite feelings? This is because my feelings followed my desires.
James 1:14 says each one is tempted by what he desires, not by what happens to him. When you feel the temptation to self-pity and to pull away in sadness, check your heart’s desires. When you feel the temptation to quit loving and doing right, check your heart’s desire. When you feel anxious, and your heart is racing, check your heart’s desires. We want to be happy; we want good health, good relationships, and good results in life. But if we are ruled by these desires, our feelings will be dominated by depression, anxiety or anger. You and I are led by our desires. It’s not our circumstance or feelings that are the real problem. It is our heart’s desires.
Jesus said in John 4:34 that his food is to do the will of the Father. Because of this, he was never controlled by feelings of depression, anxiety or anger, even though his life was filled with sorrow, disappointment, hurt, unjust treatment, and even physical abuse. His feelings followed his ruling desire to do the will of the Father, even through He suffer horrible circumstances. As a result of his perfect desires, he can offer us forgiveness from the Father for our disobedient desires, thoughts, behaviors and feelings. He offers us help in our struggle to change our disobedient desires. Heb 2:16-17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Do you desire this forgiveness and help? Christ can both atone for your sin and help you to change your heart’s desires to do the will of the Father. If you are overwhelmed and dominated by negative emotions, the best news possible is that Christ can change your heart’s desire to be more like his.
Feelings Follow Beliefs (Ps 27:13; 1 Pet 1:8)
How would you feel if you believed you deserve a $5000 raise, but you didn’t get it? Most likely your answer would be “mad and sad.” In contrast, how would you feel if you received the $5000 raise but you believed you didn’t deserve it (maybe because of many sick days or your department did not produce as well as expected)? Most likely your answer would be “humbled, grateful and blessed.” Note in both cases you believed, therefore you felt. Feelings are determined by what we believe, not by what we receive.
What we believe, our faith, is the most crucial human motivator. What we each believe fundamentally motivates us in life, and therefore motivates our feelings. David declared that he would have despaired unless he had believed that he would see God’s goodness in the end (Ps 27:13). What we believe motivates our actions. Jesus was motivated to endure the suffering of the cross because he believed future joy was awaiting him (Heb 12:2). What we believe motivates our thoughts. The Psalmist meditated on God’s law day and night for he believed it increased his wisdom like nothing else (Ps 119:97-99). What we believe even motivates our desires. The early church believed in Christ and was filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:8). The Psalmist meditated on God’s law constantly because he believed they were more valuable than thousands of pieces of silver or gold and sweeter than honey. (Ps 119). Godly feelings, actions, thoughts, and even desires follow our faith in the Lord and his Word.
Such life transforming faith in Christ is a gift from God’s Spirit (Eph 2:8-9) that comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17). Biblical counseling facilitates and nurtures such transforming faith in practical ways. If you are dominated by a lack of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness, there is hope through God’s Spirit. The Lowcountry Biblical Counseling Center is here to help you find this transformation.