Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Harold J. Sala's book, Making Your Emotions Work for You, (Harvest House Publishers, 2009). 

When you’re hit with challenging circumstances, it’s natural to feel emotions like fear and anger.  But just because you experience negative emotions doesn’t mean that you have to let them hurt you.  If you invite God to help you manage your emotions, He’ll use them as catalysts to bring out the best in you.  You’ll discover that your negative feelings can actually lead to positive growth in your life.

Here’s how you can make your emotions work for you instead of against you:

Come to understand yourself.  Pray for God to give you His perspective on yourself, so you can see how you’re a unique and valuable individual who He deeply and unconditionally loves.  Once you understand that, you’ll realize that no matter how much you’re struggling with negative emotions, you can change with God’s help.  The confidence that comes from understanding who you truly are will help you respond in a healthy way when people criticize you.  Instead of lashing out at them or letting their comments create insecurity in your life, you’ll be able to honestly assess their comments to determine whether you should improve a certain area of your life or just let the criticisms go if they’re unwarranted.  Even more importantly, a healthy self-image will give you the freedom to respond in a healthy way to God, empowering you to accept the love, forgiveness, and grace that He offers.  Then you can respond to your emotions in healthy ways and become the person God intends for you to be.

Recognize that emotions are gifts.  God created your emotions to help accomplish good purposes in your life.  Rather than trying to deny or suppress the negative emotions you feel, ask God to show you how they can teach you something valuable and motivate you to grow.  Realize how significantly your emotions can affect you physically, mentally, and spiritually.  If you let negative emotions run wild without directing them properly in your life, they can cause a host of illnesses that can eventually destroy your body, lead to sinful and destructive thoughts in your mind, and alienate you from God by tempting you to pull away from Him.  But if you aim to use your negative emotions as catalysts to positive change, you can experience physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.

Learn how to identify and express your emotions.  Get in touch with your emotions, thinking and praying about what you’re really feeling and putting names to the specific emotions.  Then, instead of bottling your emotions up inside, talk about them with someone nonjudgmental who cares about you, and pray about them, asking God to help you express them in healthy ways.  Whenever one of your emotions leads you to an unhealthy thought, take that thought captive in your mind and surrender it in prayer to God while asking the Holy Spirit to bring positive thoughts into your mind to replace it.  Ask God to take control of your emotions, guiding and helping you to express yourself and glorify Him in the process.  When talking with other people whose words or actions have caused you to feel negative emotions, rather than blaming them, use “I feel” statements to emphasize how they have affected you so they can better understand how to change.

Deal with memories well.  Memories of traumatic events, situations, or conversations can burn negative emotions into your being.  You need to pursue healing to overcome the ways they have affected you.  Confess your sins to God, repent of them, and accept His forgiveness.  Then ask God to help you forgive yourself for your past mistakes and others for how they’ve hurt or offended you.  Remember that forgiveness is an act of the will. 

You probably won’t feel like forgiving others, but if you decide to obey God’s call to do so, He will help you every step of the way, and by the end of the process you’ll discover that He has changed your feelings toward them.  Give the bitterness of your traumatic memories to Jesus by imagining Him hanging on the cross for the sins of the world and imagining yourself handing a piece of paper to Him with your memories written on it.  Then imagine the blood that flowed from His wounds covering the writing until it’s completely obliterated.  Refuse to let your mind dwell on traumatic memories. 

Replace them with Scripture verses that the Holy Spirit brings to your mind to help you heal.  Talk with some trusted friends or a counselor about the negative emotions that have arisen from your memories.  Ask some other believers – such as elders in your church – to pray for your emotional healing. Thank God for the healing and restoration that He brings into your life as He works it all out according to His will.

Cope with anger.  Try to avoid or eliminate stressful situations as much as possible.  When you encounter circumstances that make you angry, stop and ask yourself: “Is this situation really worth the emotional stress and strain of getting angry?” and “Is this person worth losing my temper over?” to help gain the right perspective. 

If your anger threatens your welfare or that of other people (like your spouse, kids, or coworkers), learn how to contain it.  Vent your emotions regularly in healthy ways (such as through prayer, exercise, or music) so that anger doesn’t breed in your heart.  Whenever you feel angry, check to make sure that your anger is directed toward the right person and the right cause.  Be angry only for a short time; deal with your anger quickly.  Try to focus on the problem that made you angry rather than the person who has created the problem.  Work positively and constructively toward a solution.  After you’ve processed your anger, let it go completely so you can move on with your life. 

Cope with worry.  You never need to worry, because God cares about you and is ultimate control of every situation in your life.  Whenever a worry creeps into your mind, pray about it.  Ask God to forgive you for the sinful habit of worrying and give you the faith to overcome it by regularly casting your anxiety on Him and placing your trust in Him to help you. 

Commit to God what He alone can do rather than wasting time and energy worrying about something about which you can’t do anything yourself.  Refuse to worry over the same issue when anxious thoughts continue to come into your mind.  Focus on God and let His peace fill your heart.

Cope with fear.  Fear can become your friend when it causes you to rise to a challenge or motivates you to solve a problem.  The more you understand God’s great power and love for you, the less fear you’ll feel.  But whenever you do feel fear, admit it and assess the strength of your fear.  Ask yourself: “What’s the worst case scenario?” and “Is God greater than my fear?”.  Act upon your fear by doing what you can about it and finding God’s help to go beyond your strength. 

Develop an action plan and move ahead with the confident assurance that God will be with you.  Commit to God what you can’t change or understand.  Rest in God’s comforting promises in the Bible that you don’t need to be afraid.  Remember that fear comes from Satan, not God, and that God has not given you a spirit of fear.  Keep in mind that whatever situation is causing you to feel scared is temporary and will pass.

Cope with boredom.  Ask God to ignite some fresh passion in your life for your relationship with Him and other people.  Break out of the ruts you’ve gotten into in your daily routines by exercising, writing in a journal, taking a trip, learning something new through a class, etc.  Pray for God to reveal more about His purposes for your life, and get excited about pursuing those purposes by dreaming some new dreams, setting some new goals, and taking some new risks to try to achieve those goals. 

Give your very best effort to your work, striving for enthusiasm and excellence and tackling challenges.  Maximize your potential so you can make a significant positive difference in the world because you lived.  Give your time and use your talents to serve other people as God leads.  Read, study, and mediate on the Bible and pray with a passion to get to know more about God every day.

Cope with stress.  Fight stress by getting God’s perspective on it, realizing that He can use it to accomplish something worthwhile in your life that would never happen without you going through the stressful situation.  Let your relationship with God be the anchor that holds you in a place of strength during stressful storms.  Stop trying to bear loads that you aren’t meant to bear; ask God to take over.  But do what you can to relieve situations that cause stress if there is something in your power to do, such as resolving a conflict with someone.  Learn how to say “no” to people’s requests when you can’t handle the stress involved in saying “yes”.  Manage your time well by prioritizing your tasks and then doing the most important task first.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your soul, which will give you peace.

Cope with burnout.  Remember that who you are as a person (your character, integrity, faithfulness, and commitment to values) is more important to God than what you accomplish.  Don’t hesitate to let some tasks fall by the wayside when necessary to avoid burnout.  Make time regularly for rest and recreation.  Evaluate your goals and adjust them so that they’re truly reasonable, taking into account your limited time and energy.  Ask God to help you set the right priorities and base your daily decisions on those priorities.  Mend relationships with others that you’ve damaged by making wrong decisions that have led to burnout.  Start taking care of your body by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a nutritious diet. 

Be willing to say “no” to requests when doing so is best for you.  Delegate responsibilities to others whenever possible.  Learn how to relax and have fun at least a bit every day.  Live in the present moment and do all you can to make each moment count.

August 18, 2009

Adapted from Making Your Emotions Work for You, copyright 2009/1996 by Harold J. Sala. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., www.harvesthousepublishers.com.   

Harold J. Sala is the voice of Guidelines, heard in 49 of the 50 states and more than 100 countries.  An internationally known speaker and Bible teacher, he has written more than 40 books, including When Your Heart Cries Out to God, Why You Can Have Confidence in the Bible, and the award-winning Profiles in Faith.