Don't Miss Out on Blessings because You're Controlled by Your Emotions
- Mary Southerland Journey Ministry, Inc
- 2021 9 Apr
You have probably discovered the truth that we cannot always trust our emotions because they can be unreliable and misleading. A friend verbally blasts you and rage consumes your spirit. Your career is in decline and depression slithers into your heart. Caught in the comparison trap, you find yourself avoiding those who have bigger, more influential jobs.
Anger is a constant companion; finances are tight, and rest is a distant memory. A sense of bone-deep weariness saturates your soul as your own heart ridicules the validity of your walk with Christ. “You might as well give up. It’s no use. Just quit!” the enemy taunts.
Spiritual discipline and control put emotions in their God-shaped place, discarding negative emotions as the spiritual leeches they are while safeguarding and reinforcing positive emotions. I am amazed at the number of people who base eternal decisions on feelings while seeking confirmation and even direction from emotional responses. I almost missed one of the highest plans for my life because it didn’t feel right.
My husband Dan was the Youth Pastor at a church in Hollywood, Florida where Bill Billingsley, one of the greatest men I have ever known, was senior pastor. He and his amazing wife Betty Jean had an enormous impact on me personally. In fact, it was their leadership and guidance that laid the foundation for the ministry of speaking and writing I now love.
Right in the midst of my God-ordained transformation at Sheridan Hills and the youth program’s greatest growth, Dan dropped the bomb – he felt God calling him back to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Well, I felt God calling him to stay put!
I loved Sheridan Hills! It was home! Going back to seminary meant I would have to go back to teaching elementary school. Teaching wasn’t the problem--but placing our son Jered in daycare was.
We had waited so long for this chosen baby. The thought of handing over his care to strangers broke my heart. How could this possibly be God’s plan when it felt so wrong?
My favorite worship time at Sheridan Hills was the Wednesday night service--for two reasons. I enjoyed the contemporary worship and in-depth bible teaching. I also treasured the fact that each week, while Dan was in meetings and Jered was in the nursery, I could slip into the empty, darkened auditorium for an hour of solitude.
However, the Wednesday night after Dan shared the numbing probability of our return to seminary, my usually refreshing solitude dissolved into a tantrum of crying, praying and pleading with God to let us stay. When a hand gently patted my shoulder, I looked up into the tear-filled eyes of my pastor. “I have something to tell you,” he said.
Pastor Billingsley was a spiritual mentor in my life. He was also a loving father figure as well. Expecting a word of wisdom or encouragement, I was shattered by his words, “I have cancer.” How could we leave him and the church when they needed us the most? It felt very wrong!
Speechless, we sat in pain-filled silence, weeping, each flailing in our own sea of emotions and questions. Bill Billingsley then spoke the words that have guided my steps from the moment he gave them life. “Mary, just remember that God’s will penalizes no one.” I immediately knew I had a choice to make.
I could mulishly hold on to my emotional comfort or I could submit to God’s will. My choice to obey God plotted the course for an incredible journey filled with purpose, a life of sharing God’s hope and healing with women across the world through speaking and writing. Had my emotions ruled, I would have missed God’s highest and best plan for my life.
Emotions are a gift from God. While emotions themselves are not sin, the place we give them can be. Since God created us with the capacity for strong emotions, we can rest assured that He has a plan for managing them. It is a step-by-step plan that begins with our commitment to being honest and transparent about every emotion, especially the negative ones.
Step 1: Identify the Source of Negative Emotions
Proverbs 3:7 (NIV) “For as a man thinks, so is he.”
Negative emotions are nourished in many ways--by daily challenges, a painful past, hurt or rejection, an undisciplined thought life, or Satan himself. Some people qualify as “carriers” because they not only transmit negative emotions, but they also use others as their personal dumping ground.
In managing negative emotions, it is imperative that we identify their source and disarm it.
Step 2: Label Negative Emotions Honestly
We are masters at mislabeling emotions because we fear that exposing our true emotions will affect the way others see us. It is time for us to take off and burn the emotional masks we wear. Healing and restoration begin at the point of emotional integrity.
Going back to seminary proved to be a spiritual marker for our family. At first, I cried every day and seethed in anger each night. I couldn’t blame God, so I blamed Dan!
I missed being home with Jered, even though he loved the seminary daycare and Miss Nancy, his incredibly gifted and caring teacher. I complained about others raising my son, overlooking the fact that Dan picked him up after lunch each day and kept him every afternoon. I resented having to work, even though my teaching assignment was at one of the best elementary schools in Fort Worth and my principal was a precious Christian man.
Gradually, God broke my hardened heart as I realized that Jered was flourishing in daycare. He made wonderful friends, learned how to adjust to changes, and enjoyed priceless time with his dad. Teaching school became a passion and, in many ways, prepared me for the calling I am now living.
Looking back, I now see how I gave negative emotions free reign. The result was wasted emotional energy, health problems, spiritual disobedience, and mental exhaustion. Do not walk that path, my friend. Instead, right now, commit to emotional integrity and discipline.
Step 3: Learn to Manage Emotions
It is not enough to acknowledge the presence of negative emotions or even understand why they exist. We must take action - because if we don’t, negative emotions will. We must not only be able to manage negative emotions, but we must also be able to respond correctly to those negative emotions produced by the abrasive behavior of others.
On the other hand, we can put negative emotions to work in our lives. Emotions can be like runaway horses. You are trampled by a family member with a hidden agenda, kicked in the gut by a trusted friend, or crushed by a lack of integrity and character of those in authority over you. Emotions can easily stampede out of control and into sin.
The success of emotional integrity lies in the one who holds the reins.
We must constantly choose to surrender every emotion to the supernatural control of God because when we do, the Holy Spirit empowers that choice, produces control and transforms emotional bondage into emotional freedom. Learning to control anger is a crucial life lesson.
The people around us want to see what happens when life pushes our buttons or squeezes our emotions. While God created us with the capacity for emotions, it is our responsibility to control them instead of allowing them to control us.
When Jesus saw money changers desecrating the temple of God, He was furious! Yet, He modeled the right way to harness emotions and use them for good. I have heard many Bible teachers and preachers attempt to soften the response of Jesus, but the truth is--He was irate!
I can almost see His face shrouded in plain old fury as He contemplated His options. If I had been in His place, I can tell you that those wicked men would have been toast. Not Jesus!
Before Jesus faced the intruders, He stepped aside to braid a whip. What? Jesus had not just completed “Whip Braiding 101.” He chose to take the time to harness His emotions, and then used that harnessed anger to drive the money changers out of the temple, correcting a wrong. Like Jesus, we choose where to invest every ounce of emotional energy we possess.
We must learn to invest wisely in order to reap the benefits of healthy emotions, harnessed and trained by godly discipline. We must intentionally monitor emotional withdrawals and the impact they will have on our lives.
Life provides the opportunity for countless emotional withdrawals that are good, right and ordained by God. I will never forget the night we found a broken and defeated young pastor standing at our front door. With tears streaming down his face, he told us that his wife was having an affair and wanted a divorce.
Certain that both he and his ministry was doomed, this precious and gifted servant poured out his pain and defeat. For months, Dan and I ministered to this stellar young man, loving him, encouraging him, making him part of our family while he tried desperately to save his marriage.
When it became clear that his wife was determined to leave, we repeatedly assured him that God would once again use him for Kingdom work.
Today, that once broken young man is married to a beautiful, godly woman who adores him, and they have three incredible children. The church he now pastors is exploding in growth, changing lives and impacting the world for Jesus Christ! The time and energy we poured into this young man was a worthy emotional investment and one of the greatest blessings in our lives.
However, some emotional deposits are not good, right, healthy or God-ordained. Every day is jam-packed with lifeless places in which we can invest emotional energy. There are those who look to us to be their faithful savior or always available crisis manager. That job belongs to God alone!
We all know about bounced checks.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why banks don’t adopt my obviously superior philosophy about checking accounts. It goes something like this, “As long as there are checks, there is money.” Sadly, my current bank is rather narrow-minded in this area, so the reality is that our checks will bounce when our bank account is overdrawn and out of balance.
The same is true in life.
We constantly need to check our emotional balance, guarding the emotional withdrawals we allow and diligently making consistent emotional deposits. Prayer, solitude, bible study, friendships, service, accountability and a guarded thought life are just a few of the deposits that can make the difference between emotional health and emotional bankruptcy.
Paul says it well, “God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing” (Ephesians 2:10, NCV). In other words, we need to do what God has called us to do—period.
An unbalanced emotional life occurs when we operate in our own strength while doing our “own thing” instead of wholly depending upon God and living in the parameters of His will. When we abandon all that we are to His strength, purpose and power, the Father deposits everything we need to accomplish every good work He created us to do--including getting a grip on our emotions.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Mike Powell
Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life and Joy for the Journey. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.